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!