Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Well, that's another year down.  Too many dishes to count and a lot of cooking and writing, at least for me.  I'll recap some of my favorites after the first of the year.  But, for this last installment of 2009, enjoy my picks from today's food sections.

We all start the new year with every intention of getting our diet on track.  Eating healthy is a top priority, although how long that priority actually lasts is a question.  Today's New York Times features a Greek twist on the Southern tradition of black eyed peas for New Year's.  In this Greek Black Eyed Pea Salad you'll find a salty burst of feta along with sweet peppers and a simple vinaigrette.  I think it would be the ideal side for simple grilled fish or shrimp.  The great things about salads like this one?  Well, they keep for a few days (and often taste better), they are perfect for a crowd so double, triple, or quadruple away, and they taste so good you don't even know you're eating healthy.  We should all eat more salads like this in 2010!

Now, after that healthy salad, you mine as well dig into a piece of Rum Walnut Chocolate Chip Pie, right?  Sure.  In today's LA Times the recipe comes from a restaurant called Cold Springs Tavern in Santa Barbara.  The pie looks rich and velvety and if you served it warm it might just taste like the world's best chocolate chip cookie.  While you're there, check out the slideshow featuring their favorite 50 recipes from LA-area restaurants.  I'm loving the Grilled Cheese with Shallots from Lucques (see, that healthy eating thing has already gone out the window and the new year hasn't even started!). 

At the Washington Post they're helping me out with a gorgeous recipe for Beef Satay on Rice Noodles.  A full meal on a plate, this dish includes beef tendlerloin marinated in a homemade, yet simple, hoisin sauce and quickly cooked under the broiler.  It's served on top of tender rice noodles with snow peas, cilantro, carrots, and green onions.  I love a one-recipe dinner and it's even better when it is actually good for you.  If you're stearing clear of beef, this would certainly work with chicken or pork. 

I love, love, love pozole.  It's a Mexican soup laced with red chiles, hominy, and usually tender pork.  If I'm eating it out in SF, my favorite is from Nopalito.  But, with this recipe, from the San Francisco Chronicle, I'm going to try making it myself.  It uses chicken drumsticks to speed things up, which makes it work well for a weeknight dinner.  The dried chiles are easy to find at most supermarkets these days so don't be scared off.  This is a dish that is flavorful from top to bottom, every bite should make your mouth sing.  Garnishes are key too-serve sliced radishes, oregano, more chiles, lime wedges, and crispy tortilla chips along side.  It's another one recipe meal, one that makes a cold winter night warm up very quickly. 

Happy Reading, Happy Cooking, and Happy New Year!
(photo by luigi diamanti via )

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


What a day!  I spent the morning making tamales and the evening eating them up.  It was fantastic.  I have two great friends who invited my friend and I over to help make tamales with them.  Both Texans, with Mexican heritage, they've got cooking in their genes and good cooking at that.  They were incredibly prepared-masa from La Palma, home braised red chile pork, roasted green chiles and onions, and tons of corn husks to be boiled.  Here are a few pictures to get us started...the fresh masa and both fillings-red chile pork and green chiles with onions:

We cooked until mid afternoon, leaving our friends to finish up.  They had 10 DOZEN tamales to steam plus gorgeous calabacitas (braised zucchini), beans, and rice to finish.  When we showed up for dinner, with another 12+ people, the feast was augmented with chile con queso, chips, homemade  salsa, wonderful margaritas, and a huge platter of holiday cookies .

What a way to spend the night before Christmas-amazing friends and out of this world food.  It was spectacular in every way!! I hope you have friends who are as open and generous with their own family holiday traditions.  It really is a very special thing.

What I'm Reading Today-Tamales!

Today I'm off to spend the day with a friend and her mother-in-law making authentic Mexican tamales.  I'm going to pass on my usual post and will be back later with the full tamale report.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Make it yourself!

These days it is so easy to buy food already prepared or partially prepared.  People have strayed from the kitchen and gravitated to the deli counter, take out window, and frozen food aisle.  Frankly, I can't really think of what else to say beyond "it bums me out".  I know, I sound about 15 when I write that but it's true.  The demise of family dinner and homemade meals truly does get me down.

I was lucky enough to have a Micheal Pollan moment a few weeks ago.  A dear friend invited me to hear him speak at a breakfast at her daughter's school.  I was so excited that morning-I had butterflies in my stomach (goofy but true).  He spoke for a long while, heralding the benefits of CSAs and Farmer's Markets and the tragedy that is our industrialized food system.  He also talked about the importance of sharing with your kids the source of the food on your table and the process of cooking.  He is fantastic speaker who talks with no notes, plenty of levity, and a relatable quality that allows him to explain pretty heavy subjects in terms anyone can, and should, understand.  I love the guy. 
When the speech was over he sat down for a book signing.  I rushed upstairs, not with a Pollan book but with my own book.  I'd written him a note, thanking him for inspiring me to teach and write the way I do.  I felt like an eight year old girl meeting Hannah Montana.  I could barely hand him the book and talk at the same time, stumbling over words and turning beet red, I'm sure.  Needless to say, he was incredibly gracious, paged through the book, and said to me "Wow, this is gorgeous.  Not only will I look at this but I will cook from it too.".  I was thrilled.

As I walked in my kitchen to cook my own dinner last night, I thought of Michael Pollan and his simple philosophy of cooking your own food.  We grilled two rib eye steaks and alongside I made homemade French fries (baked very crispy in the convection oven) and my old recipe for homemade Caesar salad.  This is the meal people go out for but why?  It's so easy to make yourself, costs way less, and tastes just delicious.

Next time you think about what to do for dinner, make it yourself.  You can start with this Caesar.  Happy Cooking!!

Caesar Salad

2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 anchovy fillets, mashed with a fork (or a bit of good quality anchovy paste)
1 tbs Dijon mustard
pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper
juice of 1 lemon
1/2-3/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 of a baguette, crust removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes (any bread you have will work)
1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and cut into bite size pieces
additional Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a small bowl, combine the garlic, Parmesan, anchovies, Dijon, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Add the olive oil, staring with 1/2 cup, and whisk (or use an immersion blender for a creamier dressing) until well combined, adding more oil as needed to balance out the flavors.  Season to taste with additional salt or pepper and set aside.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toss the bread cubes with about 1 tbs of olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Bake until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes (I do mine in the toaster oven which works great).

When ready to serve, place the Romaine pieces in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add half of the dressing and toss well, adding as much additional dressing as needed to lightly coat all the lettuce.  Toss in the croutons and grate some additional Parm over the top for garnish.  Enjoy right away.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What I'm Reading Today-Cookie Edition

It's time for cookies.  Holiday cookies galore!  Happy Baking.

As you can see from the picture above, I LOVE holiday cookies.  In today's LA Times there is an article called Sweet Memories of Mom's Christmas Cookies.  Who doesn't have a memory of some kind of treat during the holidays, whether it was made by your mom, grandma, or neighbor.  I was shocked to see a recipe for Frozen Fruit Slices.  This is much like a cookie called "Santa's Whisker's" that my friend Kelly makes as part of her annual holiday tradition.  They are her grandmother's recipe and her dear grandma lived to be 103 so they always make me smile when she brings a batch to our house.  Very buttery and nutty, they will elevate candied fruit to an entirely new level for you.  Kelly rolls hers in toasted coconut but truth be told, they look much like the cookies in the Times.

More cookies over at the NY Times today.  These are wedding cookies, in the Italian tradition.  I remember going to a family wedding for my husband's cousin and the table of cookies his aunt had made was gigantic.  Like my own great Aunt Bobby used to do, his Aunt Roe had made dozens of types of cookies and stocked them away in her freezer for just the right special occasion.  If you're looking for a new cookie you can stash in your own freezer, try Chocolate Italian Wedding Cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, or Aunt Gen's Biscotti.

What's not to like about a Double Peanut Butter Chocolate Chewie?  Maybe its not your traditional holiday cookie but with ingredients like  cocoa, brown sugar, peanut butter, and yogurt, this is a very easy cookie, from today's Washington Post, for anyone wanting a more straightforward recipe.  Decorating be damned!

If your holiday cookie spread isn't complete without something rolled in powdered sugar, maybe you need the SF Chronicle's recipe for Auntie Ella's Snowballs.  Whether you call them Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, Sandies, or Snowballs I LOVE any version of this buttery, rich cookie rolled in powdered sugar.  Thank goodness my mother in law makes a ton of them.

Finally, a big shout out to my Basics Two class that ended last night at Tante Marie's.  You guys were an amazing group and I had such fun cooking with you.

Happy Reading

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Crispy Potato Latkes

Happy Hanukkah!  To ring in the holiday here, I made a huge batch of potato latkes.  One of my all time favorite foods, they're just delicious....if you get them right.  Latkes need to be crispy and crunchy on the outside with the interior cooked through and tender.  They shouldn't be laden with grease either.  I've made many recipes over the years and think this one might just be the best.

I started with some inspiration from my friend Leslie Jonath.  If you haven't seen her video on making latkes, watch it here.  What I loved about her method is the two blade process in the food processor.  She puts her potatoes through the grating blade then changes back to the normal chopping blade.  I ended up grating three and putting two-thirds of the grated potatoes in with the chopping blade. This left me with some potato chards, which I like to have poking out of the latkes.

I cook mine in a non-stick pan with a thin layer of oil, versus a pan with an inch or two of oil.  They still come out beautifully crisp but I find them much less greasy.  I used a small ice cream scoop to get my pancakes nice and even, pressing on the mixture well to remove any of the excess moisture before I dropped each mound into the pan.  This helped get that uber-crunchy texture too.

I keep them in a low oven to stay warm while I cook the rest and serve 'em up with applesauce and sour cream.  My best advice?  Make lots!  They dissapear fast.

Crispy Potato Latkes

3 large russet potatoes, peeled
1/2 large onion
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup matzoh meal or flour
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable or canola oil for frying
apple sauce and sour cream for serving

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Place a rack in a baking sheet and set aside.

Set up the food processor with the grating blade.  Grate all the potatoes, and the onion, then transfer them to a bowl.  Remove the grating blade, replace it with the regular chopping blade, and return two-thirds of the potato/onion mixture to the bowl of the processor.  Press the "pulse" button 4-5 times, just enough to create a roughly chopped mixture.  Transfer the mixture back to the bowl and stir well to combine.  Add the eggs, matzoh meal, salt, and pepper and mix well.

Heat a large non stick saute pan over medium heat.  Add just enough oil to coat the pan in a thin (1/4-inch at most) layer.  When the oil is hot, add spoonfuls (about 2 tbs each) of the potato mixture, pressing out any excess moisture in the bowl before the mixture goes into the pan.  Gently press each pancake and cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes.  Flip over, cook until brown on the other side, transfer to the rack, and sprinkle with salt.  Place the rack/baking sheet in the oven to keep latkes warm while cooking the remaining batter in the same way.

Serve latkes with apple sauce and sour cream on the side and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Taking a Break Today

"What I'm Reading" will be back later today or tomorrow....Thanks for waiting.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Candy Making & Holiday Baking

My absolute favorite thing about December is holiday baking.  My mom used to bake 10+ different cookies throughout the month, stash them in the freezer, then dole them out to friends and neighbors right before Christmas.  The gene definitely got passed down to me, although lately I've been partial to making candy.  Over the years I've done caramels, toffee, honeycomb, and hot fudge sauce.  This year I wanted to try something different and ventured into the world of homemade lollipops.  I was inspired by a recipe in the December issue of Martha Stewart Living.  I don't have too many "Martha moments" but seeing her perfectly shaped disks of citrus flecked candy I thought "that doesn't look so hard".

In truth, it wasn't that hard but my execution was not quite as perfect as Ms. Stewart's (then again, who's is?).  I found myself at two cake supply stores.  The first molds I bought turned out to be for chocolate pops, not 300-degree molten sugar syrup so they immediately melted when I used them once.   The second set of molds were the right material (look for "hard candy molds") but no disks, just half-spheres (that some really crazy person probably figures out how to put together to make an actual sphere...I am not that person).  Had I taken the time to plan ahead, I would have ordered my supplies on this site and been a lot a lot better prepared. 

Martha's recipe needed a bit of tweaking.  Like when I poured the hot syrup into a glass measuring cup to get it into the molds...the leftover immediately hardened onto the Pyrex cup, leaving me to chisel off every last bit (next time, non stick cooking spray came to the rescue).  She has you add 2 tablespoons of citrus juice but, if you do this once the mixture reaches the "hard crack" stage, it immediately cools down and never sets back up.  After a lot of trial and error, I finally got it right (and probably gave my son his first cavity after all the taste testing).

Mine are pomegranate, caramelized orange, lemon/lime, green apple, and (my fave) grapefruit-all made with natural fruit extracts/oil except the apple (which has a nice Jolly Rancher flavor to it).  After the two cake supply shops, I also hit Michael's for sticks, little cellophane bags, and just the right ribbon (that place makes anyone want to be crafty, beware).   The final result is above...not to shabby, eh?

Homemade Lollipops

1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup or glucose (from the cake supply shop)
1/4 cup water
1/4-1/2 tsp fruit extract or natural fruit oils (some of these are very strong, some less so, so the amount varies)
1 drop gel based food coloring

Before cooking, spray a two cup glass measuring cup with nonstick cooking spray. Also lightly spray your lollipop molds and insert the sticks.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Stir to combine, using a wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan.  Place the pan over medium high heat and clip a candy thermometer onto the side.  Cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches the "hard crack" stage, 300 degrees, and immediately remove it from the stove.  Add the extract and food coloring and stir with a heat-proof rubber spatula.  CAREFULLY pour the mixture into the prepared glass measuring cup, tap it lightly on the counter to pop the bubbles, and pour it into the molds.  Work carefully but quickly as the mixture starts to set up very fast.  Let lollipops rest for 30 minutes, remove from the molds, and package as desired.

Makes 20-24 small pops

PS...if you're more of a cookie person, you must see what my friend Mindy did, below.  She baked all these gorgeous cookies plus my honeycomb recipe and packaged them in a very "Martha' way...nice going Mindy! 

What are you baking for the holidays this year?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Blogging today from 32,247 feet, 437 mph, and -51 degrees.  Yep, gotta love free wifi on the airplane!

This time between Thanksgiving and the December holidays is a busy one.  Parties, shopping, giving, and more all happen on top of the rest of life  Dinner still needs to get on the table so here are a few ideas to help make the season go a bit more smoothly.

In today's NY Times, Mark Bittman writes about cooking your pasta like risotto.  He lets the pasta slowly absorb stock after a quick saute with fresh mushrooms. The 15-20 minute cooking time is about the same as boiling a pot of water and cooking pasta the traditional way.  It's the method that differentiates the dish, creating a rich dish with sauce that clings beautifully to each noodle and coaxing flavor out of the stock that you normally don't get in pasta.   He throws in boneless chicken thighs the last few minutes but I think shrimp would be fantastic too.

Holiday shopping-are you done?  I haven't even started!  Russ Parsons, in today's LA Times, puts together his list of gifts for the cooks in your life.  I love anything Russ writes so I may just print his list, cross off what I already have, and pass it along.  Some of the best ideas?
--The carnivore in your life should have a great instant read thermometer
--Every cook you know should have a Microplane zester
--The big ticket item that will last a life time is an enameled cast iron Dutch Oven, like a Le Creueset
For some of my own favorites, click here

I love poaching fish in a flavorful broth (remember Halibut all'Aqua Pazza?). Not only is it quick but it ensures moist and juicy fish that is well seasoned.  A simple salad and crusty bread for dragging through the bowl and you've got dinner.  Today's Washington Post has a recipe for Cod in a Fennel Tomato Broth. Any fish would do, even shellfish like clams and mussels or a mixture of a couple favorites. 

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.  I'll do my best to try and keep you sane over the next few weeks, at least as far as food and cooking are concered.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful For... many things this year.  Here is a short list.  What about you?

My wonderful husband and son, what's life without them?

My newly organized shelf of cookbooks, color coordinated (fashion over function but ahhh, it looks so good)

Thanksgiving at home this year

My dear family, especially the ones who so often read and comment on my blog

Meyer Lemons

My students and fellow teachers who make it all worthwhile

My produce and meat guys at Whole Foods who always save the best stuff for me

Dungeness Crab

My ability to throw together Huevos Rancheros of "Oh Sh*t Soup" on the fly

My last book and my upcoming books

Kosher Salt

My new agent, and hopefully another new cookbook
My Bob Kramer for Shun knife

Fresh Blackberries

The Lumachine with Sunday Supper Sauce at Pizzeria Delfina

My many friends who continually tell me to keep on keeping on

Contigo , Swan Oyster Depot, and breakfast at Out the Door on Bush Street

Having this outlet to write about food, cooking, and getting into the kitchen to cook.

Thank for reading and a very happy Turkey Day to you all

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

If ever there was a time to get in the kitchen and cook, this is it.  Wishing you all a juicy turkey and a Happy Thanksgiving.

Appetizers on Thanksgiving are risky.  People show up at your house starving, having waited for this meal all year long.  Fill them with too many snacks and they don't eat dinner.  No apps at all and the hungry guests just get damn cranky.  What's a cook to do?  Make just one or two things, keep them light, and when they're gone, they're gone.  Today's LA Times has a great list of 25 last minute appetizers for your Thanksgiving feast. With crab season finally here, I love the idea of a Shrimp and Crab Platter drizzled with orange and red chile and of course Bacon Wrapped Dates.  I bought all the fixins to make those myself, although I'm filling mine with mascarpone and Marcona almonds instead of blue cheese.

I love Spanish tortillas.  Much like a frittata, the egg, potato, and onion "cake" is delicious hot out of the pan or served room temperture.  The trick is cooking the onions and potatoes in lots of oil.  In this recipe, from today's NY Times, that's 3 cups of oil to be exact!  Seems like an obscene amount but the oil is actually drained off (and reserved for your next tortilla) after the veggies are cooked. They become meltingly tender without creating a hash-brown crunch.  It's how a tortilla should be and is what makes it delish.  Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the tortilla would be a great way to start off your Thanksgiving day.  It'll give you the protien you need to keep you cooking, and fill your belly enough to hold you over until turkey time.

"Perfect Mashed Potatoes" means something different to everyone.  Some need those lumps to make them like mom's, others use a food mill to get them silky smooth.  There are additions like roasted garlic, cream cheese, or truffles that show up at the table too.  I like mine on the smooth side with milk or cream and lots of butter.  Today's Washington Post explores the three pillars of the perfect mash:  dry potatoes are fluffier than wet ones so drain them really well, manage the starchiness with dairy-cream, milk or butter all balance the starch for a creamier consistency, and finally use a gently hand-never try to mash the potatoes in the food processor or you'll end up with paste.  Try a hand mixer, ricer, or even an electric mixer on low speed instead.  They recommend two recipes, one is Simple Mashed Potatoes, an old fashioned mash, hand mixed and studded with a few pieces of garlic.  The other recipe is Rich, Velvety Potato Puree from French chef extrodinaire, Joël Robuchon.  This one comes out very smooth and calls for pushing the potatoes through a seive or ricer two to three times.  It's a bit more work but if this is the style you consider Perfect Mashed Potatoes, why not give it a try?

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.  

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Oh Sh*t" Soup!

Do you ever have that moment, around 3:00 in the afternoon, when you realize you have no dinner plan?  You haven't been to the store, you don't want to eat out, and you have no idea what to make-your first thought? "Oh Sh*t!".  I usually try to plan at least a day ahead, if not the morning of, so I avoid the late afternoon dinner making chaos but, that said, it still happens.

My best solution?  A soup I'm calling "Oh Sh*t" Soup.  It comes together in a flash and is the perfect example of utilizing a well stocked pantry.  Nothing in here is exotic or unusual and it all lends itself well to substitutions.  Everything in here should be in your kitchen already.  Measurements are anything but precise and seasonings can vary wildly.  It's a combination of these things:

The end result?  A thick, rich soup that is not only tasty but pretty darn good for you.  Looks a little something like this:

This isn't really a recipe but rather a method for transfoming some basic ingredients into something special.  Adjust it to your tastes, and your pantry, and you'll have a quick dinner for those nights when you find yourself saying "Oh Sh*t!"

First, take the basic trinity of vegetables you should always have on hand and dice them up: onion, carrots, and celery.  I used 1 small onion, 2 medium carrots, and 2 celery stalks (I threw in a whole clove of garlic, crushed, too).  Other veggies that would work?  Fennel, sweet peppers, winter squash, or potatoes.  Heat some olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the veggies with salt and pepper.  Cook the veggies until they are tender and softened, 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Throw in fresh herbs if you've got them-I used Italian parsley and fresh oregano from my garden but a touch of dried herbs would work too.  I used whole sprigs-about 4 of each, and then fished them out in the end.  If you like a little heat, this is a great place to add a pinch of red pepper flakes.  If you want to add more protein, you can start this step by browning your favorite ground meat-lamb, beef, pork, sausage, or turkey.  Once it's brown, add the veggies and continue along as follows.

While the veggies are cooking, bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  Add 8 ounces of farro, barley, brown rice, or quinoa and cook until its just beginning to get tender but is still a bit shy of al dente, cooking time depends on the grain.  When its done, drain it well.  You can leave this part out all together or even add some orzo to the soup right before it finishes cooking.

To the softened veggies, add some stock (chicken, beef, veal, or veggie all work), about 2 cups, and one 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes.  Add the par-cooked grains with another generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook until the veggies and grains are all very tender, anywhere from 10-30 minutes.  Remove the lid and stir in one can of drained and rinsed white beans or chickpeas.  Stir and cook until the beans are heated through, another 5 minutes. If the soup is too thick for your liking, you can add additional stock or just hot water until you get the consistency you like.  You can cook this until it becomes thick like risotto or add the additional liquid for a thinner, traditional soup.

To finish it off, remove the sprigs of fresh herbs then dice some additional parsley.  Ladle the soup into warm bowls, grate some fresh Parm over the top, sprinkle with parsley and enjoy! 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jeff Koehler on Rice, Pasta, Couscous and more....

Last week I was lucky to attend a book signing with my friend Jeff Koehler.  His latest book, "Rice, Pasta, Couscous" is simply stunning.  Full of photos, stories, and recipes that let you live vicariously through his travels around the Mediterranean, the book will motivate you to put a few new things on your table this season.  Imagine serving Couscous with Winter Vegetables beside your Thanksgiving turkey or Arroz con Leche at a holiday brunch.  Having cooked many things from the book already I can tell you it is fantastic.

I had a chance to chat with Jeff, a fellow northwest native, about loving Dungeness crab, getting kids to try new things, and a whole lot more.  Here's what he had to say.

How does a boy from the great Northwest land himself in Spain writing about local food?

Landing came long before writing. When I was doing my post-graduate work in London I shared a residence hall kitchen with a woman from Barcelona. When she returned to Spain to do her PhD, I followed. And stayed. That was 1996. We married not long after. When I started writing about local food here, some four years after arriving, I was well integrated into its seasonal rhythms and markets, its traditions (most notably, a weekly family paella at my in-laws’). I loved how interrelated food and culture were; to write about one is to write about the other. And I found that I could use food to tell just about any story.

A weekly paella?

It’s lovely, baroque even, a wide flat pan of golden rice flavored by fish and shellfish. It’s the most important meal of the week. Everything, it seems, passes through that lunch – advice, plans, film recommendations, meeting new boyfriends and girlfriends.

Big announcements – engagements, pregnancies, major moves – though are not made while eating the paella. At that moment, the rice, and my mother-in-law, are the protagonists. The big news comes after, with the fruit. When you see the bowl or oranges and pears you have about ten minutes before the coffee to blurt it out.

One thing I love about "Rice, Pasta, Couscous" is the collection of stories.  This is a book where the headnotes are almost as fantastic as the recipes. 

In the theatre, stage instructions are as important as dialogue. There needs to be context. Every recipe has roots, and the headnotes try to get to that. In many cases that means telling its story.

When you go to a small town and try to research the local flavors, where do you start and how do your stories come to life?

Basically ask a lot of questions. Just keep asking, jotting down place names. Repetitions will begin to emerge. Go to those.

Markets are a good start. Want to learn about local ways of preparing fish? Start by asking the fishmongers. Want to know about where to eat good fish? Ask those same fishmongers. And waiters. And, even better, chefs – ask a chef where s/he eats on the nights the restaurant closes and you’ll eat well. Balin eats every Sunday evening at La Bella Rosin in a tiny, unfashionable Piedmontese hill town. Some of the best meals of my life have been here.

It sounds so random.

Actually, it’s usually not. I start the questions before traveling. I do lots of leg work, researching, asking around, asking people I know have been there, or have family there, or who I met on previous trips. My favorite sentence is, “My cousin lives there!”

The first time I went to the Tunisian island of Djerba I had a single name: “Chef Haouari.” But no phone number, no address, not even a city. It took me three days to track him down. I arrived at his little restaurant just before it closed for the night. He was leaving for a conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St Helena, of all places, very early in the morning, and we had half an hour to chat. But I returned the following winter, spent the better part a week with him and his family, and wrote about it for Gourmet magazine. He’s in the book, too – a story about him, a recipe. And his influences run throughout. Of everyone I met on my trips to Tunisia I learned the most about its cuisine and traditions from him. What I am saying is that it often pays off, the leg work, the asking, the perseverance. Let yourself be passed around.

You talk often about dishes your kids love to eat.  Here in the States, introducing kids to new flavors and foods has actually become trendy (odd, I know).  Any advice for parents out there who are trying to expand the things their kids like to eat?

It starts with the parents. They need to be open to new flavors or dishes, too.

You have to accept that not everybody likes everything. We all taste in different ways. And some things are an acquired taste. (Who liked coffee the first time? Beer? Wild mushrooms?) It’s a balance, then, between making – firmly encouraging? – a kid taste and being flexibile.

For instance, say that you prepare the Tunisian lamb couscous with raisins and nuts in Rice Pasta Couscous and your kid just doesn’t want the raisins or even the lamb. If you force the point that kid probably won’t eat anything. But if s/he can remove the raisins and avoid the lamb yet eats the couscous – infused with those flavors, mind – then you’ve moved a big step ahead.
Any other dishes for kids you recommend?

Anything that they can help make. I don’t mean drizzle the oil over the salad. I mean kneading the pasta dough and cleaning the lobster and rubbing any clumps out of the couscous. Tactile things.

Risotto is a great dish to built on. Most kids like white rice. So make a creamy risotto with plenty of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. From there keep adding ingredients. Asparagus (keep them crunchy, blanched only for a few minutes). Mushrooms. Scallops. Let them pick off the stuff they don’t like after trying it. But as I said about couscous, it will have those flavors.

As an ex-pat living in Spain, which foods do you crave from back home?

Great Asian restaurants – on my first night in San Francisco this autumn I went for Korean barbeque. I grew up north of Seattle and miss Dungeness crab. But I get my fill on summer visits. My parents live on the beach and we crab every day during the season. I also miss grilling meat on the barbeque – I am forbidden to grill anything on my Barcelona terrace. Smoking out your neighbors is considered completely antisocial.

You're stranded on a deserted Mediterranean island and can take one of these three things, which do you choose: rice, pasta, or couscous?

Rice! It is the most versatile of the three, and can be combined with other ingredients at every level of sophistication and seasonality. Just in the Mediterranean there are many ways of preparing rice - Spanish rice dishes, creamy risottos, pilafs, stuffed rice dishes (from mussels to eggplant), sweet ones… I love rice puddings, creamy and sweet and scented with cinnamon and citrus peels, especially now as the weather cools.

Mmm… that sounds good. Would you share a recipe for rice pudding with us?

Sure! Rice Pasta Couscous includes a number of rice puddings from around the region, but my favorite is a Spanish one in my first book, "La Paella: Authentic Rice Dishes from Spain’s Mediterranean Coast". Let’s say it’s the original one in our house. Enjoy!

Arroz con leche
2/3 cup short or medium grain rice 
4 cups whole milk
1 stick cinnamon
Peel of 1⁄2 orange, the white pith scraped away
Peel of 1⁄2 lemon, the white pith scraped away
2/3 cup sugar
Ground cinnamon for dusting (optional)
Put the rice in a 2-quart saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Bring to a brisk boil over high heat, and then immediately remove from the heat. Drain the rice in a colander, but do not rinse. Set aside.
In the same saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a boil with the cinnamon and citrus peels. Once bubbles break the surface, return the rice to the pan and then add the sugar, stirring to break up any clumps of rice and dissolve the sugar.
Reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for about 40 minutes, or until most of the milk is absorbed and the rice is still chewy. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from burning or clumping, and to prevent a thick skin from forming on the surface.
Have 4 flan or dessert cups ready.
Discard the cinnamon stick and citrus peels. Divide the pudding among the bowls with a ladle. Let cool and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. If desired, dust the surface of each with ground cinnamon immediately before serving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Eight days and counting.  Have you decided what your Thanksgiving menu is yet?  The food sections are bursting at the seams with tips and recipes to make your life easier, and hopefully get that old green been casserole off your table.  Today I'm organizing my post a bit differently, by course.  Hope this helps guide you to what you need to make your Thanksgiving meal the best ever.

There are a myriad of turkey recipes out there.  To brine, to marinate, to inject, to salt, to do's a cook to decide?  Russ Parsons, of the LA Times, thinks a dry brine is best.  This is a 3-4 day rest in the fridge with a salt rub on the bird.  The bird is put in a plastic bag where it will release some moisture then reabsorb that liquid as the days go along.  He then gives it a final bag-free rest in the fridge just to ensure the skin is nice and dry (helps it get ultra-crispy when you roast it).  A la Judy Rogers, of Zuni fame, he's trying it this year with flavored salt, which I like.  I've used this method on a roasting chicken but never on a turkey. Russ does his testing and when he says a recipe works, it works.  The SF Chronicle has published a version of the Chez Panisse brine for years.  Taking a cue from this dry-brining trend, they finish their brine a day early then give that bird an overnight rest in the fridge to dry it out.  I've used this brine many, many times and think it works beautifully-great flavor and the meat stays incredibly juicy.  For a more straight-forward, unbrined, and less fussy version, try Jaque and Julia's version from today's Washington Post.  The recipe breaks down their stuffing, stock, and gravy too but I was focusing on the bird.  They roast theirs with the backbone cut out-a fantastic trick for speeding the cooking process.  The turkey lies almost flat in the roasting pan so everything cooks faster, leaving the white meat juicier and still cooking the legs and thighs to perfection.  Your butcher can do it for you or use a sharp set of poultry shears.  It's a great trick.  Mary Risley, owner of Tante Marie's Cooking School, came by my class last night.  Her favorite way for cooking turkey?  Throw it in the oven and forget it!  "It's just a turkey, now come on!"

On to the sides.  Vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and rolls.  Since many families have their traditional ways of cooking the bird, sides are a perfect place to try a new recipe or two.  Oh Mark Bittman!  You've won me over in the NY Times yet again with another "101" list.  I'd swoon but that might just be a bit over the top.  This time it's "101 Head Starts on the Day"...dishes you can make in advance so you're night fighting for stove and oven time when crunch time kicks in.  Dishes like Apricot Tomato Chutney, Sausage and White Bean Soup with Escarole, Cranberry Polenta Cakes, Spinach and Cheese Pie, Onion Rosemary Skillet Bread, and even a few desserts like Chipotle Britte all come together with short simple paragraphs, basically cooking without a recipe.  If you can't find a new, simple side on this list, you're done for!  The LA Times has a recipe for Southern Stuffing-cornbread stuffing with very simple seasoning.  Looks moist and crispy at the same time, just how stuffing should be.  I also love the look of the Stuffed Acorn Squash  (basically stuffing baked in the squash-brilliant and lovely).  I think they'd be perfect if you're doing dinner for a small group.  Finally, I love Brussels sprouts that don't actually taste like Brussels sprouts.  I know, I teach cooking and write about food so I probably shouldn't admit that but growing up smelling those little heads of steaming cabbage in the kitchen turned me off on them all together for a long time.  I'm back but like my sprouts shredded, crunchy, and mixed with other ingredients-brown butter, lemon, capers, etc.   In today's Washington Post they go out on a limb saying they have the Best Brussels Sprouts Ever recipe.  You'll have to try it and decide but with 1 pound of bacon to 2 1/2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, I think they might just be right.

If I could have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, I would but, that's me being selfish.  I know people love it but as a huge pie lover myself, I can think of dozens of other fillings I like better.  My aunt always froze her blackberries in the summer to made me a blackberry pie at Thanksgiving-loved that. In the LA Times today they propose a light and airy looking Lemon Chiffon Pie.  Lemon desserts are so refreshing after a big meal, I'd eat this one in a heartbeat if I thought there wouldn't be anarchy at my table.  Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Glaze sounds seasonal and tasty too.  You'll find it, along with Caramelized Apple Pecan Cake in the NY Times, where they suggest a break from rolling out dough this holiday season.  If you must do it, and I know most of us must, the Washington Post has a recipe for Pumpkin Mousse Pie that takes the dense filling to a lighter place.  How?  By adding silken tofu.  I've had this in similar desserts and, surprisingly, what it does for the texture is amazing.  It doesn't add the tofu flavor but gives the filling a great consistency.  You don't need to tell anyone it's there...your secret is safe with me.

I'd love to hear about your Thanksgiving table.  Any new ideas or are you stuck with traditions?

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!
(photo from 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pot Roast

For me, the best thing about fall and winter is braising.  I love the low and slow cooking process, coaxing out the flavors of meats and vegetables and transforming those tough cuts into something that melts in your mouth.  Yum!

Last week I made Pot Roast, a slow cooked chuck roast with tomatoes, vegetables, red wine, and stock.  My kitchen smelled heavenly all day and once it all went into the pot, it really did just cook itself.  Talk about low maintenance.

I based my dish on a recipe from Ina Garten's Back to Basics book.  I didn't have all the ingredients so I substituted a few other veggies and herbs but was very happy with the results.  I love her idea of pureeing together the vegetables and cooking liquid after the meat is done.  It makes for a thick, rich sauce that rivals the actual meat in flavor.  This dish would be delicious the next day so it works great for a make-ahead meal.  I also like the idea of using two forks to shred the leftover meat, incorporating into the sauce, and serving it like a ragu over pasta.  

Simple Pot Roast

1 boneless chuck roast, 4-5 pounds
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 cups peeled, chopped carrots
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups cored, chopped fennel bulbs
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 cups dry red wine
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, in their juices
2 cups chicken stock
3-4 sprigs fresh oregano
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1 pound small new potatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size

Heat a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Season the meat all over with salt and pepper.  Add about 1 tbs of oil to the pan and, when hot, add the meat.  Cook it for 4-5 minutes a side, until nicely browned all over.  Remove the meat from the pan and add the carrots, onions, celery, fennel, and garlic, with a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  When the vegetable are tender, 5-6 minutes, add the wine and bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir in the tomatoes, stock, oregano, and rosemary and let the mixture boil for about 2 minutes, adding a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook until the meat is very tender, about 3 hours.

Remove the herb sprigs and discard them.  Transfer the meat to a cutting board and set aside.  Using an immersion blender, puree the veggies and cooking liquid into a smooth, thick sauce (alternatively, mixture can be pureed in a blender then transferred back to the pot).  Return the meat to the sauce and add the potatoes.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover again, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes more.

Slice the meat against the grain and place it on a serving platter.  Spoon the sauce and potatoes over the top and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

It's cool here, finally feeling like Fall. All the more reason to get into the kitchen! Here's what I like in the food sections today.

Spaghetti squash is one of those vegetables I never ate growing up. I'm guessing my mom didn't like it (I should probably ask her) because to me it was totally foreign the first time I tried it. It's kind of a trip-this large winter squash looks fairly unassuming until you cook it (usually roasted or blanched)-take a fork to the flesh, give it a scrape, and out comes squash "noodles" that have a nice al dente-like crunch and a very mild flavor. Because of this, the squash goes well with bold flavors, even spaghetti and meatballs if you're watching those carbs. They are at the peak of their season right now so it is the perfect time to try one out. I like the idea of serving one for Thanksgiving, prepping most of it in advance and doing a quick saute just before dinner. In today's NY Times there is a recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Garlic, Parsley, and Breadcrumbs. I'd do the first part the day before and the saute just before dinner. Make a big batch and eat the rest like a salad the next day, topped with a little vinaigrette and some crumbled cheese.

Soup is one of my favorite things to make. It's flexible, meaning I can add what ever I have in my fridge. It's great to make in advance and usually tastes better the next day anyways. It also satisfies you deep down when you eat a steaming bowl of homemade soup. From that first smell to the last bite, soup just makes me feel good. In today's LA Times there is a recipe for Black Bean Soup (a la Las Brisas restaurant in Laguna Beach) that looks like a perfect meal. I'd add a simple salad of jicama, orange, and cilantro and call this dinner. Served with a home made pico de gallo and garnished with crispy onions and bacon, the soup is full of flavors and textures. This would freeze beautifully so stash some away for that next cold night when you're stumped on dinner. You'll be glad you did.

I was about to write about the stunning Cranberry Glazed Butternut Squash in the Washington Post when I saw the recipe for Tender White Cake. My favorite all time cake is a white cake with chocolate frosting but good white cake is damn hard to fine, either too dry or too yellow. Cake flour and egg whites are key, keeping the dough very light and the color nice and pale. This recipe also calls for a cup of plain yogurt which, because of its acidity, will make a really tender, moist cake. I'm craving it already. Hmmm, layer cake or cupcakes? I'll keep you posted.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

One Pot Meal-Lamb Tagine

I love dinner I can make in one pot-add a salad and call it a day. This is really a "one pot/two pan" dinner but, the dish washing is so minimal and you can make most of it in advance, I promise you wont mind.

A few weeks ago I wrote about an article in the LA Times profiling Paula Wolfert. She had a recipe there for
Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Melting Tomatoes and Onions. While the dish looks incredible, it does take almost four hours to make. Unless you've got an entire Sunday to cook, it might seem impossible to get the true flavors of a lamb tagine. Not so!

Last year I saw a recipe in Bon Appetit for a version that takes closer to 2 hours, most of which is unattended cooking. I played with the recipe a bit, intensifying some flavors and changing others. We made it last week in my cooking class and not only did it look stunning but Ginny and David, who cooked it, did a bang up job-it tasted amazing. They served it over couscous in a large shallow bowl as this dish is great for a family style meal. I like the idea of making Tori's Moroccon Carrots on the side and calling it dinner. Simple, satisfying, and so very tasty.

Lamb Tagine With Tomatoes and Caramelized Sweet Onions

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into ¾-1 inch pieces
(boneless lamb stew meat is perfect)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

9 cups chopped sweet onions, about 3 pounds, divided
(or yellow onions)
2 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon turmeric

4 cups chopped plum tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided

¼ cup olive oil

1½ cups couscous

¼ cup butter (or olive oil)

Season the lamb well with salt and pepper. Combine 3 cups of the chopped onions, lamb, and 2 cups of water in heavy large pot. Add the cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Partially cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the meat is beginning to get tender, about 1½ hours. Add the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Continue to simmer, partially covered, until the juices thicken and the lamb is very tender, about 30 minutes more. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and remove the cinnamon sticks.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in heavy large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 6 cups chopped onions. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and translucent, about 45 minutes. If the onions begin to brown, turn the heat down to medium-low. When the onions are done increase the temperature to medium high and cook the onions, stirring, until golden brown. Season the onions with salt and pepper. (Stew and onions can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and chill separately. Rewarm each over low heat before continuing).

Just before serving, make the couscous. Place the couscous in a heat-proof bowl. Heat 2½ cups of water, butter (or olive oil), and a pinch of salt over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, pour it over the couscous, stir once, and cover the bowl with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes (up to 20), fluff with a fork, and transfer to a warm, shallow serving bowl.

Pour the stew over the couscous. Scatter caramelized onions and remaining 2 tablespoons parsley over the top and serve right away.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Fall Wednesday!

Chefs Mark Peel and Thomas Keller both have new books hitting the shelves. Mark, a long time LA super-chef and Thomas (do I really need to say anything here?) have been in the restaurant business for years. Recipes from places like Campanille or The French Laundry might not be the first ones you go to for a home cooked meal but that could change. With Peel's New Classic Family Dinners and Keller's Ad Hoc at Home you might be cooking like a master before you know it. The fact is, even these guys need to make a meal at home once in a while and it isn't always three and four star food. In today's LA Times Betty Hallock cooks from both books and shares her two cents. The net? The books are not chef versions of Rachel Ray's 30-minute cooking, they take some investment but they will teach you how to cook. These are books for the home cook who wants to move beyond the basics, which I happen to think is fantastic these days. If you want to try a few recipes and see what you think, test out Keller's Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel or Peel's Waldorf Salad with Curried Mayonnaise Dressing. I think what is important about both of these titles, surely to be the hot sellers of the holiday season, is the idea of cooking at home. Getting into the kitchen motivated by new recipes is something that everyone should do more often. With the voices of chefs like these to guide you, you're sure to make some home cooked meals that blow your family and friends away.

There is something magical about baking. The complete transformation of ingredients like flour, butter, sugar, or yeast into something utterly luscious is the best. I absolutely love to bake (a gene passed down from my mom and grandma, no doubt) and find it more rewarding than any other type of cooking. People get intimidated by baking, saying it is too exact and precise but I beg to differ. Once simple methods are mastered, there is plenty of room for improvisation. Occasionally I'll start with a recipe that sounds pretty boring-sugar, butter, flour, and salt yet when the shortbread cookies emerge from the oven they are true perfection. In today's NY Times Melissa Clark writes about a cake she baked, Molly Killeen’s St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake. She tried it at her local farmer's market and got the recipe from the baker so she could make it at home (another great thing about going to the farmer's market!). What is special about this recipe is that it is a yeasted cake combined with a sticky/gooey/buttery topping-tender but not too sweet. When I read Melissa saying it resembled the inside of a pecan pie, I was sold. If you're not usually one to tackle baking projects in your kitchen, this is a place to start. You'll see those simple ingredients become a gooey, buttery cake. What could be better than that?

The ultimate home cooking project? Thanksgiving. If you're involved with hosting the meal this year you've got some work coming your way. I love it-tackling the timing, balancing the recipes, figuring out how it'll all fit in the oven, and being way too full to eat anything when we actually sit down. I find most people encounter family anarchy if they try to change up their meal too much, clinging to traditions even if it means pouring cream of mushroom soup over those canned green beans (ugh). When it comes to sides, it is the perfect place to experiment a little. In today's Washington Post there is a recipes for Brussels Sprouts with Cranberry Balsamic Dressing. With 6 ingredients and about 15 minutes of cooking, this wont bog you down on Thanksgiving and may just become a new family favorite. Brussels sprouts are gorgeous right now, at the height of their season, so be sure to be them nice and fresh.

Speaking of what is in season, here are some other things to look for at your local farmer's market or grocery store these days, all at their best right now: Artichokes, Cauliflower, Chestnuts, Cranberries, Grapefruit, Kale, Kumquats, Parsnips, Persimmons, Rutabagas, Winter Squash, Tangerines, and Turnips. Hope this list inspires you to try something fresh and new.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Homage to Gourmet

I've been a subscriber to Gourmet magazine for longer than I can remember. When I heard of their demise, I wasn't shocked; rumors had been swirling for a bit. That said, there is still something downright unfair about a pillar in the world of food journalism disappearing. I've read banter, opinions, cries, and whines about the magazine over the past few weeks. My favorite was a quote from someone who was responding to a complaint that the magazine had grown too high-brow for the average cook. The reply? "Well, the name of the magazine is Gourmet!" Ha! For more positive, and eloquent, memories, I love reading the website Thank You Gourmet.

I am one to go through my food magazines every month and clip the recipes I like. I used to keep full issues around but they took over my house and broke every rule of feng shui (frankly, it was just a cluttered mess). The November issue of Gourmet, however, is staying in tact. I just couldn't bring myself to go at it with my scissors, feeling little pangs of guilt every time I turned the pages.

I taught a Thanksgiving cooking class yesterday and paid my respects to Gourmet by adapting a recipe from that last issue, Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs. The stuffed eggs with the magenta hue caught my eye on the page and reminded me of the eggs my Noni used to cook with red onion skins. Throw a few beets in there and the red is turned up in a big way. I changed the seasoning a bit and added in my favorite method for hard boiling eggs (thank you Julia) to make sure they'd be perfect. The result was stunning and oh so tasty. I love the idea of doing these for Thanksgiving. Not only do they look incredible but they can be made the day before. And, when you're sitting around being thankful for your turkey dinner, say a little "thanks" to the folks at Gourmet too. They certainly deserve it.

Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs (adapted from Gourmet 11/09)

3 cups water

1 cup white vinegar

1 small red beet, peeled and sliced

1 small shallot, sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 bay leaf

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 eggs

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and ground

Bring water, vinegar, beet, shallot, sugar, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, then simmer, covered, until beet is tender, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, uncovered.

Meanwhile, place the eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Put the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let sit for 14 minutes. Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and, when cool enough to handle, peel and transfer to a shallow dish.

When beet mixture is cool, pour it over the eggs and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours, up to 3 days.

Remove the eggs from the beat mixture and pat dry, discarding the beet mixture (or, see below). Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and remove yolks. Mash the yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, and half the fennel. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture among the egg whites and sprinkle with remaining fennel. Eggs can be filled up to 2 hours in advance, covered and chilled.

Serves 8

The beet mixture is actually pretty tasty on its own. Try finely chopping the beets to garnish your eggs, coarsely chopping the beets and using them for a salad, or hard boil some more eggs and use the pickling liquid again. Seems a shame to toss it right away.

(lovely photo above taken by Nicole, one of the two amazing students who made the eggs yesterday)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

Fall is one of the best times of year for cooking. The last of the summer produce lingers while squash, apples, and pears are in abundance. When the weather gets cold, it's the perfect time to fire up the stove.

The legendary Paula Wolfert has a new book called
Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking. She must have an amazing publicist (or be one herself) because her clay pot recipes are everywhere, from Food & Wine to today's LA Times. Paula has a knack for my favorite kind of cooking, the slow braise. And, when it comes to Moroccan food, her recipes "roc" the house (ugh, that was bad). Her recipe for Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Melting Tomatoes and Onions is probably best cooked in an earthenware tagine but if you don't have one, try an enameled Dutch oven, like a Le Crueset. The flavors in this dish will not only taste amazing but the smells in your kitchen will immediately transport you to North Africa. The bonus? With the exception of the pinch of saffron, these are ingredients that wont break the bank.

Always a huge fan of any recipe by Mark Bittman, the Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Figs, in today's NY Times, caught my eye in an instant. Fresh Brussels sprouts are having their day right now, see if you can find them still on the stalk-very fresh and, frankly, they look damn cool. The combo of salty, sweet, and crunchy in this recipe might just convert those Brussels sprout haters out there. I couldn't leave the Times without a peak at the Leek Bread Pudding recipe too. I love savory bread pudding, kind of like rich, creamy stuffing. The recipe is adapted from Thomas Keller's new Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. It is part of a lovely article on how Thomas has evolved over the years, making me very anxious to get my hands on this book.

All this talk of savory food has me craving something sweet. This year I have noticed dozens of articles and blog posts about apple cider doughnuts. Mary Risley, of Tante Marie's Cooking School, posted a recipe for an apple cake on her web site too (I've tried it and it is amazing). In today's Washington Post there is a great looking recipe for Apple Cider Doughnuts. If you've never made homemade doughnuts before, they are not hard at all. Just be prepared with a bit of time (the dough needs to rise), a lot of oil (remember, this is just for cooking the doughnuts-you don't actually consume it all), and some hungry eaters. Fresh doughnuts are best eaten right away. What a treat for Halloween!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Not to Do in the Kitchen

(green beans cooked the right way, with tarragon lemon creme fraiche from New Flavors for Vegetables)

I know, it is always better to teach as an optimist-telling people how to do things right as opposed to dwelling on what they do wrong. Honestly, there are just some things you should not do in the kitchen and they warrant their own "glass is half empty" post. This list is a start...think of it as part one of many to come.

-Never oil your water when cooking pasta. Oil clings to your noodles, creating a slippery surface that doesn't allow your sauce to cling. You'll end up with naked pasta swimming over a pool of sauce instead of a cohesive dish that feels like it all comes together.

-(almost) Never rinse your pasta. Same basic theory-when you rinse the starchy exterior off your pasta, you get rid of the best starch. This starch is what helps sauce cling to each noodle perfectly. Exception: some Asian noodles will need to be rinsed to remove this starch but make that the exception, not the norm.

-Never cover your pot when cooking green vegetables. It's great to cover a pot of water to help speed up the boiling process. But, once you've added that asparagus or broccoli, leave the lid off. Covering it up keeps the natural acids from dissipating, causing your vibrant green beans to turn that nasty shade of khaki. Yuck.

-Never wait until
the end of the cooking process to season your food . Food needs to be seasoned throughout the cooking process so it absorbs the flavors that make each ingredient stand out. By salting only at the end, the seasoning coats the exterior of your food but wont penetrate beyond that, making for some damn bland dishes.

-Never heat a non-stick pan when it is empty. The coatings on these pans should always have something in them whey they are conducting heat or they can release toxic gasses.

-Hot pan+cold oil=food wont stick. Since most of your cooking should not be in non-stick pans, use this rule for everything else. Heat your saute pans empty (again, not for a non-stick pan) until it gets very hot. THEN add the oil followed by the food you're cooking. The combination of a hot pan and the cold oil will keep food from sticking.

-Never turn a steak the instant it hits the pan. It's such a natural tendency to want to move a steak, chicken breast, or pork chop all over the pan right after it goes in-DON'T! Allow your meat to sear, creating a golden brown crust and eventually releasing itself from the bottom of the pan. Moving it around too soon will only tear the meat to shreds and you'll never get that nice, crunchy exterior.

-Never buy black pepper already ground. Invest in a pepper mill and fill it with good quality black peppercorns. Grind them as you need them and take in the scent of the fresh stuff-it packs much more of a punch.

-Never dress a salad until you're ready to eat it. No one likes soggy greens. And while you're there, use your impeccably clean hands to give it a toss-they are the best kitchen tool for judging the right amount of vinaigrette.

-Never go to the market without checking to see if you have 1) chicken broth 2) canned tomatoes 3) olive oil 4) eggs and 5) onions/carrots/ celery. A pantry is not a pantry without these very simple basics.

-Never admit to mistakes that you correct along the way.
Cooking is not an exact science and when things go wrong with a recipe they can almost always be fixed. When this happens, keep the secret safe. Who cares? In fact, some of the best recipes are invented by making mistakes along the way.

-Never forget that food is love.
Cooking for yourself or other people is the most satisfying thing you can do. Food brings people together, creating a sense of community the way nothing else can. Get yourself in the kitchen and see how it feels. You'll never regret it.

Anything you'd like to add?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cinnamon, Caramel, Gingerbread-Oh My!

Last night I made cinnamon ice cream, homemade caramel sauce, and toasted pecans. My plan was to cut up bananas for a twist on the banana split but when my husband and son surprised me with a birthday cake, I tossed the banana idea aside. Two desserts? Surely a happy accident that they went together stunningly. It was a gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting from the lovely Miette bakery and the combo was perfection. Gingerbread/cinnamon/caramel/pecans might just be the best birthday on a plate you can imagine. My favorite part? Eating leftover cake for breakfast today...don't tell anyone. As you can see from the picture above, lots of fork (and finger) prints-I'm definitely getting caught.

If you're in the mood for homemade ice cream, this could not be easier. Give it a shot. It's my recipe for Vanilla Bean Ice cream with a slight adjustment. When you're heating the cream/milk/sugar, add six cinnamon sticks, gently crushed. Once the mixture has warmed, remove it from the heat and let it steep for about 30 minutes. Strain and proceed with the rest of the recipe. Just the right amount of subtle cinnamon flavor.

If you're craving caramel sauce too, here's how I make mine. Once it is done, it keeps in the fridge for at least a week. If you're ever looking for the perfect gift to bring when you are invited somewhere for dinner, this is it. It will assure you continued invitations for many years to come.

Homemade Caramel Sauce

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

6 tbs butter, cut into 6 pieces

1/4 tsp fleur de sel or other flaky sea salt

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water, stirring gently to avoid any splatter on the sides of the pan. Heat the mixture over medium high heat until the sugar has completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved, continue cooking but do not stir again. If there are splattered bits of sugar on the side of the pan, use a pastry brush dipped in cold water to brush them down. The sugar will boil and cook until it begins to turn amber in color, 4-5 minutes. If necessary, gently swirl the pan to even out the color. When the mixture is a nice dark caramel color, remove it from the heat and s-l-o-w-l-y pour in the cream-be careful as it will bubble up and make an obscene mess if you do it too quickly. Add the butter and stir gently until melted and well combined. Stir in the salt and let the caramel cool. Transfer to a jar, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. It works cold or gently heated, over ice cream or just on a big spoon. Just cover your tracks so you don't get caught!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

I hate to say it but I think I'm actually ready to change my clock back. These pitch dark mornings are not helping my motivation to get out of bed! They are good for concocting fall menus. Here are some ideas from today's food sections.

Ragu and Russ Parsons-two very good things. In today's LA Times, Russ writes about rich, meaty, slow simmered ragu-perfect on pasta (or even polenta). Every Italian nonna has her own version, usually using different cuts of pork and occasionally beef too . I love, love, love the "Sunday Supper Sauce" served over lumachine at Pizzeria Delfina, it simmers for days and I keep trying to weasle my way in the kitchen to learn how to make it. In the meantime, this version infuses the sauce with pork butt (that's shoulder, if you didn't know) and finishes it with sausage. I think it screams fall and would love a batch to keep in my freezer.

Quick dinner for the family? Get yourself a piece of wild salmon (or whatever wild fish is fresh at your market) and try Sauteed Wild Salmon with Brown Butter Cucumbers. In typical Melissa Clark fashion, she writes (in today's NY Times) about falling into this recipe a bit by accident. Our luck-now we can make it any weeknight in no time flat and it sounds just delish. If you need a fun side, you can try Mark Bittman's Bok Choy with Shitakes and Oyster Sauce. The recipe calls for dried shitakes, which are any any Asian market, and add a real depth to dishes like this one. If you can't find them, a few extra fresh ones will work just fine.

Last night I taught a class where we spent a lot of time going over different methods of cooking eggs. My favorite part was poaching. You should have heard the cheers erupt as the class watched each other master the method, giving each egg a perfect flip. Another delicate way to cook an egg is a French method called "en cocette"-baked slowly so the whites set up and the yolks stay nice and runny. In this recipe, they are baked in jars (ramekins work just fine) over a bed of spinach or bacon. They are the stars of a fall brunch menu consisting of hash browns, poached pears with mascarpone, and a Salad of Radiccho and Orange. Fall brunch is a great way to entertain. I also love the idea of making eggs for dinner.

Hope this inspires you to get in the kitchen this fall and make some magic yourself!

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