Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Dinner: I'm talkin' Moroccan! Plus, the best hummus on the planet.

Those of you who've been reading this blog for awhile know that making Sunday dinner is one of my favorite rituals. I love to dream up something involved, do the shopping, find just the right wine, and then dive into the prep work, listening to singalong songs and having a cocktail in the process. Tonight I'm going Moroccan, trying a beef and green olive tagine with an Israeli cous cous side. But before the main event, I'm serving The World's Best Hummus, created by Hanna Anki, Owner and Chef of Hanna's Italian Mediterranean Restaurant in San Rafael. I twisted his arm for the recipe and now it's on frequent rotation chez moi. Hanna is Jordanian and so it makes sense he knows a thing or two about hummus. His version is insanely tasty, with a zesty citrusy edge, fragrant toasted pine nuts and jalapeño garlic gremolata on top. It's easy to make in under 20 minutes and it's beyond satisfying. But consider yourself warned. You will be ruined for every other hummus after sampling it. Simply put, can't touch this.

So, to begin, go find your cute polka-dot apron. You know the one, the black and red number with flamenco frills on the bottom. Now put on some dreamy music to set the mood. Iron & Wine feels right. And pour yourself a glass of that Malbec you love so much. Now you're ready.

You'll need:

1 12 oz can organic garbanzo beans
3/4 c lemon juice
3/4 c tahini
1/4 c cold water
2 tspn olive oil
2 oz pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeño

Boil garbanzos in their own water for 10 minutes.
Drain water and place hot ‘bonzos, in blender.
(Note to self: start new band called “Hot Bonzos”)
Add lemon juice and cold water. Blend until finely puréed.
Mix blended ingredients with tahini in bowl.
Add water and lemon juice to taste.
Pour onto plate, spread evenly.
Put olive oil in pan and toast pine nuts.
Make gremolata of finely chopped parsley, jalapeno and garlic.
Pour hot pine nuts and oil over hummus. Top with gremolata.
Serve with toasted persian bread, naan or pita.

Et, voila! Or as one feeble coworker wrote in an email to me some years back: "Wa-la!" (One wonders why these types always reside in upper management.)

As for the Moroccan meal, I've not yet begun the process so I'll share another one I made recently after my sis-in-law forwarded me the recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow's blog, GOOP. It's a recipe that Gwynnie apparently enjoyed while dining with Mario Batali at his home. I have no idea why she's on that show traipsing around the world with him when we would so much rather watch Bourdain crisscrossing the globe, eating pig's colons and cussing it up. Anyway, you'll be using all kinds of delicious ingredients like preserved lemons, saffron and cinnamon. And you'll cook them in a big mélange like this:

And your house will smell like heaven.

And when you're done, your work will look like this.

The following is lifted, 100%, from Gwynnie's blog, so please credit her--or actually Mario Batali--with the below. I also added slivers of medjool dates to offset the incredible tartness of the preserved lemon.

Chicken with Onions, Lemon and Saffron

This chicken dish is easy to make but has complex flavors. Finishing it with the preserved lemons and cilantro garnish is inspired.

TIME: 1 hour
1 whole chicken, cut into 12 pieces (leave skin on)
coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour seasoned with 1 tablespoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (NO, GWYNNIE, NO! The o.o. burns, so use a high-heat oil like Safflower!)
3 large Spanish onions, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
2 whole lemons, cut into paper thin slices
1 large fennel bulb, sliced 1/4" thick
12 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1/2 cup green olives
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon hot pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika, available from
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup dry white wine (such as Albariño)
1 bunch cilantro, washed
1 whole preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind sliced into paper thin slices (available from
1/4 cup pomegranate pips

Preheat oven to 425°F. Rub the chicken pieces with coarse salt, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Aggressively season chicken pieces with salt and freshly ground pepper all over and then dredge them in the seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a large, wide, heavy pot over medium-high heat until nearly smoking. Place half of the chicken pieces skin side down into the hot oil and cook for eight to ten minutes or until golden brown and crispy, swirling the oil and rendered fat around the pot every minute or two. Turn the chicken and cook for two minutes on the second side and remove to a warm plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

Add the onions, fresh lemon slices, fennel, garlic, olives, saffron, pimentón and cinnamon to the pot and cook until softened and golden, about eight to ten minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Place chicken pieces and drippings from the plate into the onion bed, pushing them so that they’re almost covered with the onion mixture, but with the skin still above the surface of the moist and delicious morass. Place the whole pot, uncovered, into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile tear the cilantro into 1" pieces, toss with the preserved lemon slices and pomegranates and set on the table in a nice bowl. Remove the chicken and serve immediately from the pot, pinching a bit of the cilantro salad over each portion.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A sort of homecoming + a simple, celebratory meal: Crab Ravioli in Saffron Cream

From Samhain to St. Pat's, it's been a frightfully long absence. But now, with new camera in hand, I return, triumphant. On the heels of a parental visit, I have some new recipes to share and some shots to inspire. But first, a little ketchup. Get it, catch up? That particular pun was for you, Honeybeast, hater of non-referential wordplay. Anyway, before I delve into the recipes I care to share, I'd like to run through recent culinary discoveries and delights. We'll save the disappointments for another day. Let us not taint this beautiful reunion with disparaging words about purveyors of nose-crinkling foodstuffs.

In the discoveries section, let's start with young coconut water. Not the milky, creamy stuff you buy in cans for curries, this nectar from young green coconuts is thin and subtly flavored. In my experience, people either love it or hate it, but regardless, your body will thank you for it. My facialist (I say that like she's on my permanent staff) tells me it's divine for the skin (ingested, not applied topically) and I read that, post-tsunami, it was administered intravenously to the critically dehydrated because its so rich in nutrients it can mimic human plasma. Full of potassium and electrolytes, it's nature's Gatorade, and as an oft-dehyrdated little flower myself, I'm a fan.

On to delights. Let's start with The Moss Room. If you've not yet explored The Academy of Sciences (Hello?? Penguins!), consider going on a Thursday night. If the idea of cocktailing while perusing exhibits sits well with you, and you prefer the bass of dj beats to the daytime squeals of kindergartners, it's a must. After checking out the Rainforest and the Planetarium, you can mosey on down (with ressies, of course) to The Moss Room, the museum's onsite restaurant, which serves all-organic, locally-farmed ingredients in delicious, innovative dishes from Charles Phan (Slanted Door, Heaven's Dog) and Loretta Keller (Coco500, Bizou). On the night we dined there, in fact, I was doubly delighted. Firstly, I was stunned when the sommelier announced he remembered the Huzz and me from a previous visit to Coco500. Not so exceptional except that it was four years ago! I remembered him too as he'd spent a good amount of time recommending wines that night, and I appreciated his attentiveness, but really, for him to remember us all these years later was sort of amazing. Maybe we asked something so oenophilically pedestrian, he made a mental note about us. But judging from his service and generousity, the guy's just a consummate pro.

Next delight was his in-depth discourse on biodynamic wine. I may have previously understood something about these wines being grown according to the earth's natural cycles, rather than by forcing farming techniques against the seasons. What I didn't know is how sort of Pagan and ritual-filled the growing techniques seem to the uninitiated. It's all lunar cycles and burying a cow horn filled with manure. Don't mock it though--the process is actually a means of optimizing soil fertility. And based on my tastings that night, they're doing something way right. I also learned though that bio-wines can be total hit-or-miss. Whereas science lets us manipulate or chemically-enhance wines if the growing season isn't to our liking, this methodology lets nature determine the outcome. Poor season? Poor wine. So it goes. I was also delighted to learn that one of our fave local wines, Grgich Hills (A Croatian family making California wines) is entirely biodynamic. Somehow, knowing they let nature lead makes me love them even more.

The next mini-delight: The "When Figs Fly" cocktail at Absinthe (PS: Jamie Lauren was robbed!) When brunching there (I love those who "brunch" as a verb almost as much as those who "summer")...anyway, whilst brunching at Absinthe, I typically go for a French 75 (how I adore those petite brandied cherries), but when my ladyfriend opted for this figgy spritzer, I wished I'd ordered the same. It's simply fig cordial and champagne with a thyme sprig stir. Totally figalicious.

Oh, and a final discovery, and one that makes an appearance on le menu below is the tomato vanilla jam from Lemon Bird Jams. Perhaps the flavor combo sounds odd to you, as it did to me on first receiving the sweet little jar from my sister-in-law, but Oh My Vanilla Beans, is it sublime! I've sampled other combinations from these jam elves since, but this one is truly superb. Enjoy en brioche avec paté per my directions, below.

And on now to the recipes for a simple, celebratory meal. In this case, it was my mother's tender 71st. My father reported that lobster is her decadent food of choice so he and I set out to make a meal around it. We settled on an amuse bouche of paté and tomato vanilla jam (that's the one!) on brioche, a frisée salad with blood oranges, roquefort and champagne citrus vinaigrette followed by the main event: lobster ravioli in saffron cream. And to close, a pear tart. However, once it became clear that fresh lump lobster meat was in short supply (and since I had no interest in steaming a live one), we settled for a pound of fresh lump Dungeness meat as ravioli filling. The result was, dare I say it, even better. I think the tender crab texture compared to the more plump lobster meat ended up being a superior filling for our little pasta pillows. So without further ado, Les Recettes du Menu Spécial Fêtes:

L'amuse bouche: Fois Gras Paté on Brioche with Tomato Vanilla or Fig Jam (we made both)
Firstly, brioche is my new favorite food group. With a flaky, delicate texture somewhere between pannetone and croissant, it's melt-in-your-mouth pastry heaven. If you don't care to make your own (I do, but not yet), you can buy loaves at Whole Foods. (Toast some for breks and enjoy with tea for a divine start to your day). In this case, I sliced, cubed and lightly toasted some of Heaven's Bread. Then, I topped it with a sliver of paté and a dollop of jam, alterating between the flavors named above. Finally, I plated it in what turned out to be a very-'80s checkerboard pattern. For a minute, I was back in Postrio's flamboyant dining room circa '93.

Next, le salade. Frisée tossed in Champagne Citrus Vinaigrette with Blood Orange Segments and Roquefort.
It couldn't be easier, or more refreshing. I cleaned the frisée then tossed it in a drizzle of 1 part champagne vinegar to 2 parts persian lime olive oil. (I love this stuff or it's lemony cousin, and both are easily found in various incarnations at Whole Foods or around the Ferry Building). Also, be sure to add a few fingerfuls sel de mer and some grindings of pepper. Toss well. Top with segments of blood orange, peeled and pithed, and garnish with a gooey hunk of rich roquefort.

And, finally, the Crab Ravioli in Saffron Cream
One of my favorite time-saving kitchen techniques, and not in that Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade way that involves the vile "tablescapes", is using wonton wrappers to make ravioli. You can find them, once again, at Whole Foods (why does it feel like I'm totally plugging them, today? Here are the facts: it's close, I'm lazy and they do have a stupid-awesome array of special ingredients). Anyway, the wonton wrappers. Simply brush the edges with egg wash (one lightly beaten egg), plop a little heap of crabmeat in the center and then encase the little package by topping with another wrapper and pinching the edges together. I set my father to work on these and he diligently fashioned 2o or so, estimating about 5 for each plate.

(Seen here: The commander gets his wonton on!)

For the cream sauce, I started by sautéeing a shallot in butter, adding white wine and reducing it, then adding cream, saffron, salt and pepper. When the pasta is plated and spooned with sauce, sprinkle some cayenne and lay a chive or two across the top. It's a simple recipe I found online here, and it's really pretty good. If I did it again, I'd add something to the crabmeat to add some layered flavor. I think corn and thinly sliced shallot would really add some delicious dimensions.

The aforementioned pear tart is also an afore-blogged recipe. Just search this blog and you'll find the pearticulars (ouch) in a long-ago post, I think alongside some superior spanakopita snaps. And with that, my long-abandoned cheeselings, I must close. Thanks for returning, and reading right down to the bitter end. Happy Paddy's Day, Erin Go Bragh and try not to act too much the eejit when you're pounding green beers down at P.J. McFinnegans tonight!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I was robbed!

Can you believe it? I won not a single prize in the Great Cake-Off. Not even for originality, which I think my Scream had in spades, thank you. And who did they give it to? A freaking gelatinous "brain" cake that was so obviously a molded panna cotta and not a cake at all. And who got the runner up? A chocolate mousse with a spun sugar web on top. I knew I was toast when I heard the company prez--all bedecked in a silver space suit--fawning over it, saying "Ooooh, spun sugar. Verrrrrry impressive." I painted Munch, people! On a freaking cake! Boo. Hiss. There is no justice.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hope Your Day's A Scream

Listen, it was between that and some Munch pun, so give me a break already.
Anyway, for this All Hallows Eve, I was granted the dubious honor of creating a "Haunted Halloween Cake" in a client cooking contest. Nothing against making cakes mind you--I was nominated to create the frightful confection after winning a different cake competition at the aforementioned client workplace (marmalade sponge with ginger cream, thankyouverymuch).

So, once I took the prize (a lovely late harvest wine), I was volunteered to make a cake representing my department in the bigger, more "important" company-wide "Haunted Halloween Cake Contest". And while making cakes I don't mind, "haunted" ones seem to call for some "Good Housekeeping"-style monstrosity with pumpkins and spiders made of cheap day-glo icing. Of course I can't quite go *there* so I decided, in overly ambitious fashion, to recreate Munch's "The Scream" by handpainting a fondant canvass atop a gingerbread and buttercream cake. Ridiculous, I know. Not very folksy of me. But hey, that's what elite private girls school will do to you. Anyway, I think it turned out quite nicely, considering my complete lack of experience working with fondant, much less painting it with edible lustre dust. Here's hoping that if this image doesn't scare you, at least it gives you a chuckle.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Your Fall Fest Correspondent, reporting for duty

Ay yi yi...where HAS the time gone? Months have passed, I know, but your favorite self-flagellating, irregular blogger (not like that, juveniles!) is back. The reason for my sudden reappearance on the scene? An assignment to cover Fall Fest from my friends at Foodbuzz. The reason for my weeklong delay in so doing? Lost notes. After carefully balancing my sampling plate (dubbed "the adult TV dinner tray"--see built-in wine glass holder),
I took copious notes, only to return home and promptly lose them. So, here, today, I sit, prepping to perform the sort of early-onset Alzheimers prevention exercise I should attempt more often. I'll give you the broad strokes of what stood out in Jamie's list of "bests" a la our favorite fashionisto, Mr. Blackwell.

Best overall food theme: duck. Roasted, patéed, confit'd. You name it, they did it. With figs, with chevre, with a plum reduction. Without a doubt, duck stole the day.

Best duck I tasted: The duck and white bean chowder from Salthouse. It was deep and smoky and savory and more than a little reminiscent of a fine cassoulet. Nice work, saltdudes. And that means you, guy-wearing-the-"Got Weed?" tee.

Best non-duck foodstuff at the Fest: The parsnip and vanilla bean soup from Frisée. I'm pretty much a sucker for anything with that exotic, fragrant vanilla pod scent, but the parsnip pairing was a revelation I'd not seen before. Hats off, Nathan Niebergall--nice guy/chef/co-owner who poured us wine from his own secret stash. (And no, that's not why he gets a mention here.)

Best wine tasted: A 2006 gewurtz from Gundlach Bundschu (say that 5 times fast). With notes of lychee and apricot, it was the perfect blend of sunny and crisp, much like the day itself.

Best non-wine drinkstuffs: Hangar One's herbal eau de vie blends, like the Aqua Perfecta Basil flavor featured in the cocktail competition where some of the city's finest got their mix on.
Best place to lounge and enjoy the dulcet tones of the bossanova band laying down some Gilberto-style beats and reflect on the joys of food blogging: These very Miami space pods. (note essential tools of the trade: wine glass and pen).

Best reason to feel like a "coastal elite" sipping chardonnay while Joe Six Pack curses all your ilk: Realizing there were also massage tables at this already precious & decadent event.

Best wordplay:

And finally,

Best reason to start blogging again: because I forgot how fun this is. Thanks for reading, and come back soon. I think I'm inspired to pick up where I left off, and as you all know, fall is my favorite food season, so kitchen adventures are imminent, methinks. And with that string of lovely soft-i assonance, I'll bid you adieu cheeselings. Oh yeah, I almost forgot:

Best reason to wrangle a free ticket to Fall Fest that would otherwise cost $95: All-you-can-eat fromage!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Out of Hibernation

Yeah, yeah. It's been a long time. A really long time, I know. I've been in Mexico and Santa Barbara, and busy with work and developing other projects, and amid all the activity, my beloved little blog has lay fallow. But with the summer season underway, and a weekend of gardening ahead, I'm making this ground--along with my new veggie plot--fertile again.
It's late for tomatoes, but I'm starting with healthy little plants, so I'm hopeful about the results. The arugula, nasturtium, radishes and carrots are going in from seed in a newly cleared sunny space with a built-in irrigation system. So the prospects are promising. Plus, I have expert advice coming in from The Most Senior Cheese, my father. A few of choice words of wisdom on tomato cultivation from him below:

"Recognizing the tomato hornworm is important. These are really ugly suckers that can ruin the plant. They look like a green rhinoceros without legs. Any white things on the hornworm will be wasp larvae. They will take care of the hornworm. Otherwise you should get them off the plant and send them to Allah.

Love, dad"

It seems my father has declared a fatwa on garden pests. Now, I am a pacifist by nature, practicing ahimsa as a rule, but if the hornworms are done in by wasp larvae, far be it from me to get in the way of their martyrdom.

And with that, I'll leave you with this, a completely unrelated, but nevertheless clever idea for summer sipping: when serving sangrita as your tequila chaser: present it in these cloyingly cute cucumber cups with cilantro stem stirs.
And no, I didn't innovate these little receptacles--I saw them online somewhere. To make sangrita, experiment with amounts to create a pleasing mixture of blended tomato juice, OJ, worchestershire, onion, cilantro, chipotle, salt and pepper. And for the cups, just cut your cuke into thirds and use a melon baller to gingerly scoop out some of the flesh and create your cup. Voila!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Raw reportage: Roxanne’s new food line

Some of you may remember Roxanne’s, the raw emporium in Larkspur, that drew oohs and ahhs for a menu that interpreted cooked food favorites like pizza and tamales with nothing but raw, fresh ingredients. Now Roxanne has come out with her own line of raw foods and yes, they actually taste good. Really good.

Because I’m still on some PR lists from when I reviewed restaurants, I was fortunate enough to receive a plentiful supply of these new packaged items, and I devoured them all with vigor usually reserved for non-raw foodstuffs. The almonds make a great snack, the chocolate squares work wonders when staving off a more dangerous sweets craving, and the apple crisp is positively decadent. Perhaps my favorite product from Roxanne’s new line is the granola parfait. The Granola itself is fantastic—both as cereal or eaten like trail mix—but with the added parfait, made of coconut meat and flavored with real vanilla, it’s a creamy, dreamy delight. I could eat buckets of the stuff, given the opportunity and a free pass to fats (healthy or otherwise). The huzz and I agreed that this stuff is like hippie crack, though Roxanne’s sensibilities and packaging are far too refined to be mistaken for proferrings from the patchouli crowd. You’ll find her products in Whole Foods and other such markets, next to the other healthful snacks with tie-dyed motifs and new age drawings of unicorns and rainbows. Just look for the smart green labels and expect something altogether more appetizing—both visually and taste-wise.