Results from the pickled asparagus. Two weeks in the jar, yet just a few minutes to devour. Combined with super fresh red leaf and butter lettuces, mushrooms, avocado, and simple lemon shallot vinaigrette. Utterly delicious creamy and tangy flavor contrasts. Must repeat process.
Canning and preserving carries an air of nostalgia, Depression-era savvy, and resourceful American pluck. There's also the dark side and sordid legacy of preserved and canned foods, which is another story entirely... Anyway, for many people, the memory of making preserves is this big treasured childhood thing. Yet I don't know of anyone in my family who jarred anything; maybe someone stashed pickles and cheap fish back in the day in a cramped Lower East Side or Newark tenement.
Taking a class with Valerie Gordon of local treat maker Valerie Confections and Kevin West of the blog Saving the Season might change that bit of family culinary history (or lack thereof). I jumped at the chance when invited to attend a session of hands-on instruction, since we already consume jars of Valerie's preserves made from local organic farmers' market-sourced ingredients at a frightening pace.
We've got the no-knead bread happening all the time, so makes sense to have fruit preserves to go with it. And what a perfect way to spend an afternoon away from my kids while doing something that benefits them. Right? Especially since most toddlers will eat just about any pickled vegetable.
Spring in SoCal is made extra special thanks to the magical world of broccoli.
A couple weeks ago on a whim I grabbed a big bag of Weiser's sprouting kind. With no thick central stalk around which the plant is arranged, its spindly skinny stems, purple florettes, and funny leaves shoot out every which way. What
a goofy vegetable.
Being unsure about the outcome, I trimmed the stalks down a lot and mixed it
with cauliflower to roast and make one of my veg-pasta standards. It
added some nice contrast to what's otherwise quite the exploration of
monochromatic foods, what with the pasta, cauliflower, pine nuts,
shallots, Parm and whatnot, but this mix probably just muted the pure sprouted
So last week at the market I saw McGrath has its own kind. It's not as exotic in the color department; it's basically a dark, iron-promising green. The leaves and stems are shorter and less gnarly than Weiser's, so I just rinsed and roasted with olive oil, garlic and shallots. If only making vegetables were ALWAYS this convenient without involving food science and creepy vacuum-packed bags from commercial supermarkets. When munched raw the broccoli had a little spicy tang, which was mostly lost in the cooking.
Upshot is they're both great. (I'm never much one for competition anyway.) And it would be nice if all these guys could hang around longer. But then they'd be less special. Tough call. Anyway, if you come across some, buy a big bag (it's pricey at about $5/pound, but it's all usable so worth the price), then let the stalks, trees, and leaves be untamed. Let sprouting broccoli's freak flag fly.
When two-plus POUNDS of cured pork product from San Francisco's Boccalone shows up on your doorstep (thanks, Cicely!), what does one do?
First, feel grateful to be in possession of a well-sharpened meat slicing knife. This is a tough mofo to cut. Then use the ginormous slab of peppery and herb-infused pancetta piana in all dishes in which lesser pedestrian pancetta or bacon would otherwise be used: spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all'amatriciana, my own variation of carbonara with thinly sliced zucchini, roasted Brussels sprouts.
For a couple weeks we were eating a lot of this really porky stuff that turns a beautiful translucent ivory when cooked. And I eventually learned that less is certainly more. (And remember what I said about having over two lbs of it?)
I'm a huge fan of afternoon tea, and I love hosting baby showers. Even better to put these things together.
After throwing wedding and baby showers at all times of day, with different kinds meals aimed at pleasing various folks, going for a girlie, elegant(ish) tea felt simple and fun. It's always a treat to bust out a bunch of my household wedding booty and set a festive table with eclectic vintage table linens.
The days of 100% DIY party hosting are behind me, and life is better since I learned to embrace partial catering. And because Cicely, the guest of honor who also provided me with these photos, loves Clementine. The first time we had food from the always-packed, earthy Century City cafe was when she sent us a Clementine basket after our kid was born. So it was obviously appropriate and well worth the drive to get some afternoon party staples for her baby shower.
Clementine's sweet and crunchy autumn chicken salad makes a great tea sandwich filling. Along with cucumber & watercress, and pear & gorgonzola sandwiches, they looked so pretty when set out. Deviled eggs are filling, and I can pack 'em away; all the better if not everyone else does. There was a time when I didn't mind making Martha's egg trio with my handy pastry bag, but well, I wasn't a mom then. A bright green salad and some roasted potatoes, plus a dessert sampler including my homemade macaroons (no need to only make them around Passover), rounded out a filling afternoon tea. Plus a batch of champagne punch served over my attempt at making a big ass block of ice (which could have been better, unfortunately, since the writer of the LAT article was among the guests). It's a formula I'm likely to use again.
And perhaps best of all was Clementine's frozen apricot and strawberry mini scones served with the traditional fixings. Just add a little bit of coarse sugar on top, no need to even brush with cream as directed. When people asked if I made them, I could honestly said I BAKED them fresh myself. Ahem.
But let's not forget the other featured word in "afternoon tea." I might have had to borrow an extra kettle and three teapots, but serving four kinds of tea was worth the effort. I went with two different black teas, one interesting green mint, and always the fave, the floraly green rooibos Martinique tea from Le Palais Gourmet. Oddly enough, I learned tea can be a good conversation starter, perhaps even more so than the more conventional social lubricant.
Good Gawd, do I think that picture on the cover of Gourmet's April issue is pretty. The dish simply shown -- pasta with spicy anchovy, dill and breadcrumbs -- screams perfect easy weeknight dish. It might even be a contender for a place in our the regular pasta stable.
It only took me about four months filled with sincere intentions, and many rotted and discarded bunches of unused dill, but I finally got around to it last week. I don't think those months have been wasted living without this pasta.
I liked the unusual combination of flavors and textures well enough, but it won't be usurping my signature porcini pasta, spaghetti alla carbonara or bucatini all'amatriciana from their rightful places. It could also have been my fault for going very heavy on the onion-to-anchovy ratio in favor of the former, and adding shallots. Which, in general, is never a bad thing.
The recipe calls for perciatelli or bucatini. I'd use spaghetti instead, actually, because the other textures get sort of lost in the heavy tubular pasta. (Or, as Marissa would want me to say, the "tasty tubers.") Definitely reserve a hefty amount of breadcrumbs for serving, and to add throughout eating. Otherwise they all get mushy, and that's not so fun.
As evidenced by today, we've had some scary random high temps this year. Since it feels too early for watermelon -- it not even being May yet and all -- cucumber is the best cool ingredient at the moment.
My attempt last night to recreate the fantastic cucumber cocktails (cuke-tails?) I've had this week at Hatfield's and Hungry Cat wasn't a raging success. But I've repurposed the ingredients to make a daytime Cucumber Mint Spritzer. Sort of like a virgin cucumber mojito. It's awesome on a day like today.
I like the ratios below, but feel free to tinker to find your magic combo.
5 ounces seltzer 2 oz. fresh cucumber juice 1/2 teaspoon simple syrup 10-15 muddled mint leaves Combine ingredients and garnish with mint leaves and cucumber slice.
This L.A. Times article about Catalan coca combined with the rain makes me crave stuff baked on top of carbs. I've been looking back at my photos from the atmospheric L'Antic Bocoi del Gòticrestaurant in Barcelona, where in June 2006 we enjoyed marvelous coques, and I've experimented again with easy savory tarts.
If a restaurant serving coques with quality cheeses and beautiful toppings like thinly sliced ham and dates (at left) and sharp arugula and walnuts (right) opened in L.A., tushies would be filling seats in no time.
And the hearty salad topped with cheese and surrounded by the typical Catalan combination of currants and pine nuts, plus artful splatters of balsamic reduction, is also easily reproduced here using local ingredients.
In the meantime, or at least until I try the recipe featured in the article, I turn to Trader Joe's Artisan Puff Pastry. Super buttery, no fakey shortening ingredients like Pepperidge Farms, and the sheets are conveniently packaged flat in large squares.
Apologies for getting dangerously close to Rachael Ray territory, but my favorite topping of late is TJs frozen artichoke hearts. Frozen 'chokes have none of the
waterlogged texture or gross marinades that plague canned and jarred ones. After defrosting them in the microwave, I combine with caramelized onions and/or shallots and sautee other compatible ingredients, like bacon, shitake mushrooms or asparagus.
Lightly brush the dough with butter, spread the mixture on, lightly top with shredded cheese of your choice, and bake at 425 for 15 minutes or so. It's another great "pantry dish" -- or rather "freezer dish" -- to have at your disposal.
We've been on the road for a couple weeks, but before I get to the travel posts, I must share a fall recipe I've fallen in love with.
Now that I've gotten over my stupid fear of butternut squash -- it's so easy to peel with a vegetable peeler, duh! -- I've made it a lot this season. In all forms: sautéed, pureed for the baby, you name it. Nothing hits the fall food spot better. And when mixed with blue cheese and pecans, it also perfectly gets the sweet/savory groove.
We have everyone's favorite Sultry British Jewess to thank for this combo. (Well, maybe Nigella and Rachel Weisz are tied for that title.) It comes from my signed copy of Nigella Express, which my kind friends Andy and Jennifer waited TWO hours with The Pasadena Housewives and The Gays at Williams-Sonoma to get.
So far, pork chops with mustard sauce and butternut squash have been easy-to-make hits from the book.
One large buttnernut squash (approx. 3-4 pounds) 1 cup toasted pecans 1 cup blue cheese for crumbling 1 tablespoon fresh thyme Olive oil Salt and pepper
Recipe says not to peel, but I peel the squash (who likes tough squash skin anyway?), remove seeds, and cube into roughly one-inch pieces. Toss with olive oil, pinch of salt and pepper, and thyme. Roast at 425 for at least 30 minutes, or until soft but not mushy. Combine with the cheese and pecans, and let it all melt and meld together. I used Point Reyes blue; I advise nothing too sharp, i.e. no Roaring 40's Blue.
Word has gotten out about Trader Joe's chocolate croissants. These breakfast treats come four to a box in the freezer section, cost about four bucks (three if on Fearless Flier sale), and bake easily in any home oven after proofing for nine hours and getting lightly brushed with egg whites. The trick is planning ahead the night before.
I call them "treats" because that's what they should be. If my husband has his druthers, however, they'd be part of our (not) very nutritious daily breakfast. There always seems to be some good excuse, like "It's Monday," or "at least I didn't have ice cream last night."
As the reports online already say, they're flaky, rich and chocolaty -- far exceeding my average expectations. The chocolate is indeed a little too sweet for me, and also feels sort of waxy. Once you bite past the initial outer flakes the whole interior is slightly overly chewy. I wouldn't pick these over Breadbar's goods.
But as my friend Erika wrote in a TJ's croissant-promoting e-blast to her food loving friends, "you don't even have to put on shoes to get them." Amen.