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!

29 March 2010

Green Chile Cornbread

Our perfect spring weather has turned rainy and cold once again. I have decided to make the best of it and am starting this week's dinners off right with a cozy bean soup tonight and some yummy green chile cornbread.

I love making cornbread, it's just so simple and delicious. The flavor is rather neutral on its own, other than its inherent 'corny- ness', so it lends itself to a wide variety of mix-ins. Just change the flavor to suit your meal. I made it a couple of weeks ago with sundried tomatoes, basil, and fontina. Tonight I'm making it with green chiles and shredded jack to suit my mexican inspired dinner. Every which way you can dream up would be equally delicious. Do let me know what flavor combinations you come up with!

Green Chile Cornbread:
Yields 1, 9x9x2 square pan

1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup cornmeal (use medium grind here, not corn flour but not polenta)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 TB baking powder
2 TB sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil (canola or rice bran oil preferred)
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
3 TB unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen and not defrosted)
1, 2.25 oz can diced mild green chiles, drained

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the baking pan and line with parchment.

2) In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, oil, buttermilk, and milk. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Drizzle in the melted butter and fold gently to combine. Stir in the cheese, green chiles, and corn. Combine all the ingredients thoroughly but take care not to overmix.

3) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread out to level surface. Bake until golden brown around the edges, 25-30 minutes. Serve warm.

24 March 2010

Broccoli & Cheddar Quiche

I make Quiche often and in so many variations. I find it an excellent and elegant way to use up all the bits of vegetables and cheeses and the couple of eggs left in the fridge at the end of the week. I always seem to have scraps of frozen dough in my freezer as well so I can usually pull this together in very short order.

However, if you're not a baker like me and don't have a freezer full of dough scraps, you can always use a frozen pie crust or even a piece of frozen puff pastry for your crust. This week's quiche features broccoli and cheddar but it could just as easily be any other vegetable (or meat) that you prefer. Just substitute based on your taste in the same quantity as listed below.

You can also vary the texture of the custard by adding more or less milk. Sometimes I don't want a particularly 'custardy' quiche so I cut the milk way back or add the eggs without any milk at all. Doing so makes the quiche more like a fritatta, with a crust. You can however add up to 3/4 cup of milk or cream to the 3 eggs listed here, or any amount in between. The more milk you add, the softer and richer the filling will be.

For the Quiche:
Yields 1, 9" x 1" tart

10 oz Pate Brisee (recipe & instructions here)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced, about 1 cup
2 medium heads broccoli, florets only, about 1.5 cups
1 medium beefsteak tomato, sliced into 5 rounds
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
3 large eggs
1/4- 3/4 cup whole milk or heavy cream
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Heat 1 TB olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the broccoli, herbes de provence, red chili flakes, salt & pepper and continue cooking until the broccoli is bright green and just tender. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2) Remove the crust from the refrigerator and line the bottom with parchment. Place a sheet of foil over the parchment and press both tightly into the bottom and sides of the tart pan. Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes until just parbaked. Remove the foil and parchment and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

3) In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the milk or cream. Season with salt & pepper, set aside.

4) Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with half of the cheese. Add the cooked vegetables and spread out evenly across the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Pour the custard mixture over the veggies and cheese. Lay the tomato slices on top and nestle them down into the custard, just a bit.

5) Bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes until the custard is set and the quiche is golden brown. Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing. Serve just warm or at room temperature.

22 March 2010

Rhubarb & Strawberry Buckle

This recipe is straight from the pages of Gourmet magazine from several years back. I've made it a million times and my copy, torn from the original issue, is water stained and well used. Gourmet refers to this as a 'Pudding Cake' but I call it a 'Buckle'. The terms are really interchangeable I suppose, referring to any spoonable dessert featuring a pancake like batter spread over fruit. I think of it as a 'buckle' since the fruit sort of pushes up through the batter (buckling it, so to speak) as the cake cooks.

These types of simple, old-fashioned desserts are my absolute favorite. Buckles, crisps, cobblers, bettys... I love them all! They embody my idea of 'elegantly organic' food, featuring simple flavors and seasonal produce. They're incredibly beautiful in a very homey and casual way.

Adapt this recipe to any fruit that's in season. My husband loves anything strawberry-rhubarb, and since the first of season rhubarb made its debut at my Market this weekend, this combo was an easy choice. The harder tree fruits (quince, apples, pears....) should be stewed in this method first. The softer fruits (stone fruits, mangoes, berries...) can be added in fresh, just tossed in a little lemon juice, cornstarch, and sugar before baking.

To make the Buckle:
Yields 6 servings

1/4 cup water
1.5 tsp cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups (about 10 oz) fresh rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1" pieces
1 cup (about 6 oz) fresh strawberries, chopped into 1" pieces
1 cup millet
1/75 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp vanilla

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8" square baking dish.

2) Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in the rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Once simmering, stir occassionally until fruit just softens, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the strawberries.

3) Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining sugar in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together milk, melted butter, egg, and vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture until just combined.

4) Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture and spread the rest of the fruit mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Pour the batter over it, spreading evenly across the top. Drizzle the reserved fruit over the top of the batter.

5) Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the cake is golden brown fruit is bubbly, and a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

* Serve warm with creme fraiche or ice cream. Last week's recipe for Vanilla Honey Lavender ice cream would be divine. Enjoy!

21 March 2010

Grilled Zucchini with Oregano

To me, zucchini represents the abundance of summer, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. It's also one of the reasons why I like to eat it during spring. I'm so anxious for summer to arrive with the warm weather and leisurely evenings of eating outdoors, that I just can't wait. Lucky for me that I can find good organic zucchini all year round in my market.

Let's be honest though, zucchini doesn't have much distinct flavor on its own. That actually can be a good thing as it lets the other flavors its paired with take center stage. This also makes it an incredibly versatile vegetable. It's liked by most everyone and there are a zillion yummy ways to prepare it.

I'm sharing one recipe here that's a simple side dish for almost anything. Grilling enhances the natural flavor and pleasant texture of the zucchini itself. It also pairs very well with oregano and this is a nice way to use all those fresh, green stalks of oregano emerging in my garden now.

Grilled Zucchini with Oregano & Feta:
Yields 4 servings

3 medium zucchini, about 1 #
2 TB fresh oregano, roughly chopped
2 oz Feta cheese, crumbled (French sheep's milk Feta preferred)
2 TB pine nuts, toasted
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Preheat a gas grill to 450 degrees. Slice the zucchini on the bias into about 1" thick x 3" long pieces. Sprinkle them with salt & pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Toss the zucchini around in the salt, pepper, and oil to coat well.

2) Place the zucchini on the grill and cook on one side, about 2-3 minutes, until well seared and they lift off the grill easily, without sticking. Flip them over and cook on the other side, about 2 minutes more until grill marks are present and they are cooked through but still a bit crisp.

3)Arrange them on a serving platter and sprinkle with the fresh oregano. Crumble the feta over top, sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and drizzle with a touch more olive oil and a bit of salt & pepper. Enjoy!

18 March 2010

Grilled Fish Tacos

We finally brought out the grill last night which I guess means that it's officially springtime. The weather certainly is cooperating. It's one of those beautiful clear & warm, yet crisp days outside where everything feels alive. That also means, by my estimation, that it's a perfect night for fish tacos!

I know I say that a lot of things are my 'favorite' but honestly, this is really really one of my very favorite things ever to eat. I could probably eat grilled fish tacos every night and never tire. It must be the Californian in me. I just can't go for too long without them. Oh yes, and a proper margarita to wash it all down is very important as well.

A firm white flesh fish is the best here as it holds up well both on the grill and in the tortilla. I found some lovely Ono yesterday, line caught off the San Diego coast. Other fishes like Halibut, Mahi Mahi or Opah would be equally good here. I like my tacos very simply garnished with lettuce, radishes, cilantro, avocado, and a bit of sour cream. In the summer I make a spicy and sweet stone fruit salsa with nectarines and plums, but I'm getting ahead of myself....

I'm including the recipe below for the version I'm making tonight but as always, use the technique as an inspiration for what looks best at your market and the flavors you favor.

Grilled Fish Tacos- Spring:
Yields 4 generous servings:

1 # white fleshed fish fillet (I used Ono)
8 corn tortillas
4 TB lowfat sour cream
4 radishes, very thinly sliced
8 leaves red butter lettuce
1 Haas avocado
10 springs Cilantro
1 TB Olive Oil
Sea Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Preheat the grill to 450 degrees. Brush the fish fillets with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt & pepper. Place them on the grill, turning twice during cooking. Cook about 10-12 minutes until just cooked through yet still tender and flaky.

2) Meanwhile, slice the radishes and the avocado, and remove the leaves from the Cilantro stems. Heat the tortillas, either on the stove top or in the microwave.

3) When the fish is cooked, lay one lettuce leaf on each tortilla, place a few slices of grilled fish on top. Garnish with radishes, avocado, and sour cream. Enjoy!

17 March 2010

Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day! In tribute I thought I'd share a recipe today for Irish Soda Bread.

I'm not so sure this is even remotely Irish, aside from the fact that it's leavened by baking soda, like the traditional version. After all the additions I made I think it probably more closely resembles Pannetone. What I do know is that it's slightly sweet, perfumed by orange and vanilla, studded throughout with raisins, and is completely delicious.

As is typical with many celebration breads, this recipe makes one gigantic loaf. It's so yummy though I don't think you'll have much trouble finishing it off. It also freezes well and keeps for up to a week on your counter, wrapped tightly in plastic.

I'd welcome your ideas for what Pannetone meets Irish Soda Bread might be called. Maybe Pannesoda bread?

For the bread:
Yields 1, 12" round loaf

4 TB unsalted butter, melted
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading (I used 2 cup brown rice, 1 cup quinoa, 1 cup blanched almond meal)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 TB fennel seeds
1/2 tsp 5 Spice Powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds removed
1 1/2 cups milk
2 large eggs
zest of 1 orange

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment, set aside.

2) In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, raisins, fennel seeds, baking soda, salt, xanthan and baking powder. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, eggs, 3 TB butter, orange zest, and vanilla seeds. Stir the wet mixture into the dry ingredients to form a dough. The dough will be wet and sticky.

3) On a well floured board, knead the dough until smooth, about 4 minutes. Add more flour as needed to prevent sticking. Form the dough into a 9" round and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the loaf with remaining 1 TB butter and using a sharp knife, score a 'X' in the top of the loaf.

4) Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and the bread is golden brown, about 45-55 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

16 March 2010

Vanilla Honey Lavender Ice Cream

Last night's crostata was just begging for ice cream to serve alongside. So, I drove out to my favorite ice cream shop and found, as per usual, a line out the door and halfway down the block. I didn't feel like waiting so I decided I'd just make my own version of their signature flavor which is my absolute favorite. I think ice cream is perfect anytime but especially with yesterday's strawberry crostata.

The Lavender here is definitely a prominent flavor but not at all overpowering and it marries so perfectly with the floral notes of the honey. If you haven't yet made ice cream at home, you should plan to make it this season. It's so easy! You do need a couple of special tools but they're inexpensive and easy to find at most any kitchen store.

First, you'll need an ice cream maker. There are many versions out there from very simple and inexpensive to much more elaborate. Just a small batch freezer is fine here. You will also need a fine mesh strainer, ideally a chinois , for straining the custard. The conical shape of the chinois just makes the straining easier, but any fine mesh version will work. You will also need dried lavender blossoms. There are many sources online for dried lavender but I've found those from Lavender Bee Farm to be very fresh and to have a pleasantly pronounced flavor. Do seek out these items and plan ahead for a really fantastic treat!

For the ice cream:
Yields 1 quart

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup wildflower honey
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds removed
1 TB dried lavender blossoms
1/8 tsp sea salt

1) In a small saucepan, heat the milk, cream, sugar, and honey to just boiling. Watch the pot carefully so it doesn't boil up and over. Add the lavender blossoms, the vanilla bean and seeds, and the salt, and whisk together to combine. Place a lid on the pot and set it aside, off the heat, for 10-15 minutes to infuse the flavors.

2) Meanwhile, separate the eggs and whisk the yolks together to combine.

3) After the milk/lavender mixture has infused, place it back on the heat and return it to just simmering. Very carefully temper the hot milk into the egg yolks, whisking the yolks constantly, until 3/4 of the milk mixture is combined with the eggs. Return the egg/ milk mixture to the pot and turn the heat to low, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 180 degrees F and coats the back of a spoon.

4) While the custard is cooking, place a smaller bowl inside a larger bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes. Have your strainer ready. Once the custard is cooked, pour it through the strainer and into the smaller bowl (which is sitting over the ice bath). Once the custard is in, stir the mixture over the ice bath constantly to cool.

5) When the custard is well chilled, place it in your ice cream freezer and process according to manufacturers instructions. Take it out of the machine and place it in the freezer until desired consistency is reached.

*Serve alongside the strawberry crostata or with fresh berries and caramel sauce.

15 March 2010

Strawberry Crostata

I was so excited to see the first local, organic strawberries at the farmers market yesterday. Apparently I was not the only one, judging by the length of the line to buy them. They were worth the wait though....beautiful red, juicy and delicious and certainly are inspiring thoughts of springtime meals and menus in my kitchen.

I had some frozen pastry scraps lying around today and not wanting them to go to waste I opened the fridge for inspiration. I immediately saw those lovely berries and some creme fraiche sitting nearby and thought.... crostata! So, that's today's recipe which is really more of a technique than a recipe and can easily be adapted to whatever ingredients you have on hand.

A crostata is essentially just a rustic Italian tart. The sweet versions usually feature some kind of fresh fruit that has been very simply prepared. The dough is rolled out to an irregular shape, the fruit arranged in the center, and the sides folded in. Sometimes a filling, in this case creme fraiche, but could just as easily be preserves or marmalade, are spread over the bottom of the crust with the fruit placed on top. They're super easy and not at all fussy, since by definition a crostata's appearance is intended to be rustic.

Use whatever bits of dough and fruits or fillings you have about. This could just as easily be made with any kind of pastry dough scraps or even a frozen pie crust. I can think of so many combinations. Poached rhubarb with lemon marmalade and mascarpone would be pretty fantastic. Or, maybe dried apricots with toasted almonds and ricotta. I can think of a zillion ways to deliciousness here. Enjoy!

For the Crostata:
Yields 1, 9" tart

2 TB creme fraiche
6-8 large strawberries, thinly sliced
1 tsp honey
1 tsp cream for brushing outside of crust

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a well floured board, roll out the pastry to about 1/8" thickness. Place onto a parchment lined baking sheet and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake.

2) To prepare the crostata, spread the 2 TB creme fraiche over the bottom of the pastry, leaving about 1 1/2" border on all sides. Lay the strawberries on top, still maintaining the border of dough. Drizzle the filling with the 1 tsp honey.

3) Working quickly, to maintain the coldness of the pastry, fold the sides over onto the edge of the filling, in a rustic fashion, overlapping a bit as you go. Once the sides are folded in, brush the edges with a bit of cream to help with browning in the oven.

4) Bake at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, until the berries are bubbling and the crust is golden brown. Serve at room temperature.

10 March 2010

Early Spring Panzanella

When I decided to make this salad, I had in mind to use just fennel and celery in a light citrus dressing. But while slicing veggies and munching on a baguette, I thought maybe it would be yummy to toast some of that up and add it to the salad, making a panzanella of sorts. So, in went the bread pieces along with a few other yummies and this dish was the result.

It's now far and away my favorite salad and I've made it every night so far this week. Any leftovers make for a terrific lunch too. The bread makes it substantial enough while still being light.

I'm a big fan of celery. Most people think of it as nothing more than those fibrous stalks on a crudite platter or a vehicle for peanut butter. Not so! The innermost heart of the celery bunch is incredibly flavorful and super tender and the little green leaves at the top of the bunch pack the most flavor of all. Look for celery with the full leaves in tact or buy a bunch with as many as you can find. Sometimes in the summer you'll find 'cutting celery' at the farmers market which is not celery at all but an herb with intense celery flavor whose appearance resembles parsley. That would be delicious here but it's a little early in the season for that, at least in my neck of the woods.

Make this salad tonight and let me know how you enjoy it. I think this might also become one of your new favorites!

For the salad:
Yields about 4 cups

1 medium head fennel, cored, about 2 TB fronds reserved, diced into 1 1/2" pieces
5 stalks celery hearts, plus 2 TB leaves reserved, diced into 1 1/2" pieces
zest of 1/2 orange
flesh of 1 medium orange, cut into 1 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup diced fresh mozzarella
4 radishes, very thinly sliced
1/3 french baguette, toasted and sliced into 1 1/2" pieces
1 TB fresh italian parsley, finely chopped
3 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 TB fresh lemon juice
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Slice the baguette and brush each piece with 1 TB olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Toast on the baking sheet for about 8 minutes until lightly golden. Set aside to cool before slicing into 1 1/2" pieces.

2) In a large bowl, combine the orange zest, lemon juice, and 2 TB olive oil with a bit of salt & pepper. Whisk to emulsify. Add the sliced celery & leaves, sliced fennel & fronds, radishes & parsley and toss in the dressing to coat the mixture well. Add the toasted bread, the mozzarella and the orange segments and toss gently to combine all together. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Enjoy!

08 March 2010

Risotto with Asparagus, Peas & Mint

It's so true the old saying that those which 'grow together, go together'. Asparagus, Peas & Mint are a perfect illustration of that point. Tonight's dinner uses all three of those tasty items in an early spring risotto which is so fresh and so easy.

Some think risotto is difficult or fussy or takes too long. Not true! It takes about 25 minutes start to finish, which is a pretty fast dinner by my estimation. Yes, it does take a bit of stirring, but I do that while prepping the other ingredients, making the salad and setting the table. It needs stirring every couple of minutes, not nonstop for the entire time.

If you really just don't want to do the stirring, you can actually bake the entire dish at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Just add stock three times at 15 minute intervals, stirring after each addition. The risotto will be ready in about 45 minutes. I think it tastes better when made in the traditional method on the stovetop though, and it's faster. So that's how I'm suggesting you prepare it as well. The point is, it's easy and delicious .... do give it a try.

Risotto with Asparagus, Peas & Mint:
Yields about 8 cups

2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1.5 cups Arborio rice
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
3 cups water
1 cup dry white wine
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and stalks peeled, cut into 2" pieces
1 cup shelled fresh peas (or frozen, not defrosted)
1/4 cup fresh mint, thinly sliced
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 TB unsalted butter
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) In a medium saucepan, heat the vegetable stock and water to a gentle simmer. Keep the stock warm while making the risotto.

2) In a 5 quart stockpot or dutch oven, heat the 3 TB olive oil. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and saute until fragrant and very slightly toasted, another 2 minutes more. Add the white wine and stir constantly until evaporated. Add the first addition of hot stock, about 1 cup. Keep the risotto just simmering and stir every minute or so until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes.

3) Continue adding stock, in 1/2- 1 cup additions, every 3-5 minutes or so and stirring often. Keep the heat high enough where the rice is simmering but low enough where it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Continue the stock additions and stirring regime for about 18-20 minutes while prepping the other ingredients.

4) While the risotto is cooking, blanch the asparagus and the peas, if using fresh. (If you're using frozen peas, no need to do anything here.) Drop them both into the simmering stock for about 30 seconds- 1 minute, until they're bright green and just barely tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove them from the stock and place them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Set aside until you're ready to use.

5) When the rice is almost ready but still just undercooked, add in the asparagus & peas, along with your last addition of stock. Finish cooking until the rice is pleasantly 'al dente' and tender, another 3-5 minutes or so. When the rice is cooked, add in the mint, lemon zest, butter, and parmesan cheese. Season with salt & pepper to taste and serve.

07 March 2010

Omelettes with Fiddlehead Ferns & Chanterelles

Fiddlehead ferns are one of my most treasured finds in early spring. They're mostly gathered in the northwest and north midwest regions of the country but for a week or two each season they appear at my local farmers market. They're expensive here but they're wonderful and a special treat. I try to use them in a dish to feature their delicate flavor which can easily get lost when served with something more robust. They go especially well with wild mushrooms of all sorts. Tonight I'm using chanterelles as they looked so beautiful I just couldn't resist and I thought they would be divine together in a simple omelette ala 'Julia'.

I found myself watching PBS one afternoon last week as they were airing old episodes of 'The French Chef' with Julia Child from the 1980's. The episode I saw was all about omelettes and was complete with Julia tossing pans and ingredients willy-nilly over her shoulder and onto the floor, in true Julia fashion. I love that they filmed these shows in one take, bloopers and all, which makes for many hysterical moments. The episode also demonstrated in great detail how to perfectly flip the omelettes, how to prepare omelettes in your dining room for an impromptu dinner party for 300 guests, amidst other antics and lots of solid instructions. I'm attaching the link if you'd like to watch a clip of the episode. It was wonderful and hysterical and reminded me of watching her show when I was a child.

Since tonight is Oscar night I also thought this a fitting tribute to the woman who inspired the Julie & Julia film, deservingly nominated for several awards. She was truly a gem and undeniably an inspiration to all the cooks that have come after her. Bon Appetit!

Walnut Dacquoise Cake

I was originally inspired to make this cake by Marie-Claire Frederic, french food writer and cookbook author extraordinaire. She also writes Du Miel et Du Sel, a wonderful food blog that I read often. The blog is entirely in French and since my language skills are somewhat remedial I usually struggle through most of it. However, I can generally understand the recipes and instructions and what I do retain is always a source of inspiration.

I call this cake a Dacquoise since it's basically a nut based meringue cake although that might be considered a stretch by some. The term Dacquoise traditionally refers to a multi layer nut meringue cake with buttercream or whipped cream filling. Either way, although the name might sound fancy, this cake truly couldn't be simpler. Basically, it's just a flourless meringue cake packed full of walnuts. I've made it many times, trying to perfect the recipe, and determined to make it flourless. Everyone seems to have enjoyed the original and the incarnations along the way.

Since the cake does have so many nuts, it can be difficult to slice in tidy horizontal layers if you plan to fill it with icing. I'd suggest using the same quantity of batter and just dividing it between two cake pans to make shorter layers. I think the layers benefit from a good soaking with simple syrup before icing. A rum syrup here would be perfect.

Mostly I make this cake and serve it unfilled, simply dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with caramel sauce over top. It's pretty hard to go wrong any way you decide to serve it. It's just yummy. Happy Baking!

For the Cake:
Yields 1, 8"x 2" cake

200g toasted walnuts, chopped coarsely
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g light brown sugar
25g white sugar
nonstick spray for pan

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8"x 2" cake pan with nonstick spray. In a small bowl, mix the chopped walnuts, almond flour, baking powder, and salt.

2) In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks with the vanilla and brown sugar until they increase in volume and have a pale, mousse-like consistency, about 5 minutes.

3) Using a spatula, fold in the nut mixture by hand, until well incorporated, using as few strokes as possible.

4) In another bowl of the stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until just foamy. Add the white sugar, in a slow steady stream, until soft peaks form. Carefully fold the beaten egg whites into the nut mixture, in 3 additions, taking care not to deflate the whites.

5) Bake for 35-40 minutes until cake is golden brown and just set in the middle. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then unmold onto a rack, using a knife to loosen the edge if needed. Keep at room temperature until completely cooled before filling or serving.

02 March 2010

Wild Rice Salad with Citrus & Herbs

Wild Rice has a nutty, earthy flavor that I love. I think it makes a great side dish for just about everything. Tonight I'm serving it alongside little phyllo parcels filled with spinach and feta.

A Wild Rice salad can be a jumping off point for whatever flavors are in season. In the fall I add dried cranberries and hazelnuts and serve it alongside roasted squash. In the winter it's great mixed with wilted kale, walnuts, and tahini dressing. Since spring is well upon us and the citrus and herbs and just lovely now, I thought I'd feature them in this version.

Tonight's salad uses fresh parsley, oregano, and mint from my garden. It also has salt preserved lemons, Cara Cara oranges, and pine nuts. I've blended the wild rice with some brown rice to add another texture and flavor component. As much as I enjoy the distinct flavor of Wild Rice, I generally prefer it mixed with a little brown Basmati. It mellows out the flavor just enough where I find it combines with a wider variety of ingredients.

This recipe makes quite a lot of salad. I plan to eat it all week with my various evening meals and take it along for lunches as well. It's a great picnic salad too if the sun is shining this weekend and perhaps a picnic is on your agenda.

For the salad:
Yields 8 cups

1 cup Wild Rice, rinsed well
1/2 cup brown Basmati rice, rinsed well
2 cups low sodium vegetable stock
2 cups water
1 whole preserved lemon, finely chopped
2 Cara Cara oranges, zested and segmented
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 TB fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 TB Dijon mustard
1 TB white wine vinegar
2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Add the water, stock, and both rices to a large saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle and simmer and cook about 45 minutes, until both rices are tender.

2) Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, add the orange zest, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt & pepper. Segment the oranges and chop the preserved lemon and set both aside. Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet and set aside.

3) When the rice has cooled, add it to the serving bowl and toss with the dressing. Add the pine nuts and both citrus fruits, as well as the herbs and the scallions. Gently toss the whole dish to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*I think this salad tastes best when served chilled, so make it ahead and serve it anytime.

01 March 2010

Herb Crusted Halibut, Celery Root Puree, Braised Leeks

This is a nice meal, perfect for a weekend dinner or for guests. It's pretty and fresh, and features many of the best flavors of the season, which in this case is early spring. This is a great dinner to make when you have a bit more time. Although it comes together quickly, all the elements cook in about the same amount of time so it does require some organization to make sure everything is ready to plate while it's still warm.

Celery root puree is one my favorite things. It has such intense flavor and creaminess yet is much lighter than potatoes. I cook the celery root in milk with a tablespoon of white rice to thicken and 'starch up' the puree, just a tiny bit. The rice and the celery root cook together and when you puree it in the food processor it adds just enough substance for a silky, creamy mouthfeel. I use the same method with other root veggie purees where I don't want to use potatoes.

Braising leeks is one of the best ways to create tenderness while bringing out their delicate flavor. The good news is that it's a super healthy way to cook them too and it couldn't be easier. Using just one tablespoon of butter and a little water and cooking together until the leeks are tender creates a silky sauce. If you haven't cooked leeks this way, I think it will soon become one of your favorite methods.

I found the loveliest line caught Halibut today, from the San Diego coast. To preserve it's delicate flavor and texture, I like to broil it. Not only does it make for a very fast prep but it allows you to cook the fish with very little oil. Using the bread crumb/ herb crust keeps the top of the fish moist and protects it from drying out under the intense heat of the broiler. Just make sure that you start with a fairly thin piece of halibut, a piece from the tail section is preferable for this cooking method so it cooks through entirely without overcooking on top.

To make the components:
Yields 4 servings

For the Celery Root Puree-
3 medium celery roots, trimmed and cleaned, cut into medium dice
1 TB white rice
1 1/2 cups lowfat milk (1%)
1 garlic clove, smashed
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 TB unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) Add all the ingredients, except for the butter, to a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until celery root is tender and rice is cooked through, about 18-20 minutes. Remove the garlic clove and transfer the remaining ingredients to a food processor. Add the butter and pulse to make a smooth puree. Serve warm.

For the Braised Leeks-
3 medium leeks, washed and halved lengthwise, then cut into 2 " pieces
1 TB unsalted butter
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
3/4 cup water
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) In a medium saute pan, melt the butter. Add the leeks, the thyme, and the salt & pepper. Stir to combine. Add the water, cover the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, still covered, until leeks are tender, about 15 minutes.

For the Halibut-
1 1/2 pounds fresh Halibut fillet, 1/2"-3/4" thick, portioned into 4 pieces
1 TB fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh chervil, finely chopped
1 TB fresh chives, finely chopped
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 TB Dijon mustard
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1 TB olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Preheat the oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with foil. Set the halibut fillets on top, and set aside.

2) To make the herb 'crust'. In a small bowl, combine the Panko breadcrumbs, the chopped herbs, and a bit of salt & pepper. Add the Dijon mustard, the lemon juice, and the olive oil, and stir to combine. The mixture will resemble a thick paste.

3) Season the fish with salt & pepper. Spread 1-2 TB of the herb & breadcrumb mixture on top, to form a 'crust'. Drizzle with a tiny bit more olive oil.

4) Place the fish under the broiler until just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Keep a close eye on them while they cook to make sure the breadcrumbs don't brown too quickly. You can always move them down to a lower rack or lightly cover them with foil if the breadcrumbs are browning too quickly, before the fish is cooked through.

To plate the dish:
1) Spoon a bit of the celery root puree into the center of the plate. Top with a halibut fillet. Garnish on the side with the leeks and drizzle a little of the liquid from the leeks around the place. Add a few herbs for color and a lemon segment for drizzling. Enjoy!