Make dinner tonight, inspired!

Wondering what to make for dinner tonight? This is your place for quick and healthy meal inspirations. Here you'll find recipes for seasonally focused dinners, desserts, breakfasts, and everything in between.

My cooking focuses on the freshest ingredients prepared in a simple and careful way, to highlight their uniqueness. My own diet is primarily vegetarian, but does include sustainable fish and seafood, and is gluten free.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing some of my favorite recipes with you!

31 January 2010

Roasted Beet Salad with Fennel & Ricotta Salata

I serve this salad with all kinds of things. This week I'm eating it alongside simple brown basmati rice with some kelp crunchies and the steamed beet greens on top. I've been doing so much Valentine's Day baking this week, and consequently way too much sampling. All I want to eat is simple, healthy food for dinner. This salad is also lovely in the summer with grilled fish or vegetables or as a picnic salad alongside sandwiches.

I love beets. Well, I should say I love roasted beets which are a far cry from those soggy, flavorless boiled beets of my childhood or worse yet, pickled beets.... shudder. I especially enjoy golden beets as I think their flavor is slightly sweeter and milder than red beets but buy whatever looks best at the market. This week at my market, the red beets were beautiful so that's what I'm using here. If you can find them try Chioggia beets which are red and white candy striped. They're beautiful and delicious.

If you choose to use a mixture of varieties, which is perfectly fine, be sure to roast them all separately so the red ones don't bleed all over the others and turn everything pink. Also, I peel and slice my beets before roasting. I know it defies convention, but it works for me. That way you get lots of dark caramelized edges which I really enjoy. I make little foil packages of the beets and toss them with salt, pepper, herbs, and olive oil before roasting. That way it prevents the 'red beet bleeding situation' as well as keeps your sheet tray clean. Also, it allows for caramelization but prevents them from getting too dark and crispy while in the oven.

This recipe also calls for Ricotta Salata which is a wonderful sheep's milk cheese. It's dry and crumbly, slightly salty and similar in texture to Feta. Feta could also be substituted here if you can't find Ricotta Salata. Although do look for it, it's fantastic. 

Yields about 3 cups/ 4 side servings:

6 medium beets (of any color or mixed colors)
1/2 fennel bulb, fronds and core removed, thinly sliced into 1/2 moons
4 oz Ricotta Salata
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
sea salt & pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set out 2 more lengths of foil, equal again to the length of your baking sheet, for your beet parcels.

2) Peel and trim the beets. Remove the greens (save for steaming later), trim off any super skinny root ends, then rinse them well. Slice each beet in half lengthwise then each half into thirds. Toss them onto one of the pre-cut lengths of foil, then place that on the lined sheet tray. Sprinkle the beets generously with the salt & pepper and the thyme. Toss them in 2 TB of the Olive Oil. Spread them out into a single layer. Use the remaining sheet of foil to cover the top and seal up the edges so you've made a little parcel that is tightly sealed, sitting on top of your foil lined sheet pan.

3) Roast the beets for 40-45 minutes until they're easily pierced with a fork. Open up the parcel and allow them to cool about 15 minutes on the sheet tray.

4) Meanwhile, slice the fennel and toss into a serving bowl. Cut the Ricotta Salata into 1" cubes and toss it in with the fennel. When the beets have cooled, toss them in. Season with salt & pepper and finish with the remaining 1 TB Olive Oil. 

Apple & Fennel Bisque with Cheddar & Chive Scones

The selection at my Farmer's Market is evidence that it's definitely the heart of winter now. That is, if you even consider a Northern California winter an actual 'winter'. I guess that's debatable depending on what part of the country you're from. Anyhow, it's rather slim pickings, mostly lots of root veggies, still some apples, citrus fruits and dark green vegetables. 

Tonight I thought I'd feature the beautiful fennel which is plentiful now and the few last of season apples in a pureed soup. Fennel is such a wonderful vegetable. It has a fresh anise flavor, which I happen to love raw or cooked. However, if you're timid about the flavor try roasting them first before adding to your recipe which will bring out the sweetness and mellow out the anise-y flavor.

This soup does have a bit of cream, mainly just to help with that silky mouthfeel which is desirable here. However, it gains most of it's flavor from the fennel and apples. The addition of a couple of potatoes add thickness and body so you can minimize the cream. Don't worry, the scones have plenty of cream if you were feeling deprived!

The scones are just yumm. I often make the same scones with fresh chopped rosemary (a great pairing with butternut squash soup) but I found a nice sharp cheddar from Sonoma County today, made from jersey milk, so I thought I'd adapt the recipe to include it. After all, a cream and butter scone with cheese added.... how bad could that be?! The chives lend their bright green color to the finished scone and their mild onion flavor is great with the soup.

For the Soup:
Yields 4 generous servings:

1 TB Olive Oil
1 yellow onion, 1/2" dice
2 medium bulbs fennel, fronds and core removed, 1/2" dice
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2" dice
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced 1/2" thick (I'm using 1 Fuji & 1 Granny Smith)
1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
4 cups vegetable stock
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream

1) In a heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and saute to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the fennel, potatoes, and apples, rosemary, salt & pepper, and continue sauteeing, about 3 minutes more. Add the vegetable stock and cover the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook, about 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

2) Transfer the soup to the jar of a blender and carefully puree the soup until smooth, working in batches as needed. (Be very very careful when pureeing hot soup. Make sure you hold the top on firmly and don't overfill the blender jar or you and your kitchen will be covered with hot soup!).

3) When all the soup has been pureed, return it back to the pot and stir in the cream. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve with a little sprinkling of fennel pollen on top (see photo) or an herb salad, if desired.

For the Scones:
Yields 12 

4 oz extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated
6 TB minced fresh chives
2 cups Unbleached Flour, plus 1 TB
3 large Eggs, beaten lightly, plus 1 large egg beaten separately for egg wash
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 1 TB for egg wash
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
8 TB (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1" cubes
1 TB coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

2) Place the cheese, chives and 1 TB flour in a small bowl and toss to combine. Set aside. In another small bowl, combine the 3 lightly beaten eggs and the 1/2 cup cream and set aside.

3) In a large bowl, combine the 2 cups flour, baking powder, paprika, and salt. Add the butter and 'cut in', using a pastry blender or your fingers, working quickly so as not to soften the butter, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and egg mixture and combine with a fork. Add cheese/chive mixture and mix until just combined.

4) Transfer the dough to a well floured surface and pat into a 9" round. Using a sharp knife, cut the circle into 12 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, about 20 minutes until the tops are golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

26 January 2010

Quinoa & Avocado Salad with Dried Fruit, Toasted Almonds, and Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette

You may have gathered that I really like quinoa. In case you're unfamiliar, it is a South American ancient grain once known as 'the mother of all grains' and is considered to be a 'complete protein'. That means that unlike beans or soy, quinoa contains all the essential amino acids we need for our general well being and for the growth and maintenance of our body's tissues.

Okay, so it's good for you.... more importantly though, it tastes delicious. It's quick cooking and is incredibly versatile. I use it in place of rice or couscous in many dishes as I'm quite fond of its crunchiness. It's pretty easy to find these days in most bulk sections. Do give it a try, I think it may just become a staple of your pantry too.

Yields about 5 cups

1 cup dry red or white Quinoa, rinsed well
3 TB golden raisins
2 TB dried apricots, thinly sliced
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 tsp ground Coriander
1/4 tsp ground Cumin
1/4 tsp sweet Paprika
1/4 tsp ground Fennel Seed
1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 medium firm yet ripe Haas Avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
3 TB toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) In a medium bowl, soak the golden raisins and apricots for 5 minutes to plump. Drain and set aside.

2) In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups water, the quinoa, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil over high heat. Partially cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue simmering until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender but crunchy, about 10-15 minutes. Immediately fluff the quinoa with a fork and turn set aside to cool.

3) Finely grate the lemon zest and squeeze juice into a large bowl. Whisk in the Olive Oil, Coriander, Cumin, Fennel Seed, Paprika, salt & pepper. Put the quinoa into the bowl and  
toss to coat well with the dressing. Add in the raisins, apricots, almonds, parsley, scallions, and avocado. Toss gently to combine. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Whole Grain Veggie Burgers with Tahini Sauce

I enjoy these veggie burgers because they're protein packed and full of flavor. They feature Quinoa for great texture and because it's just so delicious and good for you. They also have white beans which give great body, whole wheat (or whole Spelt in my case) breadcrumbs to hold everything together and lots of veggies to freshen them up. I serve these patties 'sans' the bun, just simply topped with the tahini sauce, sliced avocado, and a salad alongside.

Tahini (aka: tahina) is such a great ingredient and completely under appreciated, in my opinion. It's a nut butter (think peanut butter) made from sesame seeds and is super rich and creamy yet pleasantly bitter. Most people know it as a sauce for Falafel or an ingredient in hummus. I think it pairs really well with whole grains and I especially love it with Quinoa. I'm also pretty hooked on it spread on toast and drizzled with honey and salt.

It's sort of an unpredictable ingredient to work with as every brand behaves a bit differently, in my experience. I like a brand called 'Joyva' which is readily available at most supermarkets. Make sure you stir well before using it to reincorporate the oil which will be sitting on top. Tahini also has this funny way of thinning out when you first add liquid and then all of a sudden it seizes up again. Don't worry, just keep stirring and adding liquid (you'll need at least equal parts liquid to tahini) and eventually you'll have a silky creamy sauce of the proper consistency.

Yields 4-6 large patties

1 cup cooked Quinoa
1 can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup dry whole wheat breadcrumbs
4 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 large egg
1 large carrot, peeled & grated
1/4 cup Italian Parsley, finely chopped
2 TB tahini (I like Joyva brand)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 TB olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) In a medium bowl, mash the navy beans with a fork to form a coarse paste. Add the breadcrumbs, scallions, parsley, carrot, egg, cayenne, cumin, tahini, and quinoa. Season with salt & pepper and mix to combine. Form the mixture into patties, each about 4" in diameter x 1/2" thick.

2) In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Cook the patties until browned and firm, about 5-8 minutes per side. Serve with tahini sauce (recipe below), and a simple green salad with sliced oranges and avocados.

For Tahini Sauce:
1/3 cup well-stirred Tahini
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (use 2 TB at a time, may need a bit more or less)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground cumin
salt & pepper

1) In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini and the water. Continue whisking while adding the lemon juice until you reach your desired consistency. It may take a bit more or a bit less lemon juice and/or water to get there. Season with cayenne, salt & pepper, and stir to combine.

For serving:
Simple green salad (I'm going with winter escarole and raddichio tonight)
Lemon juice & olive oil dressing (1 part lemon juice, 2 parts olive oil, salt & pepper)
Sliced Avocado
Sliced Oranges

25 January 2010

Morning Glory Muffins

Since I'll be eating those yummy crepes again tonight I thought today I'd share a recipe for my Morning Glory Muffins. They're a great way to start the day, not too sweet yet substantial and energizing. Whip up a batch this weekend for next week when you need a healthy 'grab and go' breakfast.

Yields 18 muffins

1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup evaporated cane juice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp 5 Spice powder
2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 cup UNsweetened grated coconut
3/4 cup Golden Raisins
1 apple, peeled and grated on a box grater
1/2 cup Applesauce (use unsweetened jarred applesauce)
2 cups Carrots, peeled and grated on a box grater (about 3 large)
1/2 cup Walnuts, chopped
3 Eggs
3/4 cup Canola Oil
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1) Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray your muffin tins with nonstick spray or butter and flour them. 

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cane juice, cinnamon, 5 Spice, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the coconut, raisins, grated apple, applesauce carrots, and nuts and toss to combine.

3) In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and the oils with the vanilla extract. Pour into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir to incorporate.

4) Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, about 7/8 of the way full. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and they are a rich brown color. Cool them in the tins for 10 minutes and then turn onto a rack to finish cooling.

Buckwheat Crepes with Mushrooms & Chevre

Tonight's dinner is one of my most favorite things ever to eat... buckwheat crepes. Some people might be intimidated by making crepes, thinking you need one of those fancy crepe maker griddle thingies but all you really need are a couple of nonstick skillets and a few simple ingredients.

Crepes are so versatile, you can fill them with just about anything but tonight we're having mushrooms and goat cheese. They'd be equally good with spinach, smoked ham, or just melty cheese inside topped with an egg sunny-side-up (or 'mirroir' as it's called). I can think of a million ways to deliciousness with these guys.

In France, buckwheat crepes are called 'Galettes de Sarrasin' and hail from Brittany in the northwest region. They're available almost everywhere but the best I've ever had were at the Paris outpost of Cafe Breizh in the Marais. Their galettes are lacy, almost like tuile cookies, slightly earthy from the buckwheat, with crispy edges. My favorite is the 'Normande' with gruyere inside, cured salmon, chives, and creme fraiche on top...omg.

The buckwheat flour gives the crepes a nutty, savory quality and is quite different from the common nutella filled versions of sweet crepes that may come to mind. These crepes are traditionally served with hard cider, also from northwest France. It's not at all sweet but is sparkly and slightly acidic with the true essence of apples. We're having cider tonight which I intend on drinking from little earthenware bowls, just as I remember doing in Paris.

All crepes in my opinion should be served with a healthy piece of salted butter on top, that melts all down them an onto the plate so you can mop it up with the crepes. Tragically I don't have any french Bordier butter around but I'll make do with a good cultured european style butter and a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel from Camargue.

I'm also serving some braised kale alongside. I happen to LOVE kale, especially the dark black kind which is wonderful right now. I also feel better about eating all that butter and cheese with a side of dark greens. I'm not including a recipe since it doesn't really need one but the basic technique is: Saute 1 bunch washed kale, ribs and stems removed, in a little olive oil for 1 minute to briefly wilt. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chile flakes. Add about 1/2 cup stock or water and put a lid on the pan. Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes until the kale is tender and the liquid is absorbed. That's it!

Ok, all this talk of yumminess is making me hungry.... please try this one. You'll be hooked too... I promise!

For the crepes (makes about 8, 10" crepes):
1 1/4 cups Unbleached Flour (I used Spelt)
3/4 cups Buckwheat Flour
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
5 TB unsalted butter, melted and cooled plus more for skillet

For the filling and serving:
1 1/2 cups sauteed mushrooms (I used a mix of cremini, chanterelle, and shiitake with leeks and herbes de provence)
3 oz Chevre (or other soft, young goat's cheese)
1-2 TB European Style Salted Butter, for serving
Fleur de Sel, for finishing

1) Whisk together the flour, buckwheat flour & salt. Add the eggs and milk and whisk to blend. Drizzle in the melted butter and whisk to combine. The mixture will look like pancake batter. Set aside in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.

2) After batter has rested, heat a 10" nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add 1 tsp butter and when melted, ladle in about 1/4 cup batter. Swirl around quickly so the batter spreads out to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Cook about 2-3 minutes, until the edges just turn golden. Carefully, with a big spatula pick up the crepe and flip it over, all at once. It should be golden brown on the underside. Sprinkle on a bit of the goat cheese and 2 TB mushroom mixture onto 1/2 of the crepe.  Cook about 1-2 minutes more. Then, fold the whole thing in half and then into quarters, so you wind up with a triangular little folded crepe.

3) Place finished crepes on a warm platter, covered loosely with foil until ready to serve. Serve topped with salted butter and a sprinkling of Fleur de Sel.

24 January 2010

Gold Potato & Sweet Potato Gratin with Butter Lettuce, Fennel & Pecorino Salad

This is a lightened up Gratin which uses grated apple instead of the traditional cream to give the dish moisture so you can use less fat. I have to say that it's quite delicious and you don't miss the cream at all. It also uses equal parts sweet potatoes & Yukon Gold potatoes. Adding the sweet potatoes gives the dish great flavor and vibrant color but also adds beta carotene, fiber, iron, and calcium. Because we're using just a bit of cheese, choose one with full bodied flavor like Gruyere. I love Gruyere for its nuttiness yet saltiness and it melts wonderfully. A good fontina or even smoked Cheddar would be great here as well.

Make a big salad to serve alongside as it's an important light addition to the substantial gratin. This is truly a 'best of winter' salad featuring the beautiful fennel & green butter lettuce I'm seeing at the Market now and the Meyer lemons from my tree which are at their peak of ripeness.

Today is Sunday which for me also requires a pre-dinner wine and cheese hour. Tonight we're starting with Prosecco, Amaretto & Lime Cocktails (I'll share that recipe one day soon) and Cowgirl Creamery's newest cheese, Devil's Gulch with a crusty olive baguette. The cheese is a jersey cow's milk cheese with sweet and spicy red chile flakes. I hear it was all the rage at last week's SF Fancy Food Show. I'm a big fan of all their cheeses but this one is currently at the top of my list.

For the Gratin:
1# Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1# Garnet sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled, and grated
2 leeks, white & light green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4" half moons
4 oz Gruyere Cheese, grated
2 TB Pamesano Reggiano, grated
2 TB Olive Oil
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp red chile flakes
coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss together the potatoes, sweet potatoes, apple, leeks, olive oil, thyme, chile flakes, salt & pepper in a large bowl. 

2) Transfer to a 9"x 13"x 2" baking dish, spread into a thin layer and cover with parchment lined foil. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Remove the foil, top with Gruyere & Parmesan, and continue to bake uncovered until the potatoes are cooked through and the top is brown and melty and bubbly, about 30 minutes more.

For the Salad:
1 head Green Butter Lettuce, washed and leaves torn to bite-size pieces
1/2 fennel bulb
2 TB Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
2 oz Pecorino Romano, thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler
3 TB fresh Meyer Lemon Juice
zest of 1/2 Meyer Lemon
1 TB shallot, minced
1 TB Dijon Mustard
6 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
coarse sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) When the gratin is out of the oven and cooling, make the salad. In your serving bowl, zest the lemon, squeeze the juice, add the mustard, shallot, salt & pepper and whisk together. While whisking, add the oil in a steady stream to emulsify. 

2) Add the sliced fennel to the bowl, right on top of the dressing. Place the lettuce & parsley on top of the fennel and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Right before serving, toss the salad and add the shaved Pecorino on top. Sprinkle the top with more finishing salt and a few turns of black pepper.

21 January 2010

New Potato Hash with Poached Farm Eggs and Lemon Broccoli

Eggs are one of the food items I'm most particular about. It seems like such an ordinary ingredient, a household staple even, but I'm here to tell ya that not all eggs are created equal... not even close.

I insist on having fresh farm eggs at all times. They make such a difference in flavor when baking. If you've never had one, the whites are almost gelatinous compared to the runny, watery whites of most commercially produced eggs. You really have to hit the egg to break it, the shell is hard and breaks evenly, it won't shatter into your bowl. The yolks are bright yellow, almost orange in color, and they are absolutely delicious.

When it comes to eating an actual whole egg, as in this recipe, I just can't eat anything but a fresh farm egg. So alas, I wake up at the crack of dawn on Thursdays to go queue up for my eggs at the Farmers Market and when I hold that precious carton in my hand, and happily hand over my $7 per dozen, I feel like I've just been handed a special treasure. Yep, you heard right...I said $7 per dozen. But, once you've tasted the difference there is just no going back.

I have a couple of favorite 'egg guys' at my local Market. One is Triple T Ranch in Santa Rosa (I wish they had a website so I could link to it here). At their stand they have a little photo album that shows all of their chickens running about on pasture, the enclosure moved every day or two to ensure enough fresh land for all 1500 or so of them. At night 'the girls' return to their cozy coops for slumber and dinner from the farm's organic veggie scraps.

Another of my favorites is Soul Food Farms . I have never seen such orange yolks! These are quite the hot item and if I'm not in line by 8AM they're sold out. I don't mind though, this is one egg worth getting up early for. Alice Waters uses them exclusively at Chez Panisse and I figure... if they're good enough for 'Alice', they're certainly good enough for me!

As you may have gathered by my going on and on about them...the eggs are the star of the show in this simple dish. Maybe getting up early and standing out in the cold is a bit much to ask but do buy the best ones you can find. You should plan for about 2 eggs per person for a main course.

4 Farm Eggs (for 2 servings)
1# red skinned baby potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into about 1" pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
4 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 medium heads Broccoli, chopped into florets
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
salt & pepper
1 TB white vinegar
1/2 avocado, diced
1/2 lemon

1) Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add 1 TB white vinegar and return to a gentle simmer. Line a dinner plate with paper towels and set aside.

2) Meanwhile, heat 2 TB Olive Oil in a large saute pan. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, salt, pepper, red chile flakes and rosemary and saute until the potatoes are cooked through and crispy golden, about 10-12 minutes.

3) While the potatoes are cooking, crack one egg at a time into a small bowl and add it to the simmering water, using a spoon to gently push the whites up around the yolk after you drop it in. Repeat this with each of the remaining eggs, adding them one at a time to the pot. (You can also use one of those nifty egg poaching pans for this like I did which is why they look so perfectly round in the photo.) Cook the eggs, about 5 minutes, depending on your preferred level of doneness. Place the cooked egg onto the paper towel lined plate to drain briefly.

4) While the eggs and potatoes are cooking, heat another 2 TB Olive Oil in a separate saute pan. Add the broccoli florets and salt and pepper to taste and saute until bright green and just tender, about 5 minutes. When cooked, add the zest and juice of 1/2 lemon.

5) When everything is cooked, divide the vegetables up into shallow serving bowls and top with two eggs per person. Grating some fresh Parmesano Reggiano or a sprinkling of lemon zest on top would be lovely. Serve the broccoli alongside.


20 January 2010

Chocolate Chai Bundt Cake with Sour Cream Icing

If you know me, you probably also know that I am and always have been inspired by all things 'Big Sur'. There's something about the air, or is it the water, or is it the sky, or the mountains...? It's all of those things, the most magical place I know where the mountains meet the sea to dramatic effect. I love it there, a place where I really feel truly at home and at ease. Anyhow, my latest muse is the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

The Big Sur Bakery itself is an unassuming place, in an old house, on the side of the highway, behind a gas station. However you'll be pleasantly surprised by the excellent food that awaits you inside. They have an Allen Scott wood fired oven which turns out some awesome pizzas, breads, and baked goods and a couple of very talented chef/owners running the kitchen. Go there! But before you do, try my Chocolate Chai Bundt Cake, inspired by the chocolate bundt cake recipe in their book.

I love Chai and am always looking for ways to incorporate teas into my baking so I added Masala Chai black tea from Teapod, my favorite organic tea bar, in this cake. I think the spicy, savory, cardamom-y flavor carries really well with the chocolate. I hope you'll try making it and will enjoy sharing it! 

For the cake:
1 TB unsalted butter, softened, for the pan
1 1/4 cups plus 1 TB strong brewed Chai tea
3/4 cups best quality unsweetened cocoa powder (I use El Rey)
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup plus 2 TB canola oil
1 TB vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour (I use unbleached Spelt)

For the icing:
6 oz bittersweet chocolate (I use El Rey 70%)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temp
1/3 cup strong brewed Chai, cooled

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter the inside of a 10 cup Bundt pan with the 1TB softened butter.

2) Whisk the cocoa powder into the hot brewed tea to combine thoroughly. Let cool.

3) In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together the sugar, salt, baking soda, whole eggs, and egg yolk until combined. Add the milk, canola oil, vanilla, and mix again to combine. Add the flour and mix until well incorporated. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk again until all the ingredients are well mixed. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 60 minutes. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

4) Meanwhile, make the icing. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, heating in 20 second intervals and stirring between. Be very careful not to burn the chocolate. Just keep heating and stirring until all the chocolate is melted. Melt the butter in a separate bowl and whisk into the chocolate. Add half of the sifted powder sugar into the chocolate mixture, whisking to remove any remaining lumps, followed by the butter. Then add the rest of the powdered sugar, followed by the Chai. The icing should be thick and shiny. Pour the glaze over the bundt cake so you get those drippy fingers of icing in all of the creases. (You will probably have extra icing. Save it in the refrigerator for icing cupcakes or to fill cake layers. It's yum).

18 January 2010

Brown Basmati & Black Bean Rice Bowls

It's Wednesday and my week is in full swing. As usual I'm moving at full speed and juggling well, the many things that I juggle every day. So, today's posting will get right to the point.... Dinner! Tonight's dinner is an easy one but healthy, yummy, & comforting... Brown Basmati & Black Bean Rice Bowls. 

I'm jazzin' it up a bit by adding some homemade creme fraiche, sliced radishes, avocados and wilted chard, along with lots of savory spices. 

By the way, if you have never made creme fraiche, it's the simplest thing ever to do. There's no need to pay $6 at the market for a little tub of it. Just make your own... it tastes better too! Or, of course you can substitute sour cream in a pinch.

A quick note about the beans. So, for many folks beans do the cause the usual gas 'situation'. To avoid that I use Eden Brand beans and rinse, rinse, rinse before using. They're available at Whole Foods or most large natural foods stores. The difference is that they cook their beans with Kombu, a seaweed that really reduces the aforementioned 'situation'. Give 'em a whirl or make your own and add a piece of Kombu when cooking your dry beans.

Here's the 'How to':

For the Creme Fraiche:
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 TB buttermilk

1) Pour the cream into a bowl. Stir in the buttermilk to combine. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave in at room temperature in a warm, draft free spot (on top of the refrigerator, on the stovetop etc...) for about 24 hours until desired consistency is reached. How long this takes will depend on how warm your room is. Stir it every so often to check for consistency. Store it in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. 

For the Rice:
1 1/2 cups low sodium vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups long grain brown basmati rice
1/2 onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp cumin, ground
1/2 tsp chile powder
pinch salt

1) Saute the onion in 1 TB olive oil in the your saucepot until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, water, and rice. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, partially covered for 35 minutes, until most of the water has been absorbed. Set aside to steam another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in the spices.

For the Beans:
2, 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed (I use Eden Brand)
1, 15 oz can light coconut milk
1 can diced green chiles
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp cumin, ground

1) Saute the onion in 1 TB olive oil. Add the spices and toast until fragrant. Add the drained beans and green chiles and stir to combine. Add the salt & pepper. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer for @ 5 minutes until the coconut milk has reduced to a consistency of your liking.

For 'Les Accoutrements':
3 small radishes, thinly sliced
1 Haas avocado, sliced
1 bunch chard (I used 'Bright Lights'), washed and ribs trimmed, torn into bite size pieces
Creme Fraiche

1) Heat 1 TB olive oil in a saute pan. Add the freshly washed chard which should still have a bit of water on it, and a sprinkle of salt & pepper to the pan and toss with tongs to wilt the greens, about 3-5 minutes.

2) Spoon 1/2 cup rice into each bowl. Top with the black beans, creme fraiche, chard and other garnishes to your liking. Tuck in and Enjoy!

17 January 2010

Spicy Tomato & White Bean Soup w/ Smoked Cheddar & Apple Panini

I'm making this dinner tonight for two nights. I often do this during a busy work week. It's easy to do provided you plan ahead a little to make enough for two meals. I typically cook only 3-4 nights each week, making enough each time for two dinners. Since there is only two of us here, that's pretty easy to do. However, if you're feeding a crowd or hungry kids just double the recipes. They're all very flexible and easy to increase quantities as needed.

It's rainy and dreary out tonight so I think a hearty soup is in order. On 'Le Menu' is Spicy Tomato & White Bean Soup. I throw in some chopped, wilted chard at the very end to make sure I get my daily greens. You could easily omit that altogether or substitute with baby spinach. I'm not big on garlic so you won't often see it in my recipes. However, if you're one of those 'garlic people', by all means add it here with the onions and carrots.

A nice accompaniment to the soup are grilled cheese sandwiches. It rounds out the meal and they're easy to throw together just before serving. This week I'm using an olive baguette from my freezer with smoked cheddar and crisp sliced apples. However, use what you have and what you like. Ciabatta with pear and gruyere would be yumm as would fontina with artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and olive tapenade..... Use your imagination here.

For the Soup:
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1, 28 oz can crushed tomatoes ( I prefer San Marzano brand)
1, 15 oz can white beans, rinsed and drained (I prefer Eden brand navy beans)
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 bunch fresh Chard, stems & ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 TB + 1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp sugar
2 TB EVOO + more for serving
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup Lowfat sour cream
zest from 1/2 lemon

1) In a 5 qt dutch oven or other heavy soup pot, heat 2TB olive oil. Add onion and carrot, salt, pepper, sugar, rosemary, and red chili flakes and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add drained white beans and crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Pour in vegetable stock. Cover and simmer about 15-20 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, heat a stovetop griddle or a 10" nonstick skillet. Slice bread, about 1/2" thick. Brush both sides of the bread slices lightly with olive oil. Add sliced cheese and sliced apples. Top with remaining bread slices and add to hot pan. Once cheese begins to melt, press down hard with a spatula to compress sandwich. Cook until cheese begins to melt and bread is golden brown. Flip and repeat.

3) In a small bowl, combine sour cream, lemon zest, and remaining 1 tsp rosemary. Season with salt & pepper, set aside.

4) After soup has simmered for 15-20 minutes, carefully blend it with an immersion blender. Puree the soup but don't fuss about it, just leave it thick and somewhat chunky. You can also do this in a regular blender, just use caution when blending hot liquids and do not overfill the blender jar. After you've blended, stir in the chard. The heat from the soup will wilt the leaves or just put the lid on for a minute or two, which will also do the trick.

5) Ladle the soup into serving bowls, top with a dollop of the sour cream mixture and serve the panini alongside. A nice full bodied red wine and a winter salad of bitter chicories would be delish.

Smoked Salmon Salad with Roasted Winter Vegetables

Sunday is my favorite local Farmers Market and usually a day where I have some free time so my dinners are typically a little more composed than my usual weeknight meals. However, I must also make time for reading the NY times the whole way through, walking the dog I try to keep dinner pretty quick and easy but yet try to make it look a little fancy. Most importantly, I always try to feature the produce that I just purchased at the Farmer's Market, while it's still at its freshest.

Tonight's dinner will be Applewood Smoked Salmon with Chicory Salad & Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Caramelized Fennel, Parsnips, & Pears. Super easy and can be served family style on a pretty platter so it looks bountiful and appealing. I usually make this salad with Frisee but the Escarole & Raddichio looked so perfect today, I'm using that instead. I took some help from my local fishmonger at my Farmer's Market who makes the BEST hot smoked fish. Their crab cakes are divine too and would be a fine substitute.

Yields 4 generous servings:
1 1/4 # Hot Smoked Salmon
2 ripe but firm D'Anjou Pears
2 medium Fennel bulbs, fronds removed
2 Parsnips
3 medium, light flesh sweet potatoes
1 medium head Frisee (or Escarole/ Radicchio mix)
1TB Dijon mustard
zest and juice from 1 lemon
3-4 TB good Olive Oil
1 TB chopped fresh Rosemary

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel Sweet Potatoes and cut into coins, @ 1/2" thick. Season with salt & Pepper, 1tsp chopped rosemary, and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss to combine and spread out to an even layer on a foil lined half sheet pan. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until fork tender

2) Line another sheet pan with foil. Peel and quarter Parsnips & Pears. Trim, core and quarter fennel bulbs and toss vegetables with salt, pepper, olive oil, and remaining rosemary. Roast for 20-25 minutes until tender and caramelized in color.

3) Wrap salmon filet tightly to form a little package. Roast in the oven with the vegetables until heated through, approx 10-15 minutes.

4) Meanwhile, in a large bowl, make your vinaigrette. Zest and juice 1 lemon into the bowl. Add Dijon mustard, a sprinkling of salt & pepper, and Olive Oil and whisk to emulsify. Toss in the Frisee to coat. 

5) Arrange the lettuce into a little bed onto serving platter and place the sliced smoked salmon filet on top. Arrange the sweet potatoes, and the other vegetables around the sides of the platter. Serve with sliced crusty bread (always) topped with a bit of chevre and a good glass of wine.


Sunday is also a day where I often find myself in the kitchen, testing out those recipes I've been meaning to make but somehow have not found the time to do so. 

Today's new recipe was 'Kugelhopf' straight out of Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home To Yours, which is my 'go-to' book for so many things these days... LOVE her! She just has this way of instilling so much confidence in the baker. Anyhow, it came out perfect! and I think could eat the whole thing myself but I held back to just one piece, so far. 

In case you don't yet know what Kugelhopf is.... (but once you taste it you'll never forget it, it's truly that divine), it's a yeasted enriched bread similar to brioche from the Alsace area of France. It's baked in a special mold (but can be made in a Bundt pan if you don't have a Kugelhopf pan lyin' around) that resembles the shape of a turban, all spirally and pointy. It is very impressive looking! The bread itself is buttery and light, studded throughout with raisins, and just a little sweet. The final basting with melted butter and sprinkling of sugar makes it rather irresistable.

I definitely recommend planning ahead and making this one on your next lazy weekend!

For the bread:
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (from one packet)
1/3 cup luke warm milk (105 degrees)
1 2/3 cup flour (I use unbleached white Spelt)
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3 TB sugar
8 TB (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp

For the soak:
4 TB (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Superfine sugar, for sprinkling

To make the cake-

1) Heat a little water in a mircowave safe boil and add the raisins. Let soak for 2 minutes to plump them up and then drain them and pat dry.

2) Put the yeas and the milk in the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt and stir just to moisten the flour. Don't worry, the dough will be shaggy and not well mixed. 

3) In a small bowl, combine the whole eggs and egg yolk and whisk lightly with a fork. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and add the beaten eggs to the flour mixture, working on low speed until the eggs are combined. Add the sugar and increase the speed to medium-high and mix until the dough looks more homogenous, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the dough hook and sides of bowl at this stage. Reduce the mixer speed to medium, and add the butter, 1 TB at a time, and mixing between additions until each piece is almost entirely incorporated before adding the next.

4) When the butter is all in, the dough will be very soft. Increase the mixer speed to medium high and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to climb up the dough hook, about 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the raisins. 

5) Oil a clean bowl lightly and scrape the dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 90 minutes. Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and flip it over once in the bowl. Cover the bowl and refrigerate. Repeat this 'lift and slap' method 4 more times, every 30 minutes for 2 hours, or until the dough stops rising. Then, let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

6) After the dough has rested, generously spray your pan with nonstick spray, making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies. Place the chilled dough in the pan. Cover the pan with lightly oiled parchment and let the dough rise in a warm place again, until it comes almost up to the top of the mold, about 2-3 hours.

7) When the dough has almost fully risen, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Remove the paper and bake the Kugelhopf for 10 minutes. Cover the pan with a foil tent loosely and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the bread is golden brown and has risen to the top of the pan. 

8) Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with foil and place a cooling rack over top. Remove the Kugelhopf from the oven and invert it onto the rack

9) To soak the cake- Melt the butter in the microwave and gently brush the hot cake with it, all over, up and down the outside and the inside. Sprinkle the hot cake with the superfine sugar and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing.

Yumm, yumm, yummy, yummy, yumm! Enjoy!