Archive for August, 2013

Celebrating the Unusual

August 12, 2013

Sometimes making dinner decisions is really easy for me.  I crave something and I make it.  Maybe I get the recipe from one of my many sources, sometimes I make it up.  Often times I am inspired by produce at the markets, or by a dish I had in a restaurant, or something I saw on a menu, or a dish described to me by my mother or a friend.  And then there are times when I get stuck.  I page through my books and nothing pops out for me.  Cooking dinner looms as a chore, not the thing I look forward to each evening.  That is when I turn to Heidi Swanson.

If you read my blog, chances are you also read Heidi’s as well and you might even have one or both of her cookbooks.  She is a very talented woman from whom I have pulled inspiration for years.  An amazing photographer and a healthy and inventive cook is a pretty compelling combination.  The reason I turn to her when I am stuck is her tendency toward the unusual.  I’m a good cook and I often create my own recipes but I don’t think I have the flair that Heidi does.  I often find things in her ingredient lists that I would never think to put together and what I have found is that the unusual, when left to her capable hands, always works.

This dish takes ravioli and Middle Eastern harissa and marries them together with some of my favorite ingredients – broccoli, oil-cured olives, and good feta.  I bought some plump fresh spinach and ricotta mini ravioli (raviolini?) and patted myself on the back for being a good wife and making a dish that provide leftovers for Randy’s dinner the next night.  Except that, between the two of us, we finished the whole platter.  Two notes on the platter.  First, use one instead of a bowl.  Heidi instructs you to mix the cooked pasta with the broccoli and the harissa oil in a bowl, but mine were tiny and delicate and I just knew a toss would destroy too many of them.  On the platter, everything can be laid out and the sauce drizzled over top.  Second, the one you see in the photos belonged to my great-grandmother Lena.  I always thought I would name a daughter after her but alas, I have two boys.

A few notes on ingredients.  Harissa can be found in well-stocked grocery stores.  It usually comes in a jar and can be found on either the international food aisle or the condiment aisle near the olives.  Speaking of olives – oil cured olives can sometimes be found in jars but are easier to seek out at an olive bar.  They are very black and wrinkly and are my favorite olive.  You could always substitute kalamata.  Finally, as I will say whenever I talk about feta cheese, buy the good stuff in a brick, not the pre-crumbled stuff.  I’ve always been happy with Mt. Vikos brand but there are other good ones out there.

One Year Ago:  Blackberry Buttermilk Cake, Cilantro Scallion Bread
Two Years Ago:  Grilled Onion Guacamole, Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Three Years Ago:  Lavender and Honey Tea Cakes, Polenta with Corn, Tomatoes, and Basil,
Four Years Ago:  Cheese Balls Three Ways, Rosemary and Walnut Paté, Melon Soup with Cucumber Chile Ice
Five Years Ago:  Olive and Jarlsberg Sandwich, Farro with Green Beans and Corn

Harissa Ravioli
Adapted from Super Natural Everyday
Serves 4 (not in my house)

This is super close to the recipe in the book.  My little tweaks were more lemon and less oil in the dressing and more olives, plus the platter and not bowl.

1 clove garlic, smashed
¼ tsp. fine-grain sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. harissa
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces fresh or frozen ravioli or tortellini
8 ounces broccoli florets, trimmed into bite-size pieces
¼ cup pepitas, sliced almonds, or pine nuts, toasted
Scant ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
8 oil-cured black olives

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  In the meantime, make the harissa oil.  Sprinkle the smashed garlic clove with the salt and chop into a paste.  Transfer it to a small bowl and stir in the lemon juice, harissa, and olive oil.  Taste and add more salt, if needed.

When the water boils, salt it generously, add the ravioli, and boil until they float and are cooked through, usually 1 or 2 minutes.  About 30 seconds before the ravioli has finished cooking, add the broccoli to the pot, boil for the remaining time, then drain.

Lay the ravioli and broccoli out on a platter and drizzle generously with the harissa oil.  Scatter the pepitas over top, followed by the olives and feta cheese.  Drizzle with more oil if desired.

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats

August 7, 2013

If you have ever brought a pan of Rice Krispe Treats to a gathering, your pan probably looks like the one above within a few minutes of arriving.  Right?  It doesn’t matter the age or the palate of the people at said gathering – people love Rice Krispie Treats.  I brought a 9×13-inch pan to our end of school potluck and in the time it took me to get my phone out of my bag, they were gone.  I get it.  I too am powerless in front of a pan of these, especially if they are doctored up a bit and made extra special.

Like most of us, my mom used to make them for us when we were kids and next to chocolate chip cookies and brownies, they were my favorite.  Awful college dinners were made better by my bastardized version made in the microwave using cereal from the cereal bar, marshmallows from the sundae bar, and a hunk of butter.  And then I learned that marshmallows are not vegetarian – they contain gelatin – so for a long time, including the early years of my kids childhoods, Rice Krispie Treats were not a part of my repertoire.  And then I found vegan marshmallows and all was right with the world again.  (Side note – my kids are obsessed with marshmallows.  I mean obsessed.  Is this because it is the one candy I won’t let them eat unless they are the “special” kind?  Or are all kids obsessed?)

Now, not all Treats are good.  They seem to pop up in coffee bars in truly gargantuan squares that seem to contain a lot of air.  How would I know?  Sometimes you have a child who really really must have a Rice Krispie Treat and even though you know that thing does not contain vegan marshmallows, and probably does not even contain real butter, sometimes you just need to be a good mom and buy your kid that treat they are so desperate for.  And then, because it is there and it is so gargantuan that your small child couldn’t finish it, you taste it and you realize that they can, in fact, be mediocre.

Not these.  When I saw this recipe for Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats, I thought, “Really?”  Is this necessary?  I mean, the plain old regular ones using the recipe off the box is pretty darn good.  This one is not all that different, except there is more butter and that butter is browned and there is an all-important pinch of salt.  (For the record, I am vegetarian, not vegan, so butter is ok in my diet.)  Deb makes hers in small pan so they are nice and tall and I do that too sometimes.  If I need to serve more people, I make them in my 9×13.  Whichever size, I always make sure really pack them into the pan, using at first a spatula and then an offset palette knife to press and smooth.  I don’t like airy treats, I prefer them to be dense and this step will get you that result.

One Year Ago:  Israeli Couscous and Tomato Salad with Arugula Pesto
Two Years Ago:  Tomato and Corn Pie (so good),
Three Years Ago:  Rice Noodles with Marinated Tofu, Israeli Couscous with Olives and Roasted Tomatoes
Four Years Ago:  Grilled Potato Slices with Salt and Vinegar
Five Years Ago:  Pasta with Cauliflower and Walnut Pesto

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats
Adapted (only in language) from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Makes never enough

If you are looking for vegan marshmallows, Dandies is the brand I have used.  You should be able to find them in a natural-ish grocery store.  Whole Foods for sure.    For the East Bay Area people, I have also found them in Berkeley Bowl.

8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
Heaping ¼ tsp. flaky sea salt
One 10-ounce bag large or miniature marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

In a large pot, melt 1 stick butter over medium-low heat.  It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden, and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty.  Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do.  Don’t take your eyes off the pot: You may be impatient for it to start browning, but the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off, sprinkle salt over the butter, and stir in the marshmallows.  The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on over low heat until the marshmallows are smooth.  (DT: If you are using vegan marshmallows, they will take a long time to soften and you will need to keep them over low heat.  Keep stirring them and mash them into the bottom of the pan to get them softer.  In my experience, they will never get 100% smooth but it all seems to work out when you add the cereal.)

Remove the pot from the stove, and stir in the cereal, folding it gently with the marshmallow mixture until the cereal is evenly coated.  Quickly spread into prepared pan.  Use the back of your stirring spatula to get the top even and press down to make them compact.  Let cool, then cut into squares.


I’ve Heard a Chef Say

August 2, 2013

I’ve heard a chef say that if he was reincarnated as a vegetable, he’d like to be a fava bean.  Imagine being able to just rest in one of those silky pods.

I’ve heard a chef say that if you really really want to buy fresh peas, wait until they are at the ultimate peak of the season…and then buy frozen.

I myself agree with the first.  Every time I work with fava beans I do envy their little green fleecy little sleeping bags a bit.

I myself disagree with the second.  When English peas are at their peak, they take over for broccoli as my favorite vegetable.  I have many memories of popping them straight out of the pod and into my mouth.  I actually like them best raw but a very quick cook in boiling water is nice too.

Why am I talking about these spring vegetables when we are in the heat of summer?  I don’t know about you, but spring blew by for me.  I don’t think I was able to take full advantage of the green springy things because they arrived so much earlier than I am used to.  I think July is when I expect to see these vegetables because that is when I saw them in the Northwest farmers’ markets.  I’m seeing pictures of favas on Instagram and questions about how to use them on Facebook, so I’m assuming that my Northwest sensibilities are still right.  If you live elsewhere, you can probably find these two vegetables in a well-stocked produce market.  And if you really can’t find the peas, frozen will work fine.

If you know the term Cacio e Pepe, you probably know it from pasta.  It is one of the glories of Italian cooking.  Super simple using only the very best ingredients.  Anthony Bourdain featured the dish in one of his No Reservations episodes.  Here, instead of pasta, we get a dressing for a lovely salad and while I’m a tried and true vinaigrette girl, this dressing was a creamy savory delicious change from the usual.

One Year AgoBittersweet Brownie Drops
Two Years Ago:  Penne with Cherry Tomatoes, Julie’s Salad
Three Years Ago:  Grilled Summer Vegetable Soft Tacos, Holly B’s Fruit Scones,
Four Years Ago:  Indian Spiced Chickpea Salad, Muhummara Dip, Zesty Tofu Wraps
Five Years Ago:  Raspberry Cake with Marsala and Crème Fraîche (I make this every summer)

Spring Peas and Greens with Cacio e Pepe Dressing
Food & Wine
Serves 4

I use butter lettuce as my greens here but arugula would be nice too.

1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus more for garnish
¾ teaspoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns
Kosher salt
2 pounds fava beans, shelled (2 cups)
2 cups fresh or frozen peas, thawed
4 cups spring greens, such as pea tendrils or baby arugula (2 ounces)
1 Hass avocado, peeled and cut into thin wedge

In a food processor, pulse the egg yolk with the buttermilk and garlic. With the machine on, drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Add the 3 tablespoons of cheese and the peppercorns and puree until smooth. Season the dressing with salt.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. Boil the favas until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to the ice bath. Add the peas to the pot and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes for fresh and 1 minute for frozen. Drain and transfer to the ice bath. Drain the favas and peas. Pinch the fava beans out of their skins.

In a bowl, toss the favas, peas and greens. Add some dressing, season with salt and toss. Arrange the avocado on plates and top with the salad. Garnish with grated cheese and serve.