Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pumpkin Pie Puddings

I love a pudding.  Simple, satisfying, classic, not too flashy.

Which is what I would say about  Nicole Spiridakis's cookbook Flourless.: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts. As you know, I am not gluten-free, but I do want to embrace more gluten-free cooking, for a few reasons: first, I have plenty of gluten-free friends whom I want to feed, but second, I think it is important to have a variety of foods in one's rotation, especially around Thanksgiving time, when oodles of people with many different dietary needs come together.

Our national reliance on wheat is a boon for North Dakota, Kansas, and Montana; however, any sort of monoculture is troubling for a state (and yes, even vineyards, while I love their product, can be tricky for agriculture). Spelt (Ohio), buckwheat (New York), amaranth (Nebraska), barley (North Dakota, again), and oats (Minnesota) contribute to a variety of crops and a variety of foods for all of us. These are things I can get behind.

However, what is wonderful about Nicole Spiridakis' relatively new cookbook is that she eschews expensive gluten-free flours and strange additives. This is the kind of gluten-free cooking I can get behind: it's so gluten-free that you hardly even notice that it is.

I love Spiridakis' blog, cucina nicolina, and have been reading it for years, as she has roamed from San Francisco to Morocco and now to Saudi Arabia. I'll admit that it was her photographs that drew me into her site; I found them warm and inviting and, more than anything else, inspiring. And I thought (perhaps erroneously) to myself, hey, I can do that, too.

I started messing with my camera, trying different angles, inspired by some of the styling that Spiridakis had done. Turns out I really cannot do what she does. By no means are my photos as luscious as hers, but I do credit her with inspiring me to become an even better photographer who still has a lot to learn.

Yet, her wonderful cookbook doesn't harken back to just cucuina nicolina for me. Additionally, it connects me to At the Immigrants Table, by Ksenia Prints, from whom I was gifted this book. Prints is as international as Spiridakis, for her journey has been from the former USSR to Israel and now to Canada. Like Spiridakis, her photography is delightful, and she admits to her own photographic journey from grainy under-lit snapshots to breathtakingly composed photographs. It was an utter delight to connect with her via this lovely cookbook.

But let's come back to the pudding, shall we? This is the perfect pudding for this time of year. Because let's face it--this is really just pumpkin pie filling. Sweet, delicious, and perhaps a little (or a lot--no one will see how liberal you're being with that "Tablespoon") bourbon-infused pumpkin pie filling.

You see, I am not a huge fan of pie crust. But I am a huge fan of pie filling of all kinds. So this recipe does all the right things: It hits your sweet spot, but not too hard because Spiridakis uses maple syrup rather than sugar. It conjures up those satisfying feelings of post-Thanksgiving dessert without all the disappointment of a dry pastry crust. It gives you pudding.

How can that be wrong?


Serves 6

4 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbsp bourbon (optional)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease six 1/2-cup ramekins withe vegetable oil.

2.  In a large bowl, lightly beat the four eggs. Then whisk in the pumpkin puree, milk, maple syrup, bourbon (if using), and vanilla. Add the salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, and give the mixture another whirl.

3. Pour the mixture into the ramekins, dividing it evenly. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet, and bake until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes. Chill the puddings, lightly covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to over night before serving.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Whole Roasted Celery Root from NOPI

Okay.  This almost doesn't qualify as a recipe.

But I'll admit, I have never made celeriac this way.

Yes, it took Yotam Ottolenghi to convince me to do something simple. And perfect.

I am not going to mess around here. I love celery root. I have sung its praises here, here, and here.

It is not a pretty little root vegetable, but if you can get beyond its humble, knobby exterior, it smacks of the bright, freshness that one expects from celery (which is, really, just the stalk of the plant) and the nutty, earthiness of something that comes from beneath the ground.

This straightforward recipe comes from Ottolenghi's latest cookbook, NOPI, a collection of restaurant-approved recipes from London's powerhouse foodie and his partner and NOPI Head Chef Ramael Scully.

Yes, it's true, I am a bit of a fan-girl when it comes to Ottolenghi, and next time I am in London (whew, it has been a long time since I was last there), you better believe I plan to pop by one of his eateries or make reservations at one of his restaurants.  NOPI just might be at the top of the list. (Forbes even argues that NOPI is London't best restaurant. That's a lot of aplomb.)

I would argue that the cookbook offers a parade of wonderful recipes that maybe aren't as simple as this roasted vegetable, but promise a splendid spread. From the Burrata with Bood Orange, Coriander Seeds and Lavender Oil to the Smoked Lamb Chips with Eggplant Puree, Jalapeno Sauce, and Kohlrobi Pickle, from the Baked Blue Cheesecake with Pickled Beets and Honey to the Coriander and Ginger Martini, I cannot wait to dive deeply into this book.

But can I admit something to you, here?  It's just a secret between you and me. This isn't my cookbook. It's the husband's. I bought it for him for his birthday this year.

We both know I really bought it for myself.

To round out my enthusiasm not only for the cookbook but for the husband's birthday, I took the husband to see Ottolenghi and David Lebovitz (whom you all know I also adore) in conversation at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco last month as part of his birthday celebrations. 

While the husband had to show up a little late due to terrible parking (and a late departure from dinner at Frances, where we had to order dessert even though we didn't have time), the conversation was delightful. Granted the husband and I didn't get to sit together. (He was a 10-minute late arrival, while I scuttled out of the idling car at the stop light.) Afterwards we walked back to the car (which was many blocks away), laughing and delighting in these two chefs who were able to be light and serious, delightful and driven.

Oh, people, I cannot wait to get cooking. Simple or complicated, these recipes are going to be downright fabulous.


Whole Roasted Celery Root

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully's NOPI

Serves 6

1 large celery root (celeriac) (about 2 1/2 pounds), trimmed, hairy roots discarded, rinsed clean
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
2 tsp coarse salt, plus extra to serve
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Place the celery root on a small parchment-lined baking sheet. Rub it all over with olive oil and salt, and roast for 3 hours, until a knife inserted into the flesh goes in very easily. 

3.  Slice into 12 wedges and serve with a final pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart with Walnuts

Oh people, I made this dense chocolate tart for Halloween Night, and it was decadent and rich, if a bit boozy.

Who wouldn't want that as a descriptor, either for themselves or for their desserts?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been nursing one doozy of a cold, so I have not been able to stay atop my cooking, but I did make this tart for Halloween Night. We surrounded ourselves with family at one set of my in-laws houses, and in between bites of a dinner, we answered the door as children pleaded for candy. Favorite costume: adult male dressed as a banana with a small child dressed as a monkey on his shoulders.

When dessert time came around, we sliced up this rather rich tart. We did have to make a recipe and a half because I did not have a 9 1/2-inch tart pan. I did, however, have a much larger square pan and in-laws who were willing to take the leftovers off our hands. People, I am not happy with the fact that I have gained five pounds since the beginning of the school year. But I am just not ready to give up dessert. The only answer is to foist my desserts on others and eat what I can before I push what is leftover away is a wash of self control, self congratulation, and a little bit of bittersweet longing.

This recipe comes from Maria Speck, whose beautiful recipes I have featured here and here. I appreciate her longterm (and certainly not hitched to trends) commitment to whole grain cooking. And this tart not only boasts a whole wheat crust, but you can go ahead and pat yourself on the back for adding walnuts and dark chocolate to your meal rotation.  Go ahead, convince yourself this is health food.  Add to that an ample lashing of Grand Marnier, or the orange liqueur of your choice, and you have a dessert fit for any holiday meal--goblin themed or otherwise.

I cut this rich chocolate tart with whipped cream.  There is really not a lot I can do to convince you that heavy cream is health food.

Good thing this recipe has whole wheat, dark chocolate, and walnuts to counteract the whipped cream.

And now, your only work is to whip up a delightful, if a bit boozy, dessert. If you hand whip the cream, you're sure to break a sweat and burn off any extra calories, right?


Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart with Walnuts

One 9.5-inch tart, to serve 12

Whole Wheat and Butter Tart Crust
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (3 1/8 ounces)
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (2 ounces)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
7 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/3 inch cubes
6-8 tablespoons ice water

1.  Place both the whole wheat flours, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and process 10 pulses to combine.  Distribute the butter cubes on top and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the ice water. Process 8-10 pulses.  Pinch a small amount of the dough with your fingers.  It should hold together.  If not, add 1 tablespoon more of ice water (if very dry), or add the water by the teaspoonful (if the dough starts to hold together).  Process 2 pules each time you add water until no floury patches remain but the dough stays uniformly crumbly with tiny butter pieces.  Do not allow to form a ball.

2.  Scrape the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface.  Gently press it into a flat disk, about 1 inch thick, and immediately roll into a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick.  Transfer the dough to a 9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom and gently press into the edges.  Roll the pin across the top of the pan to remove excess dough.  Prick the dough about a dozen times with a for.  Chill, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 2 hours or overnight.

3.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.  Set the tart pan on a large rimless baking sheet for easier handling.  Place a piece of parchment paper on the crust and fill it with pie weights (or dried beans).

4.  To partially bake the crust, carefully place the sheet with the tart pan in the oven and bake until the crust starts to pull away from the sides 15-18 minutes.  remove from the oven, and carefully slide the tart pan onto a wire rack.  Remove the parchment paper with the pie weights.  Allow the crust to cool to room temperature before filling.  

Tart filling
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup honey
 6 ounces dark chocolate (with 70% cocoa content), chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other good-quality orange-flavored liqueur
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (from 1 large orange)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 partially baked Whole Wheat and Butter Tart Crust
2/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
12 toasted walnut halves, for garnish

1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2.  Warm the sugar and the milk in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, 4-5 minutes.  Add the honey and cook until it has dissolved and the mixture is smooth, 1 minute or more, depending on the consistency of the honey.

3.  Place the chocolate and the butter in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan containing about 1 inch of barely simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water). Wait until melted, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, about 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set the chocolate mixture aside to cool for 5 minutes. Stir the Grand Marnier, orange zest, and vanilla extract into the sugar-honey mixture. Using a large whisk, gently add the sugar-honey mixture to the chocolate mixture, and then whisk in the eggs and yolk just until incorporated. The mixture will thicken slightly.

4.  After the crust has cooled, placed the tart pan on a large rimless baking sheet for easier handling. Sprinkle the crust with the chopped walnuts. Gently spoon the filling evenly into the crust as to not disturb the nuts.

5.  Carefully place the sheet with the tart pan in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and decorate the tart with the walnut halves by lightly pressing them around the outer rim. Continue to bake until the filling barely wiggles when the pan is moved gently, 8-10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully slide the tart pan onto a wire rack.  Leave the tart to cool completely in the pan, about 1 1/2 hours, before serving. The tart can sit at cool room temperature, up to 4 hours.

6.  When ready to serve remove the outer ring of the tart pan. Cut the tart into 12 pieces with a sharp knife dipped into hot water and wiped clean between each cut.

**The tart, including the filling, can be prepared 1 day ahead.  Wait until the tart has completely cooled and then chill, covered with plastic wrap.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Tangerine Negroni

As a child, at the toe-end of my stocking, I always found one apple and one orange--holdovers from my mother's childhood, when her own mother would stuff an orange in the toes, a twenty-year tradition from the Great Depression. Does your family still do this? Stuff an orange into the bottom of the stocking? Stuff these globes of bounty, of sunshine, of California or Florida, of a warmer and gentler clime? Even some 80 years since the Great Depression?

And citrus fruits, while available year round, take center stage in the winter, when we're all convinced there are no fresh fruits to be found.

This sweet and juicy cookbook by Valerie Alkman-Smith and Victoria Pearson trots out a healthy dose of citrus-inspired recipes. Sometimes the tangerines or lemons or limes take center stage (as in the recipes for Handmade Lemon Pappardelle, Cara Cara and Blood Orange Salad with Ricotta Salata, or Lemon Gรขteau). Other times the citrus takes a supporting role (think Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon Creme, Pork Chops with Eureka Lemon Mustard, or Tangerine Sticky Ribs). No matter the recipe though, this dainty cookbook suggests that even in the throes of winter or even late fall, there is some way to spruce up a dinner table with the brightness of citrus.

This particular recipe calls for the Page Tangerine, which is a hybrid of tangerines and either oranges or grapefruits. However, if it means waiting to make this drink until you stumble upon a Page tangerine, I say ignore that part of the recipe. I am a fan of going with whatever kind of tangerine you can get your paws on. In this case, I used the ubiquitous clementine, the Cutie. Maybe not as strong as the Page, but certainly easier to find.

Now the negroni was not a drink I thought I liked until the husband and his persuasive parents foisted this sweet, bitter, and bright drink upon me a few years ago. A bit medicinal at first, this drink is a sipping, not a slurping, one. Sure you can use the 1:1:1 ratio (as seen below, and I will attest, a delightful one), but I challenge you to go 2:1:.5 (gin:Campari:vermouth). Add an equal amount of tangerine juice as to gin, and you've got yourself one heck of a cocktail.  But I also say, mess around a little. See if you can find your proper ratio.  

Cocktail or not, the recipes in this little gem of a cookbook are worth a shot. And this dainty book is almost the size of a stocking stuffer. Perfect for perching atop all of the oranges, clementines, and lemons you can stuff into the toe of your Christmas sock.


Tangerine Negroni

Serves 2

4 ounces freshly squeezed tangerines (about 4-5 fruits)
2 ounces Hendrick's gin
2 ounces Campari
2 ounces Carpano Antica sweet vermouth or Punt e Mes
Ice, for cocktail shaker
2 tangerine slices

1.  Have ready 2 chilled cocktail glasses.

2.  Pour the tangerine juice, gin, Campari, and vermouth into a cocktail shaker filler with ice.

3.  Cover, shake vigorously, and then strain into the glasses. Garnish each drink with a tangerine slice and serve.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Grilled Squid with Cucumbers and Anise Hyssop

I really like it when other people make me squid.

I particularly like it when the kind folks at Camino in Oakland make me squid.

But I have to say, this is far too much work for what turned out to be mediocre results.

From here on out, I'll leave grilled squid to the chefs.

Full disclosure: I am a little grouchy. I have had a cold all weekend, which means I missed a backyard BBQ with some of the husband's friends on Saturday, a 1-year-old's birthday party on Sunday, and other general weekend revelries. Instead, I spent my weekend in a NyQuil-induced stupor and watched such gems as This is 40, the current season of Modern Family, Inside Out, and Troy. Don't judge--it was a fine mixture of what could be found on demand and of the laziness that precludes lifting the remote. Nonetheless, I am grouchy.

I wanted to love this cookbook, and I had been looking forward to its arrival.  But the sad truth is that I don't love it. The ingredients are too precious and the recipes too complicated: especially when I have the luxury of being able to drive less than five miles and be at the very same restaurant where someone else can make these things for me.  Plus it's where we celebrated one farewell dinner and one birthday brunch this year.

Yes, the cucumber salad in this recipe was excellent and the squid were appropriately smoky and crunchy.  But I am telling you, it was a lot of work to clean these slimy little cephalopods.

I am good. I don't need to make any more recipes from this cookbook. No more searching for sheep's milk ricotta (to be grilled in a fig leaf, no less) or anise hyssop or cardoons or fresh fenugreek or parsley root. All of these are wonderful ingredients, yes. But they're fussy.  So if you're in a better mood than I, you live near a specialty grocery store, and you have have time on your hands, I say more power to you. Have fun. Live it up. 

But not me. I will just go back to driving to Camino.  

Once I feel better, that is.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Grilled Squid with Cucumbers and Anise Hyssop

Adapted from This is Camino

Serves 6

2 pounds of squid, cleaned
Olive oil for brushing
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
3-4 limes
1 1/2 pounds Armenian or Japanese cucumbers
3 Tbsp olive oil
Small handful anise hyssop leaves (or substitute mint, chervil, basil, or tarragon)

1. To prepare the squid: Brush the squid with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds.  Skewer the tentacles and the bodies separately and with enough room between them so they will cook evenly. Put the skewer through the tail end of the body.  Prepare the coals until they are hot with no flames.

2. To make the dressing: Pound the garlic and a pinch of salt in a mortar. Add the shallots and the juice of the limes. Stir.

3.  To make the salad: Peel the cucumbers, then cut in half lengthwise. Cut into half moons on the diagonal. Put the cucumbers in a bowl and season them with salt. Pour in the olive oil and about half of the garlicky lime juice. Tear or slice the anise hyssop or other herb (I used chervil). Toss everything together and taste. Add more garlicky lime juice and/or olive oil as needed. Set aside while you grill the squid. 

4.  To grill the squid: Place the bodies on the hot side of the grill and the tentacles on a slightly cooler side. Grill until the bodies puff up and the undersides turn from grey to reddish brown, about 3 minutes. Then flip the squid. Cook until the other side changed color and there are no translucent parts, even between the tentacles. 

5.  When the squid is done, spread the cucumbers on the plate, leaving a little juice in the bowl. Slide the squid off of the skewer onto the cucumbers and top with remaining cucumber juice over the squid.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ricotta, Warm Pear, and Thyme Crostini

Guess what we'll be having for appetizers Thanksgiving Day.

We gave these morsels a spin the other night as a precursor to the husband's birthday dinner, and whoo boy, these are tasty little numbers. Tasty enough to trot out in front of family and friends for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Last year, about this time, I picked up Sunday Suppers, a fantastically photographed menu-based cookbook. It has been a delightful cookbook that has not steered me wrong, so I should have had faith that these would need to have more than a supporting role in a dinner at home. I am a reborn believer in this book. In the pear. In the pear cooked in butter and sugar and sprinkled with fried thyme leaves.

Seriously, what about that doesn't sound like perfection?

The crostini are as simple as can be, and we agreed that warm or cold, the pears are the stars.  Warm, they lend more of a savory quality to the crostini. Cold, the sweetness really stands at attention. Further, I love me a simple ricotta, which is a nice play against the buttery, thyme-y pears. Served in front of beef bourguignon (husband's main dish of choice for his birthday dinner), and you have a meal.

I suspect the same will be said of their attendance in front of turkey.

But you don't need a birthday dinner or a Thanksgiving celebration for these. Make the slices of bread bigger (say, from a country loaf rather than a baguette), and you could have a decadent breakfast. Make the pears the night before and stash them in the fridge and you not only have luxury on your hands for a Saturday morning, but you have ease.

But I will also be having these on Thanksgiving Day (and perhaps a few more mornings between now and then).


Ricotta, Warm Pear, and Thyme Crostini

Adapted from  Sunday Suppers


For the bread:
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 slices country loaf bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices or 16 slices baguette
1 clove garlic, halved

For the topping :
1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 Bartlett pear, sliced (do not peel)
1 tsp coarse brown sugar
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup fresh ricotta

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2.  Brush the olive oil over one side of each bread slice, and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast the bread, flipping the slices once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes.

3.  In a small skillet, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add the pear slices, brown sugar, and thyme sprigs. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until the pears are cooked but still retain their shape. (You can cool the pears at this point if you would prefer.)

2.  To serve, rub the toast with the halved garlic clove.  Spread the ricotta over each toast, top with the pears, drizzle with the olive oil (optional), and sprinkle with sea salt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chunky Maple Applesauce

This is a pretty simple recipe--it's for applesauce, after all.  However, it's an excuse to go to your favorite farmers market and stock up on autumn's favored fruit.

On the way to Fort Bragg from the Bay Area, there's a great fruit stand, Gowans, that is our apple supplier. Just to the side of highway 128, the apple trees are laden with fruit and the fruit stand overflows with Jonagolds, Sierra Beauties, McIntoshes, Granny Smiths and more. In the summer, they stock the stand with basket upon basket of tomatoes and a whole counter of green beans, zucchinis, and corn. But autumn is my favorite time. From the truck bed of pumpkins to the freshly pressed apple cider, it's a fallophile's paradise.

This year, we stopped for a bag of Sierra Beauties for this applesauce, and we picked up a pretty little pumpkin as well. As usual, I put it on our front porch so I could monitor the squirrel activity (usually a few come by every night to have a chomp on the sides of the pumpkin). For some reason, this amuses me, and I like to see just how much has been eaten from day to day.

This year, I got to see one night's worth of eating.

And then someone stole our pumpkin.

I mean, really?

But a stolen pumpkin cannot detract from a batch of sweet and maple-y applesauce. It's doubly, almost triply autumnal given the addition of cinnamon and maple syrup. I have been spooning heaps of this into my mouth when I open the fridge all week, and I stirred some into my oatmeal for breakfast. I have plans for a swirl to go in my yogurt later this week. And if I can keep enough of it around for others to enjoy, we might even just serve some of this alongside pork tenderloin.

But if I run out, it just gives me another excuse to pop by Gowans again.

Like I need an excuse.


Chunky Maple Applesauce

Adapted from  Almost Vegetarian

about 4 cups

4 apples* (see note below), cored, peeled, and chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp apple juice
1/4 cup raisins (optional)

1.  In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, toss the chopped apples with the lemon juice. Add the maple syrup, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and apple juice and stir.  Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Cover and cook, stirring often, until the apples soften and break down and into a chunky sauce, about 30 minutes.

2.  Remove from the heat and stir in the raisins, if using.

*Note:  While Diana Shaw, who wrote this cookbook, recommends 4 Granny Smith apples, the experts on the web say that mixing the variety of your apples makes for a more complex apple sauce. I used 4 Sierra Beauties, and I was happy.