I’m entranced by a cookbook written not by a celebrity chef but by an untrained cook and mother of three who wanted to “quit fast, frozen, processed foods and get back into the kitchen.”
The recipes are not challenging and do not call for a lot of strange ingredients. Instead they use real, seasonal and wholesome foods in creative and healthy ways, like the avocado and grapefruit salad here. Oh, I almost forgot, because the dishes are so enticing: This is also a plant-based cookbook.
Veronica Bosgraaf’s Pure Food first hit my radar when she sent out a wonderful tip for the holidays, suggesting a substitution of almond milk as the base for eggnog, thereby bypassing all the worries about raw eggs and lactose intolerance. I bought some almond milk (she also tells you how to make your own) and was surprised by how wonderful it was not only with rum (or rum flavoring) for eggnog that everyone could drink, but also to make eggless French toast and rich hot cocoa.
I dived into the cookbook and soon was making dishes so flavorful and beautiful that no one noticed there was no meat. The lemon ricotta pancakes have become a weekend special at our house. We also loved Bosgraaf’s pistachio couscous with orange zest and hummus pizza with arugula and wild mushrooms.
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I also enjoyed Bosgraaf’s vignettes about her upbringing in a small Dutch community, and her makeovers of dishes she loved as a child, and of the philosophy behind her food choices.
“I believe life is about balance and it is more important to eat clean, real food than it is to be overly strict about never eating this or that. . . .”
She tested her recipes on her family and friends, “all Midwestern salt-of-the-earth people,” and declares, “I am not some fanatic, but rather the girl next door, or, I guess, the mom next door now, trying to do the right thing for her family.”
If your New Year’s resolution is to make more healthy choices, “Pure Food” is a great start.
Q. Recently, my husband and I attended a meet-and-eat with the Zac Brown Band. They served a most memorably delicious Southern Buttermilk Chess Pie. It was served in a big pan due to the large crowd and it had strawberries and pineapple baked inside. I’ve been researching and can’t come up with the right recipe. I even called their restaurant in Georgia (Southern Ground Social Club), but it’s not on the menu. Seems the traveling chef makes it. So I turn to you in hopes of a successful find! I would love to make it for my family. I look forward to reading your weekly column in the Herald.
Bonnie Wheeler, Miami Springs
A. Alas, our appeals for a recipe went unanswered by either the restaurant or the traveling chef. But I can highly recommend this pie, from our archives, which I’ve tweaked to add pineapple (and you can add strawberries, too, if you like). The caramel flavor works well with the fruit, and the buttermilk adds just the right edge of tang.
Q. I took my grandchildren to Santa’s Enchanted Forest and they were as tickled by the food as they were by all the lights. They tried all kinds of things I’d never known like arepas and churros, but we looked all over for something quite popular when I used to go to state fairs as a child, elephant ears. They were something like the funnel cakes, but were one big puff. I imagine it is a yeast dough but I’m counting on you to come up with a recipe so I can give them a taste of my childhood.
A. Being an unabashed addict of the fried, the sugared, the sticky and the funneled, I am happy to pass on my recipe for Elephant Ears, which dates back to a state fair long ago and far away.
Linda Cicero: @TasteMemories. Write to Cook’s Corner at Food, Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Bibb Lettuce Salad with Avocado and Grapefruit
Recipe from “Pure Food: Eat Clean with Seasonal, Plant-Based Recipes,” by Veronica Bosgraaf (Clarkson Potter, $20).
1/2 cup grapeseed or olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove
1 medium avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 head Bibb lettuce
1 pink grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
1 medium avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds
Make the dressing: In a blender combine the ingredients and puree until smooth. Will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Make salad: Carefully remove the core of the lettuce, keeping the heat intact. Rinse well, and then remove the leaves one at a time and lay them in a serving bowl. Top the lettuce with the grapefruit, avocado and almonds and toss gently to combine. Top with the dressing and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
Pineapple Chess Pie
Recipe adapted from a chess pie in the Cook’s Corner archives. You can top the pie with fresh fruit, such as sliced strawberries, but you must use canned pineapple or the pie will curdle.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Place sugars, buttermilk, flour and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until butter has melted and no sugar crystals remain, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat 3 eggs until thick; beat in vanilla, nutmeg and salt. Stir in drained pineapple. Pour into pie shell.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until pie is puffy and set. If not set, lower heat to 250 degrees and bake until custard no longer jiggles. Remove from oven. Chill before serving.
Yield: 8 servings
Recipe adapted by Linda Cicero. Some vendors top these with powdered sugar, but I’m firmly on the cinnamon-sugar side. If you hate the trouble of yeast dough, you can cheat and buy frozen yeast rolls, let them defrost, and then roll as thin as you can before dropping in hot oil.
2 cups milk
5 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons shortening
2 tablespoons salt
2 packages active dry yeast
2 cups very warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
6 cups (about) all-purpose flour
2 quarts vegetable oil for deep frying
Bring milk to a simmer; add sugar, shortening and salt and stir over low heat until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast onto warm water in a large bowl. When yeast has dissolved, add milk mixture, then stir in 2 cups of the flour and beat until smooth. Stir in enough additional flour, a cup at a time, to make a stiff dough.
Turn dough onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and turn to grease dough all over. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour. Punch down and divide into 6 to 8 balls. Roll each ball out into the form of an elephant's ear, an elongated oval. Heat oil at least 3 inches deep in a deep fryer or heavy skillet to 375 degrees and fry ears one at a time, for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Serve hot, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
Yield: 8 servings