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Archive for October, 2010

There are few things more historically sensual than proscuitto and figs. Bring the two together, and your senses merge the salty sweet flavors in a union that lingers on your tongue in a way I am sure the Romans were fond of.

I’ve never been a big fan of prosciutto, mostly because I don’t like ham. Not even a little bit. However, when I was introduced to prosciutto di Parma everything changed. I found prosciutto di Parma lacking in that chewy salty texture you find in American prosciutto. Di Parma is a bit drier and earthier then its American counterpart. The flavors are rich without being fatty. The Italians have been making prosciutto di Parma the same way for more than 2000 years using only two ingredients: pig and salt. Add fresh figs to the mix, and well, there’s quite of bit of closed-eye moaning as you pop the duet in your mouth.

As fig season is coming to a close I felt the urge to play with them one more time.  Once again, I turned to Judy Rodgers for inspiration. I’ve mentioned before that the Zuni Café Cookbook is not to be taken lightly. There are few corner-cutting tips in this book. Quite the opposite, in fact. Judy wants you to be involved with your food. Every recipe, every ingredient for that matter, has a story. She wants you to have your hands in the bowl experiencing each foods nuance with your fingertips. She wants you to become intimate with what you’re cooking. If you follow her recipes, you have little choice.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheers!

Prosciutto di Parma with Roasted Figs and Walnut Picada

What you’ll need:

8-10 ripe black mission figs, halved

2 teaspoons olive oil

3 tablespoons Walnut Picada (recipe below)

4-6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma

Preheat broiler.

Gently roll halved figs in olive oil and place cut-side up on baking sheet. Warm for 3-5 minutes until the edges begin to caramelize. Lay prosciutto on plates.

Remove figs from oven, sprinkle with walnut picada and place on prosciutto. Roll figs in prosciutto and serve warm.

Walnut Picada

What you’ll need:

1 cup olive oil

1 ounce peasant bread, sliced about 1/2 an inch thick

15-20 walnuts

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1 clove garlic

4-6 fresh mint leaves

Pour olive oil in an 8-inch skillet and warm on medium-low heat. Place bread in heated olive oil and heat till firm in the middle, about 2-3 minutes on each side. You want to make sure your olive oil does not smoke, so lower the heat as necessary. Once fried through, remove the bread and place it on paper towels to cool.

This is where it gets involved:

Break the bread into chunks, discarding any parts that are still doughy. Place chunks between two clean paper bags and use a rolling-pin to crush into breadcrumbs. I had to do this on my knees on my kitchen floor. Doing it this way absorbs much of the excess of  oil. Optionally, you can make your breadcrumbs in your food processor, but how fun is that?

Preheat oven to 325, place walnuts on baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and place in a clean kitchen towel. Squeeze and massage them to help remove some of their skins.  Remove the nuts from the towel and finely chop to about 2 tablespoons.

Finely chop lemon zest, garlic and mint. Give it a quick sauté to warm and soften the garlic’s bite. Stir the mixture with the breadcrumbs and add salt as needed.

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Nothing says autumn in the Pacific Northwest than chanterelle mushrooms. All over the state mushroom gatherers are hiking and harvesting in a crazed hippie state that only wild mushrooms can induce. No, not those mushrooms…although I bet some of that goes on as well.

Apparently, the chanterelle is Oregon’s state mushroom. They grow so well here that you can go back to the same spot over and over again and leave with an abundant harvest in your arms.

I, on the other hand, picked my mushrooms up at the store. I’m sure chanterelles are easy to find and harvest, but I don’t know enough about wild mushrooms to trust myself not to pick the wrong ones. So I’ll leave the hunting and gathering to the mycologist and the hippies and trust that when I buy a basket of chanterelles in the store I will be enjoying a yummy dinner of delicate buttery mushrooms, and not watching my face melt in the mirror.

I decided to use short-grain brown rice for my chanterelle risotto recipe. Every recipe I read online said it would take about 25 minutes to cook. Wrong. It took about an hour of stirring and adding broth and water to get the grain to a firm but tender state. And I need to be honest with you, I lost count. The liquid measurement in the recipe below is just an approximation. I apologize.

In the end, the earthiness from the brown rice complimented the earthiness of the mushrooms, and it was definitely worth it.  However, I think white rice will work just as well with the chanterelles if that’s what you choose to cook with.

I served the risotto with lamb chops we happened to have in the freezer. Ok, “happened” is not the right word for that. Whole Foods was having a sale on amazingly delicate and tender Icelandic lamb chops and Adam went a little crazy and stocked up. If you can find Icelandic lamb I highly recommend you buy some. The flavor is so soft and mild; it lacks the gaminess (which I love, by the way) that you get from other lamb. My guess is that the sheep are fairly young when they are slaughtered. It could also have something to do with the terrain they live in and what the feed on. If that paints a better picture in your mind than baby sheep going to the slaughter, then I’m all for it.

The recipe is adapted from Saveur’s website. If you don’t read Saveur then you are missing out on one of the more culturally interesting food magazines. Magazine is probably not the right word; it’s more of a cultural food and travel journal. Every time I read it I get itchy feet and dream of Morocco, or Spain, or…

Cheers!

Chanterelle Risotto

What you’ll need:

32 oz+ chicken stock

8 oz dry white wine

8 oz+ water

4 tablespoons butter

2 shallot cloves, minced

4 cups chanterelles, washed and sliced

1 cup short-grain brown rice, or white

1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

Salt and pepper to taste

Pour chicken stock into a small saucepan and bring to a steady simmer. After it has begun to simmer add white wine and allow the broth to return to a gentle simmer. Add water to stock as needed.

In a medium pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté for about a minute. Add chanterelles and sauté for about 5 minutes until they are soft and tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste and place mushrooms and shallots in a small bowl.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons in the same pot and add rice. Stir rice constantly for about 3 minutes, until rice is lightly toasted. Stir in 1 cup of warmed broth stirring frequently until stock is almost absorbed completely. Continue adding stock, about 1/2 cup at a time stirring frequently. You want your rice to be al dente, tender but firm. This took about an hour to accomplish, but it may take less time depending on the type of rice you choose to use.

Add chanterelles just before you add the last 1/2 cup of stock. Stir in parmesan and serve immediately.

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I’ve been meaning to make these cookies for a few days now, but our unusually mild weather (as in 70 degrees, in October) just isn’t conducive to baking ginger cookies. At least not in my book. At the very least, I need a little grey sky with the promise of rain. We have the grey skies today, but the rain isn’t coming until tomorrow. As Adam left for class this morning he looked over his shoulder and said, “You are making cookies today, right?” Don’t have much of choice, now do I?

These cookies are unbelievably good. Crispy, salty, sweet and savory. All of my taste buds were in pleasure mode and this was the first time that I shot and nibbled at the same time. Yeah, that good. They were inspired by Heidi Swanson’s Triple Ginger Cookies. I didn’t change too much of the recipe because her version is clearly perfect as is, but I did tweak it here and there.

Heidi’s recipe calls for ground star anise. I decided to go with fennel seeds I had on hand that I minced as finely as I could then smashed in our mortar and pestle. Why fennel seeds? It’s just felt right. Cooking is part intuition and part inspiration, no? I also omitted her lemon zest and squeezed fresh lemon juice into the batter instead to offer a bit of brightness. Again, it felt like the thing to do.

Heidi hand-rolled her cookies into little bite-sized balls, which I may try next time, but I had just picked up a moon shaped cookie cutter and was dying to use it. Plus there are few things as meditative and calming as rolling out dough with your rolling pin and gently cutting it into shapes.

You would think with this much ginger involved, the cookies would be a fiery inferno of ginger, but not so. Gently warming the fresh and crystallized ginger in the molasses and butter seemed to have softened their bite. Oh, these cookies have some punch, don’t get me wrong, just not as intense as you would think.

I also baked these cookies a bit longer than Heidi recommends. I wanted them to be crisp like a ginger snap. So if you’d like yours to be softer and chewy then cut a few minutes off the cooking time.

These ginger cookies surely need to be shared, but we’ll see if Adam lets me :)

Cheers!

Ginger-licious Ginger Cookies

2 cups spelt flour. Alternatively, feel free to use whole-wheat or all-purpose.

1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 stick butter, room temperature

1/4 cup unsulphured molasses

2/3 cup fine grain cane sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 egg, beaten

1 cup crystallized ginger, finely minced

Juice of one small lemon, or zest of two lemons

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees and line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper.

In a large bowl whisk flour, baking soda, fennel, ground ginger and salt.

In a large skillet, gently warm butter until it is about half melted. Stir in molasses, cane sugar and fresh ginger. The mixture should be warm to touch, but not hot. Whisk in egg. Stir the flour and crystallized ginger into the skillet. I used my hands to break up the clumps of ginger so it mixed more evenly. Add lemon juice or zest. Stir well.

Flour a flat surface and roll out the dough till it’s about a 1/4 inch thick. You may need to flour your rolling-pin as well since this dough may stick to it. Cut dough into shapes of your choice and place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. I also sprinkled half of my cookies with coarse sea salt and turbinado sugar offering a wonderful flavor burst of salty, sweet, and spicy.

Make about 4 dozen cookies.

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My favorite afternoon pastime as a child growing up in the 70’s was to climb to the top of the apple tree we had in our backyard. Everyday I would see if I could climb just a little higher. The goal being, of course, to get to the top of the tree. I don’t remember if I ever attained that goal, but like everything in life, the climb was less about the destination than the journey. Ok, maybe not to an eight year old kid. But I had fun just the same.

I’m not sure if the apples on our tree were technically edible. Of course, I tried to eat the few tiny green apples it offered, and they were unbelievably tart. I ate them anyway.

Every fall my folks would travel up to Sebastopol and pick up crates of baking apples and wine grapes. My mom would bake apple pies while my dad and his brothers made wine in the garage. I still have a very vivid memory of stomping grapes with frozen feet in a five-gallon bucket all the while my dad is saying ‘a little more, a little more”.

I’ve had these tartlet tins for a few months now. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity, or inspiration to make use of them and what better time than apple season. Every year Portland Nursery has a three-day apple festival. You get to explore the pomaceous world through tasting hundreds of exotic and not so exotic fruit boasting names like Elstar, King David and Northern Spy. The festival is wonderfully fun and filling. Being an avid apple lover it surprises me when I find half way around the table I’m not sure if I can manage to even look at another apple slice. But, inevitably, there’s a Rubinette or a Splendour, and well, with names like that I have to know what they taste like, don’t I?
Sadly, we weren’t able to attend this year, but Adam’s generous parents delivered two bags bursting with apple deliciousness, one bag for snacking and one for baking.

These beauties are called Lady, or as I like to call them, Little Ladies. Adorable and tiny. They were originally cultivated in France in the 1600’s and served as a Christmas dessert. How appropriate that I made tartlets with them, no?

There must be an easier way to make tartlets. I am sure there are recipes that will use a food processor to knead the dough and the whole process takes less than a morning. However, I was raised Catholic and, somehow, must always make things much more difficult for myself then necessary.  I started the dough the night before, and, wanting the tartlets to be rustic and hardy, chose to work with whole-wheat flour dough instead of the recommended all-purpose. The recipe was pulled out of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Judy Rodgers is very involved and very methodical in her cooking and she doesn’t cut corners. Just the opposite, in fact. The book is an opus to cooking and is a damn good read on its own. It’s very easy to become distracted by the storytelling when trying to follow a recipe.

 

 

As my apples were tiny, they were difficult to core. Even when using Adam’s boning knife. Please don’t tell him. Instead, I cut the apples in half, thinly sliced, and the cut off the core bits. It worked just fine.

If you start the dough the night before, you should wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Since I used whole-wheat flour, my dough was a little dry and crackly after bringing to room temperature this morning. I resolved that by balling up the dough, generously wetting my hands with cool water, and giving it a good knead. The water helped to make the dough a little softer and pliable.

Zuni Cafe has a few versions of tart dough. I adapted their Basic Rich Tart Dough.

What you’ll need:

1 cup all-purpose or whole-wheat flour

2 tsp sugar (optional)

1 stick of cold butter

Working on a cool surface or in a wide bowl, mix flour and sugar. Slice butter length wise in 1/4 thick piece. I had issues with the butter sticking to the knife so I used a cheese planer. The slices were a little thinner than 1/4 inch, but it worked out ok.

Lay butter slices in flour and flip to coat the surfaces. Press the slices thin with your fingers. Continue to flip and press the butter as it breaks down in to small shards. Work the dough until the mixture resembles crumbs and then work the dough in to a ball. Continue kneading until the ball becomes shiny.

Place the ball between two sheets of plastic and press into a 1 inch thick disk. Roll out with a rolling pin.  If the dough starts to crack at the edges, which it will do with whole-wheat flour, form back in to a ball and knead a bit longer. Adding some water here would work to soften the dough. Form back in to a ball, place between sheets of plastic, press and roll out again…..

Well, I failed. The tartlets were baking as I wrote this post, and cooling as I ran off to lunch. We tasted them when we got home, and, well, remind me not to vary flours when baking. It just doesn’t work unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. And apparently, I don’t. Granted the tarts are adorable, and I had fun making them and making pictures of them, but using whole-wheat instead of all-purpose created a gritty and bland tart. At the very least I should had combined the flours. And they definitely needed a compote or custard.

New mantra: baking is not cooking, baking is not cooking…

So, no recipe this week. Just pictures of cute, but not so tasty tartlets. And the promise that I will soon make a tartlet recipe that is both lovely to look at as well as it is to eat. And I will follow the recipe.

Cheers!

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Last night we closed all of the windows and this morning we’re padding around the apartment in thick socks. Fall is shouldering her way into Portland and summer is gently following the geese south. I’ve been talking about fall a lot lately. I think we all have. She appeared quickly this year, as summer was a small town. Blink, and you missed it.

Fall is also my favorite season. If you’re lucky to live in a region that has seasons, the vibrancy of summer changing into fall is awe-inspiring in the northern states.

The changing leaves always entice me and my camera and soon I’ll be sharing some pictures of autumnal Portland. For now, I’ll share a recipe.

I found inspiration in Kim Boyce’s recent cookbook Good to the Grain. Even if you don’t like to bake, I encourage you to pick up this book. Or at least spend some time with it in the bookstore. It is visually gorgeous. Cozy and comforting like fall, Quentin Bacon’s photography truly captured the essence of Boyce’s recipes.

My carrot muffins are a little different that Kim’s. I prefer my muffins to be more savory than sweet so I chose to forgo the streusel topping. I also replaced the brown sugar with maple syrup and I tossed in a few teaspoons of poppy seeds because, well, it sounded nice. I didn’t have any buttermilk on hand so I used coconut milk with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Replacing powders with liquids is a little tricky, so instead of using a full cup of coconut milk, I reduced the amount of coconut milk by four tablespoons.

These are the sort of muffins that will make your apartment smell wonderfully homey. I wanted to share them with some friends, but Adam said I wasn’t allowed to share. He wanted them all to himself :)

Cheers!

Carrot Poppy Seed Muffins

What you’ll need:

Dry mix

1 cup spelt flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1/4 cup sugar (I used a bit less than that)

1/4 teaspoon each cloves and nutmeg (or use 1 tsp allspice)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

4 teaspoons poppy seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup grated carrots (my carrots were small so I used 3-4)

Wet mix

1/2 stick butter melt and slightly cooled (Kim prefers unsalted, but all I had on hand was salted)

1 cup minus 4 tablespoons coconut milk or buttermilk

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar if using coconut milk

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350. Generously rub muffin tins with butter.

Sift all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Stir carrots into dry mix.

Using a small bowl, whisk butter, egg, coconut milk and apple cider vinegar together. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and give it a good stir.

Spoon (I used an ice cream scoop) batter in to muffin tins so the batter is just mounded above the edge of the tin.

Place in oven and bake for 30–35 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through.

The muffins will be a beautiful dark golden brown when they are ready. Remove the muffins from the oven, and twist the muffins out of the tin placing them on their side. This is the coolest trick out of Kim’s book. Placing them on their side to cool helps them to stay crusty. Neat, huh?

Serve with some hot tea and a slab of butter on the muffin.

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