Friday, February 27, 2009

Lemon Ice Cream

Must. Make. Lemon. Ice cream. This thought haunted me somewhere between midnight and 2 a.m. on Wednesday evening after my food writing class. I typically cannot sleep after my I return home...I guess I am ramped up by so much inspiration (and caffeine). And for whatever reason, I couldn't stop thinking about lemon ice cream, even though I had never tried it, or heard of it for that matter. But it seemed like a great way to use up some of my lemons, since the muffins barely put a dent in my supply. I wondered if it was even possible to make such a thing. Would the lemon juice curdle the milk and cream? Would it taste good with gingersnap cookies?

Evidently I wasn't the only one with that great idea. In the June 1993 issue of Gourmet Magazine, they featured such a recipe, Lemon Ice Cream Sandwiches with Gingersnap Cookies. It sounded very good, but the ice cream was custard based, and I am not a huge fan of overly rich eggy ice cream. So I decided to try my old standby ice cream recipe which is made with only cream, milk, superfine sugar, and whatever flavors I decide to add (vanilla or strawberry are delicious).

The lemons were zested and juiced, quickly mixed together with the cooled cream, milk and sugar (and a shot of limoncello liqueur for good measure), and poured into the frozen bowl of my ice cream maker. As its heady fragrance filled my kitchen with brightness, I crossed my fingers, hoping that the ice cream wouldn't be chunky with curdled milk and cream...lemon cottage cheese flavor was not what I was going for. Much to my relief, the end result was creamy and smooth, sweet and sour, and tasted as light and fresh as a spring day. If the ice cream is very hard, let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving. My kids said it tasted like a creamy frozen lemonade, and I couldn't agree more...I don't think the limoncello will hurt them much, do you?

Lemon Ice Cream

zest from 3 lemons
1/2 C freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
2 C heavy cream
1 C whole milk
1/2 C super fine sugar
1 oz. limoncello

Zest and juice lemons. In a sauce pan, heat cream, milk and sugar together, until sugar dissolves (remove from heat before it reaches the boiling point). Pour cream mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until cold (about 1 hour). Add lemon juice, zest and limoncello to cold cream mixture and stir to combine. Pour into the frozen bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers directions, or about 15-20 minutes (will be soft set). Transfer to a container, and freeze until firm.

Greek to Me Pizza

My goodness, these weeks fly by don't they? Just a minute ago it was Monday morning with a whole, long week ahead, then I blinked and it is Friday again, and I still haven't accomplished anything on my list. The good news is that I am beginning to navigate the new realm of our family dinners, with baseball practices or games rudely inserting themselves into nearly every afternoon or evening. But I must confess that I am already fantasizing about the end of the season and the school year, when we get to pack our bags and head out for a summer on Cape Cod. I am ready for both a change of pace and a change of scenery...although admittedly, our high desert landscape has been lovely lately. But for now, I will try to enjoy the present moment, enjoy the crack of the bat on the ball and the smell of the hot dogs from the snack shack, and enjoy the delightful spring-like weather.

Tonight I made a pizza with all the delicious flavors of a Greek salad, complete with feta cheese, sun dried tomatoes, spinach and red onions. The bottom layer (the cheese one) was a bit too juicy, so I modified the recipe a bit to hopefully remedy that. Reminiscent of the filling in Spanakopita, the high pile of spinach on top cooked down and melded beautifully with the sharp feta, briny olives, and rich sun dried tomatoes. It was a brief culinary escape to Greece, before we returned to the all-American ball field once again.

Greek Pizza

one recipe pizza dough (or store bought dough)

1 T olive oil
1 bunch spinach, washed well, dried and torn into pieces
1/2 C cubed feta cheese
1/4 C olive oil
1 t dried oregano
1/4 C chopped oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
1/4 C kalamata olives
1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
4 oz. kaseri cheese, sliced (Parmesan would also work)
lemon slices

Preheat oven to 500 degrees for one hour with pizza stone on lowest oven rack or oven floor.

Prepare dough according to recipe or package directions. Stretch dough out onto well-floured parchment paper, with well-floured hands. Trim edges of parchment so there is only a bit showing around the edge of the dough. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix feta cheese, 1/4 C olive oil, oregano and sun dried tomatoes (set aside a few for sprinkling on top). Spread evenly over dough, leaving a one inch border all around. Toss spinach with 1 T olive oil and place 3/4 of it on top of dough (setting some aside to top pizza later). Sprinkle on remaining sun dried tomatoes, olives, onion and slices of kaseri cheese. Using a pizza peel, slide the pizza (still on the parchment) onto stone and bake for 15-20 minutes, or crust is crisp and golden brown. Carefully remove pizza from the oven, and top with remaining spinach. Return to the oven for 2 minutes, or until spinach wilts slightly. Slice into wedges. Squeeze some lemon juice over the top, if desired.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

At Market...Cabbage

Today I made something so nasty, I was horrified. Like every home cook, I make the occasional ho-hum meal, undercook the lasagna noodles, or overcook a batch of cookies, but today I was kicked in the gut by some unruly cabbage and its partner in crime, red onion. Together the two rascals created such a foul stench rising up from my kitchen that the boys were sure that something had died. My daughter was sure that her brothers had let off a stink bomb (and heavily spritzed her room with vanilla perfume to defend herself). And my husband was sure he smelled a gas leak. I knew the culprit immediately upon entering the house--the sulfurous essence of cabbage and the pungent smell of an over eager onion. I held my breath and removed the offenders, dumping them in a trash can that was immediately whisked outside (and set by the front door). If we left it there I am quite sure we would be safe from any intruder, for they would faint immediately upon catching a whiff of the stuff...or explode.

Earlier this morning, I had begun a recipe for quick kimchi from my Vegetarian Planet cookbook (which I like very much, by the way). I shredded a head of cabbage, a red onion and a couple of carrots, put them in a bowl, covered them with water, and set them aside to soak all day. This mixture, after draining, was supposed to be tossed with ginger, vinegar, and chiles, to make a mildly spicy salad to go into the Korean kogi tacos that I have fantasized about making ever since I read about them here and here. But the end result was not only inedible, it was just plain dangerous, or at least it smelled that way.

So the thinly sliced sirloin that was to be the bul kogi, ended up in a very nice stir-fry with some broccoli from the farmers market. And the Korean style tacos will have to wait for another night. With a different kimchi recipe. Perhaps the one from this month's Gourmet Magazine tastes better? It is made in a completely different is that recipe, if you are brave enough.

Quick Kimchi

1 3 pound head of Napa Cabbage, quartered then sliced in 2-3 inch slices
3 T salt
2 T chopped garlic
1 T chopped peeled ginger
2 T Asian fish sauce
2 t white vinegar
1 bunch scallions, chopped
3 T toasted sesame seeds, crushed with the side of a heavy knife
2-3 T red pepper flakes
1/2 Asian pear

Toss cabbage with salt in a large bowl and set aside, stirring occasionally for 2 hours. Rinse cabbage well, then drain, squeezing out excess water. Transfer to a large bowl. Puree garlic and ginger with fish sauce and vinegar in a blender until smooth, then pour over cabbage. Add scallions, sesame seeds and red-pepper flakes and toss to coat. Peel, pear, then grate on large holes of a box grater. Add to cabbage mixture and toss well. Marinate for at least one hour.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


We look for any excuse to celebrate all manner of holidays at our house, and Shrove Tuesday is no exception. A tradition from my husband's family, we always enjoy a pancake dinner on the last day before Lent, a carry over from the days where all the good stuff (eggs, butter, fat and sugar) were used up before Lenten fasting. In other parts of the world Carnival and Mardi Gras are celebrated with much the same purpose-to let loose, before the strict days of prayer, confession and reflection leading up to Easter.

My children love to have breakfast for dinner any time of year, and I prepare it with equal enthusiasm because it is quick, easy and quite possibly best of all, inexpensive! I usually make my grandmother's recipe, but many folks also make a baked pancake or Dutch Baby on this day. This year, I will make both the usual recipe (for the picky kids) and some cottage cheese pancakes, which are a bit tangy, tender and moist throughout. A friend always used to serve them to guests at her cabin in the woods, a perfect setting to enjoy these cozy cakes. They are quite scrumptious topped with warm maple syrup, but would also be delicious served with a warm fruit compote or jam.

Cottage Cheese Pancakes
makes 16 dollar pancakes

1 C unbleached flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
2 T sugar
4 eggs
1 C cottage cheese
1/2 C milk
2 T melted butter

Mix wet ingredients in a large bowl. Sift in flour, baking soda, salt and sugar and whisk, just until combined.

Heat large griddle or skillet over medium flame until hot. Grease pan or spray with cooking spray. Dollop batter onto skillet, using a 1/4 cup measure. Cook until golden brown on first side, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip and cook on remaining side until cooked through, about 3 minutes more. Remove to plate and repeat with remaining batter. Cover plate of pancakes with foil and keep warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

Updated to add: the kids LOVED the cottage cheese pancakes. And because they contain extra protein, I think I will make them for power breakfast days (like during testing!).

Good Morning

There is something sacred about the morning. And I firmly believe that we should be gently led into our day, not jarred awake by obnoxious beeping (or baby crying for that matter). But for most of us, easing into things is not an option-there are jobs to get to, babies to dress and feed and children to rush out the door to school. With all the hastiness of a typical morning routine, we forget to set aside time to nourish both our body and our soul, leaving us exhausted and agitated before even the real stress sets in.

A while back, when I home schooled my children, there was a television add in which a harried mother ushered her kids out the door to the bus, then returned inside for her peaceful cup of International Coffee. I think in actuality I resented her for having that moment to herself, but back then, I accused her of being a selfish mother for not wanting to be with her children all the time. Now that I have come to my senses (and I still completely admire those moms who can home school, by the way), I realize that my favorite time of day is after that initial burst of activity, after the lunches are made, hair is brushed, breakfast is served up, and backpacks are packed and loaded upon my little beasts of burden. It is after I have given them goodbye kisses and waved from the door that I return to the kitchen, sit down at my gloriously sunny table, sip my coffee, read the paper, and eat my peace and quiet and solitude, just like that other selfish mother from the commercial.

Although you may not think you have time on a busy morning for long-cooked steel cut oatmeal like this, with a hot soak overnight, it cooks in half the time. Pack it up in a thermos with some fresh or dried fruit, nuts and brown sugar or maple syrup, and you have a comforting breakfast wherever your morning may take you.

Overnight Steel Cut Oatmeal
serves 2

In a large stock pot, pour 4 cups of boiling water over 1 cup of steel cut oats. Cover with the lid and set aside until morning. After an overnight soak, turn the heat on high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender. Add a pinch of salt and top with fruit, nuts and a splash of milk or buttermilk.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Sea of Citrus

Citrus fruits of all sizes are threatening to take over my kitchen table and my refrigerators (kitchen and garage), and quite possibly my efforts in the kitchen in the upcoming week. There are kumquats, tangerines, oranges, blood oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes-and I must use them up before they spoil. Though I already possess an abundant supply, it is market day again, and I find it so very difficult to resist the pull of these sunny orbs, and even though I shouldn't, I will bring even more home to crowd my fruit basket and produce drawers.

I'm planning on freshly squeezed orange juice and lemon poppy seed muffins for breakfast, and perhaps making some more of that amazing tangerine sherbet for dessert. Margaritas should use up my limes....and I saw an amazing recipe for blood orange curd tart that I will try as well. That just leaves the kumquats, the funniest little citrus fruit of all. They are extraordinarily tart, yet equally sweet, and eaten whole, skin and all. When first bitten, the sourness from its skin bursts forth, followed by a mellow flavored, juicy pulp. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that when I bit into one for the first time this year, I promptly spit it out--it was much too sour for my sensitive taste buds. But I persisted and have been able to chomp down quite a few lately. My son compared them to warhead candy, so sour at first they are almost inedible, but they quickly sweeten in the mouth. Though I need to find a recipe to use up those little kumquats (I think my sister-in-law makes them into a marmalade) for now, I will concentrate on whittling down my lemon supply with these sunny little muffins, a perfect treat for a not-so-sunny Sunday morning.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 T baking powder
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 C melted butter
1/2 C milk
1/2 C plain yogurt (a bit less than a cup)
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 t vanilla extract
1 t lemon extract
zest from 1 lemon, finely minced
1 rounded T poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease cups of a muffin tin. In a large bowl sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt. Stir the poppy seeds into the dry mix. In a separate bowl whisk together the butter, milk, yogurt and extracts. Add the citrus zest to the liquid ingredients and whisk together. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry, just until combined.

Fill each muffin 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown and pass the "toothpick test." If desired, make a glaze by mixing 1/2 C powdered sugar with the juice from 1/2 a lemon.

Updated to add: My poppy seeds were rancid so I had to throw them out. Be sure to store yours in the refrigerator.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lamb and Kaseri Pizza

Oh Friday! You're my favorite day of the week! On Fridays, my husband and I take a collective sigh of relief that our (work) week is over and marvel in the realization that somehow we have survived the craziness of it all. Our cocktail glasses clink together as we begin dinner preparations, which usually include rolling out some pizza dough, all the while dancing and singing along to our favorite tunes.

Tonight our pizza had a decidedly Middle Eastern flair, topped with spiced ground lamb with pistachios and Kaseri cheese. When it came out of the hot oven I spooned over a cool lemon and mint-spiked yogurt, which was a delightful contrast to the warmth of the cinnamon and cumin laced meat. It was reminiscent of the delicious stuffed Keema Naan that we get at the Indian restaurant, its smoky crust blackened in places and quite crisp from its time on the baking stone.

Another delicious Friday night pizza, another faraway place visited with our palate, helping us leave all our week's cares behind. On Fridays, there is always a party at our house, whether it's for two or twelve. Everyone's welcome to stop by-and they often do!

Lamb and Kaseri Pizza

1 recipe pizza dough (or store/restaurant bought pizza dough)
2 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 t cumin
1 T chili powder
2 t cinnamon
1 t dried thyme
1 t salt
1 pound ground lamb
zest from one lemon
1/4 C pistashios, finely chopped
2 T chopped fresh mint
1 C diced tomatoes
4 oz. thinly sliced kaseri cheese

lemon yogurt:

1/2 C plain yogurt
1 T minced fresh mint
zest from one lemon
juice from half a lemon
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, with a pizza stone on the lowest rack. Meanwhile, let store bought pizza dough rest for at least 30 minutes, prior to shaping.

Make lemon yogurt: mix together yogurt with next four ingredients. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add next five ingredients and cook 5 minutes more, or until fragrant. Add lamb, zest, pistashios and mint to pan, breaking meat up with a spatula. Cook until lamb is no longer pink, then drain off any fat. Stir in diced tomatoes and remove from heat. Taste for seasoning.

Roll out pizza dough (or stretch it ) onto floured baking sheet (or floured parchment paper) and spread with meat mixture. Top with slices of kaseri cheese. Bake on a pizza stone (on the baking sheet or parchment) for 15-20 minutes, until crust is crisp and dark golden brown. Remove from oven, spoon over yogurt mixture and top with more fresh mint.

Curry in a Hurry

Every time I see my friend Parminder, I get the irresistible urge to cook Indian food, mostly because food is all we ever talk about when we are together. She is a British ex-patriot, of Indian descent, and a fabulous home cook. Her mouth-watering traditional Indian food has earned her quite a reputation among her family and friends, and she is always willing to share her recipes, which mostly consist of a pinch of this and a spoonful of that. From our conversations, I have come to a basic understanding of Indian food--like its so-called holy trinity of seasonings which consists of garlic, onion, and ginger--and how to use it as a base for a wide variety of both vegetarian and meat dishes.

Yesterday, we discussed her recipes for yogurt marinated Tandoori chicken (yes, she makes her own yogurt) and samosas using flour tortillas, her method for prepping garlic, ginger and chiles ahead of time (she blends large batches in her food processor, freezes them flat, then breaks off chunks as she needs them), and how to make vegetarian red kidney bean curry or Rajma. Though she recommends buying the small, dried red kidney beans from the Mexican market, I made it using canned, because I was pressed for time. Its haunting spiciness filled the house with warmth as it simmered away on the stove. I made it a couple of hours ahead of time, and reheated it for dinner later. Served in all its glorious juices atop a bed of basmati rice, it was a perfect meal to end a ridiculously busy day.

Rajma (Red Kidney Bean Curry)

2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small green chile (seeded if you desire), minced
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 C grated fresh ginger
1 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
1/2 t cumin seeds
1 C diced or crushed tomatoes in their juice
1 C water
2 cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
handful of chopped cilantro

Heat olive oil in a small dutch oven over medium low heat. Add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until it is a deep golden color, about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic, chile, ginger and spices and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes, or until spices become fragrant. Add crushed tomatoes and water and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add kidney beans and simmer for 15 minutes more, adding 1/2 C water, if necessary. The finished dish shouldn't be as thick as stew, or as thin as a soup, but somewhere in between. Serve over rice, topped with chopped cilantro.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Save Money and Your Waistline

A friend recently asked me what I do to save both time and money on food shopping. After pondering the answer to that question (I don't actively try to save time or money when shopping for food...but I know I should), I have come up with a list that I think might help save some money and maybe even time too. The problem with the food I like to eat (namely local and/or organic), is that it is usually more expensive than regular foods, but I save money by making lots of things from scratch, and eating less meat and processed/packaged foods.
  1. Make things from scratch. That means bread, pizza, pasta, pancakes, muffins, meatloaf, or taco mix. Whatever you buy that is pre-made, there are extra costs involved. Bonus: homemade things are not only cheaper, but they are healthier too. Drawback: this might require more time in the kitchen...but can usually be remedied with good advance planning.

  2. Don't waste money on sodas, bottled water or alcoholic beverages. I know that this might be a hard one to swallow...literally. But it is so easy, and better for the environment if you buy a water filter and a reusable water bottle and make your own purified water at home. As for the alcohol, well, any good wine and spirits that are worth drinking usually cost a lot of money. The exception might be made for some lesser known wines. So moderation and special occasion might be the key.

  3. Buy produce in season. This one just makes sense. If you want a watermelon in December, it will have been shipped from half way around the world, taste horrible, and cost a bundle. Don't do it. Produce in season will be plentiful and cheaper. Enough said.

  4. After you buy produce in season, be like your prudent great-grandmother and put it up for the winter. Make jams and preserves when fruit is in season, freeze berries and green beans, make applesauce, or dehydrate tomatoes to use in your winter pasta sauces. These rather out of fashion things are not difficult to learn how to do. They are time consuming, yes, but just imagine how lucky you will feel when you save both time and money in February by pulling out a zip lock bag full of delicious green beans you have saved from the summer!

  5. Eat less meat. There are so many good studies out there that show that the cultures with the highest longevity are those in which they are nearly vegetarians, eat mostly seafood, or meat is used as a condiment or side dish, not the main event. Meat is mostly bad for you, bad for the environment, and very, very expensive. Buy a whole chicken and stretch it out over several meals. Make vegetarian tacos or chili, and eat beans....not from a can (because that is expensive too), but from scratch. A pound of beans costs about a dollar and can feed you for several meals.

  6. If organic is a priority, but money is an issue, educate yourself on which foods you should absolutely always buy organic and which foods are okay grown conventionally. The truth is that organic costs more. And farmers markets cost more too. For me, eating organically is a huge priority, but even more important than that is buying my food from local growers at the farmers market, where they may not be certified organic, but they can tell you exactly what they do to their crops to control pests. (Many do not use pesticides, but cannot afford to be certified as "organic.") In the supermarket, the farmers make just cents on the dollar for every pound of produce sold because of all the extra costs involved (overhead, shipping, packaging etc). But when you buy directly from the farmers themselves, they get the entire dollar (less their own gas). And in these hard economic times, it's nice to know that I can do my part to help out the little guy. Check here for a list of foods that you should always buy organically grown. Believe me, once you see a strawberry field being harvested by workers wearing hazmat style suits to protect them from the pesticides, you will never buy conventional strawberries again.

  7. Don't buy pre-packaged snack foods. 100 calorie snack packs are a clever way to charge the consumer more money for less food. Buy a big bag of your favorite snack food (goldfish/chips etc.) and then divvy it up into small zip lock bags for convenience, if you have several lunch sacks to fill every day.

  8. Eat less. Most Americans are used to super-sized meals and super-sized snacks. Snack on fresh fruit and veggies, and down-scale your portion sizes on other meals. Both your waistline and your pocketbook will thank you.

  9. Plant a garden. Seeds are so very inexpensive, and gardening is a lovely way to spend time. Grow your family's favorite fruits or veggies or try something that might cost a lot at the market (heirloom tomatoes). You will be pleasantly surprised at both the flavor of home-grown foods, and the money you save on groceries.

Well, that is about all I could come up with for today. After re-reading this list, I realize that it may require more time preparing food from scratch for your family. But anything worth doing, takes time. If saving money and eating more healthfully is a true priority, time can be set aside over a weekend or in the evening to make a nourishing meal, put up fresh produce or plan a week's worth of meatless meals.

Tonight we had tacos, a request from a picky child who is on a breakfast food only kick. So I humored him. But do you think I used taco seasoning from a package? Heck no! I made it myself from a few herbs and spices I had in my pantry already. It has tons less sodium than the packaged stuff, no ingredients that I can't pronounce, and it tastes a lot better too. Quadruple the recipe and save the rest in a little container and then you won't have to make it again for awhile. It should last at least 6 months.

Taco Seasoning

Combine 1 T chili powder, 1 1/2 t paprika, 1/2 t oregano, 1/2 t onion powder, 1/2 t garlic powder, 1 1/2 t cumin, 1 t salt, 1/2 t black pepper, 1 t cornstarch, and 1 T dehydrated minced onion in a bowl. Brown meat in skillet, drain of any fat and add seasoning mix, along with one cup of water. Stir and heat through.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Scallion Sesame Crepes

Despite the fact that the kids (and dog) have been cooped up for much of this long weekend, there is one great thing about rain (well there are garden looks great, the drought may ease up a bit), it means that baseball is cancelled and we can have a leisurely dinner at home, which until recently, I have taken quite for granted. We will all get to sit around the table at the same time and enjoy a meal together, with nowhere to rush off to, and plenty of time to prepare it. My kids will hate this meal, not the togetherness of it, but the taste of it, but hopefully they won't make too much of a fuss and I'll make sure that there is something they like on the table.

When I was looking for recipes for sorrel, I came across a great one for savory crepes, by Deborah Madison in her cookbook, Local Flavors, which has become my farmers market bible of sorts. The crepes, scented with sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds and scallions, are then stuffed with stir fried baby green. I had to go out and buy a non-stick skillet just so I could make the crepes....obviously it is something that I have never tried. But the recipe looked easy enough, and quite tasty too.

It is true what they say about the first two pancakes being something of a mess. I didn't have to go so far as to throw mine out, but the rest of the crepes came out much better, once I got the hang of how to flip them. The filling was so easy to prepare, just a simple saute of mixed veggies. Anything you have on hand would stand in easily for the bok choy and mushrooms, and if you need some extra protein, adding some tofu, shrimp or chicken would make a nice addition.

Scallion Sesame Crepes
makes about 10

1 C water
3/4 C milk
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1/2 t salt
1 C flour

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
toasted sesame seeds for sprinkling

Put first 6 ingredients into a blender and blend well until completely combined. Add flour and blend for 10 seconds more. Set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.

Heat a 9 inch, non-stick skillet over medium heat with a touch of vegetable oil, wiping out the excess. When pan is hot, pour in 1/3 C of batter, swirling pan to distribute evenly. Sprinkle with some of the scallions and the sesame seeds. After top begins to look set (after about one minute), gently loosen the edges with a spatula and carefully flip over. At this point the crepe should move around in the pan easily. Cook for one minute more and then slide out onto a plate. Wrap with foil and keep warm (in a 200 degree oven, if necessary).

Sauteed Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushrooms

This isn't so much a recipe, but rather a simple method for cooking any tender green or vegetable (like sugar snap peas). Simply heat about 1 t of toasted sesame oil and 1 t of vegetable oil in a skillet. Add 1/2 pound of cleaned and sliced shiitake mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have released their juice and are becoming tender, about 4 minutes. Add 3 bunches of chopped baby bok choy and continue to saute until bok choy wilts slightly, about 1 minute more. Sprinkle with soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds and serve with scallion sesame crepes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

At Market...Sorrel

It's here...spring has (almost) sprung at our farmers market. Even though the weather in southern California has been darn cold and more rain is expected, there is growing evidence each week that spring is nearly here. I know this because there were pansies in the bags of lettuce today that looked like Easter morning, and the first asparagus has come in too. Asparagus! Oh how I have missed you! And another exciting discovery today was sorrel.

I love to buy things that I have never tried before. Variety is the spice of life, right? And when I plucked a grass-colored leaf from the bunch and bit into it, I was surprised at both its tender crunch and sour lemon flavor. The farmer (from whom I also bought some beautiful shiitaki mushrooms) said it could be eaten both raw (mixed in a salad), or cooked (like in a soup or sauce). Intrigued, I took a large bag home and immediately began pouring over my cookbooks (not too much luck...except for Local Flavors by Deborah Madison) and searching online for any information about sorrel, and any recipes that use it.

I discovered that sorrel is actually a perennial herb, native to Europe. It's sour flavor comes from oxalic acid, a compound that, when eaten in very large quantities, can have a laxative affect. Slightly disturbed, I delved further. It has been gathered in the wild for centuries and is commonly thought of as a weed. It is quite healthful, as it contains vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, calcium and magnesium. When I had sufficient evidence that our meal of sorrel wouldn't leave us upset (like I said it takes a very LARGE quantity to make you sick), I started looking for recipes.

My husband had requested pasta, and unfortunately there were no sorrel pasta sauce recipes that I could locate, except for some sorrel pesto, which sounded too garlicky to me. There were, however, several recipes for sorrel sauce for fish, which makes sense because it has such a pronounced lemon flavor, and a recipe for sorrel risotto from my Local Flavors cookbook. When I finally felt like I understood the herb, I decided to make a sorrel cream sauce for fresh, homemade pasta, tossed with some sauteed leeks and asparagus, that I also purchased today. Because I had read that the vibrant green color fades to an olive green when it is cooked, I set aside several leaves to chiffonade and sprinkle over the top of the pasta as a contrast.

The end result was better than I expected. The cream sauce looked almost grayish green when I finished pureeing it, and had an interesting smell...but when tossed with the pasta, asparagus and leeks, its tartness perfectly offset the rich flavors of both the cream and the asparagus.

Egg Pasta with Sorrel Cream Sauce

1 pound of fresh egg linguine (buy it at your favorite gourmet store or make it)
1 large shallot, minced
2 T butter, divided
2 T olive oil, divided
1/4 C dry white wine
1/2 C chicken stock
1 bunch of coarsely chopped sorrel (or spinach), reserving 4 whole leaves
1 C heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
1 bunch asparagus, washed and trimmed and cut into 2 inch segments
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved length-wise and washed well

Heat a medium, non-reactive (not cast-iron) skillet over medium heat. Add butter, olive oil (1 T each) and shallot and saute until shallot is tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer for 5 minutes to reduce slightly. Add chicken stock and sorrel and continue to simmer for 5 minutes more, or until sorrel wilts and begins to break up into the sauce. Carefully transfer mixture into a blender. Add cream and blend until completely smooth. Pour back into skillet and simmer over medium heat until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes more. Taste for seasoning. Pour out into bowl and set aside. Wipe out skillet.

Slice the leek length-wise into 1/4 inch slices. Heat another 1 T butter and 1 T olive oil in skillet and add leeks and asparagus, sauteing until tender. About 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to boil. When boiling add a small handful of salt. Boil pasta for 3 minutes, or according to package directions. Take sorrel leaves and stack on top of each other. Gently roll into a cigar shape and slice into slivers with a sharp, stainless steel knife.

Pour pureed cream sauce into skillet with asparagus and leeks and heat over a medium flame for about 3 minutes or until bubbling slightly. Toss with hot pasta, top with grated Parmesan cheese and slivers of sorrel and serve. It may be necessary to loosen the pasta with a bit of water in which the pasta was cooked (a ladle full).

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Heart Chocolate

So it's Valentine's Day again, it seems. And I don't really have much to say about it, except for that it is a marvelous excuse to eat chocolate. My husband and I have never really gone crazy for this day, mostly because it is so very difficult to find a willing babysitter and we have been parents for eleven out of our twelve and a half year marriage. We have made this "holiday" about the kids with heart shaped decorations around the house, chocolate chip heart shaped pancakes for breakfast, and cards and boxes of chocolate to greet them at the kitchen table in the morning. I usually make a semi-romantical dinner for us to eat after we put the kids to bed....fillet Mignon, lobster risotto or seared ahi have appeared on menus past, served with champagne (of course) and a delicious dessert.

But this year, we are actually going to brave the crowds and eat out (thanks mom!), and so we made a rich, fudgy dessert tonight to enjoy with the family. I'd be really hard pressed to come up with a more perfect and sensual Valentine's Day sweet. Its molten chocolate interior pours forth when you pierce it with a fork and when topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries, it is pure bliss. Because it takes only a few minutes to stir together and just a few minutes more to bake, this should not be limited to special occasions only. Wow your friends or family after a casual dinner, or make it anytime you are in the need of some serious chocolate therapy. It is so easy to make your seven year old could do it...just like mine did tonight.

Molten Lava Cakes
makes 8

4 T butter, softened
1/3 C sugar
3 extra large eggs
1/3 C flour
1/4 t salt
8 oz. semi sweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing well, until completely incorporated. Stir in the flour and salt until combined. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a bowl, in thirty second intervals, stirring between each one. It should take around a minute to melt completely. Let cool slightly then pour into the flour and egg mixture. Whisk until smooth.

Pour into eight greased cups of a muffin tin. Bake for 6-7 minutes or until edges are set. Carefully run a knife around the edges of the cakes. Place a large platter over the muffins and invert cakes onto it. Using a spatula, lift the cakes to individual plates and sprinkle with powdered sugar and berries if desired. Top with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Soup Kitchen

I've often heard it said that February, though it has the fewest days, is actually the longest month of the year, or so it seems. Winter weary souls all throughout the country are brow beaten by the constant chill and frost, and pounded by even more snow, sleet and rain. In southern California, where I live, February is a bit day impossibly warm and sunny, so that I rush out to plant flowers in the garden, my skin pink and flushed with sun and sweat...and the next day, cold and dreary, pouring rain on the freshly dug earth, drowning the baby poppies in their beds, their fuzzy heads drooping under the weight of it all. I cannot complain, because we need the rain, we really do. And it cleans the air so much so that even the new green grass on the sides of the foothills can be seen, which is a rarity indeed. It heartens me to know that at least in Los Angeles, February is winter's swan song, her last chance to make herself known, before she is pushed aside by relentless sun, sprouting daffodils, and barefoot children running and playing outdoors.

I walked the dog today, high upon a hill. I try to get there as fast as I can to enjoy the view of the tall mountains surrounding our little valley. The word valley itself might conjure up a delightful scene of cottages and farms dotting the landscape, but ours is a paved-over suburbia, filled with "little boxes on the hillsides" as Malvina Reynolds once sang. So with the houses all the same, and not much to speak of, I look to the landscape. Today as we went along, the brisk air just enough to bite the tip of my nose and redden my cheeks, the puffy white clouds were like little mirror images of the mountain tops, still sporting a light dusting of snow from the last storm. A lovely scene.

Back home, in my kitchen, I light the oven often in these waning days of winter, for I know that in short order, I will be complaining of the heat and cooking out on the grill as much as possible (and escaping to Cape Cod). In anticipation of another fractured family supper (thank you baseball practice), I made an Italian soup of some sort, and some dinner rolls that, while not exactly the perfect match for the hearty soup simmering away on my stove, were as fluffy as those clouds in the sky, and delicious too. Not quite a muffin, not quite a typical yeast dough, they are the perfect compromise of time and flavor...not to mention that the aroma of freshly baked bread will wrap your family up in a warm embrace when they walk through the door, which is just the thing we all need during winter's last hurrah.

Double Quick Dinner Rolls
makes 12

2 1/4 t of dried yeast (or one package)
1 C warm water (around 100 degrees)
1 large egg
2 T sugar
2 T vegetable shortening
1 t salt
2 1/4 C flour

Dissolve yeast in water in a large bowl. Wait until frothy, which takes about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg, sugar, shortening, and salt. Add 1 C flour and whisk until batter is smooth. Add remaining flour and stir until combined. Cover with a damp cloth, and set in a warm place until double, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees. When dough has risen, place spoonfulls in greased muffin tin, filling approximately half way up. Let rise again for 30 minutes (or until doubled in size). Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Serve immediately, or let cool on wire rack.

Italian Sausage Soup

This soup is a pantry soup of sorts, and so hearty that it might actually qualify as a stew. It is so very forgiving that ingredients can be added or omitted as you see fit.

1 pound raw Italian sausage (I prefer chicken or turkey)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 quart of chicken stock
1 t dried basil
1/2 t dried oregano
1 bunch of black kale (or any kind of hearty green), washed well and thinly sliced (woody stems discarded)
the rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese
1 C dried small ravioli pasta
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Remove sausage from casing and brown in a medium hot, heavy bottomed dutch oven, breaking apart the sausage with a spatula. Remove from pot and pour off all but 1 T fat. Reduce heat to medium low, and add onion and saute, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Pour in tomatoes and stock and return the sausage to the pot, along with the herbs, kale and Parmesan cheese. Simmer, covered over low heat for about 30 minutes. Add in raviolis and cook for about 15-18 minutes, or until cooked through. Add beans and stir well, and continue to cook until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes more. If soup is too thick, add a cup of two more of water or stock. Remove any leftover rind chunks, ladle into bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Monday, February 9, 2009

At Market...Oyster Mushrooms

I have never, ever seen mushrooms at our farmers market. And when I finally did on Sunday, I just about kissed the bewildered farmer who I'm sure was surprised to see such an elated girl at his stand. His table was loaded with both frilly, off white oyster mushrooms, and large, earth-hued shiitake ones. I took a brown paper sack filled with $10 worth of oysters (which wasn't all that much really...they are kind of a delicacy), and hurried home to show off my find.

Oyster mushrooms are slightly anise scented, velvety on the top side and lined with soft gills underneath. They are frequently used in stir-fries and their tender flesh assumes the flavor of whatever is cooked alongside. Tonight I sauted them with shallots and garlic in a cream and wine reduction sauce, that was both rich in flavor and silky in texture. Spooned over fresh egg pasta and finished with some Piave cheese (a mild Parmesan), a glass of wine and a green salad was all we needed to complete the meal. If you cannot find oyster mushrooms at your farmers market, you can use brown button or shiitake mushrooms from the super market.

Pasta with Oyster Mushroom Sauce

12 oz. fresh egg linguine or fettucchine (make your own or buy some from your favorite Italian or gourmet market)
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
2 C sliced oyster mushrooms (discard woody stems or save to make broth)
1 C mushroom or chicken stock (use Better than Bouillon mushroom base if you can find it)
1/2 C half and half or heavy cream
1/4 C dry white wine
freshly grated Piave cheese

Heat butter and oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute shallot, garlic and mushrooms and saute until onions are translucent and mushrooms have given off their moisture and it has been evaporated. Add mushroom or chicken stock and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until reduced by half. Add cream and white wine and simmer 5 minutes more. Meanwhile cook pasta for about 3 minutes (or according to package directions) until al dente. Toss with sauce in the skillet. If pasta seems too dry, add a ladle-full of the pasta cooking water to loosen up a bit. Top with freshly grated Piave cheese (or the Parmesan style cheese of your choice).

A Late Lunch

I am really not a huge fan of sandwiches, unless they are those time-consuming ones made on artisan bread, smeared with fig jam and goat cheese, and stuffed with arugula or some such. But even those can get tiresome after awhile. My real preference is a hot lunch, made with leftovers, especially when I can recreate them into something new. Today I did just that; with a few slices of bacon, a couple of eggs, some cold leftover rice, a handful of frozen peas and some sliced scallions, I made fried rice.

This is a great way to use up leftover rice, because it needs to be made using cold rice, so that the grains do not break apart and become gummy. Adding some bacon (and cooking the eggs in the bacon fat), imparts a delicious smokiness that adds depth of flavor. A drizzle of dark sesame oil and tamari (soy) sauce finishes the dish. This makes a quick and tasty lunch...or you could even eat it for breakfast (it does have bacon and eggs, after all).

Quick Fried Rice
serves 2

3 slices of bacon (chopped)
2 eggs
1 T vegetable oil
5 scallions, sliced diagonally
2 C cold, leftover rice
a handful of frozen peas
a drizzle of dark sesame oil (about 1 t)
a drizzle of tamari (about 1 T)

Add bacon to a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry, over medium high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is beginning to crisp. Remove from pan and drain out all but 1 T of fat. Crack eggs into hot pan and using spatula, break up yolks and scramble eggs until no longer shiny. Remove from pan and set aside. Add 1 T of vegetable oil to pan along with the scallions and stir fry for one minute. Add rice and stir fry for about 3 minutes, or until rice is heated through. Add peas, eggs and bacon and continue to cook for 2 minutes more. Drizzle with sesame oil and tamari. Top with some of your leftover crispy kale (optional).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

At Market...Black Kale

I had a lovely Sunday morning; NY and Los Angeles Times newspapers, hot coffee with steamed milk, pancakes and bacon. Then I headed out to the farmers market to collect my week's worth of fresh produce. There were apples, onions, garlic, scallions, navel oranges, eggs, more of that delicious Japanese Bok Choy, arugula, strawberries, potatoes, mushrooms!! (which I will post about tomorrow) and black kale. I had just read a recipe in the NY Times Magazine for potato soup with sausage and "fried" kale that sounded like the perfect meal for a cold blustery day, and luckily I was able to find everything I needed at the market.

After a long crazy day (which unfortunately included a trip to the ER--nothing serious...just a minor head wound), I did finally make it to the kitchen to make my own version of the soup, complete with fresh Portuguese sausage (that was very spicy), and some slivers of baked crispy black kale. After fighting with my stick blender (which kept losing its battery charge) I ended up pureeing the soup in the regular blender, which takes some time but is a fine alternative if you don't have one (or yours is on the fritz). But by the time the soup was finally finished, I collapsed in a heap of exhaustion, not even able to eat the very soup I had been so excited about earlier in the day. My husband swore it was good...and then promptly froze the leftovers, so I will have to wait until another rainy day to try it. I did, however, find the crispy black kale strips strangely addictive, and I stood by the pan, for quite some time snacking on them. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the finished soup, but this post is really about the kale anyway. You must make the kale strips if nothing else...

Potato Sausage Soup with Crispy Kale

1 large onion, finely chopped
3 clove of garlic, minced or grated
2 links of Portuguese sausage (raw, removed from casing)
2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 C chicken stock
olive oil

Pour about 2 T of olive oil in a large stockpot and heat over medium flame. Add sausage and brown for about 3 minutes, or until some fat is rendered, but sausage is not fully cooked. Toss in onion and garlic and saute for about 10 minutes or until translucent. Add potatoes and stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes then puree with a stick blender or in batches in a blender. Drizzle with olive oil and top with crispy kale.

Crispy Kale

Take about 6 washed kale leaves (stems removed) and stack together. Gently roll up leaves (to make a cigar shape) and slice thinly with a sharp knife, making ribbons about 1/8 of an inch thick. Toss with olive oil (about 2 t) and a pinch of salt and roast on a baking sheet (spread in a single layer) in a preheated oven (350) for about 10 minutes, or until crisp.