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Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

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I usually like to pair my recipes and food photos with philosophical musings (or perhaps “ramblings” is more accurate), which is why months tend to pass by before I have the time and inclination to write any new posts. But sometimes sugar is just sweet. Sometimes, dessert just tastes good. And this is one of those times.

Yesterday, I made a recipe that was so good, and so deceivingly easy that I just have to share it. So I’m breaking my own rules, sparing you the life lesson, and keeping it short and sweet with a great recipe and some pretty photos. (Also trying to follow my own advice to simplify. Can you break your own rules and follow your own advice at the same time?)

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I used this recipe for “Lazy Mary’s Lemon Tart” by dymnyno on Food 52. I was intrigued by the technique: no futzing around making lemon curd, just throw a whole Meyer lemon in a blender (peel and all) with eggs, sugar and a stick of butter and voila: tart filling that’s ready to pour into your tart shell and bake. You don’t even have to melt the butter. I did “go the extra mile” and remove the seeds from the recipe, even though the recipe didn’t specifically say to do so. I’m a perfectionist like that.

I made my own tart shell using the recipe below, which was also pretty easy, but if you really want to be “lazy” and just pick up a pre-made tart shell from Whole Foods, I fully support that decision.

Classic Tart Dough from the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups AP flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces and chilled

Whisk egg yolk, cream, and vanilla together in a bowl. Process flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add chunks of butter, tossing to coat each one in the flour mixture. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 15x. With machine running, add egg mixture and continue to process until dough just comes together around blade, about 12 seconds.

Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten to 6″ disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour. (Can make ahead and store up to 2 days in fridge or 1 month in freezer).  Before rolling out dough, let it sit on counter to soften slightly for about 10 min. Roll out into 11″ circle on lightly floured surface. Loosely roll up onto rolling pan and gently unroll onto 9″ tart pan with removable bottom, letting excess dough hang over the edges. Ease dough into pan by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into corners with other hand. Press dough into fluted sides of pan, forming distinct seam around pan’s circumference. Crust should be 1/4″ thick all around. If some sections are too thin, reinforce them by folding the excess dough back on itself. Run rolling-pin over top of tart pan to remove any excess dough. Prick holes into bottom with a fork. Wrap dough-lined tart pan loosely in plastic wrap place on large plate and freeze until dough is fully chilled and firm, about 30 min. (Can be wrapped tightly and frozen up to a month).

Heat oven to 375. Set dough-lined tart shell on a baking sheet, line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dry rice or beans). Bake about 15 min, remove parchment and pie weights and bake for another 10 min. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before pouring in lemon filling and baking tart at 350 for 35-40 min.

Inspired by the lavender blooming in my garden I added a few drops of lavender extract to the whipped cream just for fun.

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There’s a place we like to go for dinner that’s right down the hill from our house called the Buckeye Roadhouse. It opened in 1937, the same year as the Golden Gate Bridge, perfectly positioned to take advantage of all those extra day-trippers heading to and from San Francisco. It’s been through a few incarnations since then, but retains a certain old school charm to this day. The dining room is a grand place with high ceilings and a big, stone fireplace that lends just the right weight to special occasions.

But me and Matt, we prefer dining at the bar. Cozy red leather banquettes and paned windows make it feel like a hide-away. The Buckeye is known for its comfort food and is the perfect spot for a martini and a big, juicy steak with potatoes au gratin. Throw-back dishes like “oysters bingo” and wedge salad never disappoint. But sprinkled among the classics, there are a few new California twists, and I’ve recently become quite smitten with their kale salad. So smitten, that I just had to figure out how to make it, and after peppering the bartender with questions for the chef, was able to get pretty close.

It’s listed on the menu as “Dino Kale with Ricotta Salata, Shaved Fennel, Black Radish, Croutons and Lemon”. Croutons sound so unassuming, but these are really the secret weapon. In fact, they’re not really croutons at all, but delicate, buttery bread crumbs made from brioche bread.

The other secret, as I learned from the bartender, is letting the kale marinate in lemon juice for a few hours, which starts to break down the fibers a bit and make it more tender. The one secret that evidently shall remain a secret is the black radishes. They’re stunning on the plate–round paper-thin slivers with black edges and white centers. I hear the chef gets them from a special source in Napa. I’ve been keeping my eye out at the farmer’s market, but alas, have been unable to find them in the Bay Area. But white radishes will do, and in any case, not being able to replicate the dish to a T gives me an excuse to go back to the Buckeye for dinner (or to Napa for a radish run? who’s with me?).

We planted kale in our little raised bed garden this year, and the bugs seemed to like it better than anything else we were growing. They were quickly making lace of it, so I harvested the whole crop hastily, in order to beat the insects to the chomp. Inspired by the restaurant in our “backyard” and made with the kale literally from our backyard (+ a lemon from our tree) makes this “the Local Local Special”.

The Buckeye Kale Salad with Brioche Bread Crumbs

Serves 4.

1 bunch of fresh, tender Dino kale. Ribs removed, cut into bite-sized pieces.
juice from one lemon
4 slices brioche bread with crusts removed (about 8 oz.)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 radishes (Black if you can find them), sliced paper-thin with a mandoline
1 small fennel bulb, shaved
Shaved ricotta salata (this is the slightly dry, crumbly kind. I didn’t measure, so just use whatever amount feels right to you.)
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Toss kale with lemon juice in a large bowl, cover and marinate in fridge for 2-3 hours.

Pulse slices of bread 3-4x in a food processor to shred into coarse bread crumbs. Heat butter and olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add bread crumbs and toast, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until golden brown and slightly crispy. About 15-20 min. Set aside.

Toss marinated kale with sliced radishes, fennel, bread crumbs and shaved ricotta salata. Season with salt and pepper. If needed, add an extra sprinkle of olive oil. Enjoy!

 

 

 

PS on 7/22- Doh! A week after I published this post, I discovered a whole bunch of photos of the kale salad on my camera that I had forgotten about. I’ve edited the post above to include a few of my favorites. This is what happens when I go three months without posting.

 

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Last week, my mother-in-law visited from Connecticut. She had only one request for her time in California: a trip to the farmer’s market. A request that I was more than happy to oblige. It was a deliciously gorgeous spring day and I savored the excuse to wander more slowly than usual, stopping at every stall to admire the bounty with the appreciation of outsider’s eyes.

We selected quite a haul for our Sunday dinner. A fresh chicken and carrots in assorted colors for roasting, potatoes for mashing, and sugar snap peas for munching. But the score of the day was definitely the strawberries. Luscious perfumy little jewels that seduced us at first bite. We picked up three baskets so we’d still have plenty left to make a dessert after we had greedily eaten our fill over the sink.

When we got home from the farmer’s market, I lugged a few of my favorite cookbooks out to a sunny spot in the backyard and we poured over recipes for a while (sorry friends, blogging is fun, but there are times when there is no substitute for the satisfaction of a heavy book on your lap), finally settling on the Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake recipe from the Gourmet Today cookbook by Ruth Reichl.

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Making this cake with my mother-in-law in the kitchen was one of my favorite moments of her visit. She did the dry ingredients, I did the wet. And we shared the delight in the heavenly smell of the cake in the oven. Sweet, bright and comforting, like family when you need it most.

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This is a really easy, no-fuss kinda cake, and it’s more delicious than it is photogenic. I guess they call it pudding cake because it’s so moist you could eat it with a spoon. The note in the cookbook says you can modify the recipe to use almost any fruit your heart desires, and you can bet I’ll be trying it with peaches come July. (Plus raspberries, perhaps?)

The only modification I made to the recipe was to add a little citrus zest (orange + lemon) because we had a few from our backyard trees that weren’t juicy enough for anything else, and it seemed the right thing to do. We served the cake warm with a dusting of powdered sugar, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a few slices of fresh strawberries.

I’ve heard the leftovers are great for breakfast. I’m not saying I’ve tried it, but it tastes great with coffee.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
from the Gourmet Today cookbook by Ruth Reichl. Recipe can also be found on Epicurious.

Makes 6 to 8 (breakfast or dessert) servings

1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon+ of citrus zest (lemon and/or orange. Optional. This part is Ms. T’s addition–not in the Gourmet recipe.)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish.

Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.

Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Add citrus zest.

Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Grate a little more citrus zest on top. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes before serving. (Can be made a few hours ahead of time and served at room temperature or re-heated.)

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It all started with preserved Meyer lemons. I tried making them a couple years ago, and I was smitten. So enchanting, so unforgettable, like the taste of sunshine and ocean combined. A secret ingredient to bring soups, salads and countless other dishes to life. Alas, that first jar of lemons went way too quickly, swallowed into big bowl of orzo salad that didn’t last through the end of the party. For months afterwards, I scanned the farmer’s markets and grocery stores for Meyer lemons, hoping to re-stock my supply. But the season is fleeting, and I had to wait longingly for spring to arrive again.

Now I know better. When I catch my first glimpse of those deep gold treasures at the farmer’s market in February, I go into full-fledged hoarder mode. I’ve been known to clean out the citrus lady entirely, and shamelessly come back the following week for more. Meyer lemons are wonderful fresh, of course, but preserving them allows me to savor their delightful flavor long after the season has passed. And I’m a sucker for ingredients that have crossover appeal from sweet to savory. Preserved lemons are easy to make. You basically just put them in a jar with salt and lemon juice and let them sit for 30 days. I more or less use this recipe as a guide, except I skip the spices because I prefer to have a more versatile condiment that I can take in various flavor directions depending on the dish I’m using them in. Why should Moroccans have all the fun?

Of course, the hard part is waiting 30 days. I started my first batch of the season in February, and have been religiously shaking the jar in my pantry every day like a good girl, and counting the days. So when the time was finally up, I was chomping at the bit to showcase my finely aged beauties in a dish that would celebrate spring.

That’s when I stumbled onto the idea of a shaved asparagus salad. Another ingredient that’s just starting to make its springtime debut, calling for a play date with my preserved lemons. I took my inspiration for the salad from this lovely Shaved Asparagus & Mint Salad by Meatballs&Milkshakes on Food52, and for the dressing from a recipe for Asparagus & Bulgur with Preserved Lemon Dressing in The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. With these two recipes as my jumping off point, I improvised. When I saw watermelon radishes at the store, I couldn’t resist adding them to the mix simply for the joyful contrast of their pink slices against the green shavings of asparagus–this was a salad intended for a ladies’ luncheon after all. Before I knew it, I had a bright confetti of a salad that seemed to be doing a little happy dance that daylight’s savings has finally turned our clocks to the hopeful up-swing leading towards summer.

Shaved Asparagus & Watermelon Radish Salad with Preserved Meyer Lemon Dressing
Serves 4.

For the dressing:
1 preserved Meyer lemon
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the preserved lemon with cold water, and the cut it in half (if it’s not already cut into halves or quarters). Chop one half coarsely and place in a blender. Use a spoon to remove the pulp from the remaining half and add only the pulp to the blender, taking care to discard any seeds. Dice the remaining rind into small bits and set aside to garnish the salad. Add the oil and spices to blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed.

For the salad:
1 bunch (about a pound) of very fresh asparagus, the thicker the better
1 small fennel bulb
1 handful fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 oz mild goat cheese, crumbled
1 watermelon radish, scrubbed
A few bits of preserved Meyer lemon rind, diced (leftover from dressing–see above)

Cut off the tough ends and the tips of your asparagus stalks at an angle and set the tips aside. If they are big, fat stalks, like mine were, blanch the tips in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds, plunge them into an ice-water bath, drain and set aside. (As promised, here are some more tips I learned at my CIA boot camp: when boiling water for vegetables or pasta, add enough salt until the water is “salty like the sea”. This will add flavor more evenly to the item you’re cooking than if you simply salt the cooked food. Always leave the lid off when you are boiling vegetables, because they release acid as they cook, which can turn them brown. An ice bath is a great way to stop the cooking and keep your veggies al dente until you’re ready to finish your dish. Make sure to drain them immediately after they’ve completely chilled in the ice bath, so they don’t absorb water and get soggy.)

Use a vegetable peeler (working lengthwise from root end to tip end) to create thin strips of asparagus. You’ll have some scraps leftover that are too hard to work with. You can either compost them or save them for a soup, like this one. Place the strips in a bowl. Remove the tough outer layer of fennel bulb and trim off both ends, and use a mandolin to slice thin rounds of fennel, adding them to the bowl with asparagus. Trim the ends of the ends of the radish and slice into thin rounds with the mandolin. Toss radish slices into the bowl, or layer them around the perimeter of your salad plates (see photos). Tear mint leaves and add them to the bowl. Toss salad with dressing. The recipe I’ve listed here will make more dressing than you need for this salad (which is a good thing, because it’s delicious and will keep in your fridge for a week or two). So add dressing to your salad a few spoonfuls at a time, to your taste. Keep in mind that the asparagus will release moisture as it sits, so you’ll want to go pretty light on the dressing. Taste and add salt if needed.

Place salad on plates and top with pine nuts, goat cheese and preserved lemon rind. Enjoy!

Notes from my tasters: The goat cheese added a nice creaminess, but wasn’t entirely necessary given all the other flavors. You could easily skip it and it would still be good. The fennel flavor also got a little lost–you could probably choose fennel or radish (for crunch), but don’t really need both. Don’t forget to taste the asparagus mixture and add salt if needed. I think my final dish could have used a little more acid. A squeeze of lemon (Meyer or regular) would be a nice finishing touch.

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