Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful For...

...so 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)
 
Directions
 
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 nothing...how'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 freedigitalphotos.net) 

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)
 
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