Posole

Posole with poblanos and cabbage

Posole won’t be discovered by a Hollywood producer while sitting at a lunch counter, and it’ll never be a leading man, but what it’s got you don’t need eyes to appreciate.

Posole’s indecisively green and maybe could be a little thinner.

Posole’s so homely, cabbage dresses it up.

Posole’s best friends are étouffée and curry. They hang out and laugh a lot.

Posole says, “I may look like a barf bowl*, but you’d be lucky to have me.”

Posole dgaf.

Posole with chicken and poblano peppers

I’ll gladly admit that the homeliness of the photo is entirely due to my styling and eagerness to eat. For a more beautiful presentation and the AMAZING recipe, check it out at Food52.

But looks aside, the success of this dish all comes down to the hominy. If you’re not making it right away, it’s worth it to order yours from Rancho Gordo rather than relying on the big name brand you’ll find in the grocery. I’ve tried them both, and there’s just no comparison. But dried is always preferable to canned, so use what you like. I won’t tell.

I made this start-to-finish in one day, not accounting for soaking, and it took a while. If you don’t have all day to tend this, you could easily do the prep in one day, then throw everything together the next to break it into manageable segments.

Just please, make this dish. Don’t let my poor styling skills dissuade you from trying what will likely become a regular in your winter meal rotation.

*Is “barf bowl” the new “buddha bowl” just waiting to sweep Instagram?

Whole30 Week 3: Vegan and Not-So Vegan

Asparagus & Fennel Soup by Amy Roth Photo

This week’s post is dedicated to Kenji Lopez-Alt, that test kitchen god (and managing culinary director at Serious Eats) whose recipes formed the backbone of the best meals I made this week. Only minor tweaks were necessary to make them Whole30-compliant; though I’m really starting to hate the word compliant, the adjustments seem to be coming to me naturally now. I’m still constantly hungry despite eating all the time and adding even more fat to my diet, but the cheese cravings aren’t constant, so I’m headed in the right direction. No tiger blood, either, but I always thought that was a long shot, anyway.

Lunch today was a fan-freaking-tastic soup of asparagus and fennel, found on Lopez-Alt’s Instagram feed. I took the basics and tweaked them a bit with what I had in the house and fell head over heels. I sautéed 1/2 large chopped onion with a small thinly sliced bulb of fennel and a finely chopped stalk of celery in olive oil until they were soft, then added one bunch of chopped asparagus (minus the tips, which I steamed) and half of a sliced russet potato and cooked them together for a few minutes. One quart of chicken stock, salt to taste and some simmering later, I blitzed the soup in my Vitamix and lunch was served. I love simple, seasonal recipes, don’t you? I may try to accentuate the fennel flavor next time with a splash of Herbsaint, but honestly found the soup to be perfectly balanced this way. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Cast Iron Steak & Vegan Creamed Spinach by Amy Roth Photo

A more substantial meal came in the form of a stovetop-cooked ribeye and vegan creamed spinach, which may sound like an odd combination, but hear me out. When you’re eating so much meat in one sitting (though not that much — Gil and I split the steak), there’s no need to go overboard with real creamed spinach. It’s just too much. And honestly, I found the flavors of this vegan dish much more pleasing and less muted than I do with the standard recipe. Blended cauliflower and almond milk form the base of the “cream” and are just brilliant at that job. I did add a little nutritional yeast for a cheesy tang, but otherwise cooked it according to the recipe.

The steak followed the Serious Eats recipe I use exclusively during winter, when the thought of standing at my grill would be enough to keep me from eating steak at all if not for this method of indoor cooking. I did use ghee instead of butter and could definitely taste a difference, but the steak was excellent anyway, so no complaints there.

I did have a couple of small cheats this week. When I couldn’t stand the thought of preparing one more meal, Gil whisked me away to a BBQ joint where I had smoked beef with a side of mashed potatoes that might have (probably) had milk and/or butter in them. I felt fine after, so no worries for me! Then, at a meeting I attended Tuesday, I had one Terra Chip which was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Tasted In My Life. I can’t even lie. Fried potatoes (though this was taro, I believe) are absolutely my trigger food and that chip was like a drug that left me wanting more. I don’t know where I got this self-control, but am very happy for it, because otherwise I’d be sitting on my living room floor covered in grease and crumbs.

Then again, Benny would probably take care of the crumbs situation. I haven’t really shared about it here, but we lost both Ru and Otis over the last two years, which was just heartbreaking. Ru left us only in December of last year, so we waited as long as we could, but finally adopted another greyhound just three weeks ago! He’s the sweetest little guy with a funny bark and a much bigger brain than Ru and Otis put together — it’s a little scary to watch him figuring things out. He’s still a little camera-shy, so no decent photos yet, but if you’d like to follow him on Instagram, he’s precocious and has his own account. And while you’re there, follow me, too! I try to post everyday, so there’s always something delicious to see.

I’m planning to end Whole30 a few days early next Thursday, when I’m going out to lunch with friends. We’re planning for dim sum and I don’t want to miss out on everything but steamed vegetables. But I’ll behave. Mostly. See you next week!

Cod and Potatoes — Whole30 Check-In

Cod with Romesco Sauce by Amy Roth Photo. Recipe: Bon Appetit Magazine

A week and a half in, and I’m doing great with Whole30! There have been no mid-afternoon slumps or hangriness to deal with, but eating this way does require much more thought than simply throwing together a quick sandwich or heating up an Amy’s cheese enchilada entrée. (Honestly, I needed an Amy’s intervention, anyway.) Avoiding easy fillers like rice or bread has been a little challenging, but nothing I can’t deal with, and I’ve lost a few pounds, though that wasn’t my goal at all.

I’m still amazed by how much unnecessary sugar is in our food. I’m generally not much of a packaged food eater (save for the aforementioned enchiladas), but love condiments and sauces, and many of my favorites are taboo. Also, I miss cheese. Terribly. It’s my one craving and I’m going to be the saddest person around if I find dairy gives me problems when I start reintroducing food.

The Meals

There were a couple of fantastic meals I’ve had in the past week that I want to share with you today. Up top, you’ll see my photo for Bon Appetit’s Cod with Romesco Sauce, Hazelnuts, Lemon and Parsley. It was eye-opening, mind-boggling… just a fantastic meal with only a few components. And where, may I ask, has romesco sauce been all my life?! I’ve read about it for years, but never took the plunge until I made this recipe, and now it’s all I want to eat. I want to proselytize door to door in my neighborhood so everyone can share in this pure joy of mine! Yeah, I know, but it’s honestly that good. Cod isn’t something I eat very often, but it works so well here, I’m not sure I’d want to change anything next time.

Deborah Madison's Potato and Green Chile Stew by Amy Roth Photo.

And then, there’s Deborah Madison’s Potato and Green Chile Stew from Food52. Whenever I make this, I wonder why I don’t have it more often. It’s part of Food52’s Genius Recipes collection, and with good reason: Deborah Madison is an alchemist, creating kitchen gold from a handful of common ingredients. It’s a recipe that’s easy to convert for Whole30 compliance (skip the sour cream, which I usually do anyway) or for vegan/vegetarian diets (use vegetable broth instead of chicken and skip the sour cream). With our turn to winter weather now that Spring is here, this soup was the perfect thing to warm me after spending a lot of time outdoors yesterday.

Some Exciting News

Last summer, I got a call about a cookbook project that needed a quick turnaround. “It’s Misty Copeland’s Ballerina Body. Are you interested?” Well, my fingers couldn’t hit the keyboard fast enough to reply that absolutely, I was! Because of the abbreviated shooting schedule, I enlisted the help of local food stylist Darcie Hunter of Gourmet Creative for most of the plated dishes, and together we created the food photos featured in the book, released just this week. If you’re interested in creating a lean, strong, healthy body, want some great recipes (and they really ARE great!), or just want to read more about Misty, pick up a copy! I’ve shared a few of my favorites below.

Ballerina Body food images | Amy Roth Photo
Clockwise, from upper-left: Raw Barres, Black Bean Soup with Shrimp, Vegetables, Fruit Still Life, Egg White Fritatta

Mushroom Miso Soup

What a momentous weekend! I’m so inspired after seeing my sisters from around the globe march in unity, demonstrating that women’s rights are human rights. It’s the beginning and much work still needs to be done by all of us, but I’m ready to hit the ground running.

I spent Friday with three amazing women, having a food photo shoot/play date. Darcie, my collaborator last month on the 2016 Advent Calendar, headed up the project with delicious Chinese recipes inspired by her years in Shanghai. We’ll be sharing those in a future post, so check back with us for the Chinese New Year. Joining us were Robin & Sue, a talented food photographer/stylist team who live close enough that we can do this sort of thing with a nice frequency. I’ve worked in places where you always had to watch your back and it was just exhausting (and frankly, no way to live), so what a relief it is to have made a career where we can hang out and talk shop, build each other up, and collaborate rather than compete.

Instead of putting away all of my props and backgrounds after the shoot like a normal, tidier, person would, I kept them out to play a bit more over the weekend. It started with a couple of setups that didn’t quiiiite work out, but then I chose to photograph David Tanis’s Mushroom Miso Soup from the NY Times Cooking newsletter on Sunday, mainly because it sounded light and delicious and I wanted it for lunch.

It did not disappoint. I added shredded savoy cabbage and mustard greens to the pot to boost the nutrients and add a little bulk, and it made for a very satisfying meal. The broth was flavorful, but very subtle after three days of eating foods with a pungent punch. Next time, I’ll mellow out my diet a bit before indulging.

Primal Check-in

Hi again. Just checking in with more Primal recipes from the past week. Gil’s birthday was this weekend, so we celebrated with lunch at Mistral Restaurant in Princeton Saturday afternoon. I’ve been dying to go back ever since the photoshoot I did there over the summer and am happy to report that time didn’t cloud my memory at all; the food was just as fantastic as I remembered.

But even with the extravagant dining, I made the smartest choices I could — cheese plate for dessert, no bread or anything with wheat explicitly listed on the menu — and walked out without feeling cheated in any way.

I mentioned our love of Thai food in my last post. Specifically, there’s an amazing warm coconut milk and peanut butter salad dressing that our new favorite local Thai restaurant (Thai Jasmine in Bloomingdale, NJ) makes, and I decided I needed to have a go at it. Extensive online searching didn’t turn up anything that sounded quite right, so I turned to my copy of Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking and found just the thing! I used a full can of coconut milk instead of just one cup as directed in the recipe, but found the balance of the rest of the ingredients — sweet, salty, sour and spicy — undiminished. It topped a simple salad of shaved Napa cabbage, baby spinach, cilantro and lime juice.

Salad with Peanut Dressing | Amy Roth Photo

But man does not live by salad alone, so I made a rich carrot soup to accompany it. You can see from the photo at the top of the post that it was vibrant enough to ward off even the grayest day. Again, the key to Thai cooking is balancing the various flavors and even though this recipe isn’t in any way traditional, I think I did a pretty good job of it. I roasted the carrots to heighten their sweetness so I wouldn’t have to add sugar to the dish, added some cauliflower to keep the texture smooth and velvety and spiced it up at the end with a judicious sprinkling of dried Thai red peppers. Check out the recipe at the end of this post.

Chili | Amy Roth Photo

After being cooped up in the house for the better part of a week, 15 degree temps were NOT going to keep us from our regular Sunday morning greyhound hike. We were all going a little stir crazy. While doing about four miles bundled up will keep you from freezing in place, it still took several hours (and a long nap) to warm up once we were home. This chili took the last of the edge off. I made it with grass-fed beef and about a cup of smoked brisket that came home with us after the Christmas holidays. To amp up the nutrition, I added lots of carrots and celery, then finished it off with mustard greens and baby spinach leaves. Grass-fed cheese and pickled jalapenos added creaminess and a vibrant pop of flavor.

Baked Sweet Potato | Amy Roth Photo

And then we went really basic for lunch today. I microwaved two sweet potatoes and topped them with some grass-fed butter and sautéed garlicky leftover greens, featuring the undressed leftover salad from above with mustard greens for flavor. And for such a simple lunch, it was packed with flavor. Definitely a winner and something that can be put on the table in less than 30 minutes.

I’m really happy with the way this challenge is going. In fact, I’ve decided to join the official Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge that started at Mark’s Daily Apple today!

Thai-Spiced Roasted Carrot Soup

Allergy Fish
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Appetizer, Lunch, Main Dish, Soup, Starter
This gluten-free/dairy-free soup relies on roasting the carrots for extra sweetness, then balancing them with sour, salty and spicy elements common in Thai cuisine.

Ingredients

  • 1lb organic carrots (scrubbed)
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 Medium yellow or white onion (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 2 stalks celery (chopped)
  • 2-3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 head cauliflower (broken into florets)
  • 1 roasted red pepper (chopped)
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • water
  • 1 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • salt (to taste)
  • dried Thai red peppers

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss whole carrots with 2 teaspoons olive oil and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until a knife can be easily inserted into the thickest part of the thickest carrot. Cool, then coarsely chop carrots.
In a large pot, heat remaining 3 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. When oil shimmers in the pan, add chopped onion, garlic and celery and sauté until softened. Add Thai curry paste and turmeric, mix well with sautéed vegetables, and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add carrots, cauliflower, roasted red pepper and coconut milk to pot and stir well. Add water to come about 3/4 of the way up the vegetables and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to keep at a simmer until cauliflower has softened.
In a high speed blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth and creamy. Wipe out pot and pour soup back into it. Season with lime juice and fish sauce to taste and add salt, if necessary. Garnish with dried pepper flakes.

Let’s Prime the Pumps

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m doing the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge this month, and it’s going really well! I’ve cooked more in three days than I usually do in a week and everything’s been healthy and delicious, not to mention economical with all of the leftovers. And while I didn’t do this to lose weight, I’ve already dropped a little Christmas padding from my midsection, so I’m excited to continue after seeing such fast results.

Why are you doing this challenge, anyway?

My diet is pretty good overall, but what started as an occasional treat (a little dessert here, some pizza or a slice of bread there) became the rule rather than the exception. Knowing that wheat does a number on me and that my weekly burger and fries weren’t doing me any favors either, I decided plunging headfirst into an eating plan that eliminated the bad stuff and encouraged more good stuff was the way to go. (YMMV, of course.) Making it easier was just how crappy I felt after all of my Christmas indulgences.

Without getting too preachy or going into too much detail — you can find all the information you need and then some here — I’m concentrating on the following:

  • Eliminating grains, legumes, vegetable oils and refined sugars. (This is the most important part for me, though I’ll add legumes back in small quantities after the 21-day mark.)
  • Loading my meals with lots of fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Eating quality fish and pastured/grass-fed meats and eggs.
  • Eating good, satiating fats — grass-fed animal fats, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil are doing me right right now. 

And that’s basically it.

Our meals so far

I decided against a daily post because I’m cooking enough to make leftovers, so there isn’t always something new to share, plus we’re still eating out once a week. 

Primal Beef Shank Braise | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 1 – Braised Beef Shin

My decision to make this braise was made for me when I discovered the door to our big freezer open and this shin partially thawed. It’s from Snoep Winkel Farm, where all of the beef they sell is grass-fed and pigs and chickens are pastured. I also love them because Basia & Gary keep me supplied with beef tongue, organ meats and chicken feet whenever they’re available. Yum!

Braising is one of my favorite cooking techniques because you can be pretty imprecise and still turn out an excellent meal. Just remember a few simple steps:

  • brown your meat to create a fond in the pan
  • deglaze the pan with whatever liquid you like
  • don’t completely cover the meat with liquid, but leave a little sticking out from the top
  • braise covered in a 300°F oven for about 3 hours

I used the vegetables available to me — onions, celery, garlic, carrots and mushrooms — plus about 1/2 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes and served it over spaghetti squash and topped it with a sharp, garlicky gremolata. It was a rich, satisfying dish and the perfect way to kick off this new eating plan. If you’re not familiar with braising and you’d like a basic recipe to follow, try this recipe for short rib ragu and adapt it any way you like.

Primal Beef Shank Braise with Spaghetti Squash | Amy Roth Photo


 

Primal Chicken Vegetable Soup | Amy Roth Photo

Meal 2 – Chicken & Vegetable Soup

This meal took advantage of a leftover roasted chicken half plus made liberal use of our vegetable crisper drawer and freezer. When tomatoes and cilantro are in market, I make batches upon batches of Daisy Martinez’s sofrito and freeze them in 1/2-cup portions to use throughout the winter when I need to add a little zing to my meals. (It also makes the task of cooking a full meal much less onerous if all you have to do is sauté frozen seasonings instead of chopping onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, etc. before you even turn on the stove.)

I chopped the chicken and put it aside as the bones simmered in 1 quart chicken stock plus 1 quart water. I chopped up a few celery stalks, a few carrots and broke half a head of cauliflower into small florets. In a pan with olive oil set over medium heat, I cooked the frozen sofrito until it had released its water and softened, then I added the carrots and celery to cook for a few minutes and added a big pinch of kosher salt. I fished out the bones from the stock and added the sofrito mixture with the chopped Pomi tomatoes I didn’t use in the braise. I let it simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots were nearly softened, then added the cauliflower and chicken to the pot along with a package of frozen peas (I LOVE peas in my vegetable soup) and half a package of French-cut green beans. Once the veggies were softened and seasonings adjusted, we were ready to eat. And we’re still eating it, two days later! Gotta love soup.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways you can dress this up: Add a parmesan rind to the broth early on for extra savoriness, add a little pesto to each bowl of soup, add other vegetables as your heart desires, top with sesame oil and/or Sriracha…you get the point. It’s soup! How hard can it be?


 

Gluten-Free, Primal Za'atar Crackers Side | Amy Roth Photo

A Snack — Almond Crackers with Za’atar

Snacks are the big downfall of healthy eating plans for a lot of people. You want something quick and satisfying, but not necessarily a piece of fruit or the old standby, carrot sticks and hummus. Well, these primal-friendly crackers from Elana’s Pantry are just perfect. She has several cracker recipes on her website, but I chose to adapt the recipe for salt and pepper crackers by eliminating the pepper and halving the salt, brushing the rolled-out dough with olive oil and dusting it liberally with za’atar and crunchy finishing salt before cutting and baking.

All of Elana’s recipes use finely ground almond flour, so Bob’s Red Mill is out, unfortunately. It’s great for recipes that need something more coarsely ground like meal, but doesn’t work with the recipes on her website. I’ve had luck with Honeyville, Wellbee’s, and JK Gourmet brands.

You know how much I love za’atar, right? It’s a generic name for popular Middle Eastern blends of dried herbs and spices. There are all sorts of varieties out there, but my favorite ones tend to be heavy on sumac and sesame. The blend I bought at Penzey’s (where it’s called “zatar”) is delicious, but I’ve been just as happy with all of the varieties I’ve found at Kalustyan’s over the years. I’m sure any number of other spice shops would have it, too, so explore and enjoy!


A Word About Fats

I’ve been obsessed with coconut ghee for the past week; it’s replaced any other oil I used to use for sautéeing. You can buy it online, but it’s easy to make and lasts a while at room temperature, so there’s really no need to spend extra for it. All you do is add coconut oil to grass-fed clarified butter and you have a delicious, healthy fat with a high smoke point. I loaded up on a high-quality coconut oil from Tropical Traditions* the last time they had a sale — which they do often, so sign up for email reminders — and use it a lot, but it does taste fairly coconutty, so cutting it with clarified butter eliminates that flavor while retaining all of the benefits of coconut oil. If you’d like to use just coconut oil, they have a wonderful, neutral-tasting expeller-pressed oil, but I like the coconut ghee so much, I don’t think I’ll ever need to go back to it.

What About Breakfast and What Do You Drink?

Oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, grits and toast are out, which seems like a big deal until you realize you can have all of the pastured eggs and bacon you want. Actually, I don’t often want to start my day with a big meal, so I’ve been sticking with my green shakes. I’ve never enjoyed sweet smoothies, so what I have is more like a salad in a glass than the fruit-heavy shakes you might be thinking of. I know that’s a hard sell, but if that sort of thing appeals to you, I posted a general recipe here. These days, I add kefir and ginger and don’t really bother with the apple or cucumber, but as with so much of what I make, it changes depending on what’s at hand.

And as for drinks, I cut out all soda long ago, so that’s been easy. I drink water, seltzer, coffee and tea, plus the occasional glass of red wine, which is beneficial to both health and outlook!

*If you order by clicking on any of my Tropical Traditions links and have never ordered from them in the past, you’ll receive a free book on Virgin Coconut Oil, and I’ll receive a discount coupon for referring you. Same goes for Amazon, minus the coconut oil book.

Your Gumbo Needs a Gluten-Free Roux

With a little over a week until Christmas day, the empty spaces on my Christmas list are filling in as quickly as those in my calendar. I love the way things pick up this time of year and generally enjoy the task of finding the perfect present, though I really could do with a few more good ideas for secondary gifts to round things out. What’s your holiday season looking like?

All shopping and party stress aside, I know a lot of you are looking forward to Christmas dinner, perhaps one featuring roast turkey. Me? I can barely be bothered to cook one for Thanksgiving most years, though I relented a few weeks ago when my father-in-law ordered a gorgeous 20-pound organic turkey for the occasion. So I bent my rules, cooked the bird (breast-side down and the day before), and invited extra friends to our Thanksgiving feast. We didn’t have the house-busting crowds I remember from my childhood, but this band of strays had a terrific time. Here we are late in the day after too much food and many bottles of wine, still in place at the table, laughing over who remembers what:

Thanksgiving Chez Roth | Minimally Invasive

But even with eight people — several of whom took home leftovers, mind you — that was a lot of bird. Gumbo to the rescue!

As ever, I took Michael Ruhlman’s advice for making stock and broke up the turkey carcass in a large stockpot, covered the bones with water and a little cider vinegar, and let it sit in a 200°F oven, this time for about 25 hours. That’s much longer than I typically let it go, but I was rewarded with the most flavorful batch of broth I’ve made yet, so I think there’s little danger of overcooking it.

Gumbo | Amy Roth Photo

But with the wealth of great gumbo recipes available — Donald Link’s Fried Chicken Gumbo is the perfect place to start — the rest of this post is less about the specifics of making a gumbo than the benefits of starting one with a gluten-free roux. So many Cajun and Creole dishes are roux-based that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to convert one for someone who can’t eat wheat, but I’m here to tell you it’s an easy thing to do!

Whether you’re on board with a gluten-free diet, think it’s overblown or just don’t play attention to it at all, there are actually several reasons you might prefer making gluten-free roux for your gumbo:

  • It’s a great way to use bean flours or blends you don’t much care for.

    If you’re anything like me, you have a few odds and ends of these flours in the fridge that you bought in a burst of enthusiasm only to discover they make breads taste weirdly, well, beany.

  • It’s an economical use of alternative flours that can be pretty expensive to buy.

    The longer you cook a traditional roux, the darker it becomes and the less it ultimately thickens. While I haven’t tried every last GF flour available to me, I can say that the more common ones — garbanzo bean flour, sorghum flour and many baking mixes — don’t behave the same way. In fact, if you swap GF out in equal measure for AP flour, you’ll end up with a much thicker end product than you imagined. For this reason, I like to use half the amount of oil and flour called for in any given recipe.

  • It cooks faster.

    SO MUCH faster. In the gumbo link above, you’ll be standing in front of a hot stove constantly stirring that roux for nearly an hour. Even if you have multiple beers for companionship, that’s a long time. But GF flours brown to a nice peanut butter/milk chocolate shade in about 10 minutes, which barely gives you time to remember the beer, much less get through the better part of a six-pack. (At least if you’re like me.)

  • Best of all, there’s no sacrifice on the flavor-front.

With all that said, maybe you prefer tradition and have no need to part with your standard roux. Well, there’s another thing you can do to enter roux heaven: play with your fat. Not a Homer Simpson situation, but just start your roux with something more interesting than olive or canola oil. I keep jars of bacon grease and schmaltz in the fridge and love to work them into meals to amp up the flavor. So if you’re making a turkey gumbo and have some of the seasoned fat left from roasting, try using it in the roux. Building flavor from the bottom-up is a sure way to make any meal (but especially one of converted leftovers) memorable.

Some people recommend you cook the roux in a cast iron skillet with a whisk to keep from splashing yourself, but I like to do everything in one pot because I’m a rebel who loves to take risks lazy and hate washing dishes. A large pot and flat-bottomed wooden spoon work really well as long as you’re careful. Seriously, DO NOT splash yourself with hot roux. They don’t call it “Cajun napalm” for nothing.

Gumbo3 | Amy Roth Photo

I hope you found this post helpful! As long as you follow my tips for adjusting the ratio of roux to gumbo and don’t splash yourself (or burn the roux), you’re golden! Tell me, what’s your favorite dish made with gluten-free roux?

Field to Feast: Eat Your Beets

Good advice, I’d say, but it does reinforce the air of obligation beets already have about them; we’re admonished to eat them because they’re good for you, rarely because they’re delicious. Despite that crushing sense of duty, flavor is a great reason to chow down on beets, and now that local crops are veering toward root vegetables, there couldn’t be a more perfect time to sample them.

I think a lot of people have negative associations with beets after some childhood dining trauma, but they weren’t on my radar when I was young. In fact, I’m pretty sure I never tasted a beet until they started popping up in salads with goat cheese and frisée sometime in the ’90s. But that only takes care of the root — what about the greens, which also deserve a chance to shine? When Gil and I first moved in together (long before the dogs came to live with us), I exercised on the treadmill pretty regularly. Most of that treadmill time was spent watching Lidia Bastianich’s show where I learned, well, all sorts of things, one of which was that preparing beet greens is pretty simple. Her roasted beet salad stuck with me through the years and it’s always on the menu when I come home with some beautiful beets from the market.

Roasted Beet Salad | Minimally Invasive

I used golden beets this time instead of the deeper red ones because those were already spoken for. If you hate worrying about stained hands from preparing beets, you can wear gloves or just buy these golden beauties. They’re not quite as earthy as their darker cousins, but I love them just the same.

Veselka Borscht | Minimally Invasive

Of course, I can’t let a post about beets go by without pushing borscht on you. But this wasn’t just any borscht! No, I broke out my Veselka Cookbook and got to work on the lengthy process of cooking their most famous dish. Making it involved cooking three stocks — beef, pork and beet — along with much straining and simmering and work. So Much Work! The end product was satisfying and rich with a depth of flavor my regular borscht doesn’t have, but was it worth the extra five hours and four pots to make? For me at least, the answer is no because I can make it to the restaurant any time I want. But I did love their suggestion to use the strained beets from the stock in a salad composed of nothing more than beets, prepared horseradish and salt. I was skeptical, but found the combination addictive and kept nibbling away at tiny portions until I’d consumed an entire meal’s worth.

Veselka Borscht | Minimally Invasive

I somehow managed not to stain my newly white walls with any drips from the process of cooking, which we all should consider a miracle. All in all, it was a very successful beet week!

Update: I’m starting a new feature over at Amy Roth Photo called (provisionally, anyway) How I Got the Shot. I’m discussing the opening shot of this post for my very first entry. Take a look and let me know what you think! 

Field to Feast: Tomatoes & Zucchini

After a full week of eating tomatoes everyday, I needed a little break to let my poor mouth heal. Sorry about that. The few tomatoes I hadn’t used by the end of the week weren’t going to last much longer, so I turned them into tomato water. Which of course you’ve heard of because everyone’s making it, but with good reason: It’s addictive. Imagine the purest tomato essence in liquid form, perfectly delicious on its own, but also strong enough to stand up to, say, vodka. If I were able to get fresh horseradish anytime other than Passover, you’d better believe I’d be drinking Bloodies with infused vodka right now.

Generally, recipes suggest straining blended tomatoes through a cheesecloth or t-shirt-lined colander (without pressing on solids so the liquid stays clear), but I really hate dealing with the soaked cloth, so I tried something different. Behold, the Chemex strainer!

Chemex Tomato Water | Minimally Invasive

My husband, as previously discussed, is a huge coffee snob. Brewing coffee is the only thing he does in the kitchen, but he does it exceptionally well with the help of his Chemex. Sometime last year, he decided to try out the pourover filter to get more of the coffee oils in us and to keep all of that filter paper out of the landfill. It worked so well that I figured it couldn’t hurt to try with tomatoes. You can see in the picture that it did let a small amount of pulp through, but the clear tomato water was easily poured out, leaving the pulp behind in the Chemex. The size of the filter doesn’t allow you to make the tomato water in one go, but I’d certainly recommend this method if you don’t mind doing it in multiple batches.

The gazpacho was inspired by the knockout meal we had at Bent Restaurant during May’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which we’ve attended since 2009, save for one year. It’s the only comics festival I truly love, partly because of the airy feeling of the natural light-infused reference library, but mostly because I’m interested in a greater proportion of the artists there than at other festivals. (I discovered Nina Bunjevac‘s exquisite Heartless this year, nearly vomited with laughter over Lisa Hanawalt‘s My Dirty Dumb Eyes, met Michael Kupperman, whose work I’ve loved for years, and briefly hung out with Jaime Hernandez, who needs no introduction from the likes of me. And that’s just off the top of my head. So I encourage you to look into the 2014 show, and if you want to read a much smarter take on this year’s TCAF than I’m capable of writing, check out Tom Spurgeon’s thoughts on the subject.)

But back to food. Our past few trips to Toronto have involved dining at one or another of Susur Lee’s restaurants, but Bent might be my favorite yet. Everything served was fresh and exciting, with flavor combinations I hadn’t really experienced before. It’s impossible to apply the label “best” to a single item in the bento box Gil and I shared, but the one my thoughts return to most often is the oyster shooter, which I suspected was tomato water-based. Because I needed to know how Chef Lee works his magic, I ordered his two-volume memoir/cookbook and immediately looked up the dish. And yes, tomato water was the base! Yay for my working tongue! Newly inspired, I worked up a little gazpacho for lunch today.

Tomato Water Gazpacho inspired by/adapted from Chef Susur Lee

Mustard oil is only sold for external use in the US; evidently it makes a great massage oil. I found my bottle at Kalustyan’s, but any well-stocked Indian or Bangladeshi grocery should have the oil; it just won’t be shelved with the rest of the foodstuff. This is a good basic soup, but feel free to play with ingredients. I’m not a big fan of onion in my gazpacho, but thinly sliced green onion or diced shallot would play well here, as would celery, other colors of bell pepper, or even more tomatoes. Because you never can have too much of a good thing.

1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cucumber, finely diced
1-2 hot chile peppers, finely diced
1 yellow summer squash, finely diced
1 zucchini, finely diced
1 1/2 cups tomato water
2 tablespoons mustard oil
Salt, to taste
Sherry vinegar, to taste

For four appetizer servings, put one to two tablespoons of each of the diced vegetables (perhaps less of the hot pepper if you don’t want it too spicy) into four small bowls. Whisk together tomato water and mustard oil and pour over vegetables. Add salt and sherry vinegar to individual servings to taste.

 

Field to Feast: Carrots

Every Saturday morning at the Ringwood Farmers’ Market, Kasha and I have essentially the same conversation:

“So, what should we post about this week?”
“I don’t know, what would you like to do?”
“Hmmm, let me think.”

The sides change, but that’s pretty much how it goes every week. So I can honestly say that I just strolled around until I saw a pile of gorgeous carrots and knew I’d found our topic. Sometimes it isn’t about having a great recipe ready to go (though sometimes it is), but about inspiration and beauty.

As I’ve been doing for about a month now, I chopped off the carrot tops and put them in a vase on the table to serve as a makeshift centerpiece. The only time I ever cook with carrot greens is when I use them in a gumbo z’herbes, so this is a good way to use what I buy and decorate at the same time. And I just love the Sideshow Bob look of them.

Carrot greens on display | Minimally Invasive

I jotted down a few ideas for carrot recipes over the weekend, but nothing came of it until today, when I felt like gazpacho. I love spicy, savory carrot dishes and since it’s just a small step from Spain to Morocco, I added some Moroccan influences to my soup with harissa-spiked oil, preserved lemon and chopped cilantro. Many gazpacho recipes call for bread to lend the correct texture, but this was out for me from the very beginning for obvious reasons, so I substituted almond flour instead. It’s appropriate with the other flavors and so many classic gazpacho recipes use almonds that it seemed like the solution was always there, staring me in the face.

Moroccan-Inspired Carrot Gazpacho | Minimally Invasive

Instead of building the recipe from the ground-up, I based this gazpacho on a Martha Rose Shulman recipe from The New York Times, but changed it around quite a bit to suit my purposes. The harissa oil starts out very spicy, but mellows as the soup sits in the refrigerator, so don’t be too scared if you taste it right away and your tongue turns inside-out. Of course, I can’t guarantee it won’t turn blazingly hot after it sits overnight, but promise to let you know if it does.

Update: The flavors blended beautifully after an overnight stay in the refrigerator, but the gazpacho isn’t spicy at all. I’ll probably stir in a bit of the reserved paste to add a little heat. If you want it spicier without the added texture from the paste (which isn’t very smooth), just double the harissa recipe.

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This morning I woke up with an idea to offer free shipping on everything in my Etsy shop until 6pm ET tomorrow. (This offer ends 8/7/13, if you’re reading this post sometime in the future.)  I opened the shop a few months ago, but haven’t really pushed it beyond sticking a link in the top navigation of this blog and hoping you’d notice. So take a look around and let me know what you think. 8×10 is the standard offering, but I’m happy to go larger or smaller or to print photos from the blog that you like but don’t see in the shop. Just send me an email and we’ll work something out! (To get free standard shipping in the US only, apply code FREESHIPSUMMER in the cart at checkout.)

Moroccan-Inspired Carrot Gazpacho adapted from Martha Rose Shulman/The New York Times

1 1/2 oz. sliced onion
3/4 pound cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 lbs. ripe tomatoes, quartered
4 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped,  about 3/4 lb.
2 sticks celery, coarsely chopped
2 large red bell peppers, coarsely chopped, about 3/4 lb.
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons harissa oil, recipe follows
1 tablespoon preserved lemon peel, chopped
1/4 cup finely ground almond flour
Salt to taste
1 cup ice water
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Put the onion slices in a bowl and cover with cold water. Set aside for 5 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Drain and rinse.

2. Working in 2 batches, blend all of the ingredients except cilantro in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill for a couple of hours before serving. Garnish each portion with chopped cilantro (and if you’re brave, a little of the leftover harissa paste) before eating.

Harissa Oil
2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until garlic and spices are fragrant. Set aside to cool. Once cool, strain oil through fine mesh strainer into a cup, pushing on solids to release as much oil as possible. You should have two tablespoons of oil. Grind solids to a paste in a small food processor or in a mortar and pestle and reserve for another recipe.