December 23, 2008

Candied Ginger Applesauce

This creation is slightly sweeter than I meant for it to be, so if you are looking for a traditional applesauce reduce the sugar a bit, try 1 cup instead of 1 & 1/2 cups. This is lovely baked into a tart shell for a quick Gingery Apple Tart, dolloped over Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, or simply spooned out of the jar as is, yummmmm!

Gingery Applesauce
Makes 5 Pints

7lbs Farmers' Market Apples (a mixture of crisp, tart, sweet & soft. such as granny smith, jonagolds, galas & golden delicious)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups organic sugar
2/3 cup crystallized ginger, minced
1 t sea salt
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger

Combine lemon juice and water in a large stockpot. Peel, core and cut apples into 3/4-inch chunks; place apple chunks into lemon water immediately to prevent browning. Add sugar, crystallized ginger, salt and spices. Stir over medium-high heat for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once the apples are soft and a touch translucent. Mash the apples using a potato masher or fork to desired consistency. I like mine a bit chunky.

Process as you normally would for preserving. If you are unfamiliar with preserving, simply ladle the applesauce into hot clean 1-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/2-inch space at the top. Remove the air bubbles by placing a wooden spoon into the jar against the glass on the sides, move up and down to release any bubbles. Wipe the jar threads and rims with a damp clean cloth. Cover with hot lids; secure with screw bands. Place in a pot of boiling water and process for 20 minutes. Remove jars onto a towel covered counter top. Cool completely. Make sure that the lids have properly sealed, by pressing into the center of the lid, it should not move, if by chance the lid hasn't properly sealed then pop into fridge and eat within a week or two.

Cookie Parcels

It's that time of year. When the world falls in love with cookies. The house is warmed by baking off batch after batch, and the scent of buttery sweetness settles into every nook and cranny.
This year I packaged my cookies into little old-fashioned parcels, reminiscent of old world sweet shops. I snugly secured cookies into a brown paper lunch sack and dressed it up with a label and silk ribbon.
Happy Baking & Happy Holidays!

December 5, 2008

Bittersweet Coconut Kisses

Christmas in LA is always a funny time of year! Although it has been a bit chilly at night, the temperature during the day is still inching into the upper 70's F. The weather isn't throwing me off too much this year, as I've been working on all sorts of fun homemade gifts and we already have our tree up and decorated.

This year I've taken up knitting, thanks to my friends Whitney & Jamie for having a beautiful baby girl. I felt the need to give it a second chance. So I took lessons in a proper knitting studio, rather than on a train to Cinque Terre (where one can easily lose focus due to the stunning scenery). Thanks Whitney for trying! I've now fallen in love with it and had knitting fever for most of the summer. So of course I'm attempting knitting a handful of gifts this year.

As of late, our house looks like Christmas elves have taken over. The kitchen table is a giant workstation, where stuffing stockings, wrapping gifts & I must admit a bit of magic takes place. It seems as though every other day I'm baking batches of cookies for the cookie monster that has taken over Travis' studio.

As for my homemade gifts, here are some pictures of my most recent creations. Decadent Bittersweet Coconut Kisses lipbalm. Yummy! It is of course edible, which I believe anything one wears on one's lips should be.

Above you'll find one of my favorite ways to create applesauce, studded throughout with Crystallized Ginger and a traditional way to wrap up those holiday cookies!

Happy Holidays!

November 28, 2008

Sweet Endings

T. and I had a quiet Thanksgiving. Just the two of us this year. Therefore we decided on Salmon instead of Turkey. Neither of us are too keen on turkey as it is; and really why bother with such a large bird when it's just the two of us? The turkey was not at all missed and we think salmon will definitely turn up on our Thanksgiving table in the future.

Our Menu:
Harvest Apple Salad
Brown Sugar Baked Salmon
Gnocchi al Pomodoro
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Kale Bundles stuffed with Duxelle & Brie

For dessert we kept it very simple and baked Emily Luchetti's fun Nutella filled cookies and served them aside deliciously creamy whole raw milk. These Hazelnut Sandwich cookies have now become an irresistible fast favorite.

Buon Appetito & Happy Thanksgiving!

November 9, 2008

Pomd Lamb

With colors reminiscent of Christmas, this dish has a festive flavor. Flipping through the pages of this months bon appetit, I came upon this fun dish, Pomegranate-Marinated Lamb with Spices. BA chose to serve theirs over cumin spiked couscous, but I think a straightforward basmati balances out the bold flavors. Perhaps next time I'll drizzle on a little lemon basil infused yogurt for creaminess or sandwich the lamb in between a warm pita and slather it with tzatziki sauce.
If you're a lamb lover, this dish is sure to be a big hit.

Bon Appetit!

October 19, 2008

Pancetta & Ceci

This quick saute is delicious as a base for fried eggs or a goat cheese filled omelet. A scrumptious accompaniment to seared fish. Or simply as a snack on its own.

Pancetta & Ceci
Serves 4

1 T evoo (extra virgin olive oil)
5 thin slices of pancetta (or bacon), diced
1/2 red onion, medium dice
1/2 t red chile pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 C cooked chickpeas (or 15oz can, drained)
4 C baby spinach, chopped
sea salt & black pepper
**drizzle of basil orange oil

In a medium saute pan warm 1T evoo over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden. Add onions and cook until soft and golden. Add chile pepper flakes, chickpeas, a pinch or 2 of salt and pepper (keep in mind the pancetta may be salty enough) and saute for a few minutes. Add the chopped spinach and cook just until wilted. Drizzle with basil orange oil and enjoy!

Basil Orange Oil
This oil will brighten up just about any dish.

1 C fresh basil leaves
1/3 C blood orange evoo
1/4 t sea salt

Using a blender or food processor puree together all of the ingredients until a fine paste. Scrape out into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and let drain for 15 minutes. Get the straining started by pushing on the puree with a rubber spatula. Once all oil is strained, discard the puree and put the oil in an airtight container. Will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days or in the fridge for a week.
Drizzle over the Pancetta & Ceci, mixed greens, grilled meats, seared fish or steamed veggies. The drizzling possibilities are endless.

September 30, 2008

Is It Autumn Yet?

Okay so I'm still not used to living in Southern California. It's only been three years now, one would think I'd be used to 97 degree weather through September. Really when does it cool down again? I seem to forget every year in the midst of my yearning to bundle up and layer. My memory is clouded with dreams of sipping steaming mugs of hot cocoa by the fire (we don't have a fireplace) and visions of warming the house with the scent of baking apples and spices.

Forgoing the hot cocoa by the fire. I have managed to sweat us out of our house these last few days. I've overheated our home with double batches of chicken stock, black bean soup, chicken pot pie, oatmeal date cookies & roasted butternut squash ravioli.

I've dressed in long sleeve blouses and pants simply to walk outside and quickly realize a tank top and skirt would have been a better choice.

I'm trying my darnedest to conjure up those romantic Autumn days. I've always loved Fall; the change from sunshine soaked siestas to crisp cooling afternoons. Midday runs, when rays from the sun are a warm welcome. Blustery windstorms that call for blankets and snuggling. The fiery orange glow of leaves falling and the crinkly sound of raking them into a pile.

This recipe is my tribute to the days of Autumn, when leaves are turning, wind is blowing and we get the craving to fill our bellies with something warm.

September 21, 2008

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry
Love, Laughter And Tears In Paris At The World's Most Famous Cooking School

by Kathleen Flinn

A lovely jaunt with Flinn through her culinary training at the renown Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Flinn's characters are charming and carved from everyday life, like meeting new friends or revisiting old. Flipping through the pages I relived a bit of my culinary training. Techniques that I have put on the back burner, like boning an entire chicken without removing the skin, turning veggies and time involved sauces.

The final exams brought back butterflies. Temperamental chefs fortunately caused laughter instead of tears and "les femmes du Cordon Bleu" flooded in memories of all of my own culinary compatriots.

A delightful read akin to sipping a glass of champagne. Highly recommended for anyone that has ever dreamed of leaving their current job in pursuit of a passion or simply for those who love to cook and enjoy the intricacies of a delicious meal.

September 11, 2008

Sustainable Burgers

Well as some of you know I'm officially INTO my thirties now.
Travis and I celebrated my birthday with a burger. You must know that the only way I'm going to eat a burger is if the cow was raised humanely, free of antibiotics and growth hormones and preferably grass fed.

I've had my eye on Akasha Richmond's restaurant Akasha in Culver City since it's opening this past February. So it was decided, this was the place to celebrate.

Akasha has dotted her i's and crossed all t's when it comes to sustainability. She not only supports local farmers, family owned ranches, "Clean Fish" and bio-dynamic boutique wineries. Her staff is decked out in both recycled and natural fibers and her customers sit cushy on organic leather seats.

September 6, 2008

Once Upon A Craving.....

Once a day I crave Dark Chocolate.
Once every few days I crave Ice Cream, Chocolate of course.
Once a week I crave Salmon.
Once a month I crave Pizza Margherita.
Once every 3-6 months I'd say I get a hankering for red meat.

When I was younger, I thought for sure I could easily one day become a vegetarian. Then of course I went to Culinary school, a place where vegetarians are transformed into meat eaters or they begin to bend their rules to entertain the idea of poultry and fish.
It was there at the once quaint CCA that I began my long love affair with the delicious wonders of Pork Belly Fat......
So then I would tell people, if it weren't for bacon & lamb chops then I could easily be a vegetarian. But now I see there is just no way! I love fish and I know that some pesco vegetarians eat fish, but I also LOVE a bit of red meat....meatballs, pasta bolognese and grilled steaks.

So this is my tribute to those now and again red meat eaters. If you are going to eat it then it's worth making something scrumptious out of it!

August 22, 2008

Bananas & Chocolate....Chocolate & Bananas

I grew up on Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. While other kids had slices of plain banana bread sometimes flecked with nuts, mine was studded with gooey pockets of melting chocolate and sweet tart bits of maraschino cherries.

The bananas in my kitchen are developing brown spots, this is Nature's reminder to get to baking. So I began thumbing through some of my cookbooks and landed upon Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa-Nana Bread from Baking From My Home to Yours.....WARNING...the batter is terribly tempting, luscious notes of dark chocolate mingle with sweet hints of banana....and better yet the scent perfumes the entire house!

August 8, 2008

Koo Koo for Coconuts

I've realized as of late that I'm a bit Koo Koo for Coconuts! So of course, I thought I should share my craze of this lovely fruity nut or rather nutty fruit.

I've recently stumbled upon a heavenly coconut ice-cream created by Luna & Larry of Coconut Bliss. Their Dark Chocolate cozies up well with coconut milk and coconut water.

It's perfect for T. although he doesn't really like coconuts (which I've never really understood, because he LOVES Thai Green Curry, which sings of Coconut milk). Anyhow it's great for everyone that has a dairy and soy intolerance.

I love it simply because it's made of coconut.

Coconut has all sorts of health benefits. It's high in Antioxidants, Lauric & Caprylic Acid & Manganese. It's also a good source of Essential Amino Acids and Copper. Of course there's no cholesterol (so a superb substitute for butter..although I do love butter!)

Blushing Shrimp

This recipe for Coconut Poached Shrimp is so versatile. Dunk in sauces. Roll with herbs in rice paper. Slather with Thai green curry. Toss with greens. Spoon with broth for soup. Swirl with noodles.

1 liter coconut water, I prefer O.N.E. 2 t sea salt
4 peppercorns
2 shallots, quartered
1 large green onion, green top only
1" nub of ginger, sliced
1 lemongrass stalk, cut in half and smashed
1 lime, 1/2 juiced and 1/2 sliced into rounds
1 handful fresh cilantro sprigs
1 & 1/2 lbs medium shrimp, unpeeled

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Place a smaller bowl inside of the ice bowl. Set aside.

Fill a large pot with the coconut water, salt, peppercorns, shallots, green onion, ginger, lemongrass, lime juice and slices, and cilantro sprigs. To infuse the coconut water, bring this mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and add shrimp. Simmer, uncovered, for 3-5 minutes, once the shrimp blush pink and the tails begin to curl.

Remove the shrimp from the poaching liquid using a slotted spoon or drain using a colander. Place shrimp inside of the smaller bowl set over ice water to chill. Once cooled completely, peel and eat or use as an ingredient. My favorite use is for Spring Rolls!

July 22, 2008

Summer Soups

I love soup! During the Summer there's no shortage of fresh veggies and this is the time of year that eating your soup cold is welcome.

Veggie stocks are a simple 30 minute step, rather than the house warming 3 PLUS hours for meat stocks. In some cases like my Gazpacho, freshly juiced tomatoes and a drop or two of sherry vinegar with a splash of water creates the base, no need for even turning on the stove.

As I wrote about in a past posting, I've been testing recipes from Dana Slatkin's The Summertime Anytime Cookbook, this is where I found this creamy bite of summer on a spoon, Chilled Avocado-Corn Soup with Cilantro Oil. Another one of my favorite resources is (but of course!) bon appetit magazine, this August issue is brimming with Summer recipes. Dorie Greenspan shares a recipe for Summer Corn Soup from the kitchen of her summer house on Connecticut's shoreline, no stock here, simply whole milk.

So enjoy this trio of Summer Soups. Turn off the stove and get used to using that blender!

July 20, 2008

Fig & Berry Jam

Preserving Summer

A two day process somehow makes preserving Summer's bounty a breeze. My good friend Whitney gave me this storybook of recipes, Preserving Memories: Growing Up in My Mother's Kitchen by Judy Glattstein, last Christmas along with a tin full of a delicately scented rose crabapple jelly (so divine) and a sweet and spicy apple butter.

Glattstein's book is like having a good friend in the kitchen with you. She shares her recipes with stories. Think of when you've received a recipe from a friend....It's typically sent along with a little tidbit, a memory or why it is a favorite. She adds a personal touch to everything from Peaches to Pectin.

Today I made a couple of her simple recipes, Fig Jam and Strawberry Jam. Somehow, my third time around preserving left me with no jitters. I didn't fear, chipping or breaking the jars when they tapped and danced their way around the bottom of my pot (my first time preserving I padded the inside of my pot with dish towels). I didn't worry about my missing canning vessel (Travis and I couldn't squeeze it in our car this past Christmas so it's sitting at his parents' house in Seattle). Nor did I fret about the consistency of the jam prior to canning.

I did sweat! Stirring and stirring over a bubbling vat of sugar and fruit will do that, especially when the weather is in the 90's. I must admit I'm happy to sweat for this treasure of sweet Summer.

While cleaning up, the pop pop pop of my properly sealed jars made me a believer in Glattstein's simple approach to preserving.

July 5, 2008

Watermelon Popsicle Bouquet

Refreshing Watermelon Pops will keep you cool on a summer day. Simply puree watermelon in a blender. Strain using a medium sieve. If the melon is sweet enough for your taste then pour into a popsicle mold, add a few mint leaves and pop in the freezer for a few hours. If they are not as sweet as you like, then sweeten with agave, honey or a mint-infused simple syrup.

For simple syrup bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil until the sugar dissolves. For the mint infusion place a half bunch of mint into the hot syrup, cover the pan, turn off the heat and let steep for 30 minutes.

June 27, 2008

Summertime Anytime

The most recent addition to my cookbook collection is Dana Slatkin's cheery filled Summertime Anytime Cookbook. Slatkin is the co-owner of Shutters on the Beach located in Santa Monica. I've never been, but from the photos it looks like the perfect taste of the seashore.

She groups her recipes into charming categories, Sunny Days, Cloudy Days, Balmy Nights, Stormy Nights and Misty Mornings. I've tested out her Cucumber Gazpacho from Sunny Days and the brilliant Shutters Vegetarian Burger from Cloudy Days. (Mom I think even you will like your veggies this way!)

I still have yet to try her Pomegranate Mojito and Chilled Avocado-Corn Soup with Cilantro Oil, oh and Iced Nougat with Honey & Figs. She beautifully captures the ingredients of Summer in her stunning beach cookbook.

June 25, 2008

For the Love of Spice Cake

Cake as a child was never my thing nor was frosting. In fact frosting was my least favorite bit of it all. I've learned as an adult to appreciate the yummy world of cake. Seems a little backwards don't you think? I'm still not a true cake lover, but I do love ganache cloaked Marjolaine's, toasted coconut cake & nutty carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

One constant in my cake endeavors has remained, my love of spice cake and freshly baked zucchini bread.

So there it was my basket full of zucchini and my cupboard full of spices. Warming spices always conjure up images of scarves, mittens and cocoa by the fire, but ginger is something that soothes the tummy any time of year. That and I'm still finding fresh ginger at my Farmers' Market. Fresh zucchini reminds me of sunshine filled days playing by the pool or packing a picnic for the park.

I've only given this one run through so I may tweak it a little in the future, but it is quite delicious as is.

Candied Ginger Zucchini Bread
scant 2 C grated zucchini (1 large zucchini)
1/2 C diced crystallized ginger
1/3 C coconut oil
1/3 C almond oil
1/2 C light brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 t vanilla
1 T freshly microplaned ginger (or finely minced)
1 1/2 C AP flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t cinnamon
3/4 t nutmeg
1/2 t sea salt
**Canola oil works just fine in place of either the almond or coconut oils.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Oil an 8" loaf pan, really well.

In a large bowl whisk together the oils, sugars, eggs, vanilla and ginger, set aside.
In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder & soda, spices and salt.
Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture until combined.
Fold in the zucchini and the crystallized ginger.

Pour into prepared loaf pan & bake for approximately 45-55 minutes until the crust springs back when lightly touched and a skewer comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes on a cooling rack and then pop out of loaf pan and invert on rack to finish cooling before slicing. That is if you can resist the scent. I inevitably end up cutting off a chunk before it's cool.

June 19, 2008

Popsicles All Grown-up

Popsicles playfully pair with a sunny day. Especially when it's 106 degrees outside!

If you're yearning for something cold, a tad bit sweet & bursting with antioxidants. Try my acai berry pops, no artificial coloring here and packed full of beneficial bacteria. A refreshing alternative to those neon, sugar plumped pops leering at us through the foggy freezer doors at the grocery store.

Acai (ah-sigh-ee) is grown in the Amazon rainforest. An indigo stonefruit that grows in clusters on the Acai Palm. It tastes of rich berries flecked with hints of cocoa.

This berry packs quite a bit of superpower. Chock full of antioxidants with 10-30 times the anthocyanins of red wine. Also, bursting with healthy doses of Omega 6 & 9.

I prefer to use Sambazon's frozen acai puree since they practice sustainable agriculture and they've created a supply chain that benefits thousands of local families. You can find acai puree in the freezer section at most natural foods stores.

May 25, 2008

Sunday Crepes

I've recently been addicted to Julia Child's Crepes Fines Sucrees, a recipe from the first volume of Mastering The Art of French Cooking.
Delicate, lacy and light, they are scrumptious rolled with fresh strawberries and creme fraiche. Sprinkled with sugar and a drop or two of lemon juice. Slathered with fig preserves and a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Layered with honey-orange butter. Or simply dusted with confectioner's sugar.

In the past, I've made crepes with milk, flour, sugar, eggs, butter and salt. My method of mixing has always involved a hand-held whisk and of course the quickest of resting times, 30 minutes.

Julia halves the milk and adds water, uses a modern day blender for the whisking and lets her batter rest for no less than 2 hours.

The result is a delicious, light and airy batter. A crepe suitable for breakfast, brunch or dessert. Rolled, stuffed, wrapped, pinched together into a little purse, flambeed, browned, gratineed or plain; enjoy these crepes with friends or for a lazy Sunday with your sweetie.

May 15, 2008

Curiously Delicious Khoresht-e Rivas

I must admit, I have a terrible time following recipes. I always have to sprinkle in something new, change a cooking technique, replace certain ingredients, the list goes on. I wonder what this is about? I guess I like to think of it as leaving my own mark, somewhat like an uncharted expedition, oh yes the dish has been done, BUT I must go one step further. Or perhaps, I simply like improvement, to leave taste buds utterly satiated.

Hmmmm, maybe it's a bit of both?

While reading over a recipe I envision the flavors and ask lots of questions; Are the spices toasted? Are the shallots left to bloom in vinegar before being whisked into olive oil? Are the herbs fresh or dried? What type of salt? Will tap water suffice? Earthenware or stainless steel?

So today, while making Claudia Roden's Khoresht-e Rivas, (Rhubarb Lamb Stew) my microplane tempted me to add a heaping teaspoon of fresh ginger to the sauteing onions. Rather than adding the spices to the water, I awakened the earthy scents by warming them with the browned cubes of lamb. In the place of allspice and cinnamon, I added Garam Masala. Although Roden doesn't specify which type of allspice, I'm under the assumption one should use Persian Allspice for this very Persian stew.

May 9, 2008

Pistachio Shortbread

Makes about a dozen and a half 2 & 1/2" cookies
10 T (1 & 1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cold
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c AP flour
3 T corn starch
1/2 c toasted ground pistachios (a large handful before ground)
pinch of sea salt
Preparation:With an electric mixer on low speed, mix together all ingredients until it all comes together into a dough, about 3-5 minutes.

Form into a flat disk, wrap in parchment paper and chill for 30-60 minutes.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out to an 1/8" thick if making rounds. (If making shortbread spoons for O'Connor's Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecake Pots, then roll out to 1/4" thickness). Cut out with desired cookie cutters, I like to use a 2&1/2" round. Place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and pop back into fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Bake at 300 degrees F, until firm and slightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Serving suggestions:
Sandwich with berries and sweet vanilla bean cream, serve next to a big bowl of fruit salad, or dip half of the cookie into melted bittersweet chocolate, yummm! Use instead of O'Connor's plain shortbread to pair with her Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecake Pots.

In the photo above I dolloped pistachio shortbread with a bit of O'Connor's CMC pots and sweetened whipped cream.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey's Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecake Pots

If you like milk chocolate, then this recipe is for you, better yet if you like cheesecake and milk chocolate then this recipe is most certainly for you. I myself am not a milk chocolate lover, however I do love a creamy slice of cheesecake.

When a dish has chocolate in the title then my taste buds anticipate the rich depths of bittersweet goodness. O'Connor's Chocolate Mascarpone Cheesecake Pots fall short and only hint at chocolate, however they make up for it with their smooth silky texture.

Whipping these pots up is a snap, the recipe is something like a glorified hot chocolate or a mascarpone filled ganache. Whisking sweetened mascarpone and eggs into a warm cream-chocolate base then they are gently baked till slightly jiggly in a steaming water-bath.

May 7, 2008

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey

I just received O'Connor's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey, the kind of cookbook that is too adorable, if it had lil' cheeks I'd give them sweet kisses. The cutesy pages are delicately covered with warm pastels, polka-dots and scrumptious sugary snap-shots.

So, I'm flipping through and start giggling; she has a recipe that comes with a warning sign..."Lock the door, close the curtains, and turn over any copies of Gourmet magazine you may have in the house." She goes onto explain how to make one, yes 1, "White Trash Panini," using a flaky croissant, 2T creamy or chunky peanut butter, 1/2 full-size Hershey's milk chocolate candy bar, 3T marshmallow fluff, melted butter for brushing and confectioner's sugar for sprinkling

Mmmmm, I'm convinced it would taste delicious! Something like an American pain au chocolat, I definitely draw the line at the choice of chocolate though. Forgoing the Hershey's bar for something a little more grown-up, say a chunk of El Rey or Michel Cluizel, although I am allergic to peanuts, moderately that is (which essentially means I can eat them every once in awhile, I guess)...and who can resist marshmallow fluff? Oh the days of holiday fudge-making as a little girl.

These "desserts for the serious sweet tooth," look delightfully playful with names like "Sticky Fingers Triple-Chocolate Ice-Cream Sandwiches, All Grown Up S'mores and Chocolate Malted Madness." O'Connor peppers her pages with culinary quotes, delicious descriptors and sweet stories.

May 6, 2008


Known to many Americans as the pie plant. This perennial herbaceous vegetable is somewhat of a misfit fruit. Officially declared a fruit by the US Customs Court back in the late 40's, just as the tomato was declared a veggie. Interesting, how they can change the botany of a plant with the swing of their gavel.

Rheum rhabarbarum and Rheum rhaponticum are the most common varieties of the Buckwheat family found in our kitchens. Beckoning the arrival of spring, this faux fruit appears in various colors ranging from greens to pinks to deep ruby reds. Native to Northern Asia, rhubarb thrives in colder climates from Spring through Summer. US cultivation began in Maine and Massachusetts during the 1820's and eventually spread west with the settlers, primarily grown in the northern states and southern Canada.

It was used in China for thousands of years as a cleansing herb. In the Middle East it is simmered into a stew known as Khoresh Reevaas. In Poland it's paired with potatoes and herbs. The Italians concocted a healthful aperitif called Rabarbaro. The English and Americans dolled it up with loads of sugar during the Rhubarb Boom, which peaked between the two world wars, hence our liking of pies, tarts, compotes, jams, and all sugary treats.

Plays nicely with: Vanilla, citrus, berries, apples, pears, pistachios, ginger and warming spices. Sweets aside it's tart flavor perks up lamb, chicken, pork and fish dishes.

Nibble on this: A good source of magnesium, fiber, vitamins C & K, calcium, potassium and manganese.

A trip to the Market: Choose bright, glossy, unblemished and firm stalks. Not too thick and not to thin, somewhere in the middle should do. (Consequentially, you'll have pulpy stringy stalks with the thick or thin.) Most rhubarb is sold without the leaves, if you have your own wild patch; lucky you, make sure to dispose of the leaves as I'm sure you've heard they are toxic due to large amounts of oxalic acid and other chemicals.

Handling Tips: Compared to artichokes these are a cinch! Simply rinse, trim off the root end and any discolored spots as well as any traces of leaves. Cut into pieces and cook.

Now I'm dreaming of buttery tart shells filled with vanilla bean cream topped with tiny strawberries & raspberries drizzled with rhubarb compote and sprinkled with toasted pistachios. You'll find my basket full of rhubarb next farmer's market trip!

Downtown Treats

I remember our trips downtown. Before I was old enough to head off to school my mom would take me along to Seattle for the day, while she did accounting for clients. I don't really remember the office or what we did from here to there, but I do remember hum bow, sweet steamy saucy pork buns, dripping with glorious goo.

Driving into the city I remember the salty scent of the sound, the Jetson-esk space needle, the pleated roof of the kingdome, the stalky skyscrapers and my mom telling me, when she was a little girl the tallest building in Seattle was the Smith Tower.

May 5, 2008

The Warmth of Bread & Sunlight

I cannot resist Meyer Lemons. If I was given the choice of taking along only one ingredient to a remote island somewhere off the coast of Indonesia, then by gosh I'd have to take a Meyer lemon tree, yes the whole tree.

A few weeks ago I was at the market and they were still hanging around, I filled my basket with a few pounds. Now, they are nowhere to be found. They've disappeared with the cold days of winter.

I have a dwarf ml tree on my balcony, so sweet, I found it in a nursery last year and of course had to bring it home. Plump, perfect, teeny lemons were beginning to form and by this past winter I had used them all. The star of the table in risotto, flecked throughout pound cake, emulsified with oil, pounded into pesto, swirled as sorbetto, cooked into curd, dolloped into cream.......

Artichokes, Cynara Scolymus

This thorny darling of spring grows in many shapes and sizes, ranging from large bulbous globes to small conical egg-shaped flower buds. A member of the aster family, this beautiful blossom is chock full of vitamins and minerals. Left to bloom an intense bluish-purple flower will emerge.

According to an Aegean legend, the god Zeus was leaving from a visit with his brother Poseidon and as he emerged from the sea, he spotted this beautiful young woman, Cynara. He managed to seduce this lovely mortal and with the blink of an eye he turned her into a goddess. Cynara soon grew homesick living on Mt. Olympus, so secretly she snuck back to the world of the mortals to visit her family. Zeus was enraged by her behavior and hurled her back to earth transformed as the thistle we know and love, Cynara Scolymus, the Artichoke.

Sicily is the probable place of origin, in a broader sense the Mediterranean. Although the US origins seem to be a little muddled, it's said that the French brought this edible thistle over to Louisiana in the early 19th century, however by the mid 20th century most growth ceased. This is where the history seems to get fuzzy, around the turn of the 19th century, one of two groups brought the artichoke to California, either the Spanish or the Italians. I like to think it was the Italians, as they've been cultivating it for at least 2,000 years and have all sorts of creative ways of incorporating it into a meal. Either way, mainstream production didn't really take off until the 60's. Cut to current day, California is the main producer for the US.

Plays nicely with: Goat cheese, fresh herbs, butter, Parmigiano Reggiano, olive oil, garlicky aioli spiked with lemon juice.

Nibble on this: One medium-size artichoke has only 60 calories (of course until dpped into oil, aioli, cheese or butter) and healthy doses of calcium, magnesium, chromium, manganese, iron, folate, fiber, potassium, Vitamins A, B, C & K.

A trip to the Market: A fresh artichoke should have a bright color and feel heavy for its size. Remember, an artichoke is the unopened blossom of a flower, so the petals should form tightly together, if they are open and ready to bloom the choke will be too large, hence an overripe veggie. The stem should not look at all shriveled, make sure that it is moist and freshly cut, the thickness of the stem will give you a sense as to how large the heart is. The petals should feel firm and fleshy. In fact, give them a gentle squeeze and they should eek out a tiny squeak. Don't worry so much if the outer petals have light scaring due to handling, typically we don't eat those. Also, if you see small blisters from the frost, all the more reason to take it home, as with most vegetables a "kiss" from the frost brings out the sweetness.

Handling Tips: When preparing artichokes, always have a bowl of lemon water set aside (1 quart of water to 4 tablespoons of lemon juice) or rub the cut areas of the artichokes with lemon juice or olive oil to keep them from turning brownish-black. Aluminum and iron will discolor artichokes, so never place aluminum foil directly on top of them, instead cover with a layer of parchment paper and then foil.

How to Eat an Artichoke: Just in case you're a first-timer to the delights of Cynara Scolymus. Pull off the outer petals, one at a time if you like or I suppose it can be done all at once, I prefer to savor the process of pulling off one and dipping, then eating and so on. Okay, back to the eating tid-bits, Dip it in sauce if you like, or if you've prepared my Artichokes Stuffed with Garlicky Herb Goat Cheese, then simply hold on tight to the top of the petal, place in your mouth (inside of the petal down on your tongue), remember grip tight and pull through your front teeth, this will give you a small mouthful of the tender, pulpy goodness. Toss the remaining petal aside to compost or trash (as it's too fibrous to nibble) and continue on until you get to the tasty heart. If you've simply steamed or boiled your artichokes and not scraped out the choke, then you must remove this fuzzy bit before you reach the heart. Do just that, scrape out the fuzz with a spoon or melon baller and buon appetito!

May 4, 2008

Artichoke Bruschetta

Pronounced BRU-SK-EH-TA not BRU-SHE-TA. Derived from the Roman word Bruscare, meaning to roast over coals. This version is a nod to Primavera.

Ingredients for Artichoke Tapenade:
8 small artichokes, trimmed & steamed or boiled
2 cloves garlic
1 lemon, zest & juice
¼ C freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
½ C olive oil
sea salt & pepper

Puree all ingredients together in a food processor except for the olive oil until medium-dice. Slowly pour in the olive oil.

For Bruschetta:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Slice a loaf of multi-grain bread into 1/2" rounds and paint each slice with a little olive oil.
Toast until light golden.
Spread each slice of toasted bread with artichoke tapenade and using a veggie peeler a few curls of pecorino romano.

Artichokes Stuffed with Garlicky Herb Goat Cheese

Serves 9

9 medium artichokes
2/3 C + 2 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
juice of 4 lemons
1lb fresh goat cheese
2 garlic clove, minced
9 thyme sprigs
1/2 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped
2 sprigs of tarragon, leafs chopped
4+ T heavy cream
1 C multi-grain bread crumbs
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of salted lemon water to a boil (juice of 2 lemons). If
the water comes to a boil before you are ready to cook the artichokes, simply turn off the flame
and bring back to a boil when you are ready.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and the juice of 2 lemons.

Trim the stem of each artichoke 1/4" from the base. Peel off and discard the outer dark green
petals. Stop when you reach the light green petals. Trim the tips of the remaining petals by
1/2". Trim any remaining dark green on the base. As you finish each artichoke, place each in the
bowl of lemon water. (If you prefer skip the bowl of lemon water and take 1/2 of a lemon and
rub each artichoke all over to prevent discoloration).

Boil all of the artichokes in the pot of salted lemon water for 8-12 minutes until al dente when
pierced with a small knife. I like to put a heat resistant glass bowl over the top of the pot to keep
the artichokes under the simmering water. Drain for a few minutes, remove and discard the choke (if you can't pull out the choke entirely, it helps to use the small end of a melon baller to get out all of the fuzz).
Place upright in an oiled earthenware baking dish, salt the cavity of each artichoke, drizzle with
2/3 C olive oil and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix together the goat cheese, garlic, herbs, cream, bread crumbs and salt & pepper to taste.

Once the artichokes are cool, stuff each with the goat cheese mixture. Drizzle with the remaining
2 T olive oil. Bake for about 20-25 minutes once the cheese begins to turn golden and melt.
Serves 9