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Love for Ugly Vegetables {CtBF}

Celery root aka celeriac, that gnarly gritty bulbous vegetable.  Celery root is rather intimidating to look at, but inside is an ivory root vegetable that’s a savory treat.  As the name implies, celery root and celery are related.  They are two different forms of celery.  In the case of celery root, its variety has been developed for the edible root.  The stalks and leaves are edible too, chock full of celery flavor, though typically the stalks are spindly, not substantial, the way a head of celery grows.

From March through November, I work as a volunteer at Lexington Community Farm on Thursday mornings.  My tasks are varied, focused in the greenhouse during the winter months, moving to the fields as the season unfolds.  Last week, I helped bag up vegetables for the farm’s post-season bulk fall vegetable sale.  I was productive, bagging up 460 pounds of carrots (in 10 pound bags), 45 pounds of garlic (in 1 pound bags), and 55 pounds of celery root (in 5 pound bags) and a few more things that I can’t remember.

When I left, one of the farmers offered me a bucket of celery root that had been harvested the previous week so wasn’t up to snuff for selling in the stand.  I’m not sure whether I knew this week’s recipe selection for Cook the Book Fridays at the time, but I happily accepted.

Celery root soup with horseradish cream and ham chips provides a perfect way to make a dent in my supply of celery root.  The soup itself couldn’t be easier.  Diced (and peeled!) celery root is added to sautéed leeks along with water, thyme sprigs, a bay leaf and salt and simmered until the celery root is tender.  After removing the bay leaf and thyme stems, the mixture is pureed in the blender.  Voilà!

The result is a smooth ivory bowl of soup, which on its own is somewhat bland.  However, it serves as a willing palette for garnishes.  And the garnishes supplied in this recipe are outstanding.

First, we have the ham chips which are a giant step up from bacon bits.  I used thin slices of prosciutto, baked until leathery, about 10 minutes.  They crisped up a bit more as they cooled.  I coarsely chopped them.

Next, we have horseradish cream.  I went with the crème fraîche option.  The recipe instructs you to beat the crème fraiche with a whisk until it becomes stiff.  Because the crème fraiche has a lot of body to begin with, I was highly skeptical that whisking it would do anything.  In fact, after whisking for a few minutes, it didn’t noticeably thicken.  I kept at it, and, all of a sudden had soft peaks, similar to whipped cream.  Interesting.  To finish it off, horseradish, salt and lemon juice are added for a piquant topping.

I really enjoyed this one.  As I said, I found the “naked” soup boring, but with a dollop of horseradish cream and a sprinkle of ham chips, it is truly wonderful.

To work through the rest of my celery root, I plan to try David Lebovitz’s Céleri Rémoulade recipe and this celery root gratin.  Any other suggestions from fellow celery root fans?

You can find the recipe for the soup on page 106 of David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.  My friends at Cook the Book Fridays will also have something to say about their own renditions of the soup here.

Lest I forget, the highlight of my week last week wasn’t packing vegetables (though Thursday morning at the farm is typically my favorite part of the week).  The best part was a quick visit from my blogging friend Mary of Lights On Bright No Brakes.  During her 30-hour stop in Boston, we cooked dinner together and spent the good part of a day perusing the galleries at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  We even snuck in coffee and pastries with our old pal Tricia (daughter of Ro from Chez Nana) from French Fridays who was also in town.  Here’s Mary and me in the Takashi Murakami exhibit.  We loved his vibrant colors and sense of fun.

 

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rice pudding and caramel apples {ffwd}

Rice Pudding Parfait

Rice pudding is one of my dad’s favorite desserts. Way back when, my dad took me around for college visits (I told you it was way back when). When we arrived in Cambridge, we took a walk through Harvard Square. I remember it started raining, so we ducked into the closest doorway. We found ourselves in Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage. Little did I know that we’d stumbled upon a local institution. My dad was hungry, so he ordered an appetizer: a bowl of rice pudding. Then, we feasted on hamburgers and fries. My dad ordered rice pudding again for dessert.

I like rice pudding too. I think of it as a delicious way to use up leftover rice. This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie is Rice Pudding and Caramel Apples. The rice pudding recipe is different than my usual method, so I was interested to try. The caramel apples sounded amazing, independent of the pudding.

Rather than leftover rice, Dorie’s recipe starts by boiling Arborio rice until it is partially cooked. Then, the rice is cooked in a quart of milk (I used 1% rather than whole) along with some sugar until the rice is tender and all the milk is almost, but not completely, absorbed. Simple, other than giving it the occasional stir and keeping an eye on the pot to be sure the milk doesn’t boil over.

The one mystery of rice pudding is what to do with the skin that keeps developing on the top. Do you discard it or just keep stirring it in? Over the course of the half hour I cooked and stirred, I did both.

The apples were relatively easy too. Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of molten sugar? Fortunately, until I looked at the sugar moistened with lemon juice bubbling in the skillet, I didn’t realize that was what I was doing. Once the sugar was melted, I stirred in apple juice and the apples and continued to let it boil away. Finally, heavy cream is added and the caramel gets boiled some more to mellow the sauce.

Caramelizing Apples

Now the hardest part – waiting to taste it…The caramel apples were dangerously hot. The rice pudding was far above room temperature. An ice bath solved the problem for the rice pudding. I wanted the apples to be warmer so just let them sit on the counter.

I had to wait about half an hour. As suggested, I layered apples, pudding and more apples, parfait-style in a glass. Definitely fancier than my usual rice pudding, but equally delicious.

Honestly, I don’t know whether I’d make the rice pudding this way. I’d probably use my tried-and-true method. The caramel apples are the keeper part of this recipe. I’d definitely make them again. I am thinking up other ways to use them: topping yogurt, in a tart, in a turnover. The possibilities are endless.

The other Doristas are making the same recipe this week. Check out their links here. Here’s the recipe from Epicurious. You can also find the recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table..

Now for a word about the Doristas. Last weekend, I attended the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle. A primary motivator for signing up was the keynote speaker, none other than Dorie Greenspan, and the opportunity to meet about a dozen of my fellow French Friday bloggers.

Cyberfriends are an odd duck. On the one hand, week after week, you read their personal stories on their blogs and converse through comments and occasional emails so you know them. On the other hand, they are strangers. When I was young, I had various pen pals, and though we wrote letters back and forth for months, I never actually met any of them in person. The anticipation of meeting the Doristas gave me a similar feeling, like I was going to meet my pen pals.

Well, the actual meeting exceeded all expectations. When I arrived in the lobby of the hotel, I recognized a small group from their pictures on their blogs or from Facebook. They recognized me too. Hugs all around, and more hugs as more Doristas arrived. Over the course of the weekend, we bonded. Though we were sort of strangers at the beginning of the weekend, we all hand common interests and the more I got to know each person, I felt like the group was filled with people that would be my friends regardless of how we met. Everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

Doristas in Seattle

Doristas in Seattle

Aside from conference activities, we explored Seattle together for some early morning breakfasts, and on Sunday night, before we went our separate ways, we shared a final dinner together. By the end of the weekend, I felt like I was saying goodbye to my friends from summer camp. My heart swells to think of all the good feelings that flowed between us throughout the weekend. It was a unforgettable experience.

For those of you other Doristas who couldn’t be in Seattle, we really missed you. Hopefully, we will arrange another gathering in the future so more of us can meet in person. Until then, Happy Friday!