Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Monday!

I don't have much to say today, but I thought I'd check in with some pictures of bread, because why not?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Work with what you've got

"What's for dinner tonight?"
It's the perpetual question in our house. I love planning meals, looking through recipes, and thinking about interesting new ingredients to try. Something I don't love? Making a trip to the store. And sometimes, on days like today, when I've just gotten home from work and the thought of combating gale-force winds in the grocery store parking lot makes me want to stay indoors forever, it's just not going to happen. So the question becomes, "What do we have in the house that can be put together into what might resemble a meal?".
Luckily, our little vegetable garden is beginning to come in handy. While not abound with produce, one thing that it has actually managed to produce is just enough arugula to do something with. Just enough, maybe, to whip up some arugula pesto. I can always count on having Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, and some kind of nuts knocking about in the pantry. Arugula lends a nice spiciness to the sauce and makes it a little different than your basic basil version.
So pesto, there's that.
I know there's also pasta in the pantry, but there doesn't seem to be a decent amount of any single shape. No matter! A master of rationalization, I tell myself, what better way to make plain old pasta fun and exciting than a myriad of shapes and sizes, each handling the sauce in its own way? So I toss together a few kinds, making sure that they have similar cooking times, and away I go.
I also just so happen to have a couple of leeks and some zucchini in the fridge, so I cook those up as well. Et voilà! This springy green meal is starting to come together.

Mixed pasta with Arugula pesto and Veggies 
For the pesto:
1c arugula (or any green, really), loosely packed
1/4c toasted pine nuts (I happened to have the classic, but I think almonds might also be good here)
1/4c Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
a few tbsp olive oil, depending on your preference
salt and pepper to taste

Process arugula in a food processor until it's very finely chopped. Then add garlic, nuts, and cheese,
processing after each addition. Finally, drizzle in olive oil until desired consistency is achieved. Taste 
and add salt, pepper, and any more of any ingredient you feel it needs.

For the Pasta:
1lb pasta (any kind you wish)
1 leek, sliced into rounds
1 clove garlic
about 3 medium zucchini, or your vegetable of choice, chopped in 1/2" pieces
a splash of white wine
a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1/2c pesto
olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta to just short of al dente in boiling salted water. Drain and save about a cup of the pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet and add leek and garlic. Sautée until leeks are softened, then add zucchini, wine, and sun-dried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until zucchini is tender, about 8-10 minutes.
Add drained pasta to skillet along with pesto, a handful of cheese and some of the reserved pasta water. Toss to coat the pasta in that delicious sauce that forms, and serve immediately.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easy as pie

Mix together 11/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup flour, a dash of nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. Then stir in 3 beaten eggs and mix til combined. Finally, stir in about 4 cups of chopped rhubarb. Then pour it all into a pie crust, top it with a lattice if you want to get fancy, and pop it in a 400 degree oven for 50 minutes. In the exact words of my grandmother, written with a typewriter onto an index card, "It's really not that might just eat the whole thing yourself   yumyum!".

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Growing up, Easter for me always meant one thing. Well, maybe two things. Or several things. But apart from the chocolate bunnies and the Easter egg hunts and my mom's rhubarb pie, there's one tradition I want to talk about today. One which, as I've gotten older, has actually become more important to me than all those other things (okay, the rhubarb pie is still pretty special).
Portuguese sweet bread has always been an annual treat that my mom made at Easter. Buttery, tender, and ever so slightly sweet, it's perfect toasted for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. But I could go on and on about how delicious the stuff is. As my mother and I spent the day in the kitchen beating eggs, counting cups of flour and punching dough, what was important was that I saw my great-grandmother come to life in that bread. My great-grandmother, who came from Portugal without speaking a word of English, without knowing if she would see her parents again, and who at the age of 14 lived a much more fascinating life than I can say I've had in my 22 years. Now that I know her story, Easter sweet bread is no longer just a nice treat that I get once a year, it's a tribute to her. Every recipe came from somewhere, and following that recipe is like reading a story. The best part is that you get to make it into your own version of the story.

Now every Easter I look forward not only to eating that tasty, tasty bread, I also relish the day-long labor of love it takes to make it.

I don't think my great-grandmother ever wrote down a recipe for her bread, but at some point it seems that a family member came across a recipe in a newspaper or magazine which came close, and it is that faded clipping that my mom and I used as our guide. It may not be exactly the same as the bread my great-grandmother made, but somehow I don't think she'd mind.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Today I had some extra time and some extra almond flour left over from making macarons, a situation I thought called for some baking. Flipping through my copy of Nigel Slater's Ripe, I found just the thing: an apricot almond cake with apricot purée. Sadly having no fresh apricots on hand, I decided to forego the purée and just make the cake, which uses dried apricots. Dried apricots are usually a staple in my pantry, so I began to assemble my ingredients. To my horror, I opened the cabinet only to find it utterly void of apricots of any sort! I rifled through the shelves, silently cursing the family member who dared eat from our communal food supply, finally happening upon my savior: dried figs. Figs are one of my favorite fruits, and their fleeting season makes them extra special. Luckily, though, I can enjoy them year-round in their dried form. In this particular moment, I thought their subtle sweetness would pair perfectly with an almond cake. Plus, fresh or dried, I think they're just lovely to look at.

The cake itself was lovely too, though a little heavy. It was buttery and dense, almost more like shortbread, which was alright by me. A little sliver with a dollop of whipped cream is the perfect after dinner treat.

You'll have to forgive my lack of a photograph of the finished product, but here is the recipe!

Fig and almond cake (From Nigel Slater's Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard)
250g unsalted butter
250g sugar
75g almond flour
100g all-purpose flour
100g dried figs
4 large eggs, beaten
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Line the bottom of a 9" cake pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350F
Cream butter and sugar together in a stand mixer.
In a separate bowl, combine almond and AP flours.
Give the figs a whirl in the food processor until they are very finely chopped - almost a purée, but not quite.
With the mixer on low, add the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar a little at a time.
Turn the machine off and add the lemon zest and about 1/3 of the flour mixture, then mix on low until incorporated. Add the second and third batches of flour, mixing after each.
Finally, with the mixer still on low, add the lemon juice and the figs.
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and bake for 35 minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen, place a piece of parchment paper on a wire cooling rack and sprinkle it with sugar. Turn the cake out onto the sugared paper and allow to cool.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eat your backyard

The snap peas I made for dinner to accompany this salmon with bacon, shallot, and mint weren't grown in my garden, but hopefully soon I will be sharing my own personal backyard bounty. After months of wishing and scheming, today my mom and I finally started out own little garden. Tomatoes, greens, beans, radishes, and squash will hopefully be on the menu around here in the coming months. There's something that I have always loved about using ingredients that you yourself have watched spout up from the earth. I don't have much experience with gardening, so here's hoping that some luck and some mother's wisdom will make this latest venture a success (drought-permitting...).

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Eating Italy

/image source/
Today, I discovered that I like beef tongue. For lunch, I had, pasta, locally grown roasted carrots, ricotta gelato with chocolate and orange, some good Italian wine, and the insalata di lingua, a salad of chilled beef tongue with potato and anchovy aioli. A rather disjointed meal, yes, but a delight nonetheless. There are a lot of perks to working in a restaurant that serves amazing food, among them, the opportunity to taste my way through the ever-changing menu and experience Italian food comparable to the stuff I ate at the source. Inevitably, doing so means trying some, well, different things. Today it was beef tongue, the other day it was tripe, once it was fried chicken liver. If they put pickled pig's feet on the menu, I would probably try it without hesitation. I'm here to learn, and I don't want to miss anything. And guess what? All of those things I've tried? Delicious! If you let the idea of tongue, or liver, or stomach hold you back, who knows what you might miss?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April showers

A simple egg-drop style soup, mildly flavored with wild onions and red pepper flake. Why not throw a knob of ginger in while it boils to make things interesting? It's taken out at the end, but just a hint of its essence remains. Finish it off with some lightly sautéed asparagus, and you've got yourself a perfectly comforting rainy springtime lunch. For best results, pair with a good book and a blanket.

Spring Soup for 1
about a cup and a half chicken stock
one wild onion or scallion, thinly sliced
a knob of fresh ginger
a pinch of red pepper flake
one egg, beaten
some freshly grated parmesan cheese
a few spears of asparagus
salt to taste

Sautée asparagus in a bit of butter or olive oil until just starting to brown. Chop and set aside for now. Whisk the cheese in with the beaten egg.
Meanwhile, bring stock, onion, ginger and pepper flake to a boil. Once it's boiling, pour in the egg and cheese mixture in a slow, steady stream while vigorously stirring. The egg will instantly cook and make nice noodle-like tendrils.
Remove ginger, add salt to taste, and pour into a cozy soup bowl. Add the asparagus and garnish with onion flowers, if it strikes your fancy.
Eat immediately and enjoy the rest of your day inside.