Savory Carrot Cake with Goat Cheese

A carrot cake with cilantro? The notion immediately piqued my interest when I read Rose Carrarini's savory spin on the classic dessert. Rather than sugar and warm sweet spices, this "cake" batter is perfumed with earthy cilantro, turmeric, ground coriander, and cayenne pepper. (I also added pepitas to give it a seedy crunch). While the spices bring an unexpected flavor to the palate, I almost would have liked a little more of the coriander and cayenne to come through (n.b. for next time). The traditional sweet version typically wears a thick head of cream cheese frosting, but I decided to use pungent goat cheese to ice my slices. Irresistibly savory, the loaf channels the idea of carrot cake, while separating itself from the realm of dessert. 

[Adapted from The Paris Baker, Rose Carrarini]

3 large eggs
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup grated carrots
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup all-purpose or white whole-wheat flour, sifted
1 tsp tumeric powder
2 tsp ground coriander
A pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
Small 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup roasted pepitas
1/4 cup ground flax seed

4 oz goat cheese
almond milk

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine eggs and sugar; beat with a whisk until well-blended. Slowly add the olive oil, slowly, whisking continuously.  Add the carrots and cilantro; stir to combine.

2. In another bowl sift 1 cup flour and add the rest of the dry ingredients (including the ground flax and pepitas). Whisk gently to combine.

3. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet carrot mixture until just combined (do not overmix). Pour batter into a bread pan and bake for about 50-55 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.

For the goat cheese spread: Combine goat cheese with a drizzle of honey and about a tablespoon of almond milk to thin slightly. Stir to a smooth consistency and spread on slices of the warm bread.


Vanilla-Rum Granola

Ever-full of creative flair, my friend Ling recently incorporated bourbon into her homemade granola -- a bold move that I decided to play with in my next batch. The booze I chose: A smooth and mellow gold rum. The result: A beach of rum-soaked oats mingling with flecks of coconut in a way that makes the Caribbean sand feel much closer than it actually is. The whole thing is veiled in a vanilla-maple sweetness, with warm nutmeg and cinnamon adding spicy depth. Sea salt balances the sugar, and pistachios and pepitas punctuate the scene with nutty crunch. I rarely put dried fruit in my granola, but I made an exception for the irresistible rum/raisin combo in this case. 


3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw pistachios, hulled
1 cup raw (or dry roasted) pepitas
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup jumbo raisins
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 shot Gold rum
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
coarse sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 300. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; toss gently. Add oil, maple syrup, rum and vanilla; stir until ingredients are evenly coated. Spread granola onto a rimmed baking sheet (lined with parchment). Bake for about 30-35 minutes, stirring every 10, until toasted and golden. Allow to cool completely before serving or storing. Lasts several weeks in an airtight container/jar.


Celeriac, Celery & Tarragon Soup

The first time I had celeriac was at Andrew Edmunds, a dark, cozy, romantically low-profile restaurant in Soho, London. The gnarly root was pureed into a creamy soup with celery and tarragon -- so simple and delicately fresh was the flavor that I was inspired to recreate the recipe Stateside.


olive oil
3 medium celeriac bulbs (about 3 1/2 to 4 cups peeled and diced)
4 cups chopped celery
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add diced celeriac and celery. Cook for 8-10 minutes until vegetables begin to soften and brown. 

2. Add the liquids and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until vegetables are soft enough to puree. (Test with a fork). Add tarragon and stir to combine. 

3. Turn off the heat and allow the contents to cool slightly; then puree with an immersion blender. (You can also use a regular blender and transfer the soup in batches to puree). Once the soup is a smooth consistency, taste and adjust salt, pepper, tarragon and liquid as needed. Garnish with crushed walnuts and serve. 


Dal with Rhubarb

Celery's seductive lookalike is beginning to sprout up at the markets these days. Rhubarb, with its stringy stalk and rouge skin, is often paired with fruits, though it is actually a vegetable. Its tart flavor is typically tempered by sugar (think pie, compotes, etc.), but here it is incorporated into a savory dish that preserves its natural zing.

The rhubarb stalks join a pot of red lentils (prepared as a traditional Indian dal with ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, cloves, cardamom, and dried chile for heat). As the dish simmers, the rhubarb practically dissolves, leaving behind molten flesh and its tangy trademark flavor. The dal is delicious sprinkled with fresh cilantro and served over rice or another grain (red quinoa here), or scooped up with toasted pita.

[Recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything]
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 40 minutes, largely unattended

1 cup dried red lentils, washed and picked over
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
4 cardamom pods
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
2 whole cloves
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 dried ancho or other mild dried chile (optional)
 sea salt
2 Tbsp cold butter or peanut oil (optional)
chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

1. Combine all the ingredients except the salt, butter or oil, and cilantro in a saucepan, add water to cover by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently, cover partially, and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until the lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and keep cooking to the desired tenderness. The lentils should be saucy but not soupy.

2. Remove the cloves and, if you like, the cardamom pods (they’re kind of fun to eat, though). Stir in the butter or oil if you’re using it. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then garnish with cilantro and serve.

Dal with Rhubarb. To the pot along with the other ingredients, add 3 or 4 stalks rhubarb, strings removed and chopped.


Beef and Guinness Stew

To honor St. Patrick's Day, this week I made a rich stew that unites the three pillars of Irish culture – meat, potatoes and Guinness. Ireland’s famous black stout – “thinned” slightly with beef stock – makes the broth robust and dark, its mysteriously roasted flavor rippling throughout. As if the proclaimed “liquid food” isn’t enough of a meal on its own, a chunky cast of beef, potatoes, carrots and onions join the pot, adding heft to each ladleful. All of the ingredients take to the Guinness in their own way – the meat gets deeply flavorful and tender, the carrots transform into nougats of malty sweetness, and the potatoes soak up Arthur G’s finest like starchy sponges. You’ll be pouring your perfect pints right into the pot. 

[Recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything]
Makes: 4 to 6 servings 
Time: 1 ½ to 2 hours, largely unattended 

2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, or extra virgin olive oil 
1 clove garlic, lightly crushed, plus 1 tablespoon minced garlic 
2 to 2 ½ pounds boneless beef chuck or round, trimmed of surface fat and cut into 1- to 1 ½-inch cubes 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 large or 3 medium onions, cut into eighths 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
3 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, water, wine, or a combination, or more as needed* 
1 bay leaf 
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme 
4 medium to large waxy or all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (I used whole baby red and white)
4 large carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks 
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish 

1. Heat a large pot with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes; add the oil and the crushed garlic clove; cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then remove and discard the garlic. Add the meat to the skillet a few minutes at a time, turning to brown well on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Do not crowd or the cubes will not brown properly; cook in batches if necessary. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper as it cooks.

2. When the meat is brown, remove it with a slotted spoon. Pour or spoon off most of the fat and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions. Cook, stirring until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the stock, bay leaf, thyme, and meat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook, undisturbed, for 30 minutes.

3. Uncover the pot; the mixture should be wet (if not, add a little more liquid). Add the potatoes and carrots, turn the heat up for a minute or so to bring the liquid back to a boil, then lower the heat and cover again. Cook for 30 to 60 minutes, until the meat and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (At this point, you may remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon and refrigerate them and the stock separately. Skim the fat from the stock before combining it with the meat and vegetables, reheating, and proceeding with the recipe from this point.)

4. Add the minced garlic and the peas; if you’re pleased with the stew’s consistency, continue to cook, covered, over low heat. If it’s too soupy, remve the cover and raise the heat to high. In either case, cook for an additional 5 minutes or so, until the peas have heated through and the garlic has flavored the stew. Garnish with parsley and serve.

*Beef and Guinness Stew. In Step 2, omit the flour. Use 2 cups Guinness and 1- to 1 ½-cups beef broth for the liquid (add more beer, broth or water as needed during the cooking process).


Slow-Braised Pork Shoulder

This dish is loosely inspired by a meal I had at a Harlem establishment a few weeks ago, 5 & Diamond. The entree -- their Housemade Pappardelle -- was served with a delicious ragout of braised short ribs which was studded with cranberry beans and crowned with manchego. Rich and flavorful, the ragout had a curious kick at the end, and it was discovered (when we inquired with the waiter) that the chef had mistakenly added chipotle to this particular batch. After 48 hours of slow simmering, the pepper had imparted a smoky heat that crept onto the palate in just the right amount. We told them to keep "mistakenly" adding the spice, (and I'm secretly hoping to be the cause of a minor menu tweak). 

With this dish branded in my memory I decided to play with the idea of a slow-cooked, chipotle-spiked ragout. My version swaps pork shoulder for the short ribs and grilled polenta for the pappardelle, but beans and manchego remain steadfast accompaniments. 

with Red Beans and Grilled Polenta

1 lb boneless pork shoulder
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 fuji apple, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1+ tsp cumin
1/2+ tsp coriander
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped with additional sauce
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, with juices
1 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup white wine
1 14-oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 tube packaged polenta (or make your own)
manchego cheese, grated

1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Season the pork with salt and pepper on both sides. In a medium ovenproof pot (I used enameled cast-iron 5-Qt Le Creuset), heat oil until shimmering. Add the pork and cook over medium-high heat, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate.

2. Add the apple, onion and garlic to the same pot and cook over medium heat until beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, oregano and stir. Add chipotle, diced tomatoes, stock and wine to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the pork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover, and transfer the dish to the oven.

3. Braise the pork for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning once halfway through, until very tender. Transfer the pork to a plate, and, using, two forks, shred it. (Discard any large pieces of fat). Transfer the shredded pork back to the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Cover and keep warm.

4. Meanwhile, heat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill sliced polenta rounds until beginning to brown on both sides. Serve pork mixture over grilled polenta and garnish with freshly grated manchego cheese.


Walnut Oil Granola

When it comes to granola, I tend to steer nutty/savory versus fruity/sweet. Not to say that I don't love a good currant punctuating the scene, but when the sugar overpowers the flavor of the toasted nuts and oats, something's not right in my book. The version I typically use as a foundation (from which the variations are limitless) is inspired by Nekisia Davis' addictive Olive Oil and Maple Granola, recently featured as a "Genius Recipe" on FOOD52.  Hers packs in the nuts (pecans, pepitas, sunflower seeds), incorporates coconut flakes, and, what I particularly love is the richness that olive oil brings to the mix as it bakes into and around the ingredients. Its savory quality serves to balance the double whammy of maple syrup and brown sugar (measurements of which I've since pared down for my own re-creation). 

This batch brings a new oil to the fold: the omega-3 superstar -- walnut oil. What better opportunity to celebrate the nutty flavor of the walnuts I (liberally) tossed into the oats, than by lacing the mix with a complementary oil? After a 30 minute bake, the granola emerges from the oven -- nuts roasted to perfection, oats beautifully browned and clump-less -- the whole thing wrapped in a deep, smoky flavor that only a nut oil could achieve. Maple syrup delivers the right amount of sappy sweetness, and coconut shards provide a flakey comrade to mingle with the crunch. I'm downing it by the handful. 


3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats 
1 cup whole roasted almonds, unsalted 
1 cup natural walnuts, coarsely crushed 
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut chips 
1/4 cup natural flax seeds 
1/4 cup maple syrup 
1/3 cup walnut oil 
2-3 Tbsp brown sugar 
course sea salt, to taste

other add-ins
nutmeg & cinnamon, to taste

Preheat oven to 300. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and spread evenly onto a rimmed baking sheet (lined with parchment). Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10, until toasted. Allow to cool completely before serving or storing. Lasts several weeks in an airtight container/jar.


Crisp Tofu and Asian Greens with Peanut Sauce

I guarantee you’ll have more difficulty managing your chopsticks than making this dish. But the ease of its execution in no way compromises its taste. The trifecta of quick-fried tofu, sautéed greens and Thai-inspired peanut sauce brings tons of flavor and texture to the plate. For the greens I went bok choy, though Chinese broccoli, tatsoi, napa cabbage, alone or in combination, would work just as well. The tofu is pan-fried, which browns its exterior while the inside stays warm and soft. Binding the dish is a thick peanut sauce, perfumed with tangy notes of soy sauce and lime, and thinned to a creamy consistency with almond milk. 

[Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express]

Mechanics: It’s really important that you use firm tofu (soft varieties won’t hold up in the pan), and also that you make sure the tofu is as dry as possible so you can get a nice brown crust when you fry it. It’s best if you let the tofu slices rest between paper towels or dishtowels to absorb the excess water for about 30 minutes before you cook. To finish off the process you can dry-fry the tofu in a nonstick skillet – simply place the slices in a pan over medium heat without any oil and they’ll begin to hiss as the steam is released. Once they brown on one side, flip to the other side. (If you want to get them extra crispy, add a bit of oil the pan and repeat the fry).

Slice firm tofu into strips or cubes and pat dry; roughly chop a bunch of the greens. Pan-fry the tofu in some vegetable oil until it browns on all sides, about four minutes; remove tofu from pan and pour off all but a little of the oil. Add the greens and pinch or two of red chile flakes, and continue cooking until the vegetables turn dark green, about three minutes. Mix together a half cup of peanut butter, a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce, and fresh lime juice to taste; add a bit of water if necessary to get a nice consistency (I used almond milk for a creamy touch and nutty complement). Add the sauce to the pan along with the reserved tofu and toss to coat. (You may not need to use all of the sauce, depending on how much greens/tofu you have). Garnish with crushed peanuts and serve.