Friday, November 9, 2012

Fig, Pear and Frangipane Tart

Cooking and baking are about learning techniques and understanding flavor profiles. The idea of flavor profiles can be broken down into two parts: what tastes good together (for example, seafood and lemon or tomatoes and basil) and learning what's in season and therefore tastes good right now. The more you experiement in the kitchen, try new things at restaurants, visit your local farmer's market, watch your favorite cooking shows and read cooking/food blogs, the more knowledge you accumulate. The goal is to start using all this knowledge and start cooking intuitively. If you've made a stew, roasted a chicken or put together a vinaigrette a few times, you start to rely on your knowledge and depend less on recipes. If you know what's in season, you learn to adapt recipes to ingredients that will taste the best right now.

Fig season is technically over, but they are still all over markets here and perfectly ripe. (I think the warm October we experienced in Southern California has something to do with it.) Autumn pears are starting to come in as well. Pears, figs and nuts go well together. Especially in a tart. What I love about this combo is that it's both elegant and comforting. I've served this at formal parties and causal get togethers.

I wanted to make an autumn dessert using these ingredients so I adapted my summer tart recipe Berry Frangipane Tart by simply changing the fruit and baking the tart with the fruit, instead of keeping it raw. If you learn the technique in making a tart, you can adapt it to any season and any occasion.

I've made a few of these over the last couple weeks and you can see some of my different fruit arrangements (and iphone photo editing experiments.) There's no wrong way to make a tart, unless you make it upside down - and then it's just called a cobbler. The basic technique is par baking a tart shell (half baking it so the bottom doesn't get soggy when you add the almond cream) and then spreading it with a layer of frangipane and fruit and baking it together. If you're worried about rolling out the dough, just double the recipe and you have plenty of room for error and can peice together broken scraps with your fingers. I totally do this. Before the second and longer baking, I usually sprinkle the top with raw or turbinado sugar to give it a golden color and a little crunch. The frangipan firms up around the fruit creating a custardy bed holding everything together.

Other seasonal items that would be great in a tart right now are apples, persimmon, nuts, chocolate, pumpkins, squash, dates, even grapes. I made a delicious grape tart recently, unfortunately I forgot to take photos. I just picked a bunch of big seedless red grapes of the stem, washed and dried them, and piled them on the frangipane cream, baking everything for about 45 minutes. Served with a glass of port and Stilton and you have another winning food pairing. All these tarts will vary on baking time. After 30 minutes, check periodically. You want the fruit tender, and starting to brown, but you don't want the crust to burn. It's not complicated - trust your instinct.

I served the tart in the first photo with vanilla ice cream, a brush of dark chocolate sauce and a few drops of reduced balsamic vinegar, another great pairing with figs and pears....

Before the second baking...

Getting ready to plate for a dinner party...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Plumterine Cake

I have been sampling a lot of plums, pluots, peaches and nectarines at the farmer's markets lately. People say don't go to the market hungry. Those people clearly don't shop at farmer's markets. In fact, there are different rules there. Go hungry, eat standing up, forget about washing everything before you eat it and let juices drip all over your arms and t-shirt. It's all good.

Some current favorites: Italian prunes, which are deep purple with a yellow interior are juicy and sweet. I've had great white and gold nectarines. Pluots, which are plum/apricot hybrids with stronger plum than apricot characteristics, and can be pale green, yellow, orange, berry-hued and speckled have me particularly obsessed right now. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia describing different varieties of pluots that would make the driest of dry mouths in the Sahara desert start to water:

-Dapple Dandy: large size with mottled pale green to yellow, red-spotted skin, red or pink juicy flesh, firm flesh, moderately late ripening
-Early Dapple: good flavor, medium-sized, mottled green over red skin with pink flesh, early ripening
-Flavor Finale: medium to large size, purple-red skin with amber-red flesh, exceptional complex flavor, late ripening
-Flavor King: Fruit punch flavor, medium size, with burgundy skin and red super sweet juicy flesh, moderately late ripening, flesh is hard until fully ripe
-Flavor Royal: very sweet, medium-sized, dark purple with crimson flesh, very early ripening
-Geo Pride: medium size, red-skin and yellow flesh, balanced acid-sugar, predominately sweet with unique plum/apricot flavor, moderately late ripening
-Raspberry Jewel: medium, dark red skin, brilliant red, honey-sweet flesh

Pluots are in most grocery stores right now, but if you can make it to a farmer's market you'll have a lot more fun sampling different local varieties. Talking to the growers about their favorites can also be really interesting. Make friends. And seriously, go hungry. Just don't go hungry to Costco. The "samples" in those paper cups will rot you from the inside out. Get your toilet paper/booze/contact lenses and get out.

This recipe is adapted from a 2009 Gourmet Magazine recipe by Maggie Ruggiero, called Nectarine Golden Cake
and can be made with any stone fruit (nectarines, peaches, plums, pluots and cherries.) It's insanely easy if you have a standing mixer. I made one the other morning - it went from idea to cooling on the kitchen counter in under an hour and was a great day time/coffee cake. I made another last night for dessert that was great warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I used only pluots for the first and made the second with pluots, golden nectarines and Italian prunes (these are fresh, not dried - you can see them in the photos, they're the dark purple fruits.) I liked both, but the second had a little more nuance and visual appeal.

I thought of different names for this cake. Necterplum Cake, Pluoterine Cake, Stone Fruit Cake, Stone Cold Foxy Cake (I know, tangents again.) It really doesn't matter what you call it, as long as you make it and eat it.

Plumterine/Stone Cold Foxy Lady Cake

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 c all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
roughly four stone fruits, cut into 1/2" wedges, skin on
nutmeg (optional)
1/4 c turbinado or other coarse sugar

Butter an 8 or 9 inch cake pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the standing mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated. Mix in lemon zest, vanilla, almond extract and salt. At a lower speed, mix flour and baking powder in to batter until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and then press fruit wedges in to batter in a fan pattern, fairly close together. You can be as neat or messy as you want. No one is looking, but if it's pretty go show someone. Squish them in - you want the cake to be full of fruit. See the picture. Grate some fresh nutmeg on top if you have it and sprinkle the turbinado sugar evenly over everything.
Bake 45-50 minutes until golden and starting to pull away from the pan slightly at the edges. It should spring back when lightly touched. Let it cool in the pan at least ten minutes before removing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

chilled cucumber, mint and avocado soup

If you're trying to eat "clean" this soup is about as clean as it gets. Cucumber, avocado, mint, lemon, a little red onion, lemon juice, water and Greek yogurt. It's cool, sophisticated, straight forward and makes you feel good about yourself. Everything you want in a friend, but in a soup.

Chilled Cucumber Mint Avocado Soup

I used seedless Persian cucumbers, which are small and tender, but you can use any kind. If they're large, cut them down the center after peeling and use a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds.

2 lbs cucumber, peeled and chopped in to 2" sections
1 ripe avoacdo, flesh only
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 jalepeño, seeded and deveined, coarsely chopped
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and minced
8 mint leaves
juice of 2 lemons
1.5 c plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
1 c water

Place all ingredients in a food processor, Vita-mix or blender. Blend for 2 minutes or until very smooth. You may need to add more water to get the consistency you want, but go slowly, you don't want a watery soup. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if it needs it. Chill in the fridge for a couple hours or overnight. Serve cold, finished with cracked pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves about 6

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Corn Chowder

Summer travels have brought me to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Everyone calls Wisconsin the cheese state, but as much as I love cheese, I am all about the corn. My days here have been filled with 4th of July celebrations, bright blue skies, summer meals, brat tastings (sausages, not unwieldy children,) driving through corn fields searching out produce stands and swimming in the lake.

This is a quick and easy soup that tastes like summer. I garnish it with bacon, chives and some fresh lime, but you could always add some cheese....


Summer Corn Chowder

6 ears of corn
2 Tbs unsalted butter or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large leek, white and light green parts, chopped and well rinsed
2 stalks celery, cleaned and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large bell pepper (red or yellow,) seeded and chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" peices
2 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1-2 c cream (depending on your taste)
1 bunch of scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
1/4 c roughly chopped parsley

to garnish:
bacon, crumbled
chives, finely chopped
olive oil
lime wedges

Shuck the corn and use a knife to slice the kernels off the cobs.

In a large pot sautée the onion, garlic, leeks and celery in the butter or olive oil. Add a heavy pinch of kosher salt and let it cook for about 5 minutes until soft, being careful not to let it brown. Add the carrot, bell pepper, potatoes, stock and thyme. Cover and bring to a low simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are almost tender. If the liquid level gets too low, add a cup of water, milk or more stock. Add the corn kernels and continue simmering for 5 more minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Remove thyme.

At this point you can stick an immersion blender in the pot and pulse it for 30 seconds or so to slightly blend things together, but you want it to remain a little chunky. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can do this in a regular blender. Just do it in a couple batches, and again, you don't want to purée it, you want some chunks.

Add the cream, scallions and parsley. Season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper.

Serve in bowls garnished with bacon, chives, parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and lime wedges. Or cheese.

Serves about 8

Friday, July 6, 2012

Quinoa Breakfast Bowls

I'm writing this post on a glorious summer day in Aspen, Colorado. I'm here working for a week, cooking in the mountains and loving every minute of it. I'm staying in a little house on the banks of the Roaring Fork river with all kinds of wild life (baby deer! bears!!) to play staring games with. As much as I love LA, it's a welcome change and it's fun to adapt my cooking to the hearty, healthy mountain vibe that Aspen exudes.

This isn't really a recipe, but a blueprint for a tasty way to start your morning. Instead of oatmeal, I've been making big batches of quinoa and topping them with various breakfast (and non-breakfast) things every morning. Quinoa has more protein than oatmeal (eight grams in one cup) and is a good source of iron, magnesium and folate. But enough science - it tastes great, kind of nutty and although it looks like a grain, it's actually a seed. I've been using black quinoa and the regular yellow one, but there's also red quinoa - if I'm missing any cool colors, let me know. I prefer the black and red because they're a little heartier and toothsome. The yellow is pretty mild and a little soft for my taste, but they're all basically interchangeable.

On to the breakfast bowl. Cooking quinoa is easy. I don't measure anything. Some people think you have to cook it with the right proportion of water as you would with rice. You don't. Just give it a good rinse under running water to take anyway any bitterness, put it in a pot (one cup of raw quinoa should make about three or four servings once cooked) and cover it with cold water by about two inches. Add a pinch of salt, a teaspoon or so of butter or olive/flax/coconut oil if you wish, bring it to a boil and then turn the heat to low and let it simmer. I find yellow quinoa takes about 12-15 minutes and the red and black take 15-20 minutes. You can tell it's done by taking a little bite. It shouldn't taste raw, but you want it to have a little crunch to it. When it's ready, take it off the heat, strain off whatever water is left in the pot, and you're ready to go.

Quinoa is great in salads, veggies patties, as a substitute for rice or in this case, breakfast cereal. In the bowl above, I added organic berries, toasted coconut (unsweetened, which I toast in a pan on the stove or in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes - careful, it burns quickly,) almond milk and a little agave. You could add nuts, bananas, peaches, Greek yogurt, milk, cream, coconut milk, soy milk, even maple syrup or cinnamon. Or go savory and add bacon, a fried or boiled egg, some greens, chopped veggies, a piece of wild salmon.... Whatever you like. It's breakfast - it's personal - start your day off how YOU like it, and don't forget to take a moment to enjoy it.

Yhea, that's a bear.

Quinoa, bananas, strawberries, Greek yogurt, pecans and maple syrup

Little mule deer stopping in to say good morning

Quinoa, 6 minute egg with chopped veggies and herbs

I cross this to get in to town and go to the farmer's market. I may or may not pretend I'm Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Quinoa, wild salmon, crispy prosciutto, sautéed local kale and arugula

View from a hike I took, fueled by my morning mountain quinoa breakfast bowl :)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Zucchini, Apricots and Olives

This is one of my favorite things to make and eat. I developed the recipe over time, tweaking things here and there, and you can adapt it to your own taste as well. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it's not complicated. You can play around with the spices and the amounts of them (I usually just eyeball it) as well as the different kind of veggies and fruits. Cherry tomatoes, sweet potato cubes, butternut squash chunks, chickpeas, a little ginger, dried plums (ok, prunes,) golden raisins and summer squash are all things that I've tried in this dish with great success. You can vary it to the season and your taste. This particular one is a little summery with the zucchini, mild olives and apricots. I decided to throw in a sweet potato I had lying around at the last minute. I use castelvetrano olives, which if you haven't tried, are amazing. I have seen die hard olive haters come around after trying them. They're mild, buttery and not overly briny. I serve it over a simple couscous with a sprinkling of parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Sometimes I add a little squeeze of harissa, a Tunisian spice blend. It's available in most markets and comes in a tube or jar but if you can't find it, it's totally optional so don't worry. It's a perfect meal either way.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Olives and Zucchini
serves 6 generously

10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 Tbs cumin
1 Tbs coriander
1 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp of cayenne
1 tsp kosher salt
olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 c tomato paste
32 oz chicken broth (I like the organic, free range Imagine brand)
6 oz dried apricots (I used organic turkish apricots), roughly chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped in to 1/2" cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped into 1/2" pieces
1 c castel vetrano olives (pitted or unpitted - just be careful while eating)
juice of one lemon
a handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

harissa (Tunisian spice blend)
prepared couscous to serve over

Lay one of the chicken thighs flat on a cutting board and cut it in three pieces lengthwise and then 3 times crosswise so that you have 9 pieces of chicken. Do this with the rest of the thighs and place all the meat in a large mixing bowl. Add the next 6 ingredients and stir to coat evenly. Set aside.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven on the stove with a medium flame. Add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook for about five minutes or until the onion starts to turn pale golden. You don't want to let it get too dark, or to burn. Next, add the seasoned chicken and tomato paste. You can turn the heat up a little. You want to stir it every couple minutes until all the pieces start to look like they're getting some color and are no longer pink. The time will depend on your pot, flame and how often you stir, but it should take about 10 minutes. Add the apricots and chicken broth, turn down the heat to a low simmer (you don't want it boiling) and cover. Let simmer for about one and a half to two hours. You can check on it and add some water (a cup or two) if the liquid level starts getting low. You want it to look like a liquidy stew. In the last 30 minutes of cooking, add the sweet potato and in the last ten minutes of cooking, add the zucchini and olives.

Before serving, stir in the chopped parsley and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve over couscous in large bowls. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Berry Frangipane Tart

It's not officially summer but you wouldn't know it here with all the berries at the farmer's markets. This is a quick and easy summery dessert that can be made with any berry or berry combination. Instead of pastry cream, which I find kind of bland and blubby (?) I like to make a frangipane bed for the berries instead. Frangipane is an almond flavored cream made from ground almonds, butter and sugar and makes you sound sophisticated and fancy. Its also just fun to say: Fran-juh-pan. Usually you bake it with the fruit, and you could certainly do that here, but I left it simple and fresh with uncooked ripe berries. It's used in french pastries, tarts, danishes, etc. and is a great thing to have in your repertoire. The crust is a simple pate brisee that can be thrown together in a food processor. I doubled the recipe to make two tarts.

Berry and Frangipane Tart

One tart shell (recipe below)
Frangipane (recipe below)
Four little baskets (just over a pound) of mixed berries, washed, dried and tossed in a bowl with the juice of one orange and a tablespoon of turbinado or granulated sugar

Tart Crust (Pate Brisee)

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs sugar
1/2 c cold, unsalted butter, cut in to 1" chunks
2-4 tbs ice water

Put the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand (about 15 seconds.) Pour two tbs of water through the opening and mix until the mixture will hold together when pinched (you may need to add the remaining water.) Remove the dough and work it into a ball. Pat it down into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour. After an hour, unwrap the dough, let it soften a few minutes, and roll it out on a floured surface until it's 1/8" thick. The best way to transfer it to your tart pan (mine was a 10") is to roll the dough around your rolling pin and then unroll it over the tart pan. Use your fingers and push the corners in and neaten up the edges. Prick the bottom a dozen or so times with a fork and then chill the whole thing for 5 min in the freezer. Instead of using pie weights, I use a double layer of aluminum foil slightly larger than the tart pan and when the dough is chilled from the freezer, I cover the dough with the foil and push it in to the sides to keep them from sagging as the tart crust bakes. Bake it for ten minutes at 350 F and then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes or until pale gold in color. Spread the frangipane (recipe below) over the bottom of the tart in an even layer and bake again 10 minutes until slightly puffed. Remove from oven and while it's still warm, pile the berries on top. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


1/2 c almond four (found in the baking section at most markets)
1/4 c sugar
1 Tbs flour
3 Tbs room temperature unsalted butter
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

This recipe can be tried with all kinds of summer fruits. Peaches would be delicious. In the fall try pear or apple slices and bake the fruit with the frangipane. Let me know what you try....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Feta

Finally Brussels sprouts are getting some love. Some serious love from some of the restaurants around Los Angeles. My favorite places right now to nosh on these are Cleo in Hollywood, and Freddy Smalls, in West LA. Freddy Smalls fries theirs and puts a big spoonful of goats cheese in the bottom of the bowl that gets soft and warm from the heat of the sprouts. They're insane. I went with friends and we ordered two servings. This recipe calls for feta, but sometimes I substitute goats cheese. You can use whatever you have at home. I'm guessing some ricotta would be really tasty as well.... I coat them with a little balsamic vinegar right out of the oven, but you could just use some fresh lemon juice as well. Leave your comments and let me know what you try.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Feta

2-3 lbs Brussels sprouts
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c olive oil
2 T balsamic
handful of crumbled feta or goats cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut the end of the sprouts and quarter of halve them, depending on the size. Toss in a bowl with the shallots, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden and crispy. You may want to take them out half way through and stir them around for even browning. As soon as you take them out, drizzle the balsamic vinegar over them on the sheet pan and stir around to coat evenly. Serve in a bowl with the cheese crumbled on the bottom, middle and top.

Serves 4

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dark chocolate and sea salt cookies

Yesterday I had some really good chocolate sitting in my cupboard. It was outrageously expensive and all it was doing was just sitting there - languishing next to the baking soda. Today I have a batch of insanely delicious chocolate chip cookies, dusted with sea salt. I've been making these cookies since I stumbled across Jaques Torres' recipe in a New York Times article and they seriously make people go crazy. They require good chocolate (I like Guittard or Valhrona,) two types of flour, as well as an overnight rest of the dough in the fridge. The two types of flour and the overnight rest are apparently what make these cookies so amazing - they're chewy and crisp at the same time. They are, in a word, outofthisworld.

When I was little, I bought into the idea "save the best for last." I thought you were supposed to. I would hide my favorite halloween candy and never use the best stickers. When I got a box of chocolates, I would eat the gross fruit ones (what is that stuff?) before getting to the sweet caramel ones I loved. A lot of the time, this meant that I never got to enjoy the good ones. They were forgotten, lost, went stale, or my dad ate them....

As I've gotten older, I've gotten wiser. If you have something great, USE IT. Eat your favorite chocolates and pass on the rest. Light the ridiculously expensive candle someone gave you. Wear the crazy gorgeous dress you've been saving for a special occasion. Guys, put on the suit that makes you look like Don Draper, drink the good single malt Scotch you've been saving to impress someone (impressing yourself feels WAY better, I promise!) and use your Am-ex points on your next trip to rent the car you WANT to drive, not the economy compact. It's not a new concept, I know. Use the good silver - we've heard it before. But I need reminders and I'm guessing you might too. With that thought in mind, I'm starting my new blog with the BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe I know.

I heard a musician on the radio the other day say that they didn't like to sit on good material while they were recording, that they wanted to give it their best, everything they had, in that moment. Do that. Eat these cookies and dance.

Jacques Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe (adapted from The New York Times)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks, at least 60 percent cacao content (Jacques Torres, Valhrona, Guittard)
Sea salt (I like to use Maldon but a good flaky sea salt will do)

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours, or frozen for a few months (although freezing it defeats the point of this point - enjoy it now!)

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
Scoop 6 mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. DO NOT OVER BAKE.

Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big glass of milk and your best dance moves.

Yield: 4 dozen.