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.



A Slice of My Life – Weeks 28, 29, and 30

July 29, 2013

I several weeks worth of Slice of Life posts to catch up on, so I figured I’d do them all in one.  In rough chronological order:

I announced that I am starting up teaching again!  This is the screen shot on Instagram.  I can’t tell you how excited I am for all my upcoming classes.

Speaking of classes, this is some of the prep for the July/August Warm Weather Soups and Salads class.

A different kind of prep.  Beets!

I decided I needed a new shoe to teach in.  I used to always wear flats but flats are not great for your feet when you are standing for 6+ hours.  My feet don’t really like clogs, especially Dansko clogs, but for some reason, these really worked for me.  Plus, don’t you  love the color?  It’s actually surprisingly versatile.

We left a perfectly sunny and 72º day in Oakland to be enveloped in fog at Half Moon Bay.  Totally worth the temperature drop and lack of sunshine.  It is so beautiful there and we will certainly go back in the fall.

What is it about sand and sand toys?  The boys could have played there all day.

In a sweet shop, I saw slices of gorgeous frittata topped with stalks of broccolini and just had to try and make it myself.  It didn’t come out exactly like I wanted it to.  The middle wasn’t set and the broccolini sank more than I wanted them to.  Still, eggs for dinner are always nice.

Our old coffee table.  We got it right after we moved into our “black house” in Seattle.  Some friends came over and their young son ran a toy car over the top and it scratched the surface.  Our friends were horrified that he had “ruined” our table.   We had no idea how destroyed the table would get over time.  A friend of ours is an interior designer and she found us something a little more artistic.

We are in love with it but it makes our couch, which we need to replace anyway, look frumpy.

A lovely neighbor had a mobile knife sharpener come to our street.  My knives hadn’t been sharpened in almost two years so I was so excited to get them back.

The view from an empty lot on our street.  Takes my breath away every time.  At this time of year, the fog is almost like an animal, settling itself over certain places and avoiding others.  San Fransisco is often fogged in as are parts of Marin County, which is where it sits in this photo.  We continue to think that Oakland has the best weather in the Bay Area.  Even Berkeley, which is just north of us, gets more fog than we do.

At the beginning of the summer, we joined a community pool.  It is so nice to be able to just pop over there for a few hours of swimming on a nice day.  I also signed up the boys for swim lessons and they have made a staggering amount of progress already.  I feel like such a suburban mom taking my kids to swim lessons.

Eggplant and porcini meatless meatballs in sauce.  This made a huge amount and I thought we would have tons of leftovers.  The boys didn’t like it (big surprise) but even so, we only ended up with two leftover meatballs and a bit of sauce.  SO GOOD.

This past Friday was my birthday.  I took BART into the city and shopped a bit.  I walked down Market St. to the Ferry Building and had lunch there, followed by a food shopping trip.  I love that place so much.  So many treasures.

This wasn’t written for me, but I still appreciated it.

When Randy asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said I wanted to go to Healdsburg for the day.  I had never been and had heard so many great things about it.  So we packed up the boys and headed up there.  It’s such a great place.  Lots of galleries and wineries all on the square, plus easy proximity to lots of Russian River and Alexander Valley wineries.  I want to go back next year again but stay the night and without the boys.

Birthday celebration continues!  We took the boys to an A’s game on Sunday – a day game.  We were able to take BART and it was so easy!  They came from behind for a big win and we all had a really good time sitting in the sun and cheering on a winning team.

I wanted to end my birthday weekend with a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a while.  This is an attempt at the Saveur method of making pizza.  Basically, you allow your dough to rise for 48 hours and then heat up your stone with the oven turned to “broil” for at least 30 minutes.  I was expecting blistered charred crust, but it was pale and flabby.  Very disappointing.  At least the flavor was good.  Spring onion, the most amazing burrata from Italy, and arugula.

Finally, file this under “start your week with a smile”.  The boys used their Lego’s to make a “wine store”.



Time to Share

July 24, 2013

This is my go-to granola recipe.  I have been using it for about three years.  I had a go-to granola recipe before that that I used for many many years, but I like this one better.  I make huge batches of it and eat some, freeze some, and give some away.  Everyone loves it.  Why have I not shared this recipe until now?  Here are some reasons.

1) A part of me thinks that everyone has their own favorite granola recipe.
2) A part of me thinks I have seen 12 million granola recipes in the food blogosphere.
3) A part of me doesn’t want to take business away from this lovely lady.  (And if you are buying granola instead of making your own, you should buy it from her.)

My old favorite starred a lot of butter and honey and had lots of whole nuts in it.  I liked the flavor of it, butter and honey will do that to a person, but not the things in it as much.  If I am going to eat granola, and let’s face it – it’s not exactly health food – it has to be perfect.  This is pretty close and oh so easy to make.  You are really just measuring things out, mixing them all together in a big bowl, and waiting.  Your kitchen smells even better than when you make brownies.  Why am I sharing the recipe now?  Here are some reasons.

1) It’s just time I shared something that I make so often, regardless of reasons 1-3 above.
2) I brought giant bags of this granola with us to Bethany Beach a few weeks ago.  We kept one bag in the purple house and I brought the other over to the blue house, where much of the extended family was staying.  They all went crazy for it (people always do) and wondered when the recipe would be on my blog.  These are special lovely people.  So how could I not share?

A brief story.  I met Randy’s family, immediate and extended, twelve years ago this month.  We had just moved in together and he brought me back to a big family gathering in Baltimore.  Randy’s mom is the oldest of five and three of her siblings have children.  Some of them have children.  Even twelve years ago, there were a lot of White’s for me to meet.  I was nervous.  I knew Randy and I were headed for marriage and he had been married before (as had I).  His ex-wife had been a part of these gatherings and I did not know how I would fit in to that dynamic.

As it turns out, Randy’s ex-wife was not super popular with the family, some of the more tell-it-like-it-is members were very clear about this, and I was thought to be a breath of fresh air.  The fact that I come from a nice family, sing and play the guitar, and was clearly over the moon about this guy brought me a big thumbs up from everyone.  Phew!  Now all the times I have spent time with this group has been so wonderful.  I always have long and meaningful conversations with so many of them.  I’m lucky to have this large extended family.  So it is with great pleasure that I share this granola recipe!

A few notes.  This recipe comes from Melissa Clark’s book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.  As may be clear, I have made it countless times.  I pretty much follow it as written but have a few opinions (always!).

*It is very easy to double this recipe as long as you have a large mixing bowl and two large rimmed baking sheets.  Why not just double it and have lots of granola?  I would freeze some since it does, eventually, go stale.

*You can use salted, roasted pistachios instead of raw, I always do.  I buy them in huge shelled bags because I make this so often.

*You will need to seek out coconut chips.  It is just big shavings of coconut, not the powdery flaky kind that you use to make coconut bars.  Bob’s Red Mill has it in bags usually in the baking section.

*I add both dried apricots and dried cherries to mine.  Better color.  I’ve added all kinds of dried fruit to this granola.  The only thing I would avoid are regular raisins.  They don’t look appetizing.  Golden are better.  Be sure to add the fruit right when it comes out of the oven.  The granola is still soft and easily mixable.  As it cools, it crunches up and the fruit is more difficult to stir in.

*Be sure to allow the granola to bake long enough that it really is golden, a touch darker is better than a touch lighter in my opinion.  If you let it become truly brown, it cools up nice and crunchy.  If you don’t bake it enough, it can be a little greasy and not crunchy.

One Year Ago:  Quinoa with Red Lentils and Mint, Baked Penne with Silky Fennel
Two Years Ago:  Savory Muffins, Salted Caramel Squares, Vegetable Enchiladas
Three Years Ago:  Roasted Cauliflower with Tomato and Dill, Best Tart Dough, Lavender Honey Ice Cream
Four Years Ago:  Honeyed Goat Cheese Tart, Blasted Broccoli, Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce, Asparagus Ragout

Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios
Adapted from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite
Makes about 9 cups

Clark serves her granola with ricotta cheese and fresh berries.  I usually put out milk and plain yogurt with berries.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups raw pistachios, hulled
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup coconut chips
¾ cup pure maple syrup (you can use 2/3 cup, but the granola will be drier_
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried tart cherries

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.  Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for about 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and well toasted.

As soon as you pull it out of the oven, stir in the dried fruit, combining it carefully.  Allow to cool completely, then store in an airtight bag or jar.

 



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