things in common + sausage-less sauce

My grandmother, my mom's mom, was pretty crunchy-hippie as far as I can tell (apparently she loved flowy jumpsuits and I am dying for pictures, hand-me-downs, anything, I mean c'mon). She was a vegetarian for years and years, making an exception only when there was kielbasa offered. I love this fact about her.

It's an exception I understand: I've been a vegetarian since 2010 and the thing I miss most is sausage—the snappiness and the juiciness and that insane fatty-spice flavor (which neither tempeh nor tofu, much as I love both, will simply never be able to replicate). 

My mom has said before that Nona would make tomato sauce with fennel seeds to get at that fragrant Italian sausage flavor, and last night I tried it and then some, adding smoked and hot paprika too. L and I both loved it over polenta (which I always bake in the oven rather than do on the stovetop, because it's SO easy. The first time I ever made polenta, in college, it was with Joy the Baker's oven-baked polenta recipe, and I've basically never made it any other way). Next time I'll try this with a thinly sliced bulb of fennel in addition to the onion, and garnish it all with fennel fronds.

Hot Italian Sausage-less Tomato Sauce
4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
Good pinch chile flakes
Kosher salt to taste
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
4 ounces frozen chopped spinach (optional)

Stir the olive oil, onion, garlic, fennel seeds, paprikas, chile flakes, and a big pinch of salt in a good-sized pot. Turn the heat to medium and stir regularly until the onions are beginning to soften and go translucent and silky, about 7 to 10 minutes. (Starting it all in a cold pot will help keep the garlic and spices from burning.) 

Add the tomatoes, plus about half a cup of water (use the water to rinse out the inside of the tomato can). Stir together well and simmer gently, partially covered, for about 45 minutes, until the sauce has really come together. Stir in the spinach if using (no need to thaw) and taste for seasoning. 

Oven-Baked Polenta
4 servings

1 cup polenta or coarse-ground cornmeal
4 cups water
A few big pinches kosher salt
Pinch red chile flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino

Heat the oven to 350° F. Stir together the polenta, water, and salt in a 9x9-inch pan or a smallish, shallowish baking dish, and bake uncovered for 45 minutes.

Remove the polenta from the oven and stir in the chile flakes, olive oil, and grated cheese, stirring well to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. 

two obsessions

The first is thanks to A, who always knows what's good. Seriously. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a friend who always knows what to feed you (especially if, like A, they're somehow feeding you exactly what you need at the moment you most need it). In this case, it's chai, a chai so good we've started calling it The Chai. We can't understand just how, HOW it's as good as it is, considering how simple—but there it is. A has been making a batch of it weekly since she discovered it, and I've been making a batch weekly since she shared a jarful with me. 

The recipe is this one, from Bon Appétit. Two notes about it: I grate the ginger using a cheese grater, not a Microplane (the recipe calls for "coarsely grated" ginger, which confused me at first but now I think it's genius). I also tried, once, making it with hemp milk instead of whole milk just to try something a little lighter, but it's really note quite the same flavorwise (the hemp milk is kind of thin and doesn't carry the spices as well) and also, as alt-milks tend to do when heated, it separated. this looked gross but tasted fine (and was texturally non-noticeable). 

I mean, look at this.

I mean, look at this.

Okay. The second thing is something called MILLET-NOLA, which—as Lottie + Doof, who posted the recipe back in July after seeing it on Jessica Koslow of Sqirl's Instagram, writes—"groan." But it gets the point across: It is granola-ish, but made from puffed millet. All my lucky stars aligned today because 1. I had a giant bag of puffed millet I impulse-bought the last time I was at Kalustyan's, 2. I was out of oats, and 3. the job I was supposed to work today was cancelled due to truly disgusting winter weather. Which meant I could finally try this thing.

...and it is GENIUS. Genius, I say. Because instead of just stirring together sweetener + oil and dumping over the dry mix, you make a caramel, then add a bit of baking soda, which makes this not-granola very crunchy and very clumpy, which is exactly what granola should be. Also genius: The recipe never says "make a caramel," which would stop me or any right-minded person in their tracks. Instead, you just heat and whisk and that's it. You're off to the oven, and 12 minutes later, you're done—it's like making caramel corn.

I want to experiment more with this, but so far the formula seems really flexible. I don't love sweet turmeric applications, so I tapped in cinnamon to take its place. I don't have glucose, ever, in my pantry, so I used honey. I traded butter for coconut oil. It all worked. Shout-out to great, flexible, adaptable recipes.

any-way-you-want-it muffins

A couple weeks ago I wrote a not-recipe-style piece for Food52 about how to freestyle my all-time favorite muffin, the morning glory, and today I'm sticking a recipe-ish version of it here for safekeeping. 

I have two big bags of these in my freezer now: a classic morning glory (apple-carrot-raisin-walnut) and a crazy, crazy-good parsnip-sweet potato-prune one, which I made using applesauce for half the oil since I had it left in the fridge (from Hanukkah, oops) anyway. They suffer no dryness—I might even prefer them to the glories. A different kind of glory, I guess. 

Endlessly Adaptable Root Muffins
24 muffins

3 ½ to 4 cups grated roots and fruits, liquid squeezed out
3 cups mixed flours (at least 2 cups of this should be AP flour, whole wheat flour, a mix of the two, or a gluten-free all-purpose flour; the remaining cup can include cocoa powder, wheat germ, ground flaxseed, almond meal, bran, rolled oats…)
Warm spices to taste (try 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ginger)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ to 1 1/4 cups white or brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup yogurt or buttermilk
1 cup oil (coconut, olive, safflower, grapeseed are all great; or substitute ½ cup applesauce and ½ cup oil)
2 eggs
1 to 2 cups toasted nuts or seeds, flax seeds, fresh or frozen berries, raisins, dried fruit (cut into small pieces if large); maybe don't add 2 cups of something tiny like flax or poppy seeds or whatever—stick to 1/2 cup max of those

Combine the grated and squeezed muffins with all the dry ingredients, stirring well to combine thoroughly. Stir together the yogurt, oil, and eggs in a separate bowl (I like a quart-sized Pyrex measuring cup for this), then stir into the dry mixture until there are no streaks of flour left. Fold in any seeds or other add-ins, then let the batter rest for 20 minutes. (That's what gives you nice muffin domes!) Scoop with a 1/4-cup measure into a greased muffin tin, then bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes, until very fragrant and the domes of the muffins spring back if you prod at them.


coconut broth that won't cure everything but certainly feels like it could

Not in a Here, drink this raw garlic/ginger/cayenne/vinegar tonic sort of way, the good old-fashioned it will hurt but it's good for you method.

On the contrary, the comfort comes from its creaminess (of course) and its simplicity. Honestly, it's right on the brink of plain: hot, a salty-savory-sweet all at once, a subtle edge of heat, plus a heap of slippery noodles, which everyone knows make anything better—the blues, heartbreak, political woes, the flu (none of which anyone in this house has at the current moment, except maybe political woes, thank goddess). Also it takes only 15 minutes to make. I don't know why I don't make this soup once a week.

I should say that A once made this soup for me and I have stolen and fiddled with it after marveling at it—simultaneously both clean-tasting and full-tasting, the sort of straightforwardly delicious thing I want to eat when the world feels the opposite of straightforward. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and I think that's especially true with food. Thanks, A.

Coconut Broth with Rice Noodles
4 servings

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Generous pinch kosher salt plus more to taste
1 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
1 green chile, halved
1 8-ounce (or so) package rice noodles (the teeny vermicelli or the thicker banh pho ones are both good)
1 pound firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 large carrot, peeled and shaved into ribbons with a peeler
1/4 to 1/2 small napa cabbage, thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves and thinly sliced scallions to serve

Sauté the shallot and ginger with the olive oil and the pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the shallot and ginger are soft, fragrant, and translucent—don't let them color much.

Pour in the coconut milk, then fill the can with water and add that too, along with the split chile. Increase the heat to high, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer gently 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the broth for salt. Discard the chile.

While the broth is simmering, cook the noodles: Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook until the noodles are tender (according to package instructions). Drain and rinse the noodles well. Set aside.

To serve, divide the noodles and tofu between 4 shallow bowls and ladle the broth on top. Top with the shaved carrots and cabbage, plus any cilantro and scallions. Serve very hot.

a grain salad that makes me feel like a hothouse orchid

It's at the end of January every year that winter settles in me and starts to drive me bonkers. In New York, it's not so much being freezing cold, because it's not—it's all up and down, and some days you're in six layers and some days you let your ankles peek out and it gets your hopes up, and then the next day you're back to six layers, and it's uniformly, endlessly gray. By the last week of January, I've lost my new-year optimism and need to make myself think sunny thoughts, plan a trip someplace out of the city, put new sheets on the bed. Tight little bundles of bodega daffodils make me weepy. Honestly, between now and April, anything bright-colored but especially anything bright yellow or green makes me feel like Amélie splashing into a puddle.

Today at the co-op I bought Meyer lemons so I could preserve them, something I've been meaning to do myself because I feel like I'll actually use them if I've put in the work. I'm thinking I'll do them Ottolenghi-style, as he lays out in Jerusalem and Ali Stafford lays out on her blog: You pack split lemons with salt, let them sit for a week, then add a chile and a sprig of rosemary and try to be patient for 4 weeks more, if not longer. If I start them tonight they'll be ready March 12, by which point it might actually be sort of spring-like. The lemons ended up at the top of the cardboard box I was carrying home my groceries in and I was so happy to be able to look down at them, that same cheery feeling as having the sun on your face. Truly. Little things.

Today's little gratitude prayer is for citrus sliding into season at the grayest time of year. I've been making this grain salad a lot. It's juicy and alive-tasting and very green, and inspired by something L described to me after eating it as a plus-one at her friend's company holiday party.

Grains with Cucumber, Dill, Cashews, and Citrus
6 lunch-sized servings

2 cups freekeh (or another grain—I just made recently with a mix of wheat berries and barley)
1 bay leaf
2 oranges
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 teaspoon
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cashews, roughly chopped
1 seedless hothouse cucumber or two Persian cukes, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly into half-moons
2 handfuls torn dill fronds
2 handfuls parsley leaves

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the freekeh and a bay leaf and boil until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

While the freekeh cooks, make the dressing: Combine the zest of one orange, the juice of both oranges, and the juice of the lemon with 1/4 cup olive oil. Whisk together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toast the cashews: Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cashews and stir regularly until the nuts are lightly toasted. Season with a generous pinch of salt, toss well to combine, and set aside to cool.

Combine the cucumber, herbs, freekeh, and all of the dressing in a large bowl and toss together to combine thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the cashews just before serving.