Tuesday, June 30, 2009

broccoli raab crostini

I feel like a kid who can't talk fast enough to get her own thoughts out. Summer is here, and I'm not quite sure what to do with it. We're all on different schedules, and I can't seem to synchronize them in a way that makes sense. My thoughts and moods are moving as fast as the weather, and anyone living in New England right now knows that that is a messy situation. Honestly, I'm feeling pretty sixteen-y.
Luckily, the world goes on no matter what I think, and there have been a few developments around here.

Our sour cherry tree has given birth to some lovely babies, and we find that they're not so sour at all.
Joey came back from his trip, and brought happiness with him from Santa Fe.

And today, as the thunder rumbled and the storm came over the mountain, I cut the flowers off the garlic.
Yes, everyone likes to talk about garlic scapes. And I can too, if you like. Later, later.

But in my disorganized mind, what am I going to do but give you a recipe? And yes, I'll tell you about my dinner party tomorrow (and I hope you'll tell me about yours) but tonight, I'm just going to tell you about the Broccoli Raab Crostini.
I have a strong affection for Broccoli Raab. I like it as much as I like chocolate, and I can't say that about many brassicas.

Broccoli Raab Crostini
from The Best of Gourmet

makes 16 crostinis

for toasts
16 1/2-inch-thick slices from a 10-inch-long italian loaf
2 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise

For topping
1 lb broccoli raab, tough ends discarded and remainder chopped
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/8 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
3 T water
1/2 tsp salt

preheat broiler. Put bread into a large shallow baking dish or a sheet pan. Brush both sides with oil, then lightly season with salt and pepper. Broil 4 inches from heat, turning over halfway through broiling, until golden, about 4 minutes total. Rub both sides of toasts with cut sides of garlic. Discard garlic.

Cook broccoli raab in a wide heavy pot of boiling salted water uncovered until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain well in a colander, gently pressing out excess water. Wipe pot clean.
Cook garlic slices and red pepper flakes in olive oil, until garlic is golden, about two minutes. Add broccoli raab and cook, stirring occasionally, for about two minutes. Salt to taste.

Spoon topping on to toasts.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

strawberry ice cream

Strawberries are my favorite.
And ice cream is my favorite too.
Now you know two more things about me.

Strawberry Ice Cream
from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food

Makes one quart

3 egg yolks
3/4 cup half and half
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 to 2 pints strawberries, washed, dried, and hulled
a couple drops vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks just enough to break them up.
Measure the half and half and 1/2 cup sugar into a heavy-bottomed pot. Heat it over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Do not let it boil.
In the mean time, set a strainer over a heat proof bowl. Keep it at the ready- you'll need it in a second.
When the half and half mixture is hot, whisk a little of it into the egg yolks to temper them. Then whisk all of the now warm egg yolks into the hot cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Again, DO NOT LET IT BOIL. Remove from heat and strain through the strainer over the heat proof bowl. Add the heavy cream to the mixture. Cover and Chill. GO do something else for a little while.
Now for the strawberries. Put them all in a nice big bowl. Mash them with a potato masher. Then add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. (Feel free to add less if that is your preference).
Let the strawberries macerate in their own juices, stirring occasionally until the sugar has melted.
Add the berries to the cold cream mixture. Add the vanilla and salt. Chill for a little while longer.
Then put it in your ice cream maker and let it do its thing.

A note on ice cream makers: I use the nice Cuisinart ICE 20, loaned to me by some very nice friends. I know nothing about any other kinds of ice cream makers, but I know that this one is fabulous and cheap. You can also make ice cream without an ice cream maker, which I have never done (you know how I love my gadgets), but go right ahead. Let me know how it goes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

the bakewell tart

I almost didn't make it this time. For the first time, I almost didn't dare. Why? Did rodents eat through my stove? Was I having sixty people over in five minutes? Did my ricotta gnocchi dissolve right before my eyes? No. Honestly? Tired. Lazy. Reluctant to dirty up the kitchen after I just cleaned it. Thinking about that disk of In Treatment waiting for me. In a word? Lame.
But there I was, about to post a thread in the "I won't be participating in the June challenge" thread on the Daring Kitchen site. And then I took a moment to read some of the other posts on the thread. People were not participating because they had lost their job and found themselves homeless, or perhaps they had a baby yesterday. Some daring bakers were getting married in the next few days, and I think that there was even some violent crime in there.
I felt deep shame. And then I hoisted myself out of my chair, and I made the damn tart.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

And it was very good- and English, just like my semi-dormant, non-Jewish self.

Now just one little note here before we begin. Let's talk about almond extract for a moment. I admit that I am a fan. Back in high school I use to stop in at Cedar Chest in Northampton and slather myself with Caswell Massey Almond lotion. It made me feel fancy (and you know how I like to feel fancy) and it masked the cigarette smell that would follow me back to campus.
Joey, on the other hand, has a very different reaction to almond extract. He had some nasty experience involving horchata and liquor that his stomach never quite came back from. We all have our feelings and memories associated with almond extract- whether full of pain or joy.
My point is this- although this tart seems especially almond extract centered, Joey couldn't stop eating it. So there. Don't be scared by the whole almond thing.

Bakewell Tart....er....Pudding

You can find all sorts of fascinating information on the history of this dessert on the Daring Kitchen site. Is it a tart or is it a pudding? I don't know, but this just bears repeating:

"Someone once said something like 'The Bakewell pudding is a dessert. The Bakewell tart is that girl over there.'"
That's from Jasmine and Annemarie. Thanks to them for that, and for, as it happens, a pretty great challenge.

So there are three elements here, there is the sweet shortcrust pastry, the franginpane, and the jam.

For the pastry:

8oz all purpose flour
1 oz sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
1-2 T cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

For the Frangipane:

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) powdered sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

For the jam, I used a blueberry chile jam that I made last summer.

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 1/4'' thickness, by rolling in one direction only, and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to a nine inch tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

Top with whipped cream or creme fraiche to really propel yourself over the moon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fish Chowder

I'm still thinking about Maine. I've been shuffling the girls around since I got back, working and trying to do the laundry late at night. I'm a bit fixated on one reason I would really like to live by the ocean one day.

Oh wait- there are a couple more.

I am only three hours from the ocean, and somehow the fish here is all expensive, bad, or both. But in Maine, we had a poor man's feast- fish chowder.

Lucky for us, we were not the only visitors at Sarah and Jefferson's last weekend. Sarah's friend Christine was there, along with her three fantastic children. That last night, we all had our fish chowder, and then we took in a play, "The Runaway Princess".

Who do you think got to be the princess?

Sarah's Fish Chowder

1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
6 red potatoes, skins on, cut into chunks
2 pounds cheap white fish (such as cod)
3 T butter
approx. 2 cups milk, or more as needed
1 cup water
1/2 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper

In a medium sized heavy bottomed pot, melt the butter. Add the onion, then celery, then potatoes. Saute until the potatoes start to soften, about 10-15 minutes. Add water, cover and continue to cook at a low heat for another 15 minutes.
Put 2 large scoops of cooked potatoes into the blender. Cover with milk. Blend. Set aside.
Put the piece of fish into the soup and cook until it is cooked through and flakes apart. Add the milk mixture and salt and pepper to taste. Add more milk if you prefer a thinner soup. Add parsley. Serve with oyster crackers if you are lucky enough to have them handy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


With Joey away this week, I decided to take the girls up to Sarah and Jefferson's in Maine for a few days.

I find that as I get older, I get more comfortable with my fears, and this worries me a bit.

Although I used to fearlessly journey wherever and whenever I had the urge, it seems that more is at stake now, and to pack the girls up in the car and drive far away just seems so hard, at least in my mind.

Home is just easier, but this time I couldn't help myself. I wanted to go for an adventure.

And it was so nice to have a few days away from all the work and responsibility that houses us. Sometimes I have a hard time just slowing down at all so that I can look my kids in they eye and really be with them. Sometimes I need to go away so that I can have the opportunity.

Good thing I have such friends to help me out too. Amazing how many people the girls consider to be in their family.

And it's helpful for me to remember that although I share the work with Joey and I like it that way, I can still do those things that I've stopped doing in these years, like driving in the rain on an unfamiliar highway, or packing and unpacking a car stuffed with sleeping bags and rain boots and bananas all by myself.
What a good weekend. I have lots more to share, and some really good food to tell you about, but I just wanted to check in while I can still hear the sound of the pebbles talking as the waves go out.

Monday, June 22, 2009

sex and the turnip

I'm wondering if you have met the turnip.
Have you met this turnip? This is not your hearty, slightly intimidating Eastern European seeming turnip. This is a spring turnip, and if you have not met, consider this a set up. Because I know you will like each other. And although this is usually a family friendly scene over here, once you have met, we're going to turn the lights down, and things are going to get a bit indecent.
This turnip is the sexiest vegetable you haven't tried. Plump and white, full of flesh and juice. And most importantly, subtlety and surprise. This turnip will push you past your comfort zone, and you might need a drink first, but once you relax a bit, you will feel sensations that will delight you and take you to new places.
Very few are immune to the lure of the white turnip. The other day, I was in the kitchen, slicing a ball of ripe, fresh mozzarella. Joey came up behind me, his hand quietly attempting to sneak a bite. He stopped mid grab with a sigh.
"What?" I asked.
"I thought it was a turnip."
The season is almost over, so look for them at the market. They'll come back in the fall, and you will be so happy to see them again. Eat them raw, caramelize them, or, my new favorite, turn them into soup. Be prepared though- you make this soup and the night could take a turn that you weren't expecting.

Turnip and Turnip Greens Soup
from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food

makes 2 quarts, 4 to 6 servings

2 bunches of young turnips with greens
3 T butter or olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
1 Bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
6 cups homemade chicken broth (water will work too)
olive oil and parmesan, for garnish

Remove the greens from the turnips. Trip and discard the stems. Wash and drain the greens and cut them into thin strips. Trim the roots from the turnips, halve or quarter them, depending on their size, and slice them thin.
Warm a heavy pot over medium heat and add the butter, then the onion. Cook until soft, about 12 minutes. Add the turnips, bay leaf, thyme and some salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover, bring down to a simmer, and cook for ten minutes. Add the greens and cook for another ten minutes or so. Salt to taste and serve topped with a pit of olive oil and parmesan.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Preview

Well, I did it. If any of you were wondering... And I will of course, save the details for later, but I just wanted to let you know that I survived, no wait, enjoyed, no wait had a really really good time at my first dinner party. More to come...

And I'm on the road for a few days- but I'll be back soon with some good stuff, as well as updates from Joey and Luke's bbq bro-dtrip that he'll be gloatingly sending to me all week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Potato Salad

It's taken me a couple of days to write this post about potato salad simply because I've just been too busy eating the potato salad. I made a big bowl of it the other night to go with our grilled pork chops, and I've got to say that it was a really good move.
I'm not a big potato salad maker. I don't do picnic food so much, and I'm still truly learning the wonders of mayonnaise. But quite honestly, of all of things that I can do on a whim to make Joey happy, potato salad is probably in the top five. And so, a few times in our marital history, I put together a potato salad, and then I've basked in the glow of the love that follows. But the surprise here is, I don't care what kind of horrible potato goo experiences you've had- if you do it right- potato salad is one of the best things there is, really.
And it's art, too. This is your opportunity to use everything in your fridge and everything in your garden. Hell, use your weeds if they're edible. Play with color, texture, go wild. (Somehow I feel like I should be embarrassed about encouraging you to "go wild" with potato salad, but I'm not!)
So how do we do it right? Well, sky's the limit. But how you cook the potatoes is really going to count, so let's start there.
For a nice bowl of potato salad, you're going to want about 3 lbs potatoes. Go for the red ones, scrub them and keep the skins on. Boil them in salted water for 20-30 minutes, until they're nice and tender, then take them out and let them cool. Then cut them into chunks.
Now for the rest- like I said, this is creative territory here, and I'm not going to limit you with a recipe. I will, however, tell you what I put in my salad this week:
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2 large ribs celery, chopped
3 T capers
1 large dill pickle, chopped
flat leaf parsley
whole grain mustard
sherry vinegar
fresh ground pepper

Now the best thing about making potato salad is that you have to taste it, constantly! Start with a little mayo, a little mustard, a little vinegar. Keep going in small increments until you've got it perfectly.

Your art is done... bask in the love.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sticking it to the Pot with the Daring Cooks

Well, I must say, I had my doubts, but it has been quite and entertaining weekend. Do you know those days that would be really fun if they were, like, four days, but your not quite sure how to cover all that ground in 16 hours? Of course, I left my Daring Cooks challenge to the last minute just to make sure that I would be making potstickers in a high stress situation. My friends Naomi and Ron were having an Asian themed potluck on Saturday (the day before posting), and how could I not make the potstickers then? Of course if I were Audax, I would have gone ahead and made them 40 times in the month prior to the party, but I am just not that good. (Check him out, by the way- he's amazing).
So, the party was at two on Saturday, and I thought, no problem, I make the potstickers in the morning, easy peasy, lots of time. Then of course, the farm goddess calls me to work the Saturday morning Farmer's Market, which is of course, my favorite thing to do in the world, and I'm not going to refuse just so I can listen to my kids fight all morning while I make potstickers. Of course, as luck would have it, this is a recipe that really has to be made just before you eat it. So, I do what any daring cook would do- I politely inform my host that I will be making potstickers at her party.

See how happy I am with myself? I got Joey in on it, and that's Naomi's mother-in-law there who couldn't resist being drawn into the potsticker hole.
I have to admit, I'd had quite a bit of champagne at this point. I was having a bit of a hard time getting over an experience that I had had earlier at the Farmer's Market. This was the first market that I've worked this season, and I was getting into my groove. Lots of math in my head, recipes for every vegetable at will- I was getting into it. And it was really busy. And then, I found myself face to face with a woman who I think that I can safely say is one of the most famous food writers in the world. It wasn't entirely a surprise- I know that she lives around here, and I knew I would run into her one of these days. And as I try to get closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, I've thought of a lot of things that I should say. But in the moment, when she looked at me and asked, "What do you do with green garlic?", I had no words. Quietly, I stuttered, "sautee?" Jesus. I guess there's always next time. But why couldn't she have asked me about white turnips? I would have mesmerized her with my carmelized turnip suggestions, enchanted her with the thought of turnip soup that uses both the perfect juicy white turnips and their bitter, buttery greens? Sigh.
Okay, back to the potstickers- I just had to get that off my chest. I had made the filling the night before, only because it would have been entirely impossible to make it all happen the same day. So on Friday, I did a bit of chopping.

I was not so scientific about what went in there. I just put everything I could think of. And at the end of the market, I scored some free baby shitakes, and I threw those in too.

And on Saturday, in the fifteen minutes I had after the market, I threw the dough together. I was in a hurry, and I barely looked at the recipe, this was a bad idea. By the time I got to the party, I realized that my dough was too wet, and I wasn't really sure how I was supposed to shape it. And I was far from my recipe. I remembered that I needed to get the dough into little balls.

But everything was so sticky! And although I had been very attentive to the "pleating" directions, without them in front of me, I was clueless. That's when I brought Joey in.

I am so lucky that he is artistically inclined. So I rolled, then handed him irregularly shaped circles, which he turned into little potsticker shaped things.
The challenge gave us the option to boil, fry or steam the potstickers, and, because I like to live dangerously, I boiled them. I was sure they would all explode. But they didn't!

Ron and Naomi had prepared this whole incredible make your own soup spread. And the potstickers were actually really good floating in the soup. I was relieved to put them on the beautiful table and be done with the whole thing.

Thanks so much to Jen of Use Real Butter for making me do this. And go see everyone else's potstickers- I think they're prettier than mine.
Oh yeah, and p.s. just so you you get the full breadth of the weekend, I feel it necessary to show you what Joey did to the clover in the back yard.

Yes, that is a heart.


For the filling:
1 lb ground pork sausage
1/2 cup minced fresh ginger
3 T toasted sesame oil
3 oz chopped pea shoots (yes I put them in everything. You've got a problem with it?)
1/8 cup chopped chives
1 carrot, small diced
2 cups shredded napa cabbage, lightly sauteed in olive oil
3 T soy sauce
1/2 T fish sauce
2 cups chopped baby shitakes, lightly sauteed in olive oil

Mix everything together in a bowl. Cover, and put in the fridge for an hour, or if you're having a crazy weekend like me, a day.

The dough:
4 cups (500g) all purpose flour
1 cup warm water
flour for work surface

In a large bowl mix flour with 1/2 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. I kept thinking my dough was too dry and I added too much water. Don't do this!

Knead the dough about twenty strokes then cover with a damp towel for 15 minutes. Take the dough and form a flattened dome. Cut into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Shape the strips into rounded long cylinders. On a floured surface, cut the strips into 3/4 inch pieces. Press palm down on each piece to form a flat circle (you can shape the corners in with your fingers). With a rolling pin, roll out a circular wrapper from each flat disc. Take care not to roll out too thin or the dumplings will break during cooking - about 1/16th inch. Leave the centers slightly thicker than the edges. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and fold the dough in half, pleating the edges along one side. Keep all unused dough under damp cloth.

To boil, fill a large pot with water and boil dumplings until they float.

And of course, I entirely forgot to make dipping sauce. Good thing there were lots of dipping sauces at the party. But here's Jen's recipe for that, if you're not lucky enough to be going to an Asian potluck.

dipping sauce:
2 parts soy sauce
1 part vinegar (red wine or black)
a few drops of sesame oil
chili garlic paste (optional)
minced ginger (optional)
minced garlic (optional)
minced green onion (optional)
sugar (optional)

I had a fair amount of filling left over, but the recipe made about 4 dozen potstickers.

Until the next challenge then....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saffron and Pea Shoot Risotto

How is everyone's dinner party planning going? Personally, I've managed to stress myself out pretty well- although somehow because I dug the hole myself, it all seems a bit funny. I've settled on something of a menu that seems faintly possible, but I'm not sure what I was thinking when I got all excited about the courses thing- I own, like twelve plates! And I don't have a dishwasher! But as always seems to be the case, good food drama lends itself to good blog posts, so there you go. Hopefully my guests will have a sense of humor too.

On another note, I've been thinking a lot about the food that we learn from our family. Maybe the stress has brought it on- I am Jewish after all. My mother is a very good cook- and the basis of my cooking is all her. Tamari and Olive oil. Kale. Sweet potatoes. But like so many other things, I seemed to have simply absorbed her cooking- I have no memory of ever learning her skills, I just seem to have them. My grandmother, however, is a whole different story.
My grandparents owned a vegetarian bed and breakfast through my whole childhood. I thought the food was just awful. People came back year after year to experience the culture and joy of the Berkshires on a full belly of whole grain pancakes, nutty zucchini bread, and frittatas packed full of vegetables lovingly grown by my grandfather in the backyard. Because my mom was a working single mother, I was there a lot, and they never could get me to eat those pancakes. My grandmother was, to date, the only baker in the family until me, but more than that, she was a deep and sensual food lover. In the midst of her devote vegetarianism, she was never so happy as when surprised by a plate of ribs, and she insisted on taking me out for lobster for every birthday. When she died in a car accident when I was fourteen, I began to realize that I had very little of her in the way of a food legacy. To this day , a picture of her is taped to my kitchen cabinet, and I feel some deep need to bring her into my kitchen. As odd as it seems, I most relate her to crackers with cream cheese and green olives, because that was one of the only things that she made that I remember liking.
So yesterday, I picked Rosie up from a playdate at her new best friend's house, and we made it home before Sadie and Joey. She was very sad about leaving her dearest Petra, and so I thought it might be a good time to introduce her to her great grandma Shirley. They got along quite well.

As she became aquainted with the joys of this wonderful snack, I decided to make risotto.
Although the two foods seem unrelated, they are most certainly not. I have an aunt and uncle who, like my grandparents, had a share in raising me. They are of California stock, and I guess you could say that they are responsible for teaching me about fancy types of greens, Pernod, and other things that make up the good life. And at the height of my participation in their family, my uncle was the one who really peaked my interest in cooking.
But families fall apart in funny ways, and this time I came away with with quite a bit of love the kitchen. And although I haven't made a risotto in years, all these thoughts of family and food have driven me to it. Because when my uncle went through his risotto phase, he shared it all with me. And there's nothing like spacing out over a risotto for a while, trust me on this one.

Saffron and Pea Shoot Risotto
serves 4

1 medium onion, diced, or two shallots diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice, unwashed
5 cups homemade chicken stock
3 T butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
a hefty pinch of saffron threads
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
a large handful of pea shoots, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Heat the stock till boiling, then lower the heat so that it is barely simmering.
In a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, melt half the butter. Add the onion or shallots and cook until shiny and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the saffron. Then add the rice, and stir for about 4 minutes, until the rice is shiny but not brown. Add the wine, and stir until it is all absorbed. Then you can start with the hot chicken stock, and at this point, you want to get into something of a rhythm. Never let the rice dry out. Add 1/2 cup of stock or so, and just keep stirring. Take a swig off of that open white wine on the counter. Stir some more. Add another 1/2 cup of stock every few minutes, or when the rice is in danger of drying out. In all, it should take 20-30 minutes from when you add the rice. Salt a bit as you go. In the end, add the parmesan, the rest of the butter, the pea shoots, and as much salt and pepper as tastes good to you. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then serve. Eat it all- it makes lousy leftovers unless you want to turn it into little risotto cakes and fry them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Asparagus Sausage Bread Pudding

It's summery today.
The pine pollen is making the air thick and yellow. I was locked in the house all day because every time I went outside, snot would pour out of my nose with such ferocity that I'd lose all my focus. So I had a nice summery day inside. And then everyone came home and I tried going outside again. It was a success.

Well pretty much a success. The bread pudding was fantastic. Our dear friends are home from so far away, and our bellies are happy. Between you and me, though, I'm a little grumpy for no reason.
Life is too short for a mood like this, I think. I'll ride it out, though, brooding over here with my computer and my hanky. And I am definitely cheered by the thought of leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Asparagus Sausage Bread Pudding
adapted from Deborah Madison, Local Flavors

Deborah Madison's recipe is an Asparagus and Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding. You can do that too if you like, just take out the sausage and substitute chanterelles or morels, chopped and sauteed in butter with shallots.

1 head green garlic or regular garlic
3 cups milk
1 1 lb loaf of good quality stale white bread, cut into thick slices
1 onion, diced
1 lb good quality ground pork sausage
1 lb asparagus, preferably thick, peeled
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 T butter
4 large eggs
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 T chopped tarragon
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 2 liter casserole dish. Coarsely chop the garlic, add it to the milk, and bring to a boil. Turn it off and set it aside to steep.
2. Break the bread into chunks, but it in a large dish, and strain the milk over it. Let it sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, turning the bread in the milk every so often.
3. Melt half the butter in a heavy frying pan. Add the onion, and cook until shiny and translucent. Add the sausage, and cook until no longer pink, stirring frequently. Do not brown the meat.
4. Slice the asparagus into 2 inch pieces, then soak in cold water for a few minutes. Fill a skillet with water and, when it boils, add salt and the asparagus. Simmer until bright green and partially tender, about three minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water.
5. Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat them until smooth. Add the herbs, 1 tsp salt, and plenty of pepper. By now the bread should have soaked up most of the milk. Add the bread and any milk that is left to the bowl, along with the asparagus and sausage and any of the juices. Add two thirds of the cheese and toss well.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, even it out, and dot with the remaining butter. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and bake until fluffy and golden, about 45 minutes. Serve warm.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mole au Poulet

I have a funny history when it comes to cutting up chickens. It was never something that I learned how to do, but then when I got all preachy and dogmatic about only buying local chickens, it was something that I had to learn. I have this really great friend Ron, and although he's a raw foodist, he is more talented at preparing and cooking meat than anyone I know. A few years ago, he took pity on me and we stood in his beautiful farmhouse kitchen, cutting up multiple chickens. Then we made Patricia Wells' Vinegar Chicken, which is a phenomenal thing. I felt very good about myself for acquiring this useful and hardcore skill, and for the next few months I cut up chickens serenely and full of self love.
Then something changed. I took a break, and when I came back to cut up a chicken, the logic wasn't there for me anymore. I hacked at the thing, there were ribs everywhere, and I cut myself on the butchered skeleton of the poor thing. Cutting yourself on a raw chicken is really gross, and also a bit traumatic, and for the next few years, we had only roast, whole chicken.
This week, I felt it was time to try my hand at the knife again. I claim to be all into cooking and everything, and what kind of cook won't cut up a chicken? As further motivation, I've been reading David Lebovitz's new book, and he entranced me with an easy quick mole that he swears tastes like the real thing.
Of course, in my usual style, I decide to accomplish this task at the very wrong time. I've been at work all day, and come home at six to pass like a ship in the night past Joey, who is off to a staff meeting for his upcoming art camp. The kids are finishing their omelettes, and they are totally crazy. I mean, whirly, loopy crazy. They're jumping up and down, making fart jokes, walking down the hallway on their hands- some other force has possessed them.
"Girls! Put on your pajamas!"
"No! Mom, Pom, loo lee la! Ha!" (Maniacal laughter from both)
"Okay, then keep a lid on it until I tell you I've cut this chicken!"
"Huh?" (This has peaked their interest)
"Don't ask questions! Out of my kitchen!"

I face my adversary, knife in hand.
"Ew! I see blood!"
"Out of my kitchen!" Perhaps the knife raised above my head finally gets my point across.
I start to go for it, and it starts out pretty well. Cut the skin by the thigh, break the joint, remove the leg. Same on the other side. Pretty similar with the wings, but whoops, I cup into the breast by mistake. I start to feel a little worried. And then around the back, I just get lost. Before I know it, I'm in that old nightmare only it's really happening, and there are chicken ribs everywhere. And what am I supposed to do with the neck? And all of the organs attached to the back? It's a mess. And Rosie has snuck back into the kitchen and has perched herself on top of a stool so that she can give Sadie a play by play.
"Bones! Ew! and bloody! and raw! and ew!"
"This is an animal that we are thankful for and we will respect," I say. "And it's delicious."
I'm agreeing with her at this point, although I won't admit it. The chicken has won, and I'm not feeling too excited about eating it. And I'm also afraid that I might cut my mouth on the hack job that I did of its ribcage.
Good thing that I am slathering it in chocolate chili sauce. We just might come through okay.

Mole au Poulet
from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris

1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 4 legs and 4 thighs
1 T coarse salt
2 bay leaves
1/2 batch, about 2 cups Chocolate Mole (see below)
a few toasted sesame seeds

Put the chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Add salt and bay leaves. Cover and bring to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer for twenty minutes. Turn off the heat and let it rest for twenty minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a platter. Reserve the cooking liquid. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange the chicken pieces in a baking dish just big enough to hold them all.
Add a bit of the cooking liquid to the mole. The sauce should be the consistency of runny chocolate pudding. Discard the rest of the liquid or use it in place of water to make rice.
Spoon the mole over the chicken and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds and serve.

Mole au Chocolate
(from David Lebovitz again)

If you can, make this at least a day before you plan to use it. I found that the flavor was infinitely better the second day. This also freezes well.

10 dried ancho or poblano chiles
3/4 cup raisins
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups water or chicken stock
1 T canola oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 T sesame seeds
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
3 tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped, or 1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes and their juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground anise seeds
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chile powder

Remove the stems from the chiles. Slice them in half lengthwise and scrape out most of the seeds. Put the chiles in a nonreactive pot, cover with water, set a small plate on top to keep the chiles submerged, and simmer for 10 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and let stand until cool.
Put the raisins and chocolate in a blender. Heat the water or stock, and then pour it in the blender and let stand for a few minutes to soften the chocolate.
In a skillet, heat the oil, then saute the onion until limp and transluscent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.
Drain the chiles and add them to the blender along with the onion and garlic, sesame seeds, almonds, tomatoes, and all the spices. Taste, and add more chile powder and salt if it needs it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

banana bread

When I was little, my mother used to tell me about my greatness a lot. I was never spoiled materially, but if there is a way to spoil with love or confidence, I'm certainly a result. But if material spoiling is a rancid milk sort of thing, I'd like to think that the other kind of spoiling is more like what happens to raw milk- changing the flavor, making it more rich and better for cooking. Am I taking the image too far? Maybe, but stay with me for a minute here.
As I became accustomed to thinking about all of the great and wonderful things I would achieve, the people I would help, the timeless art I would create, I got attached to the idea. I internalized it, and it started, as is wont to happen with anything in a Jewish woman, to morph into anxiety.
Will I be great? How will I be great? When will the great stuff happen? Maybe I'm not so great after all? Mom! You get the idea.
As life has continued to have its way with me, I may be starting to see that greatness really varies its magnitude. No novels have fallen out of me, I'm haven't found my niche working with Afghan orphans (like others I know), and I've yet to really think of anything new at all. I know, there's time. But without letting go of my high standards, I'm starting to think of the greatness of smaller moments. A kid who goes to sleep happy. An artichoke plant that's really growing in my garden. Tea. The list could go on and on. In fact, be my guest.
What does this all have to do with banana bread? Do you always need there to be a connection between my random musings and the recipe I share? Fine. This time it's easy.
Banana bread is something that almost everyone has in their repertoire. When the bananas get mushy, there's smoothies and there's banana bread, and if you have ten minutes to spare, it better be banana bread. What's more ordinary than a mushy brown banana? But banana bread spans over the entire family of cake- it's a breakfast muffin, a tea cake, sometimes it's even a wedding cake. It's greatness out of the ordinary. It is a perfect thing available to us all.
I've made a lot of banana bread recipes. This one is the best I've found. It's very loosely based on the recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion (speaking of greatness), but I've made some changes and kept them permanent. I use spelt flour because I like how it goes with the bananas, but feel free to change it to all purpose if that's all you've got.

Banana Bread
loosely adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion

makes 1 loaf

2 eggs
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup canola oil
2-3 ripe bananas
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 2/3 cup spelt flour
1 cup whole milk yogurt
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup slivered, blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large loaf pan.
In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, maple syrup and vanilla. In a larger bowl, mash the bananas entirely. Pour the egg mixture into the bananas and stir until entirely combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then sift it again, and whisk it a bit too.
Pour the flour mixture into the banana mixture and stir just to combine. Add the yogurt and chocolate chips and stir in with a few swift strokes.
Pour into the prepared pan and top with the almonds. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a butter knife comes out pretty clean.

Monday, June 1, 2009

It's nice to make friends- Take the Challenge!

It's the moment you've all been waiting for! Well five or six of you, at least. Are you taking the salon challenge? Are you inviting the world to dinner? Are you ready for the theme?
Okay... the theme is....


We're taking it slow this month. We're going to be leisurely at our dinner parties, we're going to try lots of stuff. There is no required number of courses that you must serve, it just needs to be significantly more than you are used to. Remember, if you are serving four courses instead of two, you need less of each dish, so you can use this to your advantage when you are planning your meal. Just a little recap on the rules....
1. at least six guests beyond the people who live in your house
2. some of the people you invite must be people who you don't really know so well
3. it must be a sit down dinner

We'll get to share our parties on July 1, so make it happen sometime before then. When you post, send me a link, so I can compile all the loveliness. If you don't have a blog, feel free to send me some text and pics, and I will post for you. Some people are also posting on facebook, and that is cool too. Have fun- try not to get too stressed- enjoy the challenge of it!

And one more thing- some people have said that they would love to join in, but they live in a closet or some other small space. One of the goals of this whole thing is to open our homes to people we have been wanting to meet or hang out with but haven't really taken the leap. So if you're limited on space or time, and you want to to take the opportunity to invite one or two people to dinner in the spirit of the challenge, tell us about that too.

I can't wait to see what you all make of this. Feel free to check in and let us know how your preparations are going.