Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spanish Madeleine

Lots of food was served on the holidays, but I definitely remember spinach Madeleine. While this Louisiana side dish was made famous in River Road Recipes, you'd think my Floridian grandmother actually created it. The red, green, and white served as the perfect spectacle of festive colors and made it to my grandmother's collection of favorite recipes that she gave all the grand kids before she died. Needless to say, this dish is more than your typical comfort food for me.

Therefore, it takes a lot for me to alter this recipe with a California twist. But part of eating seasonally and locally is being flexible with the ingredients you have. While I could get spinach at the farmers market, the red chard just looked so amazing! In addition to this change, I also had some cotija which I had been playing around with. This is a hard Mexican cheese that is slightly salty and crumbly. I see it all over the place on top of corn on the cob (elote) and on a lot of tacos and even refried beans.

After making this dish with perfectly ripe Purple Cherokee tomatoes, I wonder why we ever had this in the winter when you have to make due with frozen spinach and flavorless, mealy tomatoes because neither are in season. The festive colors are no substitute for the festive flavors of the season.

Ingredients (for 4 servings):
  • 4 ripe tomatoes (I love Purple Cherokee, but any large tomato will work well)
  • 1 bunch red chard, sliced into strips (or rainbow or spinach, whatever looks best at the market)
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, minced
  • 2 baby leeks, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 C dry brown rice, cooked
  • 2 oz cotija cheese
Cook the rice. When it's almost done, start heating the oven to 375. Saute the chard, jalapenos, leeks, and garlic over medium high heat. This may take a while to get it nice and tender. While it's cooking, you can scoop out the tomatoes.

The best way to scoop out the tomatoes is to cut a good half inch (even a bit more) off the top. Squeeze or scoop the seeds out with your fingers. Then take a paring knife and carefully cut the sections of the tomato, just to loosen it. Then pull the whole fleshy center out with your hands, careful to not tear the skin of the tomato. This is probably the best part of the tomato, so chop it up and add it to the chard mixture.

When the chard is nice and tender and all the rest of the ingredients are nicely incorporated, season with salt and pepper to taste. Then mix in the rice and crumble in some cheese. Fill the tomato shells with the mixture and bake for 30 minutes.

This makes a great side dish or you can throw in some beans (maybe some black beans or chick peas) and make it the main course.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Padron poppers

One of the fun things about moving to a new place is experiencing and learning how to use the food that is local to you. Something that kept popping up in the farmers markets in San Francisco was this amazing little pepper.

I was reluctant to try them, because they look a lot like jalepanos. And while we're miles away from Mexico, the spice influence of Central and South America can still be felt. Basically, I was a bit chicken.

But they're so beautiful - I just couldn't resist.

Turns out that these green beauties are originally from Spain and can often be found in good company with other tapas. I like tapas. So I should like padron peppers.

The best way to server these guys is to saute them in olive oil over high heat. Leave them whole - the stem on top makes a nifty handle. They will hiss and squeal, but fight the urge to stir or flip them too much. They're best if you let them get almost scorched on both sides. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and you've basically got yourself green popcorn. This can be served as a snack or as a side dish.

What's really fun about these guys is that while the vast majority of them are mild (similar in flavor to a bell pepper) there is the occasional wild child that will burn your face off. Who knew veggies could be so exciting!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tastecation: Tuscany

I was riding my bike home tonight and found myself on an 8% grade ascent, which made me think of my trip this summer through Tuscany by bike. While it was definitely my favorite part of the trip (at the time I considered it life changing), it's taken me a long time to get to writing about it. In a way, that's very Italian - do things in what ever amount of time they take, just be true to the effort.

For anyone planning a trip to Europe, I cannot suggest more highly Florencetown bike tours. I can't imagine seeing the countryside any other way. When in a car, passing by the rows of grape vines and olive trees, it's gorgeous, yes, but I get mesmerized by the sites flying past me and fall into a trance (aka, falling asleep). But on a bike, I had to stay present, I had to work for the views, and when I saw them they were that much more stunning.

It's no surprise that a place like this was also the birthplace of the Slow Food movement which seeks to raise awareness of the connection between what we eat and the world around us and how eating local, sustainable, well-raised food makes for a better planet and for tastier dishes. One of our wonderful lunches was at a restaurant with slow food stickers all over its window called Ristorante da Padellina.

There, we had a wonderful antipasta with meats probably from the village center we'd just ridden by. We also had an assortment of fresh pasta along with a few bottles of wine for the table.

And we ended with the typical glass of Vin Santo (a sweet wine) and biscotti for dipping.

One of the places where we stopped prior to our delicious, slow food lunch was in Panzano to see the butcher shop of Dario Cecchini, made famous locally because of his almost religious attentiveness to the full use of an animal ("everything but the moo") and internationally because of his appearance in the book, Heat.

Dario does, indeed, put on a show, and serves up some amazing treats in his shop, such as fresh bread covered in flavored lard (don't knock it till you try it).

Although Dario is a small hero and may even be a part of the slow food movement, he imports his beef rather than using the local Chianina cattle, the long-legged, white cattle local to the area and historically used in bistecca. They are so local, in fact, that we saw one down the hill from the villa we stayed in.

Even our meal at our villa was phenomenal. But what I had realized early on in my travels through Italy, were fully confirmed in this adventure - food is better shared with a group of people you really like being with. Friends, family, or people you've been biking with for a day. It doesn't matter. The key is to be with people with whom you have a shared experience, because food like this is meant to be passed around the table and shared.

So I learned a lot of things while on my bike through Tuscany. I saw my first Chianina cow. I saw my first laurel tree. I learned how to make extra virgin olive oil and that you should eat it fast because it doesn't last. I learned what it means to have the official Chianti rooster on a bottle of wine. But the most important thing I learned was to take it slow, enjoy the ride, and share it all with great friends (old and new). Buon appetito.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Monthly micro-batch: plum and petite sirah sorbet

When I was at the farmers' market a few weeks ago, the main fruit vendor was definitely pushing his product. While I was perusing the beautiful fruitly flesh, they dropped their prices for two pounds of fruit. So while I was only planning to get a couple of plums, I ended up with a bag full. Couple that with a slightly too sweet petite sirah and you've got an amazing sorbet.

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious.


  • 4 plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 C red wine
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 2 large strips of lemon zest
  • Juice of half a lemon (about 1 T)

In order to more easily fish out the cloves, pierce them into the lemon zest. Add all the ingredients to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn to medium and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes.

Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Cool for a few more hours in the fridge. Pull out the lemon zest, cloves, and cinnamon. Put the rest of the ingredients in the blender and smooth. Process in an ice cream maker.

Serve immediately or put in the freezer to harden a bit more.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Braised artichokes

My favorite vegetable, no, my favorite food is the artichoke. I'm not sure what it is about it. Perhaps it's the layers of leaves that lead to the increasingly tender center. Maybe it's the way that the most succulent part is guarded by the unassuming choke. Mostly likely it's that the leave serve as perfect ladles for a delicious dipping sauce, which in my house, is typically butter, lemon, garlic, and salt. In fact, aside from artichokes in a can, I've never really had them any other way (okay, maybe steamed vs. grilled, but the sauce is always the same) and because I love them so much, I've never really thought about branching out.

However, while talking to one of my local farmers and asking him about freezing some of his beauties for winter, he pretty much ignored my desire for stocking for the winter, and instead, suggested cutting them in half and cooking them in the oven. The key is that these fresh, baby chokes are extremely tender when you get past the first few layers of leaves, you can even eat the choke! This is yet another example of how really fresh is really better.


  • 4 small artichokes
  • 2 small leeks, sliced (or onion or fennel bulb)
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 C white wine
  • 1/2 C vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Loaf of crusty bread (or crunchy bread)

Preheat oven to 425 F (approximately the same temperature that it will take to cook the bread).

Cut approximately the top 1/3 portion of each artichoke and peel the outer leaves off. I tend to leave a lot more leaves on than most recipes call for. You will be able to eat them, but you'll have to pull them off and scrape them with your teeth rather than just eating through them. I hate to waste any of the chokes, so you'll never see me cutting them all the way down to just the tender parts. Cut the artichokes in half and scrape out the choke. You should be able to leave the purplish leaves since they're not too rough (if you're using older or store bought artichokes, definitely scrape out those leaves as well).

In an oven-safe large saucepan over high heat, mix all the ingredients, except for the artichokes and lemon slices, and stir. Place the halved artichokes inside down in the pan and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the lemon slices on top and cover with an oven-safe lid. Place in the oven.

After about 25 minutes, flip the artichokes and place a lemon slice atop each half (helps to keep it from drying out). Re-cover and place back in the oven for another 25 minutes.

Serve with warm, crusty bread to sop up the braising liquid.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Figs and goat cheese

Figs are an immensely delicious, but extremely finicky fruit. Farmers must allow them to mature fully on the tree, so pretty much the only time you'll ever see them in a supermarket is in the form of a Newton. I've seen them a few times at Whole Foods this summer, but have been waiting patiently for them to come to the farmers market. Finally, my fig prayers were answered as they showed up at my local market. To celebrate, I made some fresh chevre and a tasty snack.


  • 6 figs
  • 2 oz goat cheese
  • 1 T honey
  • 2 T water
  • Salt and cracked pepper to taste

If you're going to make goat cheese, you need to start a few days ahead. I recommend getting chevre cultures form the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Also, make sure that you can find local goat milk, otherwise, the cheese won't work. Because I'm just cooking for myself, I end up using either a 1/2 gallon or quart of milk. A quart will typically make as much as one of the logs that you find at the store. Heat milk to 86ºF. Add 1/2 packet of culture per 1/2 gallon of milk. Let rehydrate for 1-3 minutes. Let set for at least 12 hours. Drain in cheese cloth for 10 hours (or more).

The longer you let it drain, the denser and tangier it becomes. Once it is to the desired consistency, carefully scrape all the cheese from the cheese cloth and mix in some cheese salt (about a tablespoon).

Slice the top off each fig. Then, starting from the top, slice almost in half, stopping about a 1/4 inch from the bottom. Turn a quarter turn and make another slice. Push open the fig to expose the flesh and place on a baking dish. Broil for about 10 minutes.

While the figs are cooking, put the honey and water in a sauce pan and heat over medium high flame. Cook till bubbly then take off heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Take the figs out of the oven and plate. Put about a teaspoon of goat cheese in each and drizzle with the honey mixture.