Another trick I learned at the farm

I've been trying to write a post about this risotto for days. Nothing I think of seems appropriate.
The recipe is inspired by a dish that the volunteers cooked at the farm, a squash "risotto" made with your regular run-of-the-mill white rice and a homemade vegetable stock born from otherwise unusable scraps. I must admit that I actually had no part in the risotto's creation; I was a mere but keen spectator, one who obsessively scratched down the recipe and photographed it, before sampling and offering my greatest praises.

Before this adventure last week I had never made risotto, never been inspired to. In fact, I had rarely eaten it. I recommend doing both, though. Risotto is rich and satisfying, and I love it for its versatility and inherent simplicity. Even on the farm, when our resources were limited, our squash boiled, and rice so completely unspecial, the dish was impressive.

The flavors of roasted squash and sage are sophisticated, yet the process for combining them here is straightforward. Take this recipe and substitute almost any seasoning or vegetable addition. Peas and mushrooms also create a satisfying combination.

Toasted seeds make for a resourceful hors d'oeuvre, and a happy memory of cooking on the farm's temperamental stove, when dinners were always a toss-up, but never a disappointment.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto and Toasted Squash Seeds

1 medium-sized butternut squash
6 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 tsp minced garlic
5 tbs grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper

40 - 50 minutes before planning to start the risotto begin to roast the squash. Preheat oven to 450°F. Halve squash lengthwise and remove the seeds, but do not throw them out. Cut the squash across into slices, about 1 1/2-inch-wide, and season with salt and lightly with olive oil. Place the slices skin side down in a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet in the middle of the oven until they are soft, 40 - 50 minutes.

As the squash is roasting, clean and dry the seeds. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and other spices if you like. Toast them in a frying pan over medium to medium-low heat drizzled with olive oil, stirring occasionally so the seeds do not stick. They are done when they are lightly browned or begin to pop.

When the squash is finished, set aside one slice per plate that you will serve as a garnish. Keep these slices warm. Remove and discard skin from remaining slices and cut into 1/2-in pieces.

Bring broth to a simmer in a large sauce pan. Cover and let simmer as you cook.

Meanwhile cook onion in butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, stirring until softened, about 6 minutes. Add rice and garlic, and cook, stirring about 3 minutes to toast the rice and blend the flavors.

Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth, or one ladleful, and cook stirring frequently with heat at medium until the liquid is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente, about 30 - 40 minutes. The rice should look gooey and thick, like a creamy soup. The key is to stir constantly so the liquid does not boil. It is okay if you have leftover broth.

When the rice is cooked stir in squash pieces with cheese, sage, and salt and pepper. Continue stirring to blend flavors. Do not hesitate to thin the risotto out with leftover broth with necessary. Serve immediately, topped with shaved slices of Parmesan.

Serves 4.


My hat, it has three corners

My second year of university was the first time I made hamantaschen on my own. My roommates and I hosted a Purim party, baking dozens of cookies and requiring our guests to attend in costume if they wanted to sample. I hadn't dressed for Purim since I was little, when I wore the typical costumes of princess and the dreaded Haman. That year, when I was nineteen, I wore the Raggedy Anne costume my mom sewed for me when I was eleven.

The party was wildly successful. In the hours before our guests arrived no less than six lovers of hamantaschen packed into my yellow kitchen. I remember little but the mess, mixing the dough in a massive plastic red bowl, and my dear friend Sophie - whom I hardly knew then - brewing the poppy seed filling on the stove.

I had never fathomed of making the poppy seed filling from scratch. Left to my own devices - clueless as to where one could buy the filling, or even buy poppy seeds for that matter - I would have stuck to trusty apricot, always a pleaser. But Sophie's assured assembly has forever inspired me. Not a Purim goes by when I don't make my own.

My roommates and I thought that every Hamantaschen had been devoured that night. Months later, though, on the morning that we all moved out, after we sort of scoured the kitchen and moved out the table and couch we kept in there, a sole triangular cookie surfaced on the floor, completely intact and looking as tasty as ever. I like to think that someone stashed it in a secret spot, saving it for later. I know that's a whimsical notion, but the cookies, they're that good.


This isn't the same dough that I first made years ago, but it's one that I have used since and have come to love for its balance between bready and light. Using whole wheat flour isn't vital, but adds a certain texture and color that I appreciate in a hamantaschen. Don't skimp on the orange juice and zest, which create a refreshing tang and complement just about every fruity filling I can conceive.

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into chunks
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp grated orange zest
1/4 c orange juice
filling of choice - apricot and orange jam, prune butter, and poppy seed are traditional

In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients the flours, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl cream the butter and sugar using a hand mixer until they are light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, zest, and juice and mix until combined, using either a wooden spoon or the mixer. Add the dry ingredients little by little and mix until just combined. Cautiously add a little water or orange juice is the dough is too dry. The dough shouldn't be sticky, but it should hold together and feel smooth. Form the dough into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface roll out one disk of dough on to about 1/8 inch thick, keep the other refrigerated until ready to use it. Using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, or jar (I used a Bon Maman jam jar) cut out about 3-inch circles. Keep the scraps covered and refrigerated until you're ready to use them again.

Fill the circles with about 1 tablespoon of whichever fillings you have selected. Fold up two side, pinching ends together, and then the third to make a triangle shape with a pocket in the middle. Transfer gently to a baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12 -15 minutes.

yields about 3 dozen

Poppy Seed Filling

1 c poppy seeds
1/2 c milk
1/2 c honey
1-2 tbsp lemon zest, and several drops of lemon juice to taste
1/2 c golden or sultana raisins, optional

If using raisins, soak them in water overnight. The raisins are not necessary but add texture and sweetness. If you're feeling extra industrious, combine the soaked raisins with the poppy seeds in a small blender and blend briefly or mash them using a mortar and pestle until the raisins have broken down.

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook at a simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquid has boiled off. Let cool before filling the cookies.


I used to eat

I can tell you every single thing that I ate within the past week, down to the handful of almonds and cup of tea. I have trouble, though, remembering what and how I ate as a child. I remember that my sister ate her hot dogs with the skin peeled off and that I had mine skin intact, but plain as could be. I know that my mom's hot chocolate was a mix of boiling water and Swiss Miss, but that for the longest time I found chocolate in any other form unpalatable. Lime Jello and flat 7-Up were reserved for sick days. For many years Carvel ice cream cakes, the kind with the cookie crumbles layered inside, were a staple for my birthday. I remember going out for pizza every Friday, and how I was often compelled to eat the cheese separately from the dough, a floppy brain-like slab without its topping. These little dishes come back to me, but the details of dinners, dislikes, and favorites seem for me to be gone for good.

Another more established food blog, Molly Wizenberg's Orangette, inspired this walk down memory lane. A few years back Molly was tagged to write about childhood food memories. She found the task to be a bit taxing, but I, though unlike Molly was not passed the writing torch, find the concept enticing.

Hardly the essence of my childhood eats, the foods and instances that follow have, unlike most others, are the ones vibrant enough to have left an imprint in my recollection.

Beach Bagel
I lived in Connecticut, not far from the beach, for the first seven years of my life. My summers involved frequent visits. I remember little but the irksome feel of sand that clung like magnets to our beach chairs' metal legs and the red cooler my mom loaded with fruit, diet Cokes, and aluminum-wrapped sandwiches. In my memory the sandwiches were always bagels, mine gummy and dense, slathered with cream cheese, and finished with tomato slices. I don't often eat cream cheese now, but whenever I do, I'm brought immediately back to the pleasure with which I ate those bagels. I imagine I usually ate sitting in our beach chairs, the plastic woven ones whose seat sunk into the sand, my knees lined with sand and my finger nails positively caked with it. My sandy state and the mess with which I think I lived most of my childhood made for a sandwich seasoned with sand. I relished it, actually - no sandwich was complete without that crunch - just as I delighted in the tomato seeds that dripped to my thighs.

Dairy Queen
The Dairy Queen closest to my house is legendary, at least I always thought of it that way. It was the only place around you could count on seeing people from town and its peeling old-timey facade suggests a story of affection. Seemingly set at random in an empty lot forming the corner of a busy intersection, the ice cream shop is little more than a shabby hut. You must understand, though, that this is the appeal. Other Dairy Queens are flashy, commercialized; the Montvale DQ is two sticky window slots through which you shout your order, two glass walls plastered with images of blizzards and florescent floats, and, most notably, a once neon sign, paint peeling so that the vanilla cone it flaunts looks grey. Though the old-school advertisements that lined the DQ's walls in my childhood have since been replaced with contemporary counterparts, its menu never acquired the hot dogs and other fast food fare that newer, flashier Dairy Queen menus now boast.

It was a treat to drive to DQ on summer nights, not as much for the ice cream as for the ritual that getting it entailed. I don't remember ever eating it on the store's benches, or standing in a circle among friends in the lot as many do. My family almost always consumed Dairy Queen in the trunk of my dad's Jeep, parked in the messy lines that somehow came to organize the open lot with its back open. From here we could enjoy in privacy, fart at will, and observe the busy streets around us.

My order was consistent, almost always a vanilla milkshake. I loved everything about those shakes, so artificially and quintessentially vanilla, effortless to consume until the last quarter when my stomach bellowed from the saccharine syrup. The remainder often came home with me to be saved for the following day, and although the ice cream would have likely held up better in the fridge, I always stored it in the freezer, and then gave it a spin in the microwave before revisiting it.

Braided Everything Bagel Sticks
Grandpa Seymour's always brought gifts when he visited. Two dollar bills and braided everything bagel sticks stand out most in my mind. The sticks were the same as any doughy well-seasoned bagel, except for that the dough was twisted into a stubby braid. The shape made the eating experience evermore thrilling for a child, especially one, who like me, enjoyed (and does to this day) playing with her food. My eating style was calculated and only slightly destructive. I tore the bagel apart, unraveling the twist and eating each of the dense tresses on its own in pieces I broke apart.

He brought the bagels in a brown paper bag. I only remember him bringing two - one each for me and my sister. To my mom those bagel sticks were like glitter: strictly forbidden everywhere but the garage due to their sweeping mess potential. So my sister and I ate them outside, on the deck or in the front lawn, or, though my memory could be misleading me, inside, standing over newspapers.


A weekend away

Monday afternoon I left the lake house just outside of Great Barrington, Massachusetts where I had been staying since Friday. The weekend was quiet, my days occupied with lots of eating, an occasional skate on the lake, and frequent musings of what my life would be like if I never left and took over management of the cheese shop in town.

But leave I did. With an application to the store folded neatly inside my copy of The Poisonwood Bible, Joe and I set out for Connecticut via route 63. The road winds through old moneyed towns. I wanted every house we passed to be my own. The sprawling properties invited cows and expansive gardens, both main players in my fantasy future.

On the opposite side of the road Joe spotted a sign that inspired him to halt dramatically and backtrack into a detour. His mother was expecting us for dinner, but the sign advertising the Rustling Wind creamery this way prevailed. We had been talking of making butter and I missed the milk I drank in Argentina and mornings spent with the cows.

We pulled up to Rustling Wind as Joan, the owner, was leading her cows into the barn - just in time for milking hour. The cows' udders were laden and seemed to be an impossible weight hanging from their bellies. Joan kept her store in a building alongside the barn. She sold sweaters and gloves that she knit, jams she canned, and local goods I imagine she had from neighbors. Cheeses, yogurt, eggs, and milk lived in a small refrigerator. A small wooden box with a slot lay by the entrance alongside a pad and a note - pay here and write what you take. The selection of eggs and milk was depleted by our arrival, but when we told Joan about our intentions she disappeared into her work kitchen, skimmed off a quart of cream, sold it to us for five dollars, and invited us to say hello to her sheep and goats.

We sacrificed most of the cream for whipping before butter had a chance (it will soon, though), and proceeded to enjoy it in coffee for the rest of the week.

All I want to tell anyone about the past week is cheese. While I plan to be a prolific cheesemaker when I land one of those storybook houses where I can keep cows in the backyard and sell my dairy goods like Joan, I have had only one attempt of my own. I made ricotta in the fall and cannot remember why I have neglected to write about it. I did, though, think a photo was worthy of the header shot for this site. If you've been wondering what the white chunks at the top of the page are, you know now: ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta

2 quarts whole milk
1 c heavy cream
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
3 tbsp lemon juice
cheese cloth

Line a colander with a cheese cloth and set it over a large bowl. Measure out the 3 tbsp of lemon juice and set aside.

Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a boil in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add the lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined colander and let it drain for an hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered. It will keep refrigerated for two days.

Makes 2 cups


Happy Valentine's

Quintessential Brownies
Halving this recipe will still yield a sizable batch

6 oz (1 c) bittersweet chocolate
2 oz (1/3 c) unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 c flour
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
confectioner's sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 13x9 pan, or 9x9 pan if halving the recipe.

Melt the butter and chocolate (but not the chips!). In a large bowl combine the sugar, vanilla, and eggs. With a wooden spoon, stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Add the flour and chocolate chips. Mix until just combined.

Pour into the pan, evening out with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

Dust with confectioner's sugar.


Why I love breakfast

Breakfast, like many aspects of my life at the farm, was a sort of ritual. Nearly every day at roughly the same time, the volunteers ate the same thing - quick-cooking oats - made in the same pot with the same spoon from the same neon-colored plastic bowls. When the weather was nice we would eat outside, perched on or alongside the tree trunk table just outside the casita.

Each meal called for certain condiments that we'd transfer from the warped shelves above the stove to the table just before eating. Breakfast required the most extensive selection - jars of honey, ground flaxseed, raisins, bee pollen. The tables would be completely covered with them and our arms would tangle as we reached across to grab them.

In the beginning we made just oatmeal, cooked in our biggest pot. When one day our supply was low, Lucy suggested we add polenta to bulk it up. There was no going back after that. Polenta became a delicious must. When we had apples we would chop them, scatter them over mix, and when we had extra milk, we would add it as well.

When Lucy left, Kat took over the oatmeal duty. That meant Sarah and I were responsible for gathering the jars and preparing the bowls alongside the sink so we were ready to go as soon as the oatmeal was.

The processes of every morning were very much the same, yet no two breakfasts were alike. I looked forward to every one, and missed them on the weekends when started the day with coffee and pastries in town.

For years I used to forgo breakfast. In high school I'd occasionally remember to make oatmeal to carry with me in a plastic cup on the ride there. Coffee and a banana sustained me in college. Coming back from Argentina, though, I found myself craving homemade breakfasts - not pancakes or eggs, but big bowls of granola or muesli, and a side of oatmeal, fortified with polenta, of course.

Orange Granola

6 c rolled oats
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 c sesame seeds
1/2 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c copped walnuts or cashews
1 c raisins and cranberries
grated zest of 2 or 3 oranges
1/2 c honey
1/4 c orange juice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cardamom

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Place a 9x13 roasting pan (a baking sheet will work, too, but the high edges of the roasting pan are helpful) over a burner on medium-low. Pour the oats into the pan and cook to toast them, stirring occasionally for about 3 -5 minutes, until the oats begin to change color and become fragrant.

Add the nuts and seeds. Cook, stirring frequently for another two minutes or so, until they become lightly toasted as well. Remove from the heat. Add the orange zest, honey, juice, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and dried fruit. Mix to thoroughly coat the oat-nut mixture with the spices and sweeteners. Spread the mixture evenly on the pan. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring twice so the granola does not burn, until it is evenly golden brown and no longer moist. The granola can begin to burn very quickly, so watch it carefully.

It is okay if the finished granola still feels slightly soft when it comes out of the oven. It will crisp as it cools. At this point you can stir the granola a bit so it doesn't harden into connected pieces, if you like looser granola, or let it cool completely before breaking it up for a chunkier granola.


Three ingredients, one pot, forty-five minutes

My mom and I spent a dinner out at an Italian restaurant last week marveling at the complexity of the sauces at our table. They looked so basic - two in particular - yet contained so much flavor. The two that had our attention most were seemingly standard red sauces. Both were hardly flecked with herbs; one was more textured than the other, though both were essentially smooth and thick. They were different, though. Naturally - two different sauces for two different dishes. These dishes were the most simple on our table. We wondered what made the penne marinara just as remarkable as the extravagant seafood ravioli in creme sauce.

I'm not sure, but the answer could be butter. A little butter makes most foods a lot better. In the case of this sauce, a lot of butter elevates tomatoes and an onion to a whole new level of richness.

The world of food bloggers has been up in arms about this sauce from the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for quite some time now. I'm not familiar with this cookbook, and I don't know who was the first to share. As I am only a voyeur of this community, it took me a bit longer to stumble upon this here and then decide I couldn't make it quick enough.

A friend walked into the kitchen only minutes after all the ingredients hit the stove and yelped. Oh butter, he sighed sniffing madly. He commented every time he came back in. It felt a little wrong to accept any credit; the recipe wasn't mine, and I had hardly done a thing to prepare it. Forty-five minutes on the stove is all the three ingredients need, save for an occasional stir. A can of tomatoes, butter, and a halved onion, discarded when it's done.The deliciousness lies in the simplicity of it all.

Dinner was another batch of garlicky broccoli rabe with peas alongside a scoopful of spaghetti covered with a dollop of sauce. Joe and I ate silently, save for the occasional slurp and mmm.

Though everyone refers to this as Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, to me it's the 45-minute Tomato Sauce.

The 45-minute Tomato Sauce or Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

I've shied away from making tomato sauces in the past because while they're easy to make, they're not always easy to make really really good, and mediocrity is always a shame. But with only three ingredients and this much hype you can't - and really shouldn't - resist.

The recipe says to discard the onion before serving the sauce. Do take it out, but don't discard it! It will be soft but heavy with flavor. Eat alone or spread on a baguette - maybe with a little extra smear of butter.

one 28-oz can whole, peeled plum tomatoes and their juices
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
salt, to taste

Combine the tomatoes and their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a very slow but steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 45 minutes, until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and salt as needed.

Remove the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

Serves 4 as a main course; makes enough sauce to lightly coat most of a pound of spaghetti


Moving on up

Hello there! It's Monday. I've been rewriting, and deleting, and thinking nonstop about posting since Thursday. I've missed writing.

I'll cut to the chase. I'm in Montreal. To stay. (!) I took the train on Thursday. The route cuts ever-so-slowly through small-town upstate New York, passing barns with peeling paint and snow-bathed farms so quintessential that more than one passenger sat pressed to their window, camera in hand.

Montreal is lovely - wintery, frigid, but sunny, and happy. I have yet to see the rut of February that seemed to plague the entire city the past couple of years. My days have been full - of saying hi, scouring Craigslist jobs, organizing, and not nearly enough cooking, writing, or reading. This week I begin volunteering here, in the kitchen and as a deliverer, and I've decided to bake a bread a week. Though things are beginning to come together, for the past few days I've felt in a peculiar transition, as if I'm reconciling my life here in the fall with what I've done since then, especially with the very comfortable routine I had created in New Jersey.

Of course, each day is more regular than the one before. I spent a bit of yesterday morning in the kitchen. Inspired by the sweetness of oranges lately, and my apparent penchant for all foods orange, I made this orange jam, which, though it has the sweetness and taste of jam, has a texture more akin to that of a chutney. Regardless, it's delicious on bread, in yogurt, or on its own, and making it made me feel good.

Orange-Coriander Jam

4 oranges
2 tbs fresh coriander
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c high-quality orange juice
juice of 1/2 lemon
seeds from the lemon
1- 2 tbsp diced orange peel (optional)

Cut the oranges into quarters, saving as much juice as possible. Peel each quarter and cut into small bits, reserving as much of the juice as you can. Remove some or all of the pith if you like, but save the seeds if there are any. The pith won't dissolve much as you cook the oranges. I left a substantial amount on for the texture. Tie the seeds in a cheesecloth. They add pectin as you cook the fruit down.

Thoroughly wash the peel of one orange quarter. Dry, and finely chop, removing the pith. Remove the seeds from the lemon and tie in a cheesecloth with the orange seeds if there are any or on their own. Finely chop the coriander.

Slowly bring the oranges, lemon and lemon juice, orange peel (if using), and seeds to light boil a medium-sized saucepan, stirring constantly. Over medium or medium-high heat, mix and mash the oranges as they bubble and breakdown. Add the sugar, using a little more or less depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Cook, stirring constantly for about 30 minutes until the fruit has broken down almost entirely and there is a chunky jam-like consistency. Remove the seed bag. You can can this, or just pour into a glass jar and let cool before storing refrigerated for up to one week.

note: the orange peel adds a bitterness to the jam, so use accordingly


Waste not

This weekend I found an August 2006 Gourmet sandwiched in my mom's stack of Thanksgiving magazines. She perused it later and found a recipe for the bunch of broccoli rabe she bought.

I enjoyed it very much last night, and found the leftovers around lunchtime today. They were hanging out next to some chickpeas leftover from a batch of hummus, and when I was standing in the door of the open refrigerator contemplating my midday meal they told me that they wanted me to enjoy them together. Since I love chickpeas, broccoli rabe, and the garlicky peas they were sautéed with, I complied.

Garbanzo-Broccoli Rabe Salad

Since I made this with leftovers everything was cold, and the broccoli-pea combination was prepared separately, intended to be eaten on its own. I think the salad tastes best cold or at room-temperature. I've reduced slightly the amounts of garlic and olive oil called for in the original broccoli rabe recipe so those tastes don't overwhelm the lemon.

1 can garbanzo beans, washed and drained
1/2 lemon
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 bunch broccoli rabe
1 1/2 c frozen peas
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Trim the ends of the broccoli rabe. Discard, and cut the remainder into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the broccoli and peas in the water until the broccoli rabe stems are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain well.

Heat the oil and garlic over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet large enough to hold the broccoli and peas. Turn the garlic frequently until it is golden, 1-2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and peas to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring until the vegetables are well-coated with oil. Allow to cool, slightly, or cover and cool until serving.

In a large bowl combine the broccoli rabe and peas with the beans. Squeeze the lemon over the combination. Stir gently to mix, adding the cheese and mixing it as well. Taste and season accordingly.

Serve immediately or cover and chill until serving.
serves 2-3


Orange you glad

I've been doing a lot of recipe-following lately now that I'm back at my parents' house and not relying on my own devices for dinner.

Of course most recipes can stand for a little spontaneity or adjustment, but when you're baking a birthday cake for your very talented-in-the-kitchen mom (who has made the cake several times before and swears it's divine) and expecting to feed it to four other members of your family, you sort of want a guarantee that you're making something good. I do, at least. And so, I've been following a lot of recipes. All, curiously, are orange-colored. Yesterday it was Ina Garten's carrot cupcakes, but in cake form, and the cream cheese icing from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: the Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery. Before that, it was Ina's soup. And in between David Lebovitz's pumpkin ice cream. It feels a little cheap to share these experiences with you; they're not fully mine.

Still, successfully replicating a recipe invites a certain satisfaction. Altering it to make it your own, a completely different one. But it's a whole new triumph to concoct something all on your own.

My most recent concoction was lunch, and it was mostly mine. I borrowed nothing but inspiration from Mark Bittman, who wrote about a citrus salad a few weeks ago in the New York Times. On a sunny afternoon last week, spurred by a fruit drawer filled pretty much to the brim with citrus (thanks, Mom!), I decided to peel and slice myself a little lunchtime treat. This was more effort than I tend to invest in lunch-making. When I was in school I most often ate a pint of yogurt or a bag of baby carrots and hummus that I sneaked into the library. But, again, it's gratifying to create - the idea, the mess, the meal, the success. And then, satiated and pleased, you can clean it all up, which, when you're home with little to do, is a whole other welcome activity.

And a lunchtime treat it was! Far more colorful than yogurt and far more exciting than my usual salads, which tend to be a bit more traditional, based on greens and inspired by whatever nuts and cheese I have around. This one was juicy, tart, and it looked like summer. Will you hate me if I call it Sunset Citrus Salad? I'll refrain, but not without mentioning that it also tastes like summer. Citrus, unlike most salad-making staples, is in season now - not in the lovely state of New Jersey, but at least in the States - so it's particularly tasty now.

Citrus Salad
3-4 mixed citrus fruits, depending on size (I used grapefruit and orange the first time, and added a blood orange the second)
1 tbsp kosher salt
2-3 tbsp red onion or scallion, chopped
1/3 c cottage cheese

for the dressing:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp raspberry or red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper, to taste

Begin by slicing off the two ends of the citrus. Rest the fruit on one end, now flat, and remove the peel and pith by slicing vertically with a small, sharp knife. You want to remove as much peel and pith as possible, so there is no white left on the fruit. When the peel and pit are removed, turn the fruit on its side and cut into round slices. Arrange the fruit in a shall dish or on a plate. Sprinkle with kosher salt, coating each piece well.

Chop the onion. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, and honey. If you like, you can season with pepper. Sprinkle the onion over the fruit, and then dress. Finish off with a dollop of cottage cheese.

* You could also substitute the cottage cheese for crumbled feta cheese.
serves one