Harvest + Honey

An open-ended love letter, culinarily inspired.


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icelandic blue lagoon cake

Place Icelandic Blue Lagoon CakeIcelandic Happy Marriage CakeIMG_2829IMG_2826picstitch-15 picstitch-16 IMG_2820 FullSizeRender-122IMG_2824FullSizeRender-123IMG_2821Icelandic Blue Lagoon Cake

Where would you go if you were given a trip anywhere in the world? Do you have a place, sitting right in the very front of your mind, that you have always pined over or lusted after? Or do you need a minute to really chew on the question? For me, it is the former. Or rather, it WAS the former I should say. If you had asked my 18-year-old self that very question, my perhaps not-so-conventional response would have unequivocally been, “The Blue Lagoon.” I’m referring here to the one in Iceland, not the gentleman’s club in Mississauga, Ontario (groans). Anyway, how do I know what my former teenage self would’ve said? Because as a celebration of my graduation from high school, I was gifted the most amazing thing anyone could ever hope to be given: a trip anywhere in the world I wanted to go. By land. By sea. By camel. Whatever means were necessary. Anything was fair game so long as the giver of this gift, my “fairy” godmother Sally, hadn’t been there herself. Seems fair, right?

My trip to Iceland was an unforgettable week of exploration, relaxation, adventure, and eating our way around the country’s famed ring road, and the experience was so profound for me, never having been anywhere remotely similar to this oddly beautiful place. Sally and I rented a car to get us around during our weeklong adventure in Iceland, and this afforded us the opportunity to fall off the beaten path and get a feel for what the country was all about. I will never forget the very first day of our trip. We were driving around middle-of-nowhere Iceland, somewhere outside of Reykjavik, and I was mindlessly fumbling for a radio station. Probably hoping to land on a Bjork song, I wasn’t paying too much attention to our surroundings at first, I’ll admit. However I remember at one point the car hit a very rough patch on the road and it caused me to look up from my radio searching and what I saw was nothing short of breathtaking. The very foreign looking landscape was littered with one jagged, raw and utterly captivating scene after another. I can’t say for certain, but I would imagine that driving around parts of Iceland is somewhat similar to what it would feel like to drive around on the moon. I’m not referring to a lack of gravitational pull here so much as I am the incredibly craggy, desolate and almost eerie terrain with which parts of the small island country is decorated. The smell of sulfur, not unlike rotting eggs, lurks around every turn and there are more geysers, glaciers, and gorges than you can shake a stick at.

As Sally and I drove, my focus now fully devoted to our other worldly surroundings, I sat in awe as cliffs of jagged-edged rocks came into focus, looming overhead like prehistoric gatekeepers to whatever lay ahead. A thick and uneven cover of dark brown rock stretched over the landscape for as far as the eye could see. It looked almost like some sort of giant had scooped up the rocky earth, given it a good shake, and then thrown the crumbled remains back all over the ground. We got out of the little car to take pictures and I distinctly remember what that place sounded like, that no-man’s land in Iceland upon which we had so fortunately stumbled in our wandering. It sounded like nothing. The quiet solace offered up by that landscape was so empty and hollow you could almost feel it. The only thing to break it up was the occasional gust of wind as it came roaring over the rocky landscape. This was the kind of moment that brings people together, causing strangers to share knowing, appreciative glances and a passing back and forth of one another’s cameras to snag a keepsake photo of the occasion. But the thing is  – we were the only people there. As far as the eye could see, there were very few signs of life of any sort, human or otherwise. It was more about what wasn’t there – the absence of people, the absence of plant life, the absence of sound – that made it such a a full and substantive experience for me, and one that I will surely never forget.

“The problem with driving around Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five goddamn minutes. It’s totally exhausting.” —Stephen Markley, Tales of Iceland 

My food memories of Iceland are basically filled to capacity with various members of the seafood family. Namely, the lovely langoustine. Iceland is known for its lobster and Sally and I ate our fill to be sure. Stopping at a tiny, blink and you’ll miss it seaside town and dining on what was rumored to be the best lobster in the country was a trip highlight for both of us. Swimming in hot butter, the bucket of freshly caught lobster was eaten and appreciated by both of us as we sat in this quaint family-run restaurant with its charming wood paneled walls. There is something to be said about the added enjoyment you get when dining on lobster that was caught within hours of your meal. As for watching the local lobster catchers practice their trade right outside the restaurant window by which you sit, all buttery and bibbed and contented, that is something that you just can’t put a price tag on. Those are the types of experiences that stay with you for a long, long time.

 

RECIPE

This cake is a play on the traditional Icelandic Blissful Marriage Cake, which is commonly made with rhubarb jam. As an ode to my own love of and intrigue with the Blue Lagoon (which Sally and I did make it to), I’ve swapped in blueberry jam instead. Eating more like a bar than a cake, this dessert is rich and delicious and I may have had to pry the pan away from my husband …

1 cup flour

2 cups old fashioned oatmeal

1/4 cup almond meal

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 sticks salted butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup blueberry jam

 

Preheat your oven to 375. Butter and flour a 9” round cake pan.

Mix the dry ingredients together with your fingers or a fork (the flour, oatmeal, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, and brown sugar).

Add the butter to the dry ingredients and work it with your fingers until it sticks together when you squeeze it in your hand. Add the egg and vanilla to the mix and stir to combine.

Scatter two-thirds of the mix into the pan and press it down into an even base layer. Spoon the jam onto the dough and use a spatula or a knife to spread it out evenly. Add the remaining dough mixture to the top, crumbling it evenly over the jam.

Place the cake pan onto a baking sheet and bake for 23 – 25 minutes or until golden brown on top. This cake will be loose and a little wobbly when you take it out of the oven. It will set as it cools.

 


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easy lamb ragu + the sunday dinner

Lamb RaguFresh PastaLamb RaguLamb RaguLamb RaguLamb RaguLamb RaguLamb RaguLamb RaguFresh Pastapicstitch-9Lamb RaguGrowing up, our friends always loved coming over for dinner at our house. It was reliably fun and consistently tasty, so getting us to stop playing and head to the kitchen wasn’t a tough task. Washing our hands and setting the table were small prices to pay for what was always a guaranteed good time. There was even a boy who came over once, a friend of my brother’s, who politely finished his meal, set his utensils down and then, perhaps not so politely, demanded to know what was for dessert. Probably wanting to tell him to go make his own dessert, my mom very sweetly dug out some popsicles from the back of the freezer.

While we didn’t put pressure or any formality on the occasion itself, just as reliably as the sun rising and setting, my family would gather together at that table and we would enjoy good food and good conversation, night in and night out. We might not have been expected to be there every night, no formal rules or guilt trips given if we strayed elsewhere, but we were always there.

But because you DO have to eat, you might as well enjoy it. This easy and comforting lamb ragu is simple and satisfying and completely worthy of a meal with friends, family or the overly sweet-toothed kid down the street.

1950s family dinner
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Easy Lamb Ragu RECIPE

3/4 lb. ground lamb
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 carrots, washed and chopped into large chunks
2 celery stalks, washed and chopped into large chunks
1/2 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
3 sprigs worth of fresh thyme leaves
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup of red wine (not cooking wine!)
2 cups beef stock
1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 lb. fresh pasta (any cut you like, I used fettuccini here), cooked according to package directions
Freshly shaved/grated pecorino
Extra olive oil for finishing
In a large pan over medium-high heat, brown the lamb in two tablespoons of olive oil until thoroughly browned and almost crispy. The trick here is to leave the meat untouched while it browns on one side completely, and then turn it to finish browning. Just don’t start stirring from the minute you put it in the pan – that will keep you from achieving the best browning and you’ll wind up with a grayish color to your meat. It takes about 5 minutes for this to happen. When it is sufficiently browned, transfer the lamb to a separate dish and set aside for now.
Add the carrots, celery, and onion to a food processor and pulse about 10 – 15 times or until you get a fine pulp. Reduce the heat under your pan to medium. Add two more tablespoons of oil to the pan and then add the veggie pulp, cocoa powder, cinnamon, tomato paste, rosemary, and thyme and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the flour to the pan and cook for one – two minutes more. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook for an additional minute. Add the lamb back into the pan along with the beef stock, cheese rind, and bay leaf. Stir to combine and add about a cup of water. Bring to a soft boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. As the liquid in the ragu reduces slightly while it cooks, you can add a cup or so of water at a time to keep it saucy. Just keep an eye on it. Serve hot over freshly cooked pasta with some grated cheese and a drizzle of good olive oil.


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burnt milk panna cotta with peppered caramel


Burnt Milk Panna Cotta with Peppered Caramel

How much money would someone have to pay you to eat a dill pickle and grape jelly sandwich with sardines? How about a soup of chocolate pudding and fish stock? If you’re anything like me, you’d do it for a clean $7.00/hr. and not a penny less.

Ahhh babysitting. When I was in high school, I babysat regularly for the little girl who lived right across the street from me, Kelley. She was feisty and fun and creative and a total blast from a babysitter’s perspective. I got lucky with that one. There was, however, one particular game that Kelley would often ask to play that I’m sure required me to stifle a groan or two as I muttered “Awwww mannn!” under my breath. The things we do to keep kids happy …

Burnt Milk Panna Cotta with Peppered Caramel

Anyway, one of her very favorite games required me to sit at the kitchen table, blindfolded, and await whatever combination of fridge and pantry ingredients she felt like mixing together and spoon feeding me. “Concoction,” as the game was called, always required a great deal of patience and good sportsmanship on my part. After all, we’re talking powdered donuts mushed with capers and teriyaki sauce here. But if I’m being completely honest, I got a kick out of it too. It was hard not to smile as she worked her way through the kitchen, trying so hard to pick the craziest and most disgusting combinations. Her goal was simply to gross me out – the more dramatic my reaction, the more delighted she was by the whole thing.

Weird as it may sound, I couldn’t help thinking about this as I was making this panna cotta. Don’t worry – it’s not gross, it’s great. I am, after all, trying to create something that you might want to keep eating after you take your first bite. A definite concoction in its own right, the flavors are familiar, but they’re just unfamiliarly paired.

Burnt Milk Panna Cotta with Peppered Caramel

This recipe is a play on a couple of food trends that, while incredibly delicious and worthy of huge fan clubs, might be ready to let some others have a turn in the spotlight for a while. I’m talking browned butter and salted caramel here and as a quick departure from their regularly scheduled programming (they’re everywhere, let’s be honest), I wanted to try a fresh approach to their flavor concepts. Enter my Burnt Milk Panna Cotta with Peppered Caramel. By taking the browning of the dairy element to the limits and actually lightly burning it, you deepen the flavor without having to do it with the addition of another ingredient – I love that. The tang of the yogurt and the sweetness of the vanilla and sugar help to balance that burnt flavor and produce a more complex, interesting dish. As for this peppered caramel, it’s really something special.

Of all the pecks of peppers out there, pickled or otherwise, it can be tricky to decide which ones to use when making a spicy dish. Fresh or dried? XXX heat level or just a hint of spice? Green or red? The decision making process is both gruesome and grueling – not for the faint of heart.

Ultimately, I decided to go with cracked black pepper and dried chipotle to flavor my caramel, and what you wind up with is one rich, deep and complex sauce that I, for one, could not stop “sampling.” I went with the chipotle because it does double duty here, offering a spicy kick to the sauce while also giving it a smoky, earthy element that goes so well with the burnt milk panna cotta.

Creating unconventional flavor pairings such as chipotle and sugar and intentionally scalded milk is easily one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen. Sometimes you swing and miss, like with peanut butter and sardines. But sometimes you get a solid outta-the-ballpark home run, and those are the concoctions that make all of the trials and errors worth it … Whether you’re paid $7.00/hr or not.

RECIPE

For the Burnt Milk Panna Cotta

2 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (about 1/2 packet)

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup whole-milk vanilla Greek yogurt

 

Place the cream and vanilla into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add two tablespoons of the sugar and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

In a separate pan with tall sides, heat the whole milk with the remaining sugar on medium to high heat. The milk will start to stick to the bottom of the pan and may bubble up a bit. This is what gives the milk its “burnt” flavor. If the milk starts to bubble over the pan, remove from heat and let the bubbles deflate. When it starts to smell like burnt milk, remove it from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.

Measure out ½ cup of the burnt milk (discard any remaining). Sprinkle the gelatin over this cooled milk and let it stand until the gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Stir the gelatin and burnt milk mixture into the hot cream mixture until dissolved. Stir in the yogurt.

Divide the panna cotta mixture among six to eight 4-ounce ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours or overnight.

To serve, dip each ramekin 3/4 of the way in warm water and invert onto a plate (or just serve in the ramekins). Serve with the peppered caramel.

 

For the Peppered Caramel

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons butter, cut up into several pieces

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon dried chipotle powder

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

 

Heat the sugar in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a heat resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon. The sugar will form little clumps and then melt into an amber-colored thin caramel as you stir it. Once the sugar is totally melted, add the butter. The caramel will bubble violently when you do this – totally normal.

Stir the butter into the caramel until it is melted, about 2-3 minutes. Slowly drizzle in the heavy cream while whisking. Again, the mixture will rapidly bubble. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan while it boils.

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the chipotle powder and the pepper. Cool before use.

Cover the caramel and store for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Warm the caramel up for a few seconds before use.

 

 

 


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mississippi mud pie

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetMud17Mud1Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with b1 presetMud21Mud11Mud15Mud20Mud18Mud“Maturity is when you no longer get the urge to make snow angels in mud season.” – Josh Stern 

I have never seen anyone enjoy anything as much as my daughter enjoys the mud. It’s unbelievable. As she plays and splashes and squishes around, I can’t help but wonder what exactly it is that draws her to it with such genuine love and enthusiasm. I mean, it’s just wet dirt right? I guess it’s not my job to understand this, nor is it probable that I actually could. I’m a grownup. I don’t come with that part anymore; the part that we’re all born with that makes us fearful of monsters under our beds, fearless in front of large crowds, and fiercely adoring of all things dirty. Immaturity is the word we’ve given that part, I think. Eventually we lose it and become “mature,” or at least lesser degrees of immature.

Last week, before our little world was covered in a thick blanket of snow, I was wandering around in the yard with Elle, muttering to myself and impatiently lamenting the laundry and cleaning that would inevitably stem from the mud stains that were creeping, ever so gracefully, up the length of her pants and down the sleeves of her little coat. Dangit. What was I expecting though, let’s be honest? Was I actually thinking that she might pass up the infinite selection of mud puddles for a cleaner activity? A nice wagon ride or a game of hopscotch perhaps? Fat chance. That’s never happened. It’s always mud. It has heart heart and since she has mine, to the mud we go.

I wonder though, at what point do we grow up and over and past that childhood adoration of dirty slimy mucky things? Like so many aspects of childhood, this love of all things gross is something that seems to fade away with time. Is it boys? Is it that you decide you want boys to like you so you opt to forgo getting spectacularly dirty in favor of wearing a pretty dress instead? Is it Hollywood? Is it that you want to mimic a beloved movie star or character or someone on the giant silver screen that is far too cool to be rolling around in mud puddles and the like? I guess it’s lots of little things. Little things all piled up on top of one another as childhood rolls along. I can’t imagine Elle waking up tomorrow morning and suddenly declaring that she no longer wants to go outside and play in the mud by the “big road.” No, it doesn’t work that way and I’m glad. Growing up takes time and that’s a good thing. Because as I’m learning more and more with each passing day, time with your little ones is so very sweet. Even with all of my bellyaching over the laundry that I’m doing every day to combat all of the mud, I think I would actually be sad if she just went off it cold turkey.

That “just for the fun of it” phase of our lives where we get to roll around in puddles and make mud pies is so very fleeting, and there is a little bit of sadness in that, even if it does mean that life gets a little bit cleaner afterward. The good news? There’s always chocolate. You’re never too old or too mature for that.

RECIPE

For the crust:

9 chocolate graham crackers (1 sleeve)

1/2 cup chopped pecans

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

 

For the filling:

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

3/4 cups granulated sugar

½ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

 

For the whipped cream topping:

1.5 cups cold heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans

 

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Process the graham crackers and pecans in a food processor until finely ground and well combined. Add the melted butter and pulse until moistened (like wet sand). Set aside a couple tablespoons of this mixture to use as a topping. Press the remaining crust mixture into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until set, 8 -10 minutes, and then let it cool as you prepare the filling.

For the filling: Melt the butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Take it off of the heat, and stir in the flour and salt until smooth. Stir in the sugar, corn syrup, coffee, and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until smooth. Pour the filling into your crust and bake until set and cracked on top, around 30 minutes.

Transfer your pie to a rack and let it cool for about 2 hours.

Make the whipped cream: Beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla with a mixer until soft peaks form. Pile the whipped cream on top of your pie and sprinkle with some chopped pecans and the reserved crumb mixture. (I also like to grate a little fresh orange zest over the pie sometimes. So good).


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olive oil braised red onions with bay leaves

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“A crown of bay good fortune brings, to poets, cooks, scholars, kings.” -Carolyn Dille & Susan Belsinger

I’ve never been what you might call, “a camper.” From girl scouts camp to soccer camp to even theater camp, I really gave the whole camp thing a fair shake when I was a kid, but it just never took hold. That whole youth-charged summer loving kumbaya magic that most kids love just never kicked in for me. I’m not completely sure why this was the case, but I’ll wager a guess that it had something to do with a mildly traumatic incident during which I wet my pants in front of an entire room of older campers when I was about six years old. One minute people were belting out camp songs at the tops of their lungs and the next, everyone was staring at me, wide-eyed with shock and awe. The snickering and finger-pointing soon followed. Yes, I think that might have had something to do with it. So, while going was always filled with more dread than delight for me, I did have one experience that will remain forever engrained in my memory as the one time I actually liked camp.

I was about six or seven years old at the time, in the midst of an arts and crafts session at some camp I was attending in Louisville, KY. This was one of those free-for-all things where they let you sort of do what you want with your time for a while, go where the wind will carry you and whatnot. I made my way over to a crafting station and set my sights on creating the most beautiful bird feeder the world has ever known. As I sat at my little table, surrounded by other campers, all of us probably reeking of paste and seed and other sticky substances, a little red-headed boy came up to me with his arms behind his back and his cheeks growing increasingly red.

“Here you go, Lauren (he pronounced it, Law-en). I made this for you.”

In his outstretched hand was the nicest gift a boy had ever given me. It was the only gift a boy had ever given me, come to think of it. I was only seven after all. He had stitched and glued and tacked together a hodge podge of greenery and flowers into a lovely little crown fit for a “forest fairy,” he told me. It was the sweetest thing. I came to find out, after heading to the floral crown making station myself a little later on, that his wreathed creation was actually full of fresh herbs and flowers that some of the older campers had spent the summer learning all about, including bay leaves. This was the first time I had ever heard of them, which is probably why I remember it. They smelled faintly of dirt and flowers, an interesting mix for sure, and one that I never forgot thanks to that freckle-faced red-headed boy.

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Now, fast forward to a dinner I had with a good friend just a couple of months ago. As he was walking around my kitchen, peeking into the various pots and pans that I was using to cook that night’s meal, he asked me about my thoughts on bay leaves, if I thought they were really worth using. I carried that question around for weeks, not sure what my opinion actually was on the matter (and such a serious matter, at that). After chewing on it for a while, I realized that I mostly use bay leaves because that’s just what you do. It’s what my Mom does. It’s what great chefs do. It’s what the ancients did. It’s just THE WAY. Tossing a bay leaf into a pot of simmering something comes about as naturally as adding vanilla to a cake batter. These things just happen; we do them without thinking. At least I used to. Now that I am actually thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure I would miss the bay if I were to leave it out of my recipes. Or would I? Have you ever stopped and thought to yourself, “Man. The bay really makes this dish,” or “This stew just wouldn’t be the same without those bay leaves.” I’m pretty sure I haven’t.

Parsley. Sage. Rosemary. Thyme. All of these herbs, along with plenty of other commonly used varieties, make their presence loudly known in so many dishes that we eat all the time. A parsley garnish clearly brightens up a heavy stew, the sage absolutely makes chicken saltimbocca, rosemary roasted potatoes completely owe their classic status to the pine-scented herb, and the lemony notes of thyme give such a distinctive flavor boost to many a meat rub and seasoning mix. So I found myself wondering what bay leaves bring to the party. They have to bring something right? No one likes a guest who shows up empty handed. It’s just rude.

So I did a little digging and found that the history of bay leaves (laurel) is actually full of lore and mythological intrigue:

“The classical legend of bay’s origin was Daphne’s transformation into the laurel tree during her pursuit by Apollo. Versions vary; one infers that the nymph Daphne was a fiercely independent, rather wild creature and rather than give herself to Apollo, she pleaded with her father, the river god Ladonas, to transform her. Another account indicates that Apollo was wounded by an arrow of Eros (cupid) and fell madly in love with Daphne, who fled from his advances and was changed into the slender bay laurel moments before her capture. All agree that Apollo was so astounded by the tree’s beauty that he claimed the laurel as his own and dedicated it to reward the highest achievements of Greek civilization.” (www.vegetablegardener.com) 

First an herb of poets and then of oracles, warriors, statesmen, and doctors, bay leaves were fashioned into wreaths for famed poets and people in ancient times even used bay leaves to crown their heroes. If bay is good enough for an ancient hero’s crown, and that of a lovely forest fairy for that matter, then it must be good enough to flavor the meals coming out of my modern kitchen. But what is the flavor that it gives, exactly? That’s what I was interested in figuring out, and that is where this braised onions recipe really proved helpful.

This recipe marks the first time that I can actually remember tasting and recognizing bay in a dish. Offering a distinctly sweet, floral, almost perfumed element to these onions, the bay leaves absolutely leave their mark. Upon removing them from the oven, all sizzling and popping in the remnants of the hot braising liquid, I promptly served myself up a wedge and began to smunch. Smunching, for those of you who do not know, is the sound you make when you taste something, your lips and tongue moving up and down to try and generate as much flavor as possible. Okay fine, this is a word that one of my best friends invented with her sisters when they were young. Not knowing a term for that very common practice, they deemed it high time that someone come up with one. Enter “smunching.” I loved it and clearly have incorporated it into my own vernacular.

Smunch. Smunch. Smunch. By jove I think I got it! The flavor of the bay is crystal clear against the sweet and slightly tangy backdrop of these onions. By using few other flavor elements, this dish relies on the distinctive qualities of the bay leaves to elevate it to something more interesting than simply, cooked onions. The combination of the vinegar, wine, olive oil, and bay makes for a fantastic and delicate way to season the already sweet onions. The bay is subtle though. It’s not going to wallop you in the face and scream, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m here!” like say, basil would in a Caprese salad. It’s there though, and it’s wonderful, and you must try this. Served up alongside something savory like a roasted pork loin, this is one recipe that will place those bay leaves you’re always using right smack dab in the spotlight.

RECIPE

adapted from http://www.finecooking.com

 

1-1/2 lb. red onions (about 3 medium onions), trimmed, halved vertically, and cut into 2/3-inch wedges

4 dried bay leaves, each torn into a few pieces

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

1-1/2 Tbs. white wine vinegar

1 Tbs. Marsala wine (or a white wine)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat it to 375°F.

Arrange the onion wedges in an overlapping single layer in a shallow 10×15-inch baking dish. Nestle the bay leaves among the onions. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, vinegar, white wine, and 1-1/2 …Tbs. water and drizzle over the onions. Sprinkle evenly with 1 …tsp. salt. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Braise the onions until they’re completely tender when pierced, about 35 – 45 …minutes. Uncover the dish and continue to braise until all of the liquid has evaporated and the onions are darkly roasted, about 20… minutes more. Remove the bay leaves and serve the onions warm or at room temperature.

 

 


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pasta alla ceccha with hand cut tagliatelle

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I have always been one to eschew having too many unnecessary pieces of kitchen equipment and culinary gadgetry. Perhaps this is because we move frequently and the exercise of packing/unpacking everything gets tiresome after a while. That and I also am not a fan of washing dishes. I have, on a number of occasions, found myself standing in my kitchen with multiple drawers hanging wide open, totally aghast at how much stuff I have – stuff that I’ve yet to use even once. It’s shameful, really. But does anyone really need three different types of can openers? Is it necessary to have a different tool with which to slice every different type of fruit known to man? Signs point to no, I’m guessing. I have two garlic presses and a garlic grater but when it comes to chopping garlic, I’ll take a knife and a cutting board any day. I have a croissant shaper (?!?) but when I made croissants over the summer, I shaped them sans the assistance of said shaper. I have mango and strawberry slicers, a grapefruit knife, various citrus juicing devices, myriad can openers, and an apple corer, among many other little gadgets and gizmos. While the tiny kitchen hoarder who sits on one of my shoulders kind of loves getting unusual and overly specific items with which to crowd my drawers, the Type A neat freak on the other typically prevails, opting usually to keep it simple, keep it clean and keep it authentic when cooking.

 

RECIPE

For the pasta:

Ingredients

 

3 cups flour

1 tsp Kosher salt

3 eggs, plus one egg yolk

2 tbsp water

1 tbsp olive oil

 

Form the flour into a mound and make a well in center. Sprinkle the salt over the flour. Add the eggs, yolk, water, and olive oil to the well.

Using a fork, incorporate the eggs and liquid in a circular motion, dragging in small amounts of flour until your dough becomes stiff and workable.

Knead your dough, adding a little bit of flour as needed to prevent sticking. Knead until it’s smooth and elastic, about 5 – 7 minutes. Wrap your dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least  half an hour.

Cut the dough into quarters.

Flour your work surface. Flatten 1 quarter into a rectangle (cover the others with a towel). Using a well floured rolling pin, roll out the dough, going up and down and then left and right to maintain its shape. Roll out the dough until you get a very thin sheet – as thin as you get get it without it tearing. Repeat this process with the remaining three quarters of dough.

Tightly roll each sheet, from short end to short end; cut cylinders crosswise into 3⁄8″-wide strips (for tagliatelle, wider for pappardelle, a bit smaller for fetuccini).

Unroll the strips and toss them with flour. Spread them on a floured sheet of parchment paper or a Silpat. Let your noodles dry for 30 minutes.

Cook the tagliatelle in salted boiling water until al dente, about 3–4 minutes. Drain and transfer back into the pot and toss immediately with the sauce (recipe below). Serve with grated parmesan cheese. 

 

For the Checcha sauce:

4 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into cubes

2 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned

1/2 cup olive oil

1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt

Freshly grated black pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese to serve

 

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, cover and let it sit for at least two hours prior to tossing with the hot pasta.

 

 

 


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basil sugar roasted persimmons with homemade creme fraiche


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Coco Chanel is known for having promoted the concept of “less is more.”

“When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on,” she famously said. As someone who began playing dress up at a very early age, draping myself in as many glitzy and glamorous things as I could manage without falling over, I can appreciate these words of wisdom. I’ve only just recently grown out of that fabulous pastime. I was given a baby girl for a reason, I believe. I get to dress her up now.

Mae West is known for having promoted the concept of, “more is more.”

“Too much of a good thing is wonderful,” she famously said. This too is a sentiment with which I can relate. Last week I “accidentally” made twice as many cinnamon rolls as I was initially intending, and let’s just say that was not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.

<<Covers eyes with hands in shame>>

So who is right? Coco, in all of her conservative, chic simplicity? Or Mae, in her glorious outlook of excess? But first, how the heck does this relate to persimmons?

I’d been trying recently to come up with a persimmon recipe to post. ‘Tis the season after all, and since it’s their annual time in the limelight, I wanted to do something extra special with them – really make them shine. So, I pondered crisps, crumbles, and clafoutis, tiramisu, trifle, and tarte tatin. Visions of persimmons danced in my head for days while I weighed all of these tempting options, but I sort of had a eureka moment while I was grocery shopping with my two little ones last week. I was hurriedly trying to race through the store, barely ever bringing my cart to a stop as I zoomed in and out of the aisles. My six-week-old was not happy and my two-year-old was not happy because her baby brother was not happy. You have to admire her solidarity, I guess.

Anyway, as I was nearing the end of my shopping list (and the end of my rope, if we’re being honest), I passed a little table where a young man was passing out samples of pears – Asian pears I think it was. Figuring my daughter would enjoy a little bite of fruit, I actually did stop my cart for a second to grab her one of the little paper cups containing a couple bites of the fresh pear. I grabbed one for myself as well and popped a piece in my mouth as I started to head for the checkout line.

Boy was it good. I can see why they were giving out samples. It was perfectly ripe, sweet, fresh and perhaps the little pick-me-up I was looking for in the midst of a rather harrowing trip to the store, bless their little hearts. That’s when it hit me.

Silly me, I thought. I don’t need to play dress up with my persimmons to make them special in my dessert. They’re already pretty amazing in their own right. By simply giving them a little roast in the oven and a sprinkle of basil sugar (one of the first recipes I ever posted), they won’t get lost in the richness of pastry nor play second fiddle to the crumb toppings that tend to compete with the fruit for attention in so many recipes. No fuss. No glitz. No glamour required. Just simply sweetened fruit, lightly roasted until tender.

So Ms. Chanel, you win this round. In this instance, I opted for a “less is more” approach and am so glad I did. If you’ve never tried a persimmon before, I highly recommend you do. They taste a little bit like vanilla and sugar and all things heavenly. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

But I’m starting to feel a little guilty about leaving Mae out of things here, so as a compromise and to ensure all bases are covered, I propose the following: Less is more is more. See what I did there? To each his own. If you want to gild lilies and play dress up and garnish your fruit with crumbs and crusts – then go for it. More is more! Or, rather, if you prefer to keep things simple, then that’s what you should do. Less is more! Whether you’re dealing in persimmons or perfume, I think the trick is writing your own rules and pursuing them with confidence.

coco-chanel mae west

RECIPE

1/4 cup Basil sugar

3 persimmons, sliced into either wedges or flat rounds (or both!)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

Homemade creme fraiche (recipe below)

Garnish: toasted pistachios, almonds, walnuts etc.

 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the sliced persimmons with the coconut oil and three tablespoons (give or take) of the basil sugar. Spread evenly on a sheet pan coated with non-stick spray. Roast for 12 – 15 minutes, turning halfway through, or until tender and slightly caramelized. To serve, I like to sprinkle a little extra sugar on the persimmons and then top with some creme fraiche and chopped pistachios.

 

For the creme fraiche

Combine 1 cup heavy cream with two tablespoons buttermilk in a bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave in a warm (ish), draft-free place for about 12 hours. It should be thickened and pourable/spreadable. Store in the fridge for up to one week.

 

 

 

 

 

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