End-of-Winter Lentil Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Cabbage

bowl lentil stew sweet potato soup one-pot meal cabbage

I know T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month, but in New York City, it’s March. The winter seems to be over, as daylight savings time kicks in and temperatures finally creep above freezing. You might even get a day or two … Continue reading

Turnips Gratinée (aka Cheesy Neeps)

cheesy neeps turnips au gratin gratinée with cheese Gruyère French Burns Night Scottish

If you live in a northerly place, trying to eat seasonally in winter can sometimes feel like a chore. With the exception of expensive (and often impossible to find) greenhouse-grown fruits and veggies, most local produce is limited to roots, squash, and hardy “storage vegetables” (usually more roots and squash).

Now, I love beets and cabbage and sweet potatoes as much as the next person. But after awhile even the most dedicated locavore feels worn down by the endless line of hard, knobby root vegetables. How many times can you roast the same tray of cubed veg tossed in herbs before going crazy?

When I’m feeling particularly depressed about eating the same old-same old for what feels like the millionth week, I turn to the one food culture that can make anything, no matter how run-of-the-mill or tired, feel elegant and gourmet—the French. This recipe combines nearly all the best parts of French cooking: butter, cream, mustard, and cheese. The only thing missing is wine, and you can easily add that in by enjoying a glass while the dish bakes!

white turnips peeler peeled gratin gratinée neeps

I used a mandoline slicer to get my turnips to an even thinness, but don’t fret if all you have is a sharp kitchen knife—that’ll do fine. If you’re concerned about cholesterol or calories, well, this dish is probably not for you, but feel free to substitute light cream or half and half if you wish.

In French, one might call this dish navets au gratin or navets gratinés but in the spirit of Burns Night (tonight, January 25!), I’ve dubbed it “cheesy neeps” (turnips = neeps in Scots-speak). If at all possible, use white turnips rather than yellow turnips (also known as swede or rutabaga)—they slice easier and cook faster. If you are using yellow turnips, you may want to increase the cooking time under foil to a full hour.

Cheesy Neeps (Turnips Gratinée)

Ingredients:
5 small white turnips (~5 cups’ worth)
3/4 cup of heavy cream
2 Tbs. whole-grain Dijon mustard, such as Maille
1/2 – 3/4 cup coarsely-grated Gruyère cheese (if unavailable, substitute Emmenthaler or Swiss)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. butter

Directions: 
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Rub the butter around the bottom and inside edges of a glass pie plate or round casserole dish.
2. Peel turnips and slice 1/8″ thick using a mandoline or sharp knife.
3. Whisk cream, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Dredge turnip slices thoroughly, and layer in the round dish, scooping up plenty of liquid with each slice. Pour any remaining cream on the top layer.
4. Sprinkle generously with cheese, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake covered for 45 minutes; then uncover and bake a further 20 minutes until the cheese is brown and cream is bubbly.

Spätzle with Beef Goulash

Goulash and spätzle

Last week in New York was bitterly cold, a genuine arctic chill descending on the city with scathing, raw cruelty. It gave new meaning to the familiar imagery of winter’s icy fingers stabbing through thick coats and beneath woolly hats. As dank and cold as Edinburgh was throughout last winter and well into spring and summer, its predictable and consistent chilliness felt like an unpleasant bruise. The teeth-chattering, breath-stealing freeze of lower Manhattan in January feels like a slap to the face—a series of them. Brrr.

When the weather forces me to hurry from place to place in an effort to lose as little body heat as possible, I like to use my time in the kitchen as a counterpoint and cook long, slow dishes full of flavor and warmth. I don’t mind standing over a hot stove when outside the wind is howling and the snow is swirling. In fact, the steam rising from a pot of boiling water creates a humidifier effect, killing two birds with one stone as my dry skin takes on much-needed moisture!

I’m not sure if this dish qualifies as a true goulash but it shares enough ingredients with more traditional versions that I think it’s okay to use the name. It is not a soup. It’s not even really a stew, as it uses very little liquid. It’s just a braised meat dish that goes perfectly with my homemade spätzle, which is why I came up with it. I need no excuse to make these noodle-dumplings because they’re chewy little addictions; however, they do taste best paired something rich and slightly stew-y. If you’re a vegetarian, they’d go great with spicy lentils or vinegary, warm red cabbage.

The spätzle (also spelled spaetzle) comes down from my grandmother, the progeny of a Bavarian mother and an Alsatian father. Her recipe has no exact proportions and each time I’ve made it, somehow the amounts of flour and water are always slightly different. The best guidance is to get the mixture to the consistency of waffle batter—thick but still pourable—knowing you can always adjust by adding more water or flour if the first couple rounds don’t turn out the way you like. I also recommend making the batter about 20 minutes before cooking, as it thickens slightly with the wait.

Beef Goulash with Mushrooms

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs sirloin tip or other stewing beef, cubed
1 med. onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine
1. c. beef broth
1 lb. button or cremini mushrooms, thick sliced
olive oil
4-6 Tbs. sour cream

Directions:
1. In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil on med-high and brown beef in batches, setting aside after each batch.

2. Drain any excess fat, leaving 2 Tbs. Still on med-high, sauté onion and garlic for five minutes. When softened and onion is getting brown, add paprika and tomato paste and stir, 30 seconds.

3. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook down, 1 minute. Return the beef and stir to combine.

4. Add broth and mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, stirring all to combine. Cover and cook on low 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Just before serving, turn off heat and stir in sour cream to taste. Serve immediately over hot spätzle.

Photo 8

Spätzle

Ingredients: 
2 eggs
2 + cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Directions:
1. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. While it’s heating, make the batter and let it sit for a few minutes.

2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Whisk in eggs.

3. Starting with 1 cup, whisk in water, adding more gradually until the mixture has the consistency of waffle batter.

4. When the water is boiling, hold the bowl in one hand, tilting it over the pot, and use a dull knife to “cut” the batter into the rolling water. (See photo.) Cut 3-4 noodles at a time. Allow them to rise to the surface and boil a further 2-4 minutes. (As the water gets low, the spätzle may stick and you may need to “help” them up by gently loosening them from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.)

5. Remove the noodles using a slotted spoon or spider. Place in a hot casserole dish and rub with butter to keep from sticking together. Keep the dish in the oven to stay warm while you cook the remaining spätzle.

"Cutting" the batter off the edge of the bowl.

“Cutting” the batter off the edge of the bowl.

Mulled Wine with Whisky

I have always wondered why Christmas has to come at the beginning of the long winter rather than somewhere later on. Wouldn’t it be better for us to have something to look forward to during the long dark nights and bitterly brief days? Why kick off such a depressing season with our biggest to-do of the year? I mostly ask these questions because all the Christmas goodies would be so much more appreciated on say, January 28, when the cold winds are howling and the snow is piling up, than now, when it’s barely gotten cold enough in New York City for me to break out my awesome new Betsey Johnson coat.

Then again, who says we can’t have holiday treats outside the holidays? I’ve had so little time for baking this month that I anticipate making some of my favorite seasonal delights long after the gifts have been unwrapped, simply because I can’t wait another year to have them. Likewise with this mulled wine: it’s too delicious and, frankly, too perfect for chasing away the chill of winter to limit to one month of this long season. So I plan to make it again and again until the trees start budding and I can move on to that warm-weather wine punch, sangria.

This recipe is great because you can play around with all of it. Don’t like Syrah? Use another red wine. Don’t like red wine? Use white. Adjust the spices, sweetness, and flavorings to your taste. Leave out the whisky if you prefer, or use brandy, rum, or schnapps. Try adding other fruits, like cherries or pears. In short, go wild! Experiment and taste often. Mulled wine is a crowd-pleaser and excellent for parties because a) it’s cheap and b) you can make a big batch all in one go. (Pro tip: Keep it hot throughout an event on the “warm” setting in a slow cooker.) You can also make it ahead of time and store in the fridge for up to a week. In fact, I recommend making extra so you can let it macerate for a day or two and come back to it after a busy workday—time improves the depth and complexity, for sure.

Be warned: the smell of this simmering will intoxicate your brain even before you take your first sip! Prepare for a languorous evening and have bon bons on hand to complete the feeling of indulgence.

Mulling spices

Mulling spices: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, fresh ginger.

Mulled Wine with Whisky

Ingredients:
1 bottle of cheap Syrah (like Trader Joe’s Three Buck Chuck) or other red wine
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and thin sliced
1 orange or lemon, peeled and segmented (reserve half the peel)
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
3 Tbs. honey
1/4 cup whisky (I used Brenne, a beautiful new single malt whisky aged in French oak and finished in Cognac casks. Its light, fruity sweetness marries nicely with the wine.)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients and heat just to a simmer. Barely simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes. Taste, adjust, enjoy.