Thursday, April 29, 2010

Out of Egypt

One day, I will remember days of fish eaten in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. And yearn for them. I'll probably whine about not having enough of the proverbial Egyptian (read: CSA farmed) produce.

Ok, the analogy quickly breaks down. I never slaved away in the leek patch and then got miraculously freed to plunder Egypt and head to the promised land. Au contraire. I receive a box of freshly-picked produce (by a well-paid farm worker) delivered right at my doorstep every other week.

But, oh my, the leeks, they overflow. Leeks and always more leeks. It seems there is forever a minimum of 5 resting at ease in my veggie drawer. It just occurred to me that, perhaps, leeks are a year-round crop here in Northern California. After doing a bit of research, this would suggest that they are. Hmmm.

Ergo, I get particularly excited about a recipe that uses at least 3 leeks.
Now you understand why. As it turns out, either there is a subculture of leekophiles or I am not alone in my need for resources for tastefully disposing of a perennial plethora of leekage. Because this site exists: a self-proclaimed "one of the very best free collections of recipes for the delicious leeks." One of?

Their leek & pear soup is perfect for Spring- pale spring-green colored, gentle flavors, served hot (for cool evenings) with a swirl of yogurt. Adjustments were made, swirl and garnish altered... but the inspiration credit goes to I couldn't resist making pear chips for garnish, a take on my mom's addictive apple chips.

Leek & Pear Soup
serves 4+

2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 leeks
3 green-skinned pears (Anjou, Bartlett, Comice)
1 lb spring potatoes (warning: baby potatoes are a pain to peel)
1 onion
4 c vegetable (or chicken) stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 c plain yogurt
pear chips (recipe included)
pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Remove the dark outer leaves from the leeks and discard. Slice each leek in half. Slice one half finely crosswise, rinse, drain, and reserve. Chop the remainder of the leeks crosswise coarsely. Rinse well in a colander and drain.

Heat 1 Tbsp butter in a medium stock pot. Sauté thinly sliced leeks until soft. Remove and set
aside for garnish.

Preheat oven to 250degF.
Thinly slice the body of one pear crosswise. Reserve remainder of pear for chopping (below). Lightly brush with 1-2 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice (if desired- this prevents browning). Dust a parchment paper lined baking sheet with powdered sugar. Place pear slices on parchment, then dust again with powdered sugar.

Bake for 30-45min until nearly crisp. Check every 15min to prevent over-browning, removing nearly-crisp pear chips to a cooling rack. Set aside for garnish.

Peel the onions and potatoes. Chop pears (I like the added green color, so I leave skin on), onions, and potatoes.

Heat olive oil and remaining butter in same pot. Cook remaining leeks and onions until golden and very soft.

Add chopped potatoes and pears to the pot along with stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Purée in a blender (carefully!) until smooth, then reheat in pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may thin slightly with milk if desired.

Ladle hot soup into bowls. Drizzle yogurt generously in each bowl, swirling a pattern. Top with sauteed leeks and a pear chip or two. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Basic, But Better

Seeing egg salad doesn't usually make me say, "Oh, OH! Give me some, please!"

Probably because I really can't abide the ubiquitous sweet pickles. But this version of egg salad is pretty dang good. And not just because it's pickle-less. I had a plethora of eggs, spring onions and ramps (from the CSA), spinach (from my garden), and a vegetarian friend who was/is kitchen-less. So, over she & her family came and straight to this recipe I went. And teach you, I will.

And during said meal, the kitchen-less KW taught me about the magic button on my point and shoot that makes close-ups happen. YESssss!

This is yet another good-eat from the lender cookbook that I just haven't been able to bring myself to return. It was aptly named: The Essential Best Foods Cookbook. Time for me to purchase it, you think? Perhaps so... I love Jacobi's flavor combinations and healthy ideas, even if I do tweak 'em a bit.

The salad serves up beautifully with pumpernickel, sourdough, crackers, or just by its lonesome. I kept the wilted spinach separate and mixed in just a portion of the curried, caramelized onions (what the author calls "flavor bombs"), leaving the rest for layering to taste. I actually used ramps and spring onions since they're in season on The Farm. If you've never cooked with ramps, try 'em sometime. The garlicky, earthy, oniony-ness is very endearing.

Anyway, this salad makes a very nice spring meal or snack, no matter what kind of onions you choose.

Curried Egg Salad with Spinach
serves 6

3 Tbsp coconut milk
a bunch of spring onions and/or ramps, white and light green portions thinly sliced
1/2 to 3/4 tsp curry powder (to taste)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 c spinach leaves
8 eggs
1 lemon
2 Tbsp mayonnaise

In a small skillet, heat coconut milk over medium-high heat until bubbling.

Stir in onion, curry powder, salt and pepper.

Saute until spring onion mix is golden, 7-8min, stirring intermittently. Season further to taste. Transfer to a bowl.

Trim excess stems from spinach and rinse leaves. Shake off excess water, then put damp spinach in same skillet (no need to wipe clean). Cook over medium-high heat. Stir constantly, cooking until just wilted, about 4min. Cool and chop. Transfer to a bowl.

Place eggs in a pot. Add 1 Tbsp vinegar, then add cold water to cover by at least 1".

Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and cover. Set aside for 10-12min. Remove eggs to lid and add cold water. Exchange for more cold water after several minutes.

Once eggs are cool, crack and peel. Coarsely chop.

Add 1/4 c of curried onions, 2 tsp lemon juice, and mayo. Blend to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with paprika if desired.

Serve alongside the wilted spinach and the remainder of the curried onion mix.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I returned to an old favorite cookbook and decided to try a new recipe. Uncharted territory on a trusted map is always exciting.

The Grit is an exclusively vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia (indie-rock capital) that offers a fabulous brunch, desserts to die for, and a fairly substantial vegan selection. Michael Stipe (REM) owns the building, but not the restaurant, though he endorses it. For some reason, the restaurant doesn't maintain an active website, but here's an archived one, just so you can see the coolness. The owners also published a cookbook that my friend MMS lent me waaaay back in 2004. Lest you think I still have her copy.... I just couldn't live without it, so I purchased my own, thank you. It's still a frequented favorite, especially the dessert and brunch recipes.

As I'd said, this recipe is a new one to me. And not disappointing in the least! I did make minor edits, adding some almond extract and toasting the almonds, which I'd recommend. I must say (though this won't suprise you) the dough is glorious. By. Its. Self.

Fair Trade chocolate (chips, chunks, and cocoa powder) is relatively easy to buy (or order online). Look for the FTC symbol. Buying Nestle is easier and cheaper, but doesn't speak out against kidnapping and enslavement of children in the Ivory Coast cocoa farms. Even Wikipedia has info on "tainted chocolate." For this recipe, I used Lake Champlain Chocolates' Unsweetened Organic Cocoa and Guittard's Dark FTC Chips (in bulk at Rainbow Grocery or online).

Grit Almond-Mocha Chip Cookies
makes 2 dozen

1 stick butter, softened
heaping 3/4 c sugar
1 large egg (room temp)
1 Tbsp instant coffee powder (or medium grind coffee beans)
2 tsp almond extract
heaping 3/4 c flour
1/3 c cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c toasted, chopped almonds
2/3 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375degF. Toast almonds while prepping dough. Chop once cool enough to touch.

Cream butter and sugar.

Mix coffee powder with almond extract. Alternatively, put medium-grind coffee in a tea ball and swirl in almond extract for a few minutes to infuse with coffee goodness.

Add egg and almond-coffee syrup to batter and beat well to incorporate.

Mix dry ingredients (except almonds and chips). Add to batter and beat until well-combined. Fold in chocolate chips and toasted, chopped almonds.

Scoop rounded Tbsp-full of dough onto baking sheets. Sprinkle with chopped almond bits/crumbs.

Bake 10min or until cracked, but still soft. After 1 min, remove to cooling sheets. Excellent warm or room temp. Or cold. They're just excellent.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Monkey Memories

Does anyone else remember (or, perhaps, still enjoy) Monkey Tails? You know, those frozen bananas on a stick, dunked in chocolate and then rolled in chopped peanuts? Do they evoke memories of summertime, Disney World, a state fair, or a carnival?
Oh. Me either.

We had some bananas that were telling us in all their spotted glory that they really needed to be used, TODAY. So when there was one lonely, freckled friend sitting in the fruit basket after banana chocolate chip muffins had been made and consumed, I did a quick epicurious search, not really sure what I was looking for, but dreading a list of carbaciousness.

Much to my delight a recipe for these frozen banana bites popped up near the top of the list and, well, there was our dessert for the night! Banana bookends for our day.

Bananas are great like that- a sweet start to your day in/on your bagel or muffin or breakfast bread or cereal. And they're equally nice as a sweet ending- puddinged, fostered, split under ice cream, carmelized, parfaited... You get the idea. But bananas can be anything but sweet for those who harvest them from morn to night. Did you know that bananas are one of the prime products implicated in worker/farmer/land abuse? In fact, if you want to make just 3 small changes in your consuming habits, purchasing Fairly Traded chocolate, coffee, and bananas (perhaps in that order) will make the greatest impact world wide. Like cocoa beans and coffee beans, most farmers take cents per pound from multinational corporations, not enough to cover costs, much less provide for themselves. As in the cocoa and coffee industry, workers, often child laborers are often subject to illegal underpayment. These online pieces are both a good primer on some of the complex economic and political issues surrounding this unassuming fruit.

And since bananas are the 4th biggest "staple crop" grown worldwide, making a choice to buy Fair Trade Certified bananas (which might mean eating fewer, as they are more expensive!), speaks loudly. It takes a 25% change in consumer spending habits to make any given industry take notice! And when you buy FTC stickered-bananas, know that the extra cost goes to helping the Carribean and Central American farms that produce them engage their workers, their land, and their people with ethical, sustainable practices. Cheap bananas come at a high price... to someone.

Frozen Banana Bites
serves 3

2 ripe (lightly to heavily spotted) bananas
1 1/3 c chocolate chips
1 tsp Crisco or canola oil
chopped nuts, toasted coconut, crumbled graham crackers, etc

Peel, then slice bananas into 1/2" thick slices.

Melt chocolate chips with Crisco/oil in 30sec intervals in a microwave (or in a double boiler) and stir until smooth, being careful not to introduce any moisture into the chocolate (it will seize).

Dip each banana slice into the chocolate with one hand and transfer to a bowl with the topping of choice. Coat in the topping, then transfer to wax or parchment paper. Repeat with all slices of banana, reheating chocolate if necessary.

Freeze dipped and coated banana slices for 2+ hours, until frozen solid. Serve as finger-food dessert (or a sweet-treat snack).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kiwi Kaipiroska

Kiwi have such a surreal color, don't they? Green like spring, new growth on trees, practically Crayola-worthy, in-your-face greenness. A reliable source* has informed me that kiwis are one of nature's "perfect foods," full of antioxidant goodness.

And they're in season here. I feel like I have to pinch myself when I say that. We live in kiwi-growing country!?! Rock on.

We've received a pound or so of kiwi in each of our past several farm delivery boxes. We usually just enjoy snacking on them as-is or blending them into yogurt smoothies. It occurred to me that I should set a few aside to inspire some type of kiwi cocktail. Something bright, a bit tart, fresh and very, very green.

So I did.

This beverage builds upon a caipiroska base (a Brazilian caipirinha made with vodka), but with a twist or two- mint from my garden (think mojito) and... kiwi from my CSA box (think spring!).

Kiwi Kaipiroska
serves 2

2 kiwi, peeled, muddled, (and strained, if desired)
1 lime, halved and cut into wedges
5 oz vodka
2 Tbsp mint simple syrup
mint sprigs and a slice or wedge of kiwi for garnish

Make mint simple syrup by boiling equal parts water and sugar with several lime sprigs. Let infuse for 1 hr, then remove mint.

Muddle and strain 2 peeled kiwi. Shake kiwi juice with vodka and mint-infused simple syrup over ice.

Muddle lime wedges in each of 2 high-ball glasses. Add ice and fresh mint sprigs. Strain kiwi-vodka mixture over and stir well.

*my mom

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mes Enfants

Croque monsieur et croque madame became le vocab de jour in our chateau this past weekend. For some reason they became a mantra for my eldest, probably just for the joy of hearing herself talk in a pleasantly nasal French accent. I'm sure it had nothing to do with this heroine. Or this one. And the sandwich translation, Mister and Misses Crunch is just as endearing, no? Or you could just call it a broiled ham and cheese sandwich. But that's nowhere near as enticing...

I love my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks for their simplicity (if not the caloric restraint). And Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris was an excellent primer for this weekend's brunch. Confession: I rarely, if ever, alter an Ina Garten recipe! The only change I made in this recipe is I just couldn't bring myself to use white sandwich bread with crusts removed (really, Ina, white bread?). I gave myself extra time to make 2 loaves of sourdough and see if they were sufficiently tolerable... or if I should run to the market for a rustic loaf. I tweaked my sourdough recipe (adding some malt powder) and did 3 long rises, resulting in what I think it was the best bread I've made yet. Certainly good enough (with a satisfyingly crunchy crust) for a croque monsieur!

The brunch menu was centered around croque monsieur/madame (just add Ina's Herbed-Baked Eggs on top of your Mr Crunch to create the Mrs version) and her green salad with vinaigrette. Well, and BACON, too. Of course.

Très fabuleux! (or something like that) What's not so fabulous is that I just deleted all of the pictures of the process and result... unintentionally. *grumble*

Croque Monsieur
serves 8

16 slices of crusty sourdough (1/2" thick)
dijon mustard
8-10 oz good-quality ham (not shaved)
Mornay sauce (Béchamel with cheeses), as below
1 lb shredded Gruyère (divided)

Mornay sauce (Béchamel with cheeses)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp flour
2 c hot milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 c shredded Gruyère
1/2 c shredded Parmesan

Melt butter over low heat in small saucepan and add flour all at once, whisking for 2 min. Slowly pour hot milk into the roux and whisk constantly until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheeses. Stir until well-incorporated and set Mornay sauce aside.

Croque Monsieur

Toast bread in preheated oven on baking sheets, turning after 5min for a total toast time of 7-8min. Brush one side of a slice of bread generously with Dijon. Top with ham, then a Tbsp of Gruyère.

Spread another slice of bread generously with Mornay sauce and press onto the other half of the sandwich. Spread top of sandwich generously with more Mornay. Sprinkle several tablespoons of Gruyère on top.

Bake sandwiches for 5min. Turn broiler on to high and broil for 3-5min, until topping is bubbly and lightly browned, rotating pan to evenly toast sandwiches. Serve hot.

Croque Madame

After baking Croque Monsieurs as above, top with a poached or fried egg. Or top with herbed, baked eggs, as below.

Herbed-Baked Eggs

serves 4-6

1/2 tsp minced/pressed garlic
1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp minced fresh sage or thyme or oregano
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12 extra large eggs
1/4 c heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsaled butter

Preheat broiler for 5min and place top oven rack 6" from heat.

Combine herbs with Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Crack eggs into several separate bowls or ramekins carefully, keeping yolks intact.

Divide cream and butter evenly into 4-6 gratin dishes or small oven-safe plates (or put into one large baking dish). Place under broiler for 3-6min until hot and bubbly. Carefully and quickly slide all of eggs into the hot cream in dish(es). Sprinkle liberally and evenly with herb mixture.

Place eggs back under broiler for 5-7min, until whites are almost cooked, rotating dish(es) if needed to cook evenly. Eggs will finish cooking in hot dish once removed. Let them sit for 1min prior to serving.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Going Nuts

One of the lender cookbooks I've been perusing of late is produced by Diamond. As in the California-based packagers and distributors of nuts. Care to tender a guess as to what it features?

As someone who is an equal-opportunity appreciator of tasty shell-covered seeds, I've been enthralled by Nuts: Sweet and Savory. First, I made the sour cream walnut coffee cake, then the carrot cake with maple-cream cheese frosting (which I muffin-ized), followed by apricot walnut bread, then yesterday's penne with pecans, and last, but not least, the macaroon nut tart.

Mmmmm, tarts.

But this particular dessert adventure was inspired by the cookbook only secondarily, in fact.

I'd been at a nearby baking shop that sells parchment paper in neatly wrapped rolls without unnecessary packaging. The shop does a fabulous, calculated job at tempting all bakers who enter with countless pans, utensils, cake stands, ingredients, and other fancies. The font of knowledge (if not of youth) proprietess rang up my parchment and when I pulled out plastic, informed me of her credit card minimum. Which was just the nudge I needed to grab a straight-edged tart pan (while I tried to sneak some details out of her about her upcoming fondant class). I was not successful in the latter, mind you.

Now that I had a tart pan, it was time to justify his* existence. Or *hers?
Here's that justification, served with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of salted caramel:

Macaroon Nut Tart
serves 12-16

(note: reduce all ingredients by half if using a smaller, 4x13" pan. Mine is the papa-bear-sized pan at 12" square)

Pastry Dough
1 Tbsp sugar
3 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c chilled, chopped butter
4-5 Tbsp ice-cold water

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine.

Add butter cubes and process until coarse crumbles form. With machine on, add water in a slow drizzle just until dough begins to come together. Pinch a bit to test: if it's dry and crumbly, add more water.

Press dough into tart pan, making edges thicker than bottom. There will likely be left-over dough.

Pat edges to no higher than rim of pan. Freeze until firm (15min).

Preheat oven to 350degF. Prick sides and base of tart crust with a fork all over.

Press a piece of parchment paper (just larger than the pan) against bottom and sides of crust firmly to adhere. Bake for 15-17 min, until barely golden on edges. Lift off parchment.

Bake for another 5 min until base is dry. Cool.

3/4 c Marcona or blanched almonds
1 c sweetened, shredded coconut
1 c pecans
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 c packed brown sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt

Toast almonds and pecans (in separate pans, if possible) in 350degF oven for 7 min until fragrant and golden.

Reduce oven temp to 325degF and bake shredded coconut for 10 min, stirring part-way through, until golden brown. Return oven to 350.

Melt butter and mix with brown sugar. Add to egg yolks, coconut milk, almond extract, and salt.

Line tart crust with nuts in a pattern, if desired. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Pour filling evenly, but gently, over nuts and coconut, as to not disturb pattern. Bake until tart is golden brown and just set in the center, about 25 min.

Serve warm or room temp, preferably with whipped cream. Salted caramel sauce is extra nice on top, too, but might inspire plate licking.