Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sherry Braised Artichokes, Andalusian Style

Now that I am finally living in my own place, with my own stuff, after nearly 2 years, I am re-exploring my cookbook collection. Ironically, just before I ended up putting everything in storage and moving in with various family members, I went on a cookbook buying rampage.  The culprit was Bart's Books, the amazing and adorable open-air bookstore in Ojai, CA (featured in the film Easy A).

Bart's Books, a house and courtyard converted into a bookstore, had tons of vintage cookbooks (located in the kitchen of course) and at $2-$5 a pop, I indulged. Vintage meant from the 1970s and 80s and many of the Sunset Magazine series on world cuisines - Scandinavian, Italian, Spanish - made it on my shelf.  While The Taste of Spain Cookbook was printed in 1991, 20 years - a generation - ago counts as vintage to me. I found this artichoke recipe while breezing through it and with my infamous love of the 'choke and a few baby artichokes still at the farmers' market, it made the cut.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chocolate Ricotta Tart

I pride myself on my ability to cook/prepare multiple items at the same time, whether it is making soup and baking bread or rolls or making several different vegetable dishes at the same time. It is the juggling act that gives me such a thrill for using my time and energy with such efficiency.

Sometimes my multitasking gets away from me.

This is especially true when I forget that I am using the oven for something other than baking, such as proofing bread or cultivating yogurt. Twice have I preheated the oven with no-knead bread (and its plastic cap!) sitting in the oven, destroying the plastic (and the bowl). This time it was the yogurt that got cooked. Preheating the oven to 500 degrees curdled the yogurt something fierce! But the thrifty cook that I am, I smelled it before tossing it and lo and behold, it smelled fresh, almost sweet, like a tangy ricotta cheese!

The high heat caused the yogurt to separate; straining two and half quarts of yogurt cum ricotta produced three cups of ricotta, more than enough for this recipe. I added a teaspoon of salt since that is my usual preparation when making homemade ricotta.

If you look at the labels for this blog, you'll notice the dessert to vegetable ration is kind of ridiculous: 18 to 163! So when I decide to make a dessert, it better be worth it. No hyperbole, this was one of the best desserts I have ever had, really, ever.  It was fabulously rich but not too sweet. The orange zest (and my additional of a pinch of salt) made it sing! Everyone adored it, including the "not a big dessert fan" folk. (Yes, we do exist!)

As for Proud Italian Cook's Chocolate Ricotta Tart recipe, I had to add some additional sugar since my baking chocolate was not semi-sweet but 100% cacao, no sweetner added (a tad bitter!) Either recipe will work well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lamb and Barley Soup

Growing up in New England it was April Showers that would send my sisters and I into the kitchen for warmth, where my mom would make a spring soup or stew. Here in southern California we have June Gloom, when the marine layer - aka fog from the ocean - coats the sky like wet wool and makes Angeleans shiver like they were Minnesotans in subzero temperatures. Living four blocks from the ocean, I see my share of June Gloom prior to June. Here it was mid-May and I needed something to warm my bones. And bones were just the ticket!

I had some leftover bones from grilling lamb chops for mother's day and they made a great stock after boiling for 60 minutes. An added bonus was the smoky scent of the grilled chops that worked its way into the stock as well!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Garden Update - First Radishes

Radishes are definitely a harbinger of spring - they sprout nearly overnight, grow in pre-frost conditions, and provide a crisp crunch signaling spring veggies are right around the corner. Fresh from the garden they have a snap and a peppery zing that I love. A traditional preparation is on bread with butter, really good! But I also love them tossed with rice vinegar, sesame oil and salt like this.

Here I added them to a cheese plate since their spice goes so well with the creamy blue cheese I had on hand. The other cheese on the plate was a gouda and its buttery flavory paired nicely with the radishes also.

This is the first of many posts detailing what my garden provides. If you are planting as well, I would love to hear your updates as you harvest!

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cacio e Pepe AKA Pasta with Pecorino and Cracked Pepper

The seed packet for arugula states that you should be able to harvest in 40-45 days. My first pickings were at 35 days! If you are a fan of arugula, toss some seeds in a pot (or the ground if you have the space) and grow your own! Homegrown arugula is so much more peppery and spicy than whatever you buy at the store (some farmers markets' stalls come close) but picked fresh from the earth cannot be beat!

To celebrate the first veggies from my garden since planting 5 weeks ago, I made Cacio e Pepe con Rucola, AKA pasta with pecorino romano cheese, cracked black pepper and arugula. Traditional Roman fare, cacio e pepe is fresh pasta (if you've got it) tossed with finely grated pecorino romano cheese and black pepper ground over all. It is divine! Gild the lily by tossing in some freshly washed arugula and allow the hot pasta to wilt the greens and you'll be singing Puccini to the birds!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fresh Fennel Salad, Moroccan Style

Ahhh fennel. I love its crunch, its slightly anise-y taste, its herb-green scent. But it rarely is the star of the dish, always the supporting player. Here it shines all on its own.

Add a few dashes of piquant flavor enhancers - lemon juice, salt, harissa (!), mint - and fennel glides to the forefront like a prima balleria who has been waiting for her chance to sparkle in the spotlight.

While the flavors are decidedly Moroccan, the preparation is based on a simple Italian (or French, depending on whom you ask) dish that uses salt to bring out the natural juice of the vegetable and adds lemon to spread it around. The most common version is with carrots, and a dash of olive oil helps the salt make its rounds and do its magic.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mediterranean Marinated Chick Peas

As I mentioned here and here Chick peas are a favorite legume of mine, and whenever new ways of preparing them cross my path I quickly give it a try.

Cooked chick peas with Mediterranean herbs, salt and olive oil. So simple it is kind of shocking that this is the first I have heard of it. This has no cookbook or blog origins. In fact, there is no cook to whom I could attribute it. Some nameless cook working for a specialty food company produced this idea to help boost sales at olive bars and it is genius!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grilled Salmon with Sweet Chipotle Glaze

Salmon is one of my favorite fishes. I love it smoked, salted cured (gravalax) as well as baked or grilled. It stands alone easily with salt and perhaps lemon but it also takes to a little dressing up as well. This is a dressed up version.

When I saw Joanne's version from Eats Well With Others I knew it would be a winner; chipotle in adobo, apricot preserves, cumin and vinegar. So simple, so easy, so delicious! She baked her fish, we grilled it. Both work wonderfully. To top it off, there is no long marinating process. Just mix, slather on the glaze and bake or grill. Perfect!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Swiss Chard, Onion and Potato Gratin

Gratin, it can be a decadent dish of cheese and cream mixed in with some vegetables. Or it can be as simple as layers of vegetables with some cream to steam them under a covered dish in the oven. This dish was the later. I was craving vegetables but wanted something warm, and a little on the light side. Layering potatoes, swiss chard and onions turned into an inspired dish.

Clearly a cousin to scalloped potatoes, which were a regular feature at the Just Food Co-op hot bar when I was deli manager, I left out the cheese and simply added the cream to help steam the layers. It was divine! Imagine the natural juices of potato, Swiss Chard and onions mingling with a touch of cream and salt and pepper and you have this delicious dish.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper and Sausage Pie with Potato Crust

I am been meaning to try this potato crust for some time, ever since Stacey posted about it here. With my first try, my mandoline didn't slice the potatoes quite as thin as I had hoped, and the egg leaked all over. It tasted great, but not a pretty picture! Trusting my steady hand and my favorite chef's knife I set out to make thinner slices and this time it worked.

As for the filling, my ingredients were similar if not exact. Some breakfast sausages in need of being cooked up were joined by homemade roasted red peppers. Of course I had to toss in some of my favorite herb, parsley, to add some color.

A great treat for breakfast or brunch, however this must be eaten warm; it does not do well at room temperature the way its cousin quiche is want to do.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cheese Chile Rellenos for Cinqo de Mayo

Lots of my co-workers are Mexican American and many a time have I drooled over their homemade lunches as we ate in the staff lounge. Homemade flautas, carnitas and tamales always look amazing, but it is the chile rellenos that I most coveted. While they involve several preparation steps, I decided it was high time I made them. Such a smart idea!

Chile rellenos are stuffed chiles, usually with a meat (pork, beef) or cheese filling, smothered in a tomato and pepper sauce. While all of the ingredients are humble, the taste is divine!

Following my usual M.O. I scouted out recipes in the blogsphere and ended up cobbling a few together to suit my preferences; ranchero sauce from Closet Cooking and a cheese filling from what I had in the pantry. After asking a co-worker about the batter I decided to stay with the traditional egg white, flour and egg yolk batter that was both authentic and most widely used. It did not disappoint!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Radicchio, Apple and Pear Salad

Happy May Day! The day of leaving baskets of flowers on neighbors' doorsteps, dancing round the Maypole, celebrating Beltane with feasts and bonfires or marching in a workers parade if you lived in communist bloc countries, pre-1991. For me, May Day has always had a special quality to it, the real turning of the clock to springtime in so much that there were flowers blooming in our Connecticut home, enough to make a few May Day baskets. But now May Day usually signals the real beginning of spring vegetables and fruits. That was how this salad happened upon my table.

Radicchio is not a vegetable that everyone is clamoring to taste. Unless it is really, really, really fresh, its bitterness can put people off. (That is one reason my garden includes some radicchio so I can sample it freshly picked.) But this salad does not shy away from the potential bitterness that can be radicchio; it embraces it. Pairing it with sweet pears and crunchy apples with mint and parsley this salad zips and sings through your taste buds!