Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Pizza of Figs

Ok, now that everybody has the basic homemade pizza recipe down pat, we can move on to more exciting variations. Like grilling (on the barbecue!), adding fresh herbs to the dough (rosemary!), turning the whole thing into a fancy tasty plate for a fresh salad (arugula!), and taking advantage of fresh seasonal produce (figs!). What's great about this is that it is fancy and tasty but still affordable and healthy. Oh, and my mom really really likes fig pizza.

I've been wanting to try grilling pizza for a while, and I'm glad I finally took the plunge. It's really not complicated once you figure it out. One of the really nice benefits of grilling pizza on the barbecue is that you can avoid the awful overheated kitchen (or whole house) that comes from cooking a pizza indoors. As my dad pointed out, mine was a very successful "maiden voyage." As I suspected the whole process wasn't too difficult, and the combination of the rosemary in the pizza dough, and the sweetness of the figs with the tartness of the goat cheese all topped off with the peppery bite of the arugula was pretty perfect. Especially eaten in the backyard with a glass of wine on a warm evening.

Whole Wheat Herbed Pizza Dough
Makes 2 pizzas (enough for 4 people)

3/4 cups warm water
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
1 tsp honey
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups all purpose white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1-2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and wine, then stir in the honey, salt and olive oil. Add the flour and rosemary, stirring until it comes together. Sprinkle your workspace with flour (I prefer using whole wheat), dump the dough out onto the flour, and knead it for a couple of minutes, until the texture is smooth and uniform. Form it into a nice, neat ball.

Coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil, and place your dough ball in it, coating the dough lightly with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for an hour or two until it has doubled in size.

Once the dough has doubled, place it back on the floured work surface and gently deflate it. Using a sharp knife, neatly slice the dough in half. Form each half into round balls, pinching the seams of the cut sides together. Wipe the excess oil out of the large bowl and turn it upside down over the dough and let it rise, covered, for 15-30 more minutes. After this step, you will stretch or roll the dough as thinly as possible, at which point you will be ready to grill them.

In order to grill the pizzas you will need to have your barbecue to be hot, and you will need to have your toppings prepared.

Figs (I used 8 figs, sliced into rounds)
1/2 small Red onion (thinly sliced)
5 oz soft goat cheese
Balsamic vinegar & olive oil

Put together all of your toppings so that you can spread them on your pizza quickly and easily while it is on the grill. Slice the figs into nice little circles (I recommend eating the little bottom pieces, just to remind yourself of how good they are). Break the cheese up into small chunks with your fingers. After thinly slicing the red onion, soak it in some hot water to help take the bite off since it won't be cooked very much (you can skip this step if you don't mind raw onions). Wash and dry the arugula and lightly dress it with a little bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

By now you should have all of your toppings prepared, your pizza dough should be stretched to it's desired thinness & shape, and your grill should be hot. I recommend having an extra plate, a pair of tongs, a brush (for the oil), and a hot pad handy.

When you are ready to get started, spread a little bit of olive oil on one side of the pizza dough and flip the dough over, oil side down onto the grill surface. Close the lid and wait for a few minutes, until you can see some nice grill marks on the bottom. At this point you can either oil the top and flip the pizza over, or you can forget to flip it and just rotate it and top it (like I did, with much success). Spread half of the toppings evenly over each pizza, close the top and keep cooking it until the dough is cooked all of the way through, and the cheese is meltingly warm.

Slide the pizza onto a plate (or cutting board) and slice it up! Top it with a handful of the dressed arugula if you like.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!

As I have mentioned previously, my family lived in a relatively rural area when I was growing up.  This meant that it took half an hour to drive to school (both ways!), 15 minutes to get to the closest grocery store, and 20 minutes to get to my best friend's house.  It also meant that we could not get pizza delivery (or any kind of delivery for that matter).  On the plus side we had a huge garden with lots of fresh vegetables, but while my brother and I may have enjoyed eating lemon cucumbers and cherry tomatoes straight off the vine, the elusive pizza held a special place in our imaginations.  

  Delivery pizza is the epitome of parents giving up all pretense of putting together a healthy meal - giving up so fully that they're not even pretending to get into the kitchen (or even the car).  Unfortunately for us, our parents were organized and unflagging in their efforts to provide us with healthy well balanced homemade meals.  On the few occasions that we went out for pizza, my brother would go all out, ordering "double cheese" and the ever exotic "hawaiian" pizza.  Our family's healthy eating habits often left us longing for a taste of all those things that normal parents let their kids eat.

When we finally moved to the "city" when I was in high-school, the revelation that we could have pizza delivered made us giddy at first.  We ordered some pizza, ate it, bemoaned how full and greasy we felt and promptly never did it again.

I think that I have finally found a way to bring pizza into our home: make it from scratch.  It's fresher, tastier, and healthier.  Plus it's really easy.  

Whole Wheat Pizza with Homemade Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Smittenkitchen
Serves two

6 Tbsp warm water
2 Tbsp white wine
3/4 tsp active dry yeast (or 1/2 tsp instant yeast)
1/2 tsp honey
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and wine, then stir in the honey, salt and olive oil.  Add the flour, stirring until it comes together.  Sprinkle your work surface with some flour (I like to use whole wheat), dump the dough out onto the flour, and knead it for a couple of minutes, until the texture is smooth and uniform.  Form it into a nice, neat ball.

Coat the inside of a medium sized bowl with olive oil, and place your dough ball in it, coating the dough lightly with olive oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for an hour or two until it has doubled in size.  Alternatively, you can make the dough in the morning and put it in the refrigerator for the day for a very slow rise. It should be ready for the second step by the time you get home from work in the evening.  

Pre-heat the oven to 500.
Once the dough has doubled, place it once again on a floured work surface, and gently deflate it by pressing down on it with the palm of your hand.  Form it back into a ball, and leaving it on the work surface, cover it loosely with plastic wrap, a dishtowel, or an upside down bowl.  Leave it for another 15 minutes or so, then roll it, stretch it, or press it out into as thin as you can get it without ripping it.  

Put it on a the surface you want to cook it on with a little bit of cornmeal sprinkled on the bottom to keep it from sticking.  Top it with your homemade sauce and some shredded mozzarella cheese (not too much).

Bake it on whatever surface you have available (pizza stone, baking sheet, large cast iron skillet), for 10-15 minutes or until it is done.  You want to make sure the dough cooks completely - you can lift a corner of the pizza up and peek underneath to see if the bottom is still doughy or beginning to crisp up if you are having trouble telling if it is done.

When the pizza is done, take it out, slice it, and top it with fresh basil if you have it.

Pizza Sauce
You can start making this sauce while the dough is rising.

4 medium or 3 large Tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes (with their juice)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
Splash of white wine
Salt to taste

You can remove the skins from the tomatoes if you want, but I actually don't think it is necessary.  If you want to, just x the bottoms of the tomatoes and submerge them in boiling water for about a minute - the skins should peel off easily.

Put a small pot on the stove over medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.  When the oil is warm, add the minced garlic, and cook it, stirring for a couple of minutes - until it is fragrant (don't let it brown though, that will make it bitter).  Add the tomatoes and the wine, and simmer for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  It should be very juicy at first, and but by the time it is done it should have thickened up quite a bit.  Once it's done, add salt to taste and then spread it on your pizza.

Friday, September 3, 2010

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomatillo

I've been searching for this recipe for a long time.

When I was in kindergarten my family moved from Los Angeles to a rural area in Sonoma. One of the many exciting things about our new home was the enormous garden that my parents grew. They were very serious about doing it right, and spent days (weeks?) clearing out the area of native rocks and building a tall fence to keep out the deer. Organic growing being a priority, green crops were planted in order to put more nutrients in the soil.

Their hard work was rewarded by bountiful cherry tomato plants (I think that some of the plants may have exceeded my small stature at the time), sweet and earthy home-grown carrots, and an abundance of strange sticky green tomatillos.

I remember being perplexed by the tomatillos. They felt weird, smelled funny, and I had no idea what their purpose was. In my memory we never made anything with them, although I'm sure we must have.

Around that time, my family began going to a mexican restaurant in Sonoma that is still one of our favorites: Juanita Juanitas. Every visit there begins with a bin of their delicious crispy salty chips, and a cup of their wonderful tomatillo salsa. I love that salsa. Whenever I visit my parents I crave it. I don't think that I ever made the connection between the salsa and the sticky green fruits from our garden when I was little, but lately I've been wondering if I could find the secret to the transformation.

Well, thanks to my new favorite cookbook, A Platter of Figs, I think I've figured it out. As I suspected it is very simple. Unfortunately, it's just not the same without those chips.
Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from A Platter of Figs by David Tanis
This is halved from the original version. It made quite a bit of salsa.

1lb Tomatillos (look for small, fresh & firm tomatillos)
1/2 yellow onion (thinly sliced)
1 Garlic cloves (minced)
1-2 jalapeno peppers (depending on how spicy the peppers are and how spicy you want the sauce to be, Sliced)
Salt to taste
1/2 of a large bunch of cilantro (leaves and stems chopped)

Slide the husks off of the tomatillos and detach them by pinching off the stem. Once the tomatillos are prepared, place them, along with the sliced onion, garlic and jalapenos* in a medium sauce pan and cover everything with water. Add 1/2 tablespoon or so of salt, and bring the water to a boil.
Once the water has begun to boil, remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool (I fished all of the ingredients from the water at this point and spread them out on a plate so that they would cool more quickly).
Put the cooled cooked ingredients into a food processor, add the cilantro and whiz it until it is a uniform texture. It should be green, frothy and delicious. Taste it for spiciness and saltiness and adjust as desired. You can add a little bit of the cooking water if you want it thinner.

Scoop it up with chips and spoon it over tacos, burritos, fish, or chicken (or straight into your mouth).
*If you are worried about the spice you can put in part of the jalapeno at this stage and then add more to taste at a later stage.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Banh Appetit

I deeply dislike my Bon Appetit subscription. It was supposed to be my complementary Gourmet subscription, which came with their cookbook. Unfortunately, by the time I sent in my claim, Gourmet had gone under and Conde Nast tried to convert me by substituting Bon Appetit. It's free, and I have few other food magazine choices so I decided to give it a try. Actually, that may be an overstatement. I have resented every issue. I hate it. I hate the pictures. Why is everything so dark and shiny? The food looks greasy, severe, staged, stylized and extremely unappetizing. I loved the pictures in Gourmet, I wanted to try everything. While my old issues of Gourmet are a filled with post it notes marking the recipes I want to make, I have marked only two recipes in all of the Bon Appetit magazines I have received. To be honest, I was only really excited about one of them, a recipe for Pork Meatball Banh Mi.

Banh Mi are French-Vietnamese sandwiches, made with a baguette filled with sweetly pickled shredded carrots and daikon radishes, fresh sprigs of cilantro, crunchy slices of hot jalapeno peppers, a slather of mayonnaise, and some sort of meat (often pork). What's great about these sandwiches is that they are very flavorful and usually very cheap. What's not so great is that the meat inside is, in my experience, often not very good. Which is why I was excited to make banh mi myself. Fortunately, all of the ingredients for these sandwiches were inexpensive but the end result tasted delicious rather than cheap. The meatballs were especially flavorful: spicy and savory. Moist on the inside, browned on the outside.

There were a few little things I changed about this recipe. First of all, the amount of sugar for the daikon and carrots seemed overwhelming. I tried to trust the recipe as it was written, but after I had added the sugar, vinegar and salt to the vegetables I could not imagine the mixture somehow turning into something palatable, so I dumped the mixture into a strainer to remove as much of the sugary slush as possible and then I put the vegetables back in the bowl with a little more vinegar and salt. It ended up tasting perfect. To put the sugar/vinegar amounts into perspective, a recipe for chicken banh mi from Gourmet calls for about half as much of the vegetables mixed with 1/2 cup rice vinegar, and 1 Tbsp sugar. I think something closer to those amounts would be more reasonable then the 1/4 cup each of rice vinegar and sugar called for in the Bon Appetite recipe (I also found that I had much more of the pickled vegetables than I could have possibly used).

Another thing I balked at was the cornstarch in the meatballs, so I substituted flour. Last but not least, I made 1/2 a batch of the sriracha mayonaise, and 1/2 a batch of sriracha yogurt (I substituted plain yogurt for the mayonnaise). I really don't like mayonnaise, and I liked the yogurt mixture better. Kevin, on the other hand, ate the mayonnaise sauce and liked it.
Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes enough for 4

Sandwich Components
Pickled carrots and Daikon Radishes
Sriracha Mayonaise or Yogurt
Pork Meatballs
Fresh Cilantro leaves
Thinly (or thickly) sliced jalapeno
Baguettes (4 small or two large)

Pickled Carrots and Daikon Radish (I recommend halving this)
2 cups carrots (the recipe says to coarsely grate them but I prefer to cut them by hand into matchsticks)
2 cups diakon radishes (again, coarsely grated or cut into matchsticks)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (I suggest cutting this down a lot, try a tablespoon and see how it tastes)
1 tsp course kosher salt

Stir these indgredients together an hour or two ahead of time and let it sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Sriracha Mayonaise (or Yogurt)
2/3 cup mayonaise (or plain yogurt)
2 green onions (finely chopped)
1 Tbsp Sriracha (this makes a pretty spicy sauce - you might start by adding a little at a time to taste to tailor its spicy-ness to your liking/tolerance)
Salt to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together. You can make this ahead of time, just cover it and put it in the fridge.

Pork Meatballs
1 lb ground pork
1/4 cup fresh basil (finely chopped)
4 garlic cloves (minced)
3 green onions (minced)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp sriracha
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch (or 4 tsp flour)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp coarse kosher salt

1-2 Tablespoons sesame oil (to fry the meatballs in)

Gently mix all of the ingredients together, except the sesame oil. With moist hands, roll tablespoon sized balls out of the mixture.

Pre-heat the oven to 300.
Heat a tablespoon of the sesame oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add half of the meatballs. Be careful of the hot oil, if it is sizzling too much you can turn the heat down a little. Saute the meatballs, turning occasionally, until they are cooked all the way through (slice one in 1/2 to check). They should have a nice brown crust. When the first batch is done, put them in a pie plate and place them in the oven to keep them warm. Add a little more oil to the pan and repeat this process with the rest of the meatballs.

When all the meat has been cooked, assemble your sandwiches however you like. You might taste the different components for spicy-ness first so you can get it just right. One of the cafes where we get banh mi always hides one HUGE slice of jalapeno in its sandwiches, which is always a very unwelcome surprise when you bite into it. (Actually, it is less of a slice than just a full half of a jalapeno.) Personally, I prefer a few slivers of jalapeno, plenty of yogurt sauce and lots of meatballs, cilantro, and pickled vegetables.
Everything keeps well in the fridge, so if you have leftover ingredients save them for later.

So, yes, this Bon Appetit recipe was good. Really good, in fact. But I can't imagine it being so good if I had followed the recipe exactly as printed, and I was especially glad to have the Gourmet version to help me alter it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Peach & {Wild} Blueberry Cobbler

Except for a handful of stragglers, I have now used up the last of my wild blueberries. I made several batches of pancakes, a dud of a broiled-yogurt dish (we ate it but we did not enjoy it), and last but not least a cobbler.

Now I want to mention something that has been on my mind a lot lately: I don't like really heavy rich desserts (or savory dishes either actually). They make me feel bad inside and out. I particularly find that I don't like it when fresh delicious (and precious) fruit is suffocated in butter and sugar. Basically, I have been searching out recipes that show off my lovely produce, rather than stifle it.

This cobbler is very summery, and the fruit is very straightforward. The combination of blueberries and juicy baked peaches is sticky perfection. The cornmeal-buttermilk-biscuit topping is tender and rustic and neither too sweet or too heavy. Let's just say that we had firsts, seconds, and then polished off the leftovers for breakfast.
Peach and {Wild} Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's adaptation from Simple Fresh Southern

4 cups peaches (1 1/2 lbs), pitted, peeled** and sliced
2 cups (1 pint) blueberries, rinsed and dried
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (I left this out)
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425°. Toss peaches with blueberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon (if you are using it), and salt in the bottom of a 2-quart ovenproof dish (because I halved the fruit I used a pyrex pie dish).

Make the biscuit dough. Stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix the butter into the flour mixture with a fork, pastry cutter or your hot little hands. Stir in the buttermilk until the dough comes together.

Drop spoonfuls of the dough over the filling. Bake until the juice from the fruit is bubbly and the tops of the biscuits are browned, 20-25 minutes.

Be careful: it's sticky, addictive, and I'm pretty sure it stains.
*I halved the amount of fruit so that it would be a better amount for two (just enough for seconds the night of, and maybe a little bit for breakfast the next day). The ratio would have been better with more fruit though.
**As smitten kitchen suggests, a simple way to peel the peaches skin off is to slice an X into the bottom of each peach and then submerge them in boiling water for 30 seconds.

Homemade Buttermilk Pancakes with Wild Blueberries

Blueberry pancakes may be unoriginal but they are very good. The way that the blueberries cook within the pancake batter so that they get hot and juicy and practically burst is reliably delicious. I was especially happy to find a recipe for buttermilk pancakes that is very simple. In fact, it is so easy to make and requires so few ingredients that it puts box mixes to shame.

The recipe I followed, from Gourmet Today, was for plain buttermilk pancakes--a simple base ready to be adapted in any number of ways. I added half a cup of blueberries, but if a plane trip to New Hampshire for fresh-picked berries sounds too indulgent, you can follow Gourmet's suggestion of sour cream and caviar. So versatile!
Buttermilk Pancakes (with blueberries)

From Gourmet Today

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg (lightly beaten)
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk*
vegetable oil for brushing the griddle

1/2 cup blueberries (optional)

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, egg, and buttermilk in a bowl until smooth. Gently stir in the blueberries.

Heat a griddle or a large heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot enough to make drops of water scatter over its surface. Brush with oil (It doesn't need much oil at all - I like to wipe the oil with a paper towel before each batch so that it is barely there).

Working in batches, using a 1/4 cup measure filled halfway for each pancake (I used about double this amount), pour the batter onto the griddle and cook pancakes, turning once, until golden.

If you like, you can place the cooked pancakes onto a heatproof platter, cover, and keep them warm by placing them in a 200° oven while you cook the remaining pancakes.
*Buttermilk is the only ingredient that I don't always have in the refrigerator. Luckily, there are several ways to come up with a substitution in a pinch. One way is to mix 1 Tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar to a cup of whole milk, which will make it curdle and thicken and sour. The other way, which I much prefer, is to thin 2/3 cup yogurt with 1/3 cup water. I think that the yogurt substitution is much tastier and the tangy plain yogurt is more substantial and appealing. The other versions are a little funky and often have a strong lemony (or worse) vinegar-y flavor.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wild Blueberries

While visiting Loon Island during my recent trip to Squam Lake in New Hampshire, I lucked into a windfall crop of wild blueberries. Normally picking tiny wild blueberries is more for the fun of it then for any real expected bulk gains, but this time the bushes were so full that I ended up with a substantial quantity. Not only enough to actually make something, but in fact enough to make multiple things (more on that later).
The first thing I did with the pretty, tiny, dark blue berries, was to eat some right away. Plucked straight off the bush, still on the island. I guess this might not seem like a huge treat to people who live where blueberries grow, but for me this is something I only get when I go to Loon Island, which is not often. Regardless of how often you get to eat berries straight off the bush, you have to admit that nothing really can compare. Blueberries, blackberries especially -the fresher and the wilder the better. Nothing is more summery and delicious than hard earned berries that stain your fingers, lips, and teeth, eaten in the very spot where they grew. Of course, it doesn't hurt if that place happens to be very beautiful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hot Summer Days

The best thing about summer is the heat.  Scorching blue skies that beg for generous helpings of cool, refreshing ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, and sorbet.  While I know people who believe ice cream is a necessity all year round, I think that it would not be a stretch to suggest that it makes its strongest argument for existence during the hot summer months.  

I recently suffered my first sunburn of the season, and subsequently have been tirelessly searching for a ice cream recipe to make.  The search for the perfect recipe was as exciting as it was terrifying.  Salted butter caramel ice cream sounded equally delicious as it did deadly.  Overtly healthy recipes were also a nonstarter - ice cream is supposed to be a treat.  I was surprised to find a recipe in the ice cream section of Gourmet Today, for cherry gelato that called for a relatively small amount heart-stopping fats (it uses whole milk instead of 2 cups of cream, plus lots rich egg yolks that every other recipe seems to rely on).  Gourmet recipes by and large utilize butter and cream with delicious, if somewhat reckless abandon, so I trust that when one of their recipes uses lighter ingredients it is not due to a fear of fat. 

Plus cherries are so delicious.  Now that I think about it - aren't the juicy-ripe fruits the best thing about summer?  
Luckily, this recipe combines the two best things about summer, fruit and ice-y treats.  The result is sweet and satisfying, with the added bonus that it will not seriously compromise your health, and subsequently your enjoyment of the beautiful weather.  What more can you ask for?  Actually, I have one tiny little suggestion: chocolate.  I think that the addition of a little chocolate (some chips or sauce) would be very good.  

Cherry Gelato
From Gourmet Today

1/2 vanilla bean*
3 1/2 cups whole milk
pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
1/2 cup turbinado sugar, such as sugar in the raw
2 Tbsp cornstarch 

1/2 lb (1 1/2 cups) fresh bing cherries (pitted)
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 tsp almond extract

Special equipment: Ice cream maker (remember to chill beforehand it if necessary)

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a small heavy saucepan.  Add the milk and salt and bring just to a boil; remove from heat.

Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl, add 1/2 cup hot milk mixture to sugar mixture, whisking until smooth, and whisk into the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, whisking, and simmer, whisking, for three minutes.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl.  Refrigerate, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cool, about 1 hour, then cover and refrigerate until very cold, 3-6 hours.

Meanwhile, pulse the cherries with sugar and extracts in a food processor until finely chopped.  Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour. 

Once everything is thoroughly chilled, stir the cherries, with their juices into the gelato base.  Freeze in ice cream maker.  Transfer gelato to an airtight container and put in the freezer to harden for at least 2 hours.

*I spent my discretionary funds buying almond extract, so I cheaped out on the vanilla bean and just doubled the amount of vanilla extract.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Artichoke Opportunity

I have been eyeing an artichoke recipe in the Zuni Cafe cookbook for quite a while.  Recently, however, I found myself turning to the picture first, and then the recipe, very frequently.  Maybe a little obsessively.  I was just waiting for the right time to make it.  

That time was yesterday.  Let's just say I pounced on the opportunity.  Unfortunately, it was good enough that I am sure I will soon be back where I started: scheming for a chance to make it again.  

This recipe is really wonderful.  The artichokes are rich and meaty, the onions are silky and sweet, and the lemon imbues everything with it's bright flavor and fragrance.  

As a side I would suggest that 1/2 of a meaty artichoke is plenty for each guest.  I used three for 6 people and it worked well.  From start to finish the recipe took about 3 hours.

Baked Artichokes
with Onions, Lemons, Black Olives & Rosemary* 

2 lbs sweet yellow onions (sliced thinly)
3/4 - 1 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves (slivered)
1/3 cup nicoise or gaeta olives (rinsed)
12 mint leaves or 1 sprig of fresh rosemary (coarsely chopped)
1/2 lemon (cut lengthwise)
6 Tbsp dry white wine
4 bright green, tightly closed artichokes with big blooms, meaty bottoms and thick stems
A little water, as needed
Parchment paper & aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 375

Toss the sliced onions with 1/2 cup olive oil & 1 1/2 tsp salt.  Add the garlic, olives and rosemary or mint.  Go ahead and put this mixture into the large, flameproof baking dish you will be using.  

Trim off the pithy end of the lemon and slice it as thinly as possible into half moons, removing the seeds as you go.  Toss the lemon slices with the onion mixture, add the wine, and set aside.

Trim the bottom of the stem of each artichoke and carefully peel the stalk (remove the tough outer skin).  Remove the damaged, dry, and tough outer leaves.  Trim the thorns (tops of the leaves).  Cut the artichokes in half, then use a spoon (a grapefruit spoon worked really well here), to remove the choke, leaving the meaty bottom intact.  Rinse in cold water (don't drain well, the water between the leaves will help cook the artichoke evenly).  

Sprinkle the artichokes with salt, try to get a little between the leaves as well.  Drizzle them with olive oil to coat the outsides, and also try to get some oil between the leaves.  

Nestle the artichokes cut side down in the bed of onions.  You may have to add some water if the liquid from the onions is not sufficient - it should be about 1/2 inch deep.  

Heat gently over a low flame until the liquid is bubbling, then cover tightly, first with parchment paper, then with foil (dull side out).  Bake until the base is tender, about 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the artichokes.  

Once a test leaf is tender, remove the foil and paper, and raise oven temperature to 400.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  They should be good (better even) the next day.  They can be reheated, loosely covered, at 300.

*the recipe calls for Mint, but suggested that the substitution of rosemary is also good (it was).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Elevenses & Foursies

My mother's Great-Aunt Eugenia was, I am told, quite a character.  The lucky relatives who visited her throughout her life have vivid memories of the meals that she served them.  She apparently loved her rituals, and was very fond of tea time.  She regularly held elevenses and foursies (tea-time held at eleven and four) at which tea and cookies were served.  My grandmother still makes a cookie recipe passed down from her aunt Eugenia, which are a perfectly delicate and ladylike snack.  I was more than happy to oblige my mother, who has been wanting to try (the results of) this recipe for quite some time.  The sugar and butter form a fancy lacy sort of crispy caramel structure, and presence of oatmeal keeps them grounded and homey.  
Aunt Eugenia's Lacy Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 60 cookies

1 egg (beaten)
1 cup sugar
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (melted)

Parchment paper

Pre-heat the oven to 350 (I like to cut up the stick of butter, put it in a pie tin and stick it in the oven to melt at this point).  

Mix the egg, sugar, oatmeal, salt and vanilla together.  Mix the flour and baking powder together and then mix with the melted butter.  Now mix the butter mixture in with the oatmeal mixture and stir until combined.

Line a cookie sheet (or two) with parchment paper.*

Put 1/2 tsp of the mixture on the parchment lined sheets, leaving plenty of space between each cookie (they spread).  

Bake for 6 minutes and check on them.  (I cooked them for 6 minutes, turned them, and cooked them for 1 more minute to get them evenly golden).  

Cool the cookies, sliding the parchment paper off of the cookie sheets, and then peel the cookies off and place them on waxed paper on a cookie rack to cool further.  Store them in a cool place in a sealed container, using sheets of waxed paper to separate the layers.  
*I tried various different butter/parchment paper scenarios.  Just butter and no parchment paper did not work.  Parchment paper worked really well, just let them cool for a few minutes on the parchment paper (but off of the hot pan), and peel them off.  Buttered parchment paper worked well also - the cookies came off equally well after cooling.  They seemed to spread thinner and were a little "lacier," but they were also a little more oddly shaped.  The verdict: definitely use parchment paper, buttering it is optional.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


For the time being I do not have my own kitchen.  To be honest, my old kitchen left much to be desired (the paint was peeling off the cabinets, it had no dishwasher for the mountains of dishes I constantly make, and worst of all the occasional cockroach paid an unwelcome visit).  But it had one really great thing going for it: it was mine.  

Cooking in other people's houses is always surprising.  My pantry staples are not my grandma's, my boyfriend's, my brother's, or my parent's.  I hoard yeast.  My mom stocks ice cream.   It always takes a little while to adjust, but there are always some exciting new tools and ingredients to discover.  

My first cooking project was making a batch of my favorite breakfast granola.  I feel a little more grounded now that I know it's waiting for me in the morning, just how I like it.  Recipes can travel, routines re-formed, and eventually, kitchens can be reassembled.  

Breakfast Granola
About the recipe: this was originally a recipe for granola bars from Ina Garten that smitten kitchen adapted (by removing the butter and sugar, if I remember correctly), which I then adapted a little further and made into granola.

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds (chopped are good too)
1 cup shredded coconut (preferably unsweetened)
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4-  1/2 tsp kosher salt (to taste)
1 1/2 cup dried fruit (I like chopped apricots and cherries)

Pre-heat the oven to 350.  Line a 9x13-inch baking dish with parchment paper.

Mix together the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut, and wheat germ and spread on a baking sheet.  Bake the mixture for 10 -15 minutes, or until lightly browned stirring occasionally.

While the oatmeal mixture is toasting, in a large bowl mix together the honey, syrup, vanilla, salt and fruit.  

When the mixture is golden, remove it from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 300. 

Stir the still-warm dry ingredients in with the sticky mixture, and mix well until everything is evenly coated.  Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, and place another piece of parchment paper on the top to cover and press down on it with your hands, or a flat object, like the back of a spatula, to get the mixture as uniform and compact as possible.  Remove the top layer of parchment paper.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (sometimes it takes a little longer), until light golden brown.  Let it cool for 2 hours.  At this point you could cut it into squares to make granola bars, or, as I prefer, you could break it into pieces with your hands and put it back in the oven at 300 for another 15 or so minutes, until crisp (but not burnt).

I love to eat this with plain unsweetened yogurt.  It is sweet and a little salty and it is perfect with tangy-ness of the yogurt.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Still Don't Like Eggs

I don't like eggs, I never have, and I still don't.  Despite my personal, and deeply rooted egg related issues, I liked this frittata.  It's simple and very tasty.    The leeks are mild and sweet and the goat cheese is tangy and salty and the fluffy eggs just bind everything together.  I highly recommend it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.  
Leek and Goat Cheese Frittata
Adapted from Rachel Eats

4 Leeks, white parts only, washed thoroughly and cut into thinly sliced half moons
6 Eggs
Splash of Milk (optional)
Olive oil (or butter)
Goat Cheese
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Saute the sliced leeks in a little bit of olive oil with a little bit of salt and pepper until they have cooked down and are tender.  Set aside and let cool.  Crack the eggs into a bowl, whisk them together with a little bit of milk, salt and pepper.  Stir the cooled leeks in with the eggs, and pour into a lightly oiled skillet.  Pre-heat the oven to Broil.  Cook over low heat until the frittata has set around the sides and is just a little bit runny in the middle.  Crumble the goat cheese over the top, and stick it in the oven for a couple of minutes, until it has puffed up and cooked through.  Be careful not to overcook it.

A Slice of Cake (or two)

I have not had too much trouble avoiding cooking with butter for the past couple of weeks, however, I unfortunately invested in some before making that decision.  Actually, probably part of the reason I decided not to cook with the stuff was because I realized how much of it I had bought.  Anyways, the point is that I am now in the process of cooking and eating my way through the contents of my cupboards and refrigerator and that includes using the butter.  Fortunately, I also found some nuts that needed to be used and decided to make a buttery, nutty cake.  I'm very glad I did.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I really needed it.  Like a hug.

I made a tiny change to the original recipe, besides the bigger decision to leave off the jam, and I am happy to say that it turned out very well.  I only had a cup of walnuts, and as fate would have it I had a 1/4 cup of hazelnut stragglers in need of a mission.  Actually, I'm sure that it would be good with a number of different nut variations or swaps.  Almonds might be really good.  But the mixture of walnuts and hazelnuts: fragrant, nutty, and wonderful. 

As soon as I pulsed the sugar and the cooled, toasted nuts, I knew this was going to be great.  What began as an assignment to use up ingredients, became something really delicious, nutty, and even comforting.  

Walnut-Hazelnut Cake
Adapted from Gourmet's Walnut Jam Cake

1 cup walnuts  
1/4 cup hazelnuts*
2/3 cup sugar
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

*Or use 1 1/4 cup walnuts

Toast the nuts in the oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes, and let them cool.

Pre-heat the oven, again, to 350.  Butter and flour a 8-inch round cake pan.  

Pulse the cooled nuts and sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add butter and process until combined, then add eggs and vanilla, and process until combined.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse to incorporate.  Spread the batter evenly in the cake pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.  Turn out onto a rack and cool completely, or eat it straight out of the oven, as I did.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Scavenging for Snacks at Home

I am trying to avoid butter for a while.  Just to kind of re-calibrate my cooking and eating habits.  I've never really been a butter slatherer, but it has been a necessary (and significant) part of all those cookies and cakes I have been happily cooking (and consuming) lately.  This of course, goes hand in hand with a more general focus on healthy eating.  Over time ingredients and eating habits inch towards the less healthy, and they need to be inched back every once in a while accordingly.  On top of this, I am trying to be very economical.  A big part of that is not going out to eat a lot, and results in my making things from scratch more often than not (which, if I make thoughtful choices results in healthier meals, bringing us full circle).

All of these factors teamed up together to confront me this afternoon.  I was so hungry!  I needed a snack, and I needed to be able to make it out of ingredients that I already had.  Luckily, I remembered a recipe that I had shown to my brother that he had tried and liked: Herbed Polenta Fries.  Easy, tasty, not too healthy or unhealthy.  
Herbed Polenta Fries
Adapted from Gourmet

3 1/4 cup cold water
1 cup polenta
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano
olive oil

Oil an 8-inch square baking dish.
Combine water, polenta, herbs, & 3/4 tsp salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring vigorously.  Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring until polenta becomes very thick and creamy.  Stir in cheese and a splash of olive oil, and transfer to the baking dish, spreading it evenly.  Chill, uncovered, until set, about 45 minutes.  
Pre-heat broiler.  Oil a baking sheet.
Slice the polenta into 16-20 4x1-inch slices.  Brush the slices with a little oil, and place them on the baking sheet.  Broil 4-inches from the heat until golden, 15-20 minutes (I did 15 minutes, then turned them over and cooked them 5 more minutes).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Eating the Rainbow

Sometimes I don't know what I'm looking for until I've already found it. I've been trying to cook more healthfully lately, but it can be a little bit of a challenge.
In an effort to find something to cook that would fit into my mom and dad's healthy lifestyle, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. Magazine recipes are so exciting (I want to try them all), but so many of them favor flavors accentuated by delicious-making fats. It seems like every other excitingly vegetable-centric recipe I find calls for 1/2 a stick of butter, which kind of defeats the purpose. Instead of my trusty Gourmet arsenal, I found myself thinking fondly about the flavorful quinoa and kale salads that I had eaten at a macrobiotic restaurant in Los Angeles, M Cafe. Problem solved.
Scarlett quinoa and emerald kale. I remember reading about the importance of using juicy descriptions of healthful foods to make them more exciting to people (not just kids). Apparently it really encourages people to consume food they otherwise steer clear of. These seem like a perfect example: rethinking beets and kale, which have been stuck in a rut of steamed-blahness and making them exotic and exciting and delicious (and all this without any butter). It's not as difficult as it sounds.
The best thing? Both of these dishes are delicious, and they won't make you die. Plus, the dressing for the kale is seriously good. I intend to re-appropriate it as a replacement for all those other ok-but-not-amazing ginger peanut butter dressings out there that I have made do with in the past.

Emerald Kale
Adapted from M Cafe

1-2 bunches of kale (if you want left-over 2)
1/2 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
1 Tbsp ginger (grated/chopped finely)
1/2 Tbsp garlic (grated/chopped finely)
1 Tbsp honey
4 Tbsp soy sauce (I used Bragg's)
3 Tbsp rice vinegar (brown rice vinegar if you have it)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

First make the dressing: mix together the nut butter, ginger, garlic honey, soy sauce vinegar and cayenne (I kept it simple and mixed it by hand, but it would probably be creamier mixed in a blender).

Put a large pot of water on the stove on high. Wash the kale well to get off any bugs and dirt. When the water is boiling, cook the kale in it for about 3 minutes (it should be a deep bright green), and then quickly remove the kale from the hot water and plunge it into some ice-water to shock it. Squeeze the excess water off of the kale, and dress it with the sauce.

Scarlett Quinoa
Recipe from M Cafe

2 tsp umeboshi (plum) vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp dill pickle juice
1 Tbsp olive oil

Whisk together the ingredients and set aside (refrigerate).

1 cup quinoa (I used red quinoa)
1/2 cup finely diced/shredded red beets
2 cups vegetable broth or water
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup diced persian cucumber*
2 tsp chopped chives
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
salt to taste

In a medium sized pan mix together the beets, broth/water, olive oil and lemon juice. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir in the quinoa, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 15 minutes, be careful not to overcook it. Remove from heat and drain any excess liquid.
Fluff the quinoa and transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate until cool. Once it is cool, stir in the cucumbers, chives, dill and lemon zest. Stir in as much dressing as desired, and salt to taste.

*I used a regular cucumber but I peeled and seeded it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hidden Treasures

I have to admit, I have developed an intimate relationship with my grocery store. I think about it all of the time, and I am constantly making excuses to visit it. It makes me greedy, frustrated, overwhelmed, triumphant, sometimes confused, and often inspired. It introduces me to new things. It makes me think.

Today, in an attempt to escape the mental blur of serious-life-decisions, I found myself driving towards my grocery store. A port in the storm. Along with my usual fruits and vegetables, I could not resist bringing home some new friends: fresh fava beans, and fuzzy green almonds. What would I find hidden inside of those green pods? I had to know.
The green almonds are a strange revelation. They can be eaten whole, fuzzy pod and all, and are crisp, bitter, and juicy. I liked peeling the shell, and revealing the luminescent almond within.
Fava beans were equally beautiful. After shucking the beans from their pod-cocoons, they got a quick boil, and then were shocked in some cold water, before undergoing a final skin-shedding, revealing the bright, deep green nuggets within. This process of uncovering and unwrapping was rewarding, building up an appreciation for the finished product, which might have otherwise been overlooked.
Both the green almonds and the fava beans share an indescribable quality, and the act of getting to them is part of their charm. I for one, am glad I took the time to get to know them.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Fresh Twist

A couple of years ago my parents took my me and my boyfriend to Zuni Cafe in San Francisco for my birthday.  Along with their famous roast chicken, we were all impressed by a whole wheat pasta dish.  It was simple and a little bit homely, but it was really good.  Just a mixture of sauteed radicchio and capers.  Of course, something that simple would be difficult to reproduce, and although I have tried, it has never turned out quite right.  The radicchio transitions swiftly from being crisp and fresh to limp and bitter.  After a mediocre attempt for lunch, I decided to try a little bit of a different approach for dinner.  Instead of a pasta dish, I made the salad equivalent.  Fresh chopped radicchio, a generous sprinkling of briny capers, chunks of creamy mild mozzarella cheese.  Showered with a rosemary and thyme spiked balsamic vinaigrette and success was achieved.