Carrots with honey and balsamic.

Living in the Northeast, we experience pretty dramatic season changes: one day, the world will be green and warm; the next, bone-chilling with a rainbow of reds, oranges, and yellows.  The change into fall can make a person think—about the new sweaters she  must acquire, and the changeover from tomatoes to apples in her salads, and the looming task of having to wake up early so she can streak down to her car in the snow and start warming it up a half-hour before she leaves the house and why, oh, why did she not get around to installing that remote control car starter this summer, when she didn’t need to buy sweaters, because she is so not spending money on a remote control car starter now that she’s started dreaming of all the sweaters she needs.

yellow carrots

It also makes her think about carrots.  Along with all of the carrot’s rooted friends, carrots sustain many a Northeasterner through the cold, cruel winter, which is way, way too long, or or at least seems so in October when it’s 40 degrees and they’re already talking about snow.   Carrots, with their bright colors and sweet flavor, don’t seem to understand how cold it is going to get, or how high propane heat costs right now.  Carrots are in their own world, full of sunshine and cute carrot limbs.

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I usually roast carrots alongside a few garlic cloves, with a liberal glug of olive oil, a good amount of pepper, and maybe some thyme.  But this time I went down another path, toward a honey balsamic glaze that, caramelized and a little tart, amplifies all that sunny sweet carrot goodness.

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The glaze isn’t as sweet as some honeyed glazes for carrots can be; the balsamic does a good job providing a foil and, luckily, the cheap balsamics will do this better, so don’t go wasting all your precious Balsamico Tradizionale on this recipe.  Instead of the usual thyme, I used micro opal basil, a specialty herb from one of my favorite people, but regular basil or—even better—tarragon would work here, and parsley would do the trick in a pinch.  Stuck inside because of the freezing rain this weekend, I’ll at least be thinking about herbs and carrots.

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Honey-balsamic Glazed Carrots

2-3 pounds carrots, peeled and quartered lenghthwise
olive oil, salt, pepper
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
herbs, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.  Add carrots to a roasting pan and coat with a bit of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven, stirring the carrots every so often, for about 45 minutes, give or take depending on how large your carrots are, or until they are tender and have browned and caramelized.  (This can be done a few hours ahead of time.)

Heat honey and balsamic in a small sauce pan until combined.  Whisk in the butter and season with a touch of salt and pepper.  Taste to see if it is too tart, or too sweet, and add more butter if you need to mellow out the flavor.

Toss carrots in the glaze and if the carrots have gone cold, reheat in the oven for a few minutes, watching that you don’t burn everything, before serving. Garnish with herbs.

Whole snapper with ginger and scallions.

I have a few favorite people in this world, who probably don’t know they hold such a place in my heart.  There’s Dee, at Highland Company Gourmet Market, who raises her own cattle, cattle that provide the best beef I’ve ever tasted.  There’s Carol, at La Maison du Cheese (yes, that’s “The House of Cheese” in French, err, French-American) who bakes like a dream, a really, really delicious dream, things like croissants with brie and roasted pear inside, and pecan sticky buns.

Snapper

There’s Emil and Joe at Maresca and Sons Fine Meats, who have the best pork belly and sausages.  And David and Patty at Podere di Melo farm, who have the chickens that I’m forever waxing sentimental over, the only chickens that I eat anymore, whose bones make for the best, happiest stock.  There’s crisp, sweet, unbelievably good apples up the road at Solebury Orchards, and even more a little further, at Manoff Market Gardens.

Snapper

There’s the gang at Bobolink Dairy, who are over 2 hours away from me, but whose cheese makes every mile of the drive worth it, and whose roasted garlic and duck fat bread is liable to make me weep the whole way home.  There’s Blue Moon Acres, the specialty organic lettuce farm that opens for only a few hours each week, and is known for providing some of the best NYC restaurants with their greens, the farm that I make it to practically every week despite the time constraints, and whose lettuce makes everyone I feed it to do a double take, because Really? Is lettuce supposed to taste this good?

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And there’s The Seafood of Buckingham Valley, or Buckingham Seafood, as everyone calls it.  It’s almost indecent, really, for us to be able to buy such great seafood, fresh as can be, out in the country where we’re already spoiled with pastured eggs and heirloom pork, and all the fresh apple cider we could ask for.  But, thankfully, this isn’t just a farm-area, this is a foodie-area, and we want it all, the best of everything, and (it never ceases to make me smile) there’s wonderful people willing to give it to us.

Snapper, covered

Everyone who lives here and likes fish talks about Buckingham Seafood, and how dedicated the family-run business is to their product.  They love fish, that’s for certain.  Sometimes, we’ll go there and Nick will tell us that they’ve been restraining themselves from eating all of the tuna that day, cut from a fatty piece of belly, and that we’d be crazy not to buy it while it’s still there.

Snapper, sauced

Their whole fish is always as fresh as can be, with clear, glossy eyes, and the smell of sea, not fish.  Jim and I make a lot of whole fish, it’s a weeknight go-to meal, and though it may seem daunting if you’ve never cooked whole fish before, it’s really easy, well, maybe not easier than sauteing a fillet, but cheaper than fillets, and worth learning.  The main thing, I think, is to make sure that the first few times you try your hand at whole fish, you’re cooking for people who you don’t feel uncomfortable telling them there might be a few bones to pick through.  Because while it’s easy to fillet a whole fish, it can make you a little bit anxious the first time, and unless you’re with friends, you’re liable to sit there picking out bones long enough that the fish turns cold. After a few times, though, you’ll get the hang of it, and know just where most of the bones lie, and how to fillet around them, or where to quickly pick them out of the fillet.

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Steamed with ginger and scallions was the first preparation that Jim and I ever used for whole fish, and it’s a simple winner.  With nothing more than pantry staples and a whole fish (snapper or black bass are good choices) you can put together a delicious meal in about 30 minutes.  We usually serve this with plain white rice on the side, sauced with some of the liquid that remains in the baking dish, but I’ll also braise some green beans with garlic and ginger if I’m feeling energetic enough at 8 o’clock on a weeknight, the time we usually get around to making dinner.

Whole Snapper with Ginger and Scallions

But before you go running off to find a local fish market, I want to thank you for your comments last post.  They cheered me up during rough nights, when I read through your condolences, and it was wonderful to hear how many of you would like an onion and peanut butter sandwich!

Whole Snapper with Ginger and Scallions

from Gourmet (oh, sadness) February 2006

1 (3-lb) whole red snapper or black bass, cleaned, leaving head and tail intact
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts cut into very thin 2-inch strips and greens reserved separately
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very thin matchsticks
3 tablespoons light soy sauce (preferably Pearl River Bridge brand)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Put baking dish in roasting pan.

Rinse fish and pat dry, then rub inside and out with salt. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with scallion strips (white and pale green) and ginger.

Stir together soy sauce and sugar until sugar is dissolved, then pour over fish. Add enough boiling-hot water to roasting pan to reach halfway up side of baking dish. Oil a large sheet of heavy-duty foil, then tent foil (oiled side down) over fish and tightly seal around roasting pan. Carefully transfer roasting pan to oven and bake until fish is just cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes.

While fish bakes, cut enough scallion greens diagonally into very thin slices to measure 1/2 cup (reserve remainder for another use).

Just before serving, remove foil from fish and sprinkle with scallion greens. Heat oil over high heat until just smoking. Remove from heat and immediately pour oil over scallion greens and fish.

Cauliflower soup with crème fraîche.

After all that Stockton Soup Lady business last post, I think it’s high time for me to show off a few more of my soups.  This one, a cauliflower soup with leeks, crème fraîche, toasted pine nuts, and meyer lemon-infused olive oil, is a favorite.

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Cauliflower was one of the first soups, after roasted tomato, that I started making on a regular basis.  It’s the perfect soup base because it yields a very creamy soup and it can temper bold additions, like Stilton cheese, without the soup tasting too strong. I used lemon-infused olive oil as my intense flavor addition, and while that might not seem too bold, I hadn’t been able to figure out what to do with this seriously lemony olive oil (it’s too much for a tomato salad, and I don’t care for it in vinaigrette) until I dripped it over the cauliflower soup, already slightly tart from crème fraîche, and it found its home.

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This soup, with the lemon oil or whatever garnish is on hand, is a must this fall, especially if you’re like me and you need some extra comforting lately. Last Sunday night, my uncle lost his battle with lung cancer.  I had been able to spend some time with him on Friday afternoon, and by the time I left I knew that would be the last time we saw each other.  He didn’t go without a fight, though; he’d been fighting strong since his diagnosis months back

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He loved life, and couldn’t stand the thought of leaving it so early, at 52; he didn’t want to let go of the dreams for his future, or his new home country, Kenya, where he had lived the past five years before coming back to the States for treatment.  He didn’t want to let go of his wife and daughter in Kenya, both of whom he had far too little time with. He didn’t want to let go of his family and friends here in New Jersey, and New York City, and San Francisco, or his memories, or his jokes, or his snarky attitude.  He wanted all of it–all of life. Even when it hurt too much for him to stand anymore, he wanted life. I think that’s the most difficult part of this; it’s so hard to accept that he died, even when he wanted so badly not to.

Cauliflower soup

I would have loved to share this soup with my uncle; sadly he wasn’t up for much eating towards the end, which is sadder still knowing how much he enjoyed food.  Uncle John was the reason I loved to eat as a kid; his appetite was impossibly large and varied, and very, very cool.  He ate grasshoppers, and onion and peanut-butter sandwiches, but he also appreciated well-made classics.  He would have loved this soup.

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Cauliflower Soup with Crème fraîche

4-6 servings

4 small leeks, top dark green part removed
1 small onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1 medium head cauliflower
2 cups homemade chicken stock
2 cups water

3 or more tablespoons crème fraîche to taste

handful of pine nuts, toasted (optional)

meyer lemon olive oil, such as o Meyer Lemon Oil (optional)

Cut leeks lengthwise in half. Split halves open and wash thoroughly under running water, discarding any outer leaves that are egregiously dirty, then slice. Chop onion. In a medium soup pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add in leeks and onion and cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Add in salt.

Remove leaves from the cauliflower head and cut in half then, using a sharp knife, cut out the stalk. With your hands, break up the cauliflower into florets. Add florets to soup pot with stock and water. If you don’t have homemade chicken stock, you can use all water. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until florets are tender and easily broken up.

Using caution, blend the soup in three or four batches.  Add back to pot and stir in creme crème fraîche.  Serve in bowl with toasted pine nuts and olive oil.