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