They do rock, CT.

When I was home at Thanksgiving, I noticed a gently used copy of Charlie Trotter's Vegetables at the used bookstore near my house. It's a book I've had my eye on for a while, and since it's around $50 new, I casually mentioned to my mother this great deal just waiting to be snatched up.

Hurrah, it was under the tree this morning! And, I think I'd flipped through it about five times before I noticed it's autographed by Mr. Trotter himself. Scrawled accross the entire title page with a big fat black permanent marker, Charlie writes:

What More Needs to be said?
-Charlie Trotter

Ha. This is both hilarious and awesome. Vegetables do rock. It's just funny because in my head, I picture Charlie Trotter screaming this out at a state university frat party, a can of Bud in each hand. "WOOOO!!! VEGETABLES!!!" he screams, smashing the empty beer can against his forehead.

Now, if only I can get my hand on some bleeding heart radishes (with a "rondeau," whatever that might be, to carmelize them in, of course), yellow-foot chantrelles and fresh salsify stalks....

(I'm actually quite serious about the last one - the two times I've tried salsify it was rich, creamy and fluffy. The kind of thing you savor, eyes closed and head titlted back a bit, making little noises and making Rosalind quite uncomfortable.)


Across an internet connection as viscous as molasses, I bring you the most perfect soup!

My parents have the slowest internet connection ever. EVER.

It took seven-and-a-half minutes for this "create post" page to load, and a third of the pictures are still just little question marks.

It's making me feel like the state of my posting is very, very tenous, and I might lose it all at any moment, so I apologize for the brevity, lack of wit and proof-reading. But there's a very important reason for me to post today: because not only is today about suffering through a terrifyingly slow internet connection, it is ALSO about getting excited for french onion soup. YEAH!

My mom has bought the most amazing onion: it's about half the size of my head, really, and I promise you it's the sweetest thing to ever be called "onion." I'd take a picture, even a crappy picture of it, just for you to wonder at it, but really, that would take 45 minutes to load. (I'm not exaggerating at all. My mom is always trying to send pictures she sent with her digital camera, and it's a full afternoon of work for her to email me three photos.)

Anyway, we eat The Meyer Family French Onion Soup every Christmas Eve; rumor has it that my grandmother, the absolute toughest four-foot-eleven German woman you could ever imagine, wooed it off a famous french chef in the 50s.

So take note and yum yum:

Meyer Family French Onion Soup

1 enormous sweet yellow onion, about half the size of your head, or 4 large sweet yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1 stick of butter
3-4 cups broth (I have an affinity for Better Than Boullion's organic vegetarian "no-chicken" chicken broth. But really, if you eat beef or chicken, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't substitute a rich meat broth. I'm not that judgmental kind of vegetarian.)
1 cup dry white wine
Black pepper, to taste
4 thick slices of french baguette
1 cup shredded gruyere or emmanthaler

special equipment: 4 oven-proof soup bowls

In a medium, heavy-bottomed skillet (I prefer stainless steel, as some of the onion will stick a little bit and add a rich, carmelized goodness to the soup), melt butter over medium-low heat until foam subsides. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is golden, melty and has become one with the butter, about 35-45 minutes. Really, it's about patience, just letting the onion take its sweet time to bring out all that onion's sweet and creamy goodness. It's not too high-maintenance, though; you don't need to be stirring it all that often.

Raise the heat to medium and add the wine; let it simmer off for a bit, degalzing any of little onion crusties that might be stuck to the pan. Add the 3 cups of broth and continue to simmer until all tastes sweet and good, about 20 more minutes; if the soup looks to thick, add more broth. You'll know your soup is ready when your onions become mere ethereal whispers, and broth, onions and butter are virtually indistinguishable from one another in flavor. Oh bless those onions onion-y hearts for becoming a thing so miraculous!

About ten minutes before the soup is finished, lightly butter both sides of the baguette slices and toast each side in a skillet over medium heat until lightly browned; set aside.

Preheat broiler. When the soup is finished, add a very generous grinding of fresh ground pepper (depending on the saltiness of your broth, you may need to add some salt). Arrange four oven-proof bowls on a sturdy cookie sheet, and ladle soup into bowls. Top each bowl with a crouton and an extremely generous handful of cheese. Slide the tray under the broiler and broil until the cheese is brown and bubbling, about 2 minutes, but be sure to keep you eye on it while it's in there.

Serve, with a toast to grandma!


I promised I'd make them scones!

ever peacefully does the granola drift through the calm sea of whole milk yogurt

I'm a "professor"!

It's a little bit absurd - I'm really only about 1/3 of the way, give or take, toward the proper credentials one needs to be a real professor (and with no real plans on the horizon for that remaining 2/3). Luckily, my clever boss can convince anyone of anything - including, "Of course our [then] development associate who's never taught a day in her life should teach a graduate-level seminar!", and that's how I ended up teaching an awesome course on practical approaches to interfaith work for seminary students. And my students loved me and learned so much, so take that raised-eyebrows-of-a-certain-"on my way to the AAR, of course"-faculty-member-of-a-certain-elite-institution-who-may-or-may- not-have-questioned-my-right-to-teach. In fact, my students were shocked that I had never taught before, I was that good. Ha!

Naturally, I baked breakfast goodies for my students for our last day of class. Because one thing people of all faiths share is eating. Even those nutty ascetics eat, even if it is just locusts and honey.

(I'd like to note that this is the second time in less than a week that I've managed to wrangle myself an opportunity to cook "for work". It tricks me into thinking that I'm a chef for a living, sigh.)

While filling their bellies with lavender-scented banana bread, homemade granola with whole milk yogurt, and cheddar dill scones, a certain student said, "Over the last year, I've eaten a lot. A lot. And I am pretty sure this banana bread is the best thing I've eaten in all of 2006."

Chef Yum Yum know who's getting an A!

(There are just too many recipes for plain old banana bread out there for me to think it's a good idea to make up my own. I was going to link to one on Epicurious that I like a lot, but their server is down and I'm feeling impatient. Look for the one with the whole stick of butter and the lemon-curdled milk. To make my Lavender-Scented Banana Bread, I just add about 3 tablespoons dried lavender blossoms, crushed a bit with a mortar and pestle to the batter right at the end. Megan told me it tastes like yoga; I think it tastes like a garden - most likely victorian - just about to burst forth after a long cold winter. A nice little mid-december dream.)


A Menu of Tiny Tastes

I love a meal that is one big meal but with many tiny little tastes: such was the premise behind the meal Bart and I planned for Saturday. I had a box of buckwheat polenta from Provenance, and I wanted to make lots of lovely different things that we could all have tiny tastes of. Anna Thomas gave me this menu's inspiration with her grilled polenta with roasted vegetables, but the interpretation is my own, as I have my own thoughts on roasting vegetables.

(As a side note: maybe many of you are more familiar with Anna Thomas' earlier Vegetarian Epicure cookbooks? This came from The New Vegetarian Epicure, which is everything her earlier books weren't. While I imagine those books were revolutionary for their time, they still sort of always feel a little unbalanced - basically just menus and dishes that had once centered around meat, with the meat ommitted. Her new book, arranged by seasonal menus, completely overcomes this deficiency.)

Bart and I had planned to cook together (and in fact Bart supplied at least half the ingredients) but then the Evil Ornament Factory in the Suburbs kept Bart from me much longer than either of us appreciated, so when Bart arrived, vegetables in tow, I got nervous that we wouldn't eat until midnight and thus unhospitably put everyone to work.

It actually worked out very well, though; I couldn't have done all that vegetable prep nearly so quickly on my own (nor as cheerfully if Emilie hadn't been feeding me a constant supply of cheese). All our good-natured guests were more than happy to gather round the cheese plate, grab a knive and help Bart and me slice and trim the vegetables.

Later, Emilie and I agreed that this was a meal of "vegetables that taste like vegetables," very simply prepared to bring out the truest, most vegetable-y flavor of each dish. As we were passing around the polenta, the olives, and our bounty of roasted vegetables, I was happy to see that Bart had arranged his tiny tastes on his plate in perfect, deliberate and seperate little mounds, unlike the rest of us who had so haphazardly allowed the kale to touch the fennel to touch the apples to touch the mushrooms. It was an aesthetic take, I think, on vegetables that taste like vegetables.

We also served Mulled Wine, which many of our ungracious guests (not Bart) did not like, but what do they know? It was a perfect winter meal.

Grilled Buckwheat Polenta with Emmenthaler and Black Pepper
Squash Roasted with Apples
Roasted Garlic with Rosemary and Olive Oil
Carmelized Fennel and Red Onion
Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms
Kale Sauteed with Mustard and Cumin

For the Polenta:
1 1/4 heaping cups buckwheat or plain polenta or stone-milled corn meal
4 cups vegetable broth, or water (you'll need more salt if you add water)
1 generous cup shredded Emmenthaler (Gruyere could be a substitute)
3 tbs. butter
Salt and pepper to taste

About 3 or 4 hours before you'd like to serve dinner, bring broth to a rolling boil in a deep, heavy saucepan. Wisk in polenta and lower heat, being careful not to get splattered by the wonderful glopping ooze that is hot polenta. You'll continue wisking (some would say "constantly" but I would say "quite frequently") for the next 35 to 40 minutes, or until a wooden spoon stands upright in the center of the pot without its training wheels (or your hand).

Stir in the butter, cheese, and a generous grinding of fresh black pepper until well-combined. Spread in a lightly buttered 9 x 13 baking dish and chill until firm, at least 2 hours (if you needed to speed the process along, you could pop the polenta in the freezer at this point, but you'll still need to let it sit for a while). You'll have to read through to the end if you want to know how to grill it!

Now quickly dress your Christmas tree and then hop in the shower - your guests will be here soon! Where is Bart with his vegetables?

For the Various Roasted Vegetables:
The rest of your preparation will progress quite nicely at this point. You'll preheat your oven to 400 degrees, putting one rack closer to the bottom and one rack in the middle of your oven. The different kinds of vegetables all cook at the same temperature, but for different amounts of time. The squash and apples take the longest, so you'll roast them first; 10 minutes later you'll add the garlic, and so forth. The mushrooms will go in last roasting for about 30 minutes, giving you plenty of time to prepare your kale and begin grilling your polenta.

Squash Roasted with Apples:
1 small butternut squash
Enough apples to equal the weight of your small butternut squash
A liberal splish of olive oil
A liberal splash of crushed red pepper
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Quarter and core your apples, and then cut each quarter into halves or thirds, depending on the size of your apple; the slices should be at least an inch thick at their widest point. Toss in a large bowl with lemon juice.

Peel and slice the squash into pieces roughly equivalent to your apple slices (so that all roasts evenly). Toss with the remaining ingredients, combine with the apples, and then spread on a baking sheet.

Roast on the lower rack of your oven for 45-60 minutes, letting all sit very still. After a while, the lemon juice and the juice from the apples will melt together, creating a glimmering, unexpected glaze.

Roasted Garlic with Rosemary and Olive Oil
3 heads of garlic
3 branches of rosemary
Genorous swish of olive oil

Chop the top inch or so off of each garlic head, so that the naked top of each clove is exposed, tee hee. Peel the outer layer of papery skin off the head, leaving just enough to keep the cloves attached to one another. Arrange the heads in a garlic roaster, a small casserole with a lid, or a large square of foil (foil works, but you'll want to make sure to at least double or triple wrap your little garlic parcel, lest garlic juice leak out all over you oven). Tuck sprigs of rosemary in between the cloves, and between the heads of garlic, and drizzle with olive oil. Cover or wrap.

Begin roasting on the upper rack of your 400 degree oven about 10 minutes after you've begun the squash. The garlic will go 35-50 minutes, and is done when the cloves are deeply golden and soft. You can serve the garlic just like that, accompanied by a small knife to scoop the cloves out.

Carmelized Fennel and Red Onion
One small fennel bulb
One small red onion
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Cut the stems off the top of the fennel bulb and peel of tough outer leaves. Quarter the bulb and then cut out the core and tough bottom of the bulb, and cut each quarter into thirds. Quarter your onion, then cut it into thirds, so that it is cut approximately the size of your fennel pieces.

Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread in a low-rimmed 9 inch pie pan. Roast on the middle rack of your oven about 15 minutes after you've begun your squash; it'll take about 30-45 minutes. More than anything else, you'll need to keep an eye on this dish (the rest are so carefree); you want the fennel and onion to brown but not burn, and you'll need to turn it occasionally to make sure it carmelizes evenly.

Thyme-Roasted Mushrooms
16 oz cremini mushrooms, cleaned and dry parts of stems chopped off
1 shallot, chopped
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
olive oil, salt, pepper

Toss all in a large roasting pan and bake, on the lowest rack of your oven about 20 minutes after you've begun your squash; they'll take 25-40 minutes to roast. Depending on how fresh your mushrooms are, they might quickly dry out OR emit a lot of juice; if they look too dry, you could add a dash more olive oil; if they look to moist, just pour off a little of the juice. The mushrooms are done when they are nicely crinkled on the outsides, but still juicy looking.

Kale Sauteed with Mustard and Cumin
One large bunch of kale, tough ribs removed and coarsely chopped (see my tips for doing this here)
1 very large shallot, chopped
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs brown mustard seeds
1 tbs cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric
a dash of cayenne pepper
the juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until soft and beginning to brown. Add the mustard and cumin, and stir until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the kale and sautee breifly, salt generously and then cover with a lid. If your kale was still quite wet from washing, you'll be fine to let all steam gently (stirring occasionally) for the next 10-15 minutes, or until tender. If your kale is more dry, add a touch of water at this point (you don't need much).

When the kale is tender, finish off with the turmeric, cayenne and lemon. It's best to serve hot, so you can keep this covered, with the heat off, until you're ready to serve.

To grill the polenta
As you're finishing up your kale, heat a well-seasoned cast iron grill pan over high heat; brush with a bit of olive oil. Your vegetables should be done now; turn off the oven and crack it open for a minute so as it cools a bit, but leave the vegetables in there. Make room for an oven-safe serving platter in the oven and shut the door.

Cut the firm polenta into dinner-sized squares, let's say 3 x 3 squares, or whatever you think will look the nicest. Cooking four pieces of polenta at a time, grill each side of the polenta until dark, delicious grill marks appear. Transfer grilled polenta to the warming platter in the oven and continue until all polenta is grilled.

You could serve all the vegetables on an enormous platter in the center of the table, or you could do what we did, passing bowls of the different flavors for each person to grab a taste. I think this is a bit more enchanting.