Monday, December 29, 2014

Sesame and Soy Pumpkin

As you may know from such features as my "about page," this blog is about to become officially five years old. Five years?!  Yep.  In celebration of 2015 and of five full years, I am going back to my original impetus for the blog.  Five years ago, I cooked page 210 from every cookbook I owned (given that the probability of finding a 2010-page cookbook, while not impossible, seemed tricky). I cooked things I had never cooked before and discovered that I like liver, boar, duck, and lamb but not squab. I made mistakes. I made very simple recipes with absolutely atrocious photography. What fun all that was.

So, for 2015, I am cooking page 215 (unless the cookbook has fewer than 215 pages, and then I am cooking page 115 or (in the case of one little soup cookbook I have) page 15). If there is no recipe on page 215, then I am cooking whatever comes closest to page 215.  And indeed, I am getting an unofficial jump on the new year--in part because I have more than 52 cookbooks now (thanks to my beloved family and friends who supported this blog both by eating food from and by gifting me multiple new cookbooks, and thanks to my undeniable used-cookbook purchasing habit--alright, and some new ones, too). While the task seems daunting, I do hope to make it through all of the cookbooks this year.

Anyway, let's stay ensconced in 2014 for two more posts (I have one planned for New Year's Eve Day, when I plan to finally bake some bread whose dough I have had languishing in my fridge for a few days). We were charged with appetizer making for Christmas Eve dinner, and so I turned to a new (old) cookbook. I really like Donna Hay. Consequently, when I was at my local used bookstore and I saw that someone had gifted three Donna Hay cookbooks to their shelves, I had a hard time choosing only one. I managed to display some restraint, and I chose Entertaining. Nowadays, you can find it for a song on amazon (given that it is out of print), but see if you can find it at a used bookstore first.

This recipe, admittedly, does not come from page 215, proper; thus, I feel okay with posting it a little early. First off, there is no page 215, and on page 115, Hay gives a series of menu suggestions, including pre-dinner drinks for 8, where these sesame and soy pumpkin morsels play a role. Also on that menu: Pimm's Citrus Crush and Classic Champagne Framboise. I believe those may have to be the official entries for 2015. This blog needs more drinks recipes, don't you think?

I am just going to come right out and say this: I wanted to like these little pumpkin squares more and I have lots (okay, three) of thoughts on how I would.

First, I needed to cut the squares larger--which was impossible given the size of my little pumpkin (indeed, I sliced them as thick as my pumpkin was)--just so that there was more pumpkin to offset some of the sauce. The sauce, which was quite yummy, was just a little salty and intense given the amount of pumpkin per bite.

Second, I would add a little more honey to the sauce, for my pumpkin wasn't as sweet as I would have hoped. Thus, I have added the additional note of tasting your pumpkin before saucing it.

Third, definitely serve with other appetizers that cry out for balancing salt bombs (like these are)--I served these with pâté as part of a holiday appetizer spread, and the pâté was heavy enough that it needed something light and fresh to offset it. Perhaps serve these with lettuce wraps or edamame or a simple fish (like seared tuna). Hay recommends serving with balsamic fig bruschetta.  Had I been able to find fresh figs, I would have served those as well.

Here one little piece of pumpkin resides on my appetizer plate... (pâté with pickled pears and two other kinds of crostini)

That said, there were none left over at the end of the appetizer round. Let's not sell these little pumpkin squares short. My fiddling with the recipe or thinking about its presentation may well be for naught, for these are, indeed, tasty little, salty nuggets.

And now, it's time to roll up my sleeves, for we have a lot of cooking on the docket for this year. One more entry coming at you on New Year's Eve Day, and then it's time to dive deep into my cookbooks again!

One Year Ago: Pork Loin Braised in Milk Bolognese

Sesame and Soy Pumpkin
Adapted from  Donna Hay's Entertaining

Makes 24 pieces

1 1/2 lbs pumpkin
olive oil
sea salt
3 Tbsp honey
2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 Tbsp finely chopped, fresh ginger
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine (shao hsing) or sherry

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Peel the pumpkin, cut into bite-sized pieces (aim for inch-sized pieces), and toss in olive oil and salt. Place in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 25 minutes or until tender.  Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.

3.  Combine the remaining ingredients (honey through wine/sherry). Place in a large frying pan over medium heat and allow to simmer until quite syrupy.

4.  Taste the pumpkin; if it is not particularly sweet, add a little more honey to the sauce. Otherwise, add the pumpkin a few pieces at a time to the sauce, and toss gently to coat.

5.  Remove the pumpkin from the pan and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Warm the pumpkin again for 5-10 minutes. Serve with toothpicks.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Duck Liver Pâté with Pepper Pears

Oh, pâté, how I love you. We have had a relationship for years, mostly because first I ate you in your truffled form, thus establishing a love of you in your most expensive state. Then I ate you in your country form, thus establishing that I love you any way you come. Then I just ate you whenever I could, while still trying to exhibit some restraint. Consequently, when Christmas Eve dinner rolled around and I saw you staring back on me from the pages of Donna Hay's Entertaining, I knew we were destined for one another.

I couldn't find duck livers for you--in part because of my poor planning on the day before Christmas when everyone and their neighbor happened to be at the grocery store purchasing their last-minute supplies. Instead, we had to go with chicken livers. I think we did alright in the end.

Then, I needed to purchase cognac, a liquor that I know little about. However, a very nice, very young man at the liquor store told me that cognac is simply a very specific grape brandy, is made only in France, and is terribly expensive.  That said, you can buy some very fine local brandy that is purported to be the best cognac in the world (and not even by the company that makes it!). I was sold, mostly because I wanted only the best for you.

I soaked your livers for two hours in said cognac, and I sauteed you until you were still pink in the middle. I blended you, pressed you through a fine sieve, chilled you, and then topped you with pickled and peppered pears. I'll admit, I had my doubts about the pears, which I thought were a bit tart, so I put the pears on only half of your crostini, but I now know that I was wrong, so wrong. The pears were perfection, adding that sweet, acidic sourness that a cornichon would normally add, and you enjoyed that added flavor bomb to complement your mellow sweetness.  You and the pears, well, you were meant to be.

Further, as we all gathered around the in-laws' living room table with our glasses of wine and with Christmas music on the stereo, you became French-approved. Indeed, one of the other guests was a Breton who sadly bemoaned the inability for one to acquire foie gras in the state of California--a pâté that announces Christmas in France.* While you were no foie gras, you were a tasty addition to our holiday repast, and I have (admittedly) been eating you on toast for the past two days. I need to be careful: while you are delightful on the tongue, you will not be delightful on the waistline. I will give you up soon. Just not yet though.

*Indeed, I am well aware why your cousin, foie gras, is no longer available in California, and while I do miss the taste, I am in support of its ban.

Finally, because your recipe proportedly serves 12, which I think is perhaps even a little low, I happily gifted more than half of you to the father-in-law, who also loves pâté like I do. May he now share the wealth of having to go to the tailor in order to have his pants let out.

All because of you, my dear, fatty friend.

My appetizer plate, complete with pâté and pears alongside sesame-soy pumpkin, two other kinds of crostini, olives, and cornichons (a must-have with pâté).

Duck Liver Pâté with Pepper Pears
Adapted from  Donna Hay's Entertaining

Serves 12

For the duck liver pâté:
1 lb 3/4 ounces duck livers (or chicken, if you're in a pinch)
1/2 cup cognac
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp tarragon leaves
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
cracked black pepper
2 1/2 ounces butter, extra, chopped

For the peppered pears: 
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
cracked black pepper
2 firm pears (Bosc, Anjou)
1 tsp tarragon, thinly sliced

To make the duck liver pâté:
1.  Remove any discolored or tough white parts of the liver. Place the livers in a bowl with the cognac and refrigerate for 2 hours.

2.  Heat the butter in a large frying pan over high heat until bubbling. Drain the livers, reserving the cognac, and add the livers to the pan. Toss the livers in the butter and cook, covered, over medium heat until just cooked through, 5–7 minutes. Remove from the pan.

3. Add the cognac, tarragon, nutmeg, and pepper to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the liquid is reduced to a third. Process the livers and the cognac mixture in a food processor until smooth (add a capful of cognac if the liver mixture is too thick). Press the liver mixture through a fine sieve and return to the cleaned food processor. Add the extra butter to the liver mixture and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until firm.

To make the peppered pears:
4.  Peel and thinly slice the pears (I used a mandoline, which was a lovely way to get very thin slices).

5.  Place the cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, sugar and pepper in a frying pan over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pears and allow to simmer for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the pears to stand for 1 hour

6. Serve the pears at room temperature with the pâté atop crackers, thinly sliced bagel chips, or pita. Sprinkle with thinly sliced tarragon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ottolenghi's Curry Rice

Isn't this pretty?

Once you serve it, it looks like, well, plain old rice. But it is oh-so-pretty on the table if you serve it with all of its spice-accouterments. Seriously, this would work on any holiday table (except the one I am about to sit down at, given that we're having a pretty traditional roast pork; okay, not any holiday table).

Curry leaves are the key here. This herb has no relation to the jarred (or perhaps self-prepared) spice mixture that you can find on the supermarket shelves. Curry leaves are an essential ingredient in southern and west-coast Indian cooking (although certainly they make appearances in Cambodian and Sri Lankan cuisine): they have this pungent, lemony flavor that is not really able to be replicated by another spice or herb. Seriously. If you cannot find curry leaves, skip this recipe. Sure, you could substitute with makrut lime leaves, which would probably be quite tasty; however, it would not be this recipe.

If you see some, grab a whole bunch, as they freeze well (no need to defrost them when you need them again--just toss them into the dish). Just stay away from dried curry leaves, as they have little to no flavor and none of the heady aroma. Another option is to grow your own: be sure, however, to use the curry leaves plant (Murraya koenigii), not a curry plant (Helichrysum italicum)--totally different plants.

Okay, let's get down to this dish.  It's as simple as it comes. Make a little spice broth, pour it on rice, put wax paper atop rice (to help it steam), and then bake. Nothing to it.  However, you don't have to tell anyone that it was easy. Just serve it with all its pretty spices and herbs, and you're certain to get some oohing and ahhing. 

(Do you want to see the rice in (a plainer and simpler) action?   Go here, and you can see it on a plate (with really yummy squash).)

And with that, I am off to do some cooking for tonight's dinner--we were charged with making appetizers and salad. Currently, I have a pound of chicken livers soaking in cognac in preparation for pâté--and, yes, I have intentions of posting all about it.  (Updated: see here!)

Happy holidays!

Ottolenghi's Curry Rice
Adapted from  Plenty More
Serves 6

5 short cinnamon sticks (each about 2 inches long)
10 whole cloves
shaved rind of 1 lemon, plus 1 tbsp lemon juice
3 stems fresh curry leaves (about 25 leaves)
2 cups basmati rice, rinsed, soaked in water for 15 minutes, and drained well
1/4 cup unsalted butter 
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.

2.  Put the cinnamon sticks, cloves, lemon rind, curry leaves, 1 1/2 tsps salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a saucepan. Cover with 2 3/4 cups water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove the pan from the heat.

3.  Spread the rice out in a baking dish or roasting pan approximately 9 1/2 by 12 inches, cover with the boiled water and spices/herbs, and stir well. Lay a piece of waxed paper over the surface of the water and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Cook in the oven for 25 minutes, then remove and leave to sit, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes.

4.  Just before serving, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Carefully add the lemon juice and swirl together to mix. Pour over the hot rice and fluff up the rice with a fork. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve at once.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Roasted Eggplant Salad with Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette

Another vegetarian cookbook, you say?  The husband brought this cookbook home last month as a surprise from Market Hall, our favorite European-styled market in the neighborhood.  Also the only one.

You may remember Mollie Katzen from your dog-eared copy of The New Moosewood Cookbook (1977). You also may not have opened this cookbook for a decade, as you have moved to lighter fare rather than the hearty vegetarian fare of that disco decade. Katzen shares in this lighter approach to her recipes--and in a lovely article from The New York Times, she reveals her recent interest in the simpler way of cooking (she even admits one of her favorite things to eat is a pairing of cut peaches and tomatoes whose juices are sopped up with good bread). Certainly Katzen has been publishing a multitude of cookbooks since 1977, but it is nice to have one of her new cookbooks in hand.

This cookbook is definitely not twee. You'll find nothing precious here: asparagus with ginger and soy; root vegetable stew; macaroni and cheese (with some additions such as caramelized onions, roasted cauliflower, or spinach and mushroom); simple vegetable mashes. As is to be expected, though, Katzen does produce some unusual combos--for example lasagnas with no sauces to bind them (only cheese), green beans with edamame and peas atop baked potatoes with cheese, and blueberry rice. However, I come to Katzen not for fine dining but good, everyday fare, and this cookbook does not disappoint.

I chose this recipe even though it is the wrong season for eggplant--even in California we're on the tip of the tail end of eggplant season. However, I couldn't resist the combination of veggies, coconut, lime, and mint. Mostly because I like coconut milk.

A lot.

But it's not often that I cook with it. What, with the sheer amount of saturated fat, coconut milk is a special treat for me. Its richness comes with a price--coconut milk packs a punch of 445 calories and 48 grams of fat (43 grams saturated) per cup. Thankfully, this recipe calls for only 3 tablespoons of coconut milk, and Katzen recommends freezing the leftover coconut milk in an ice cube tray for later consumption, which I have done. Further, you can opt for the "Lite" version of coconut milk (which cuts the calories and fat down by 2/3).  However, coconut milk does come loaded with plenty of fancy vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium. Apparently, these things are good for strengthening bones, calming nerve cells, and regulating blood sugars.

But the truth is, I just like how sweet, cool, and heavy it is.

A few notes:  it turns out, I did not have enough peanut oil, so I mixed in some sesame oil (and added some sesame seeds to the top of the salad), and I really liked the mellow nuttiness of the peanut oil next to the load announcement of the sesame oil. Katzen also suggests peeling the eggplant, should you find yourself with a large globe eggplant rather than the smaller Japanese eggplants. Further, she recommends cherry tomatoes (I had regular ones) and an assortment of bell pepper colors. I went with red.

These are the kinds of crazy choices and substitutions a cook needs to make on a weeknight. Okay, okay, Katzen would approve--for her recipes are not fussy and neither should we be.

But let's face it, the star really is the coconut milk. All other notes are mere palaver.

Roasted Eggplant Salad with Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette
Adapted from  Mollie Katzen's The Heart of the Plate

Serves 2 (main dish)

Nonstick cooking spray
1½ pounds eggplant, peeled if large and cut into ½-inch cubes
Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette (below)
1 small cucumber, diced
1 small bell pepper (any color--I used red), diced
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
About 10 fresh mint leaves, minced
Sesame seeds (optional)
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp coconut milk (reduced fat or regular)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp agave nectar, honey, or sugar
5 Tbsp peanut, sesame, or grapeseed oil*
Sesame seeds or chopped peanuts (optional) for garnish

*Grapeseed oil will have the most neutral flavor.  I made this with a blend of peanut and sesame oil and it was delightful.

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and spray it with nonstick spray. Arrange the eggplant pieces on the baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Use tongs or a small metal spatula to loosen and turn the pieces, then roast for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the eggplant pieces are tender and somewhat shriveled.

2.  Make the vinaigrette while the eggplant is cooking:  Combine the lime through sweetener (agave, honey, or sugar) in a small bowl or a jar with a lid.  Whisk or shake until thoroughly blended.  Drizzle in the oil, whisking as you go or shaking halfway through, until it is fully incorporated.  Place ¼ cup of the vinaigrette in a shallow dish large enough to hold the eggplant.

3. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, sprinkle the eggplant lightly with salt, then transfer the still-hot eggplant directly to the vinaigrette in the dish. Let it sit and absorb as it cools to room temperature.

4. Stir in the cucumber, bell pepper, and tomatoes, along with another 2 tablespoons or so of the vinaigrette. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Serve cold or at cool room temperature, stirring the mint leaves in immediately before serving, and topping with a light sprinkling of peanuts or sesame seeds, if desired. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ottolenghi's Squash with Cardamom and Nigella Seeds

Oh, I may have mentioned the abundance of squash from the CSA box. And still, still I cook on. The squash never seems to diminish, and that's a good thing for, indeed, I do love it. This fall I have wrapped it in pastryroasted it with dates and thyme, and pureed it into soup. However, this recipe catapaults squash into a new dimension. Sure, one could serve this dish as a side to a more elaborate meal. However, I served it as recommended--with a side of curry rice (recipe forthcoming here)--and hoo-boy.  What a meal it was.

Yes, this is another Ottolenghi recipe (from Plenty More, no less). Yes, it is a bit of an addiction.  However, when his cooking is just so good and it uses my plethora of squash, I have to keep on keeping on. 

Let's focus on what makes this recipe distinctive: the nigella and the cardamom seeds.

Nigella seeds do, indeed, add a distinctive flavor. If you can, avoid substituting them. (However, if you must substitute, try celery seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, or just plain oregano.) The seeds, which are native to southwest Asia, are delightfully triangular in shape and are a deep black. They have a slight onion-y and oregano-y flavor, and they pack a pleasing pop. They are often mistakenly called black onion seeds, black cumin seeds, and black caraway--however, they only share a flavor profile, not a close relationship, with these other seeds. If your local grocery doesn't carry them, here are a few places that do mail order.

Further, cardamom shines in this recipe. Cardamom shares a connection with ginger, as they all hang out in the same family, and the plant itself is anchored by (like ginger) a rhizome. However, unlike with ginger, we eat the seed (not the rhizome) of cardamom. Often used to mask bad breath because of its strong smell, cardamom has a distinctly herbal flavor that makes up the floral note in chai, and the Good Life coffee shop in Mendocino sells the best chai in the state (or so I would argue), in part because their mixture is quite liberal with the cardamom. Fun fact:  behind saffron and vanilla, cardamom is the world's most expensive spice (by weight).  I always knew I had expensive taste.  

So, let's wrap it up here and bring this blogpost home. This is a great recipe: I got to use more squash, I got to play with nigella seeds with their onion-y pop of flavor, and I got to munch on cardamom with its heady herbal note. I got to cook more Ottolenghi. I got to eat and eat well. Not a bad way to spend a December evening.

Ottolenghi's Squash with Cardamom and Nigella Seeds
Adapted from  Plenty More

Serves 6

1 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2.75 pounds)
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
1 ¼ tsp nigella seeds, plus extra to garnish
½ tsp each ground cumin and coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 large cinnamon stick
1 green chile, halved lengthways
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup l vegetable stock
½ to 1 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan, and sauté the onion over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until soft. Add the squash, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash starts to color and just begins to soften.

3. Remove from the heat and add half a teaspoon of salt, the pumpkin and nigella seeds, spices, chile and sugar. Mix and transfer to an ovenproof dish large enough to hold everything snugly. 

4.  Pour in the stock and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, by which point the squash should be tender and all the liquid absorbed or evaporated.

5. Serve warm with yogurt spooned on top, a sprinkling of chopped cilantro and a few nigella seeds.  Ottolenghi recommends serving with rice, particularly the curry rice (recipe to be added at a later date), in order to make a full meal.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ottolenghi's Braised Fennel with Capers and Olives

In a move that should surprise exactly no one, I bought the latest in Ottolenghi cookbooks, Plenty More. In fact, I pre-ordered it, and I have been cooking from it non-stop since its arrival two months ago.

This cookbook has much going for it. Not only is it yet another in a slew of vegetarian cookbooks that I have come to love, but it is also the fourth in (what I hope to be a much longer) line of wonderful Ottolenghi cookbooks. It's true. I like the rest of the world am fully buckled onto the Ottolenghi bandwagon.  However, it is for good reason. His recipes are surprising in their flavor profiles, his meals are fresh and satisfying, and (let's face it), he's a darned good writer (not only of recipes but of headnotes).

In fact, in the headnote of this very recipe, Ottolenghi reports that fennel is resplendent. Resplendent!  That's a lot of praise for a mere vegetable that grows on the side of the road 'round these here parts.

And indeed, if you find yourself near some of that wonderfully aromatic fennel, go ahead and snatch it up. It has a sweet, licorice crunch when raw and a savory roundness reminiscent of celery when cooked. To boot, fennel is often associated with that jolly carouser of a god, Dionysus, and legend has it that knowledge was passed from Prometheus to man through a coal carried on the stalk of fennel.  That not enough for you?  Roman warriors munched fennel to make them strong (and some say to keep thin). Charlamagne decreed that fennel be grown in every garden for its healing powers. And let's not forget that while fennel (probably due to its abundant vitamin C) was lauded by Pliny for its ability to "mundify our sight," fennel is a key ingredient (along with wormwood and anise) in absinthe, that elixir known for robbing its imbibers of their sight.

As for the recipe itself, the sauce is basically a modified Puttanesca, which is one of my favorite sauces, hand's down. Delightfully, the salty tang of capers and olives plays well with the fennel. I halved the amount of fennel (for I like a lot of sauce, and I would argue that you may wish to double the sauce below. More sauce is never, ever an issue). Overall, this braised fennel dish is mouth-wateringly sweet, salty, and savory.

That all seems pretty resplendent, one might say.

Ottolenghi's Braised Fennel with Capers and Olives
Adapted from  Plenty More

Serves 4

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
15 cloves garlic, skin on
1/4 cup verjus, or a mixture 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large tomato, cut into a dice
1 cup vegetable stock
2 1/2 Tbsp capers
3 1/2 Tbsp black olives, pitted and cut into quarters
1 Tbsp chopped thyme leaves
2 1/2 tsp sugar
ricotta (optional)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
salt and black pepper


1. Trim the tops off the fennel and cut each bulb from top to bottom into thick slices.

2.  In a large frying pan for which you have a lid, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on a medium to high heat. Add half the fennel with some salt and some black pepper. Cook for five or six minutes, turning once, so the fennel is nicely browned on both sides; remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining fennel.

3.  Keep the empty pan on the heat, add the garlic and fry for three minutes, tossing occasionally, so the skin is scorched all over. Lower the heat to medium, carefully add the verjus (or lemon and vinegar) and reduce for a couple of minutes until there are about two tablespoons of liquid left in the pan. Add the tomato, 1/4 cup of the stock, the capers, olives, thyme, sugar, some salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cook for two minutes, then return the fennel to the pan. Add the remaining stock, put on the lid and leave to simmer for about 12 minutes, turning once during the cooking, until the fennel is soft and the sauce has thickened. (You may need to remove the lid and increase the heat for the last two or three minutes.)

 4. Place slices of fennel on each plate, spoon over the sauce and serve with a spoonful of ricotta (if using) and some freshly grated lemon zest. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Safardjaliya (Tagine of Lamb with Quince)

I have already waxed poetic about the quince, one of my favorite fall and winter fruits. I have already sung the praises of lamb, an addition to my diet that I truly celebrate. I have already lauded saffron, that fancy spice that is replete with poetry. Thus, it only seemed natural that I make something that put those three together. How could I not?

While I did make this recipe last month (and it has just taken me some time to type it up here), it is one that I believe I will be coming back to again next fall. The rosy smell of the quinces while they boil and the savory sizzle of the lamb as it sautes are a perfect marriage of the senses. Once you combine the meat and the fruit in a pan with the mellowed ginger and the bitterness of saffron, this dish needs only a side of couscous or rice to make it pure perfection.

Finally, it's the Bay Area's equivalent of a snow day here. It has been raining and raining for hours. Admittedly, we thought it would rain a little harder, and certainly those north of Oakland are bearing the brunt of a brutal winter storm. However, school was cancelled (the second time I have ever had a snow day in 18 years of teaching in Colorado and California). It has been delightful. I woke to the howling of 40-mile-an-hour winds and a downpour of rain that soon dissipated to a steady shower. I made buttermilk pancakes and sipped tea. I have Christmas music playing and candles burning. I put on a pot of borlotti beans to cook all day in anticipation of a savory dinner. I plan to read The Goldfinch for hours.

This is how a snow day should feel.

Safardjaliya (Tagine of Lamb with Quince)

Serves 6

4 Tbsp butter or vegetable oil
2 pounds lamb stew meat (or shoulder) cut into large pieces
2 onions, sliced
salt and plenty of pepper
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 tsp saffron
2 pounds quinces
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus 1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
3-4 Tbsp honey

1.  Heat the oil in a large pan. Saute the lamb and onions for about 5 minutes, softening the onions and browning the lamb. Add the salt and pepper, ginger, and saffron. Add enough water to cover the meat fully and simmer, covered, over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender, adding water if it becomes too dry. Remove the lid at the end to reduce the sauce.

2.  Wash and scrub the quinces.  Have ready a pan of boiling water with the juice of 1/2 of a lemon (the acid in the water keeps the quinces from browning). Cut the quinces into eighths. Do not peel them (but cut away the blackened ends). Drop the cut quinces into the boiling water. Simmer for 15-30 minutes (depending on the size of the quinces) until tender. The time varies greatly, and you should watch them to ensure that they are soft, but not mushy. Drain and when cool enough to handle, cut out the cores.

3.  Put the quinces in the pan with the lamb, flesh side up. Sprinkle with cinnamon and pour a little honey on each. Squeeze a little extra lemon over the stew. Cook for 5 more minutes, then turn the quinces over and cook a few minutes more. Serve warm.