Sunday, April 30, 2017

Quick Pickled Strawberries

Sweet business.  These strawberries are fabulous.

Okay, so you may know that I am participating in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge (you may also have noticed that I am behind in posting), and I am slipping this one in at the last minute.  People, April has been busy.

Before I tell you all about quick pickled strawberries, allow me a slight digression. April has seen us moving from a small duplex in our beloved neighborhood in Oakland to a house with a spectacular view overlooking Wildcat Canyon. We miss the walkability of our old neighborhood, but we love the fact we cannot hear the highway, and once I am fully healed, hiking is at our doorstep.  

Fully healed? Well, you see I was putting up curtains while standing on my cluttered desk (like you do). And I stepped back, thinking the chair I had used to climb onto said desk would be there. It was not. And then I was on the floor. And the only thing that happened was that I broke my tailbone. Seriously, it could have been so much worse, given that I fell from about five feet backwards. But it does mean I have had to hobble around for a while. I am entering week three of the healing process, and I finally feel as if I can walk normally again. However, as I discovered yesterday while organizing books, sitting on the hard floor is not yet an option. All this is to say, April has been surprising and perhaps a bit slower than anticipated.

So, shrubs from March (when we were prepping for the move) and quick pickles from April have had to wait. However, I have made both this week.  (Shrub post here.)  And I am so pleased. Because I love vinegar. Always have. To the point that I add it to my chili, I splash it on noodles, and let's just admit right here and now that I ate a lot of fish and chips and vinegar from takeaway shops when I studied in Ireland. And both shrubs and quick pickles prominently feature vinegar.

Quick pickles (also known as refrigerator pickles) are a simple pleasure. You can dig into a jar for a singular crisp spear of asparagus or green bean. You might chop some snappy carrots up to sprinkle into a coleslaw or layer bright, briny onions on a hamburger. And the best part is that they're, well, quick. You don't need to bust out the canning pot or swelter in a hot kitchen.  You don't need to sterilize jars or lug out any specialized equipment. Instead, you mix up some vinegar, water, spices or herbs, and then you wait a day. Then, your life is considerably better. Or at least mine is.

But I wanted something a little unexpected, so I went the quick-pickled fruit route. But what do you do with a pickled strawberry (besides eat it straight from the jar)? You put two-three berries in a glass of sparkling water (or with some mint, lime, and gin to go with that sparkling water--I won't judge). You put them atop an arugula, pistachio, and goat cheese salad (with some of the vinegar mixed with olive oil to make the dressing). You could spoon them over vanilla ice cream (I promise you won't be disappointed by the sweet-sour combination with the hint of tarragon and the duskiness of black pepper). These strawberries really are something to savor. 

Or eat a lot of and then make more. 


Quick Pickled Strawberries

Adapted from Marisa McClellan's Preserving by the Pint

Makes about 2 1-pint Jars

1 dry quart strawberries (about 1½ pounds)
¾ cup Champagne vinegar (or another low-acid vinegar so the strawberries can really shine)
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
2 sprigs tarragon (but thyme would be great, too)

1. Wash the strawberries, remove the stems and leaves, and cut into halves or quarters, depending on their size.

2.  In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with ⅓ cup water, the sugar, salt, and peppercorns. Set over high heat and bring to a boil.

3.  Divide the tarragon between 2 pint jars, and then add half of the chopped berries to each. Once the brine has boiled, pour it over the strawberries. Let the pickles cool until room temperature, and then place a lid on the jar and refrigerate. Allow the pickles to rest of 24 hours before eating.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sweet Potato Galettes from Ottolenghi

So, I was sitting at Kirala, one of my favorite sushi places, eating lunch, which happens to be across the street from the Berkeley Bowl, and I thought, "Hmm, I should make dinner tonight."* Such is my life. While eating one meal, I am often contemplating the next one. This was the result. 

*Full disclaimer, that day was not today, as I am laid up in bed because I broke my tailbone (I fell). But I was recently sitting in my favorite sushi place having these thoughts.

Because I am in an admitting mood, I am going to reveal a few things here:
1.) This is a lazy, lazy dinner. The amount of work here is almost miniscule, and it makes me wonder why I have evenings where I cannot bring myself to cook (enter popcorn and pickles. Again, don't judge. I like salt.)

2.) What sets this apart from other lazy dinners I normally make is the the chile and pumpkin seed combo tossed in with the sweet potatoes. Yep. This launches this little puff pastry concoction into a new realm. 

3.) Which I did not cut thin enough. Go ahead. Judge me on that one. I am okay with that. (Here's a photo where you can judge me fully.  That is one mighty thick-cut potato.)

4.) Sweet potatoes are markedly different from yams. In the US, mostly what we eat are sweet potatoes. Although, confusingly, we call the darker-skinner variety yams, more often than not. However, they're still sweet potatoes

5.) You know what would be even prettier? A range of different colored sweet potatoes. (Or yams. But probably sweet potatoes.)

6.)  But this is pretty enough as is. In fact, pretty enough, when shot by a professional photographer, that Ottolenghi chose to make this the cover for his and Sami Tamimi's cookbook Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.  Go look. 

7.)  Finally, let's face it, this is also a great way to use up an abandoned sheet of puff pastry dough that was hanging out in my freezer. And we have been trying to clean out the freezer. Total win all around.

Okay, as far as admitting things go, that was pretty easy. And so was this dinner. Easy enough for a simple dinner after a spectacular lunch. Now that's my kind of day.


Sweet Potato Galettes

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Makes 2 puff pastries, serves 4-6

3 sweet potatoes
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, preferably all-butter, thawed
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten
6½ Tbsp sour cream
¼ cup goat cheese
2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds, roasted and salted 
1 medium hot chile, finely chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the sweet potatoes in their skins for 35-40 minutes, until they soften up but are not fully cooked through. Leave until cool enough to handle. Then cut into slices about ⅛ inch thick (I cut them much thicker than that, and I left the peels on, despite Ottolenghi's advice to take the peels off).

2. While the sweet potatoes are int he oven, roll out the puff pastry to about ⅛ inch thick. Cut out four rectangles and prick them all over with a fork. Like a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the pastry rectangles on it, well spaced apart, and let them rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

3.  Remove the pastry from the fridge and brush lightly with the beaten egg. Spread a think layer of sour cream on the pastries, leaving a ¼-inch border all around. Arrrange the potato slices on the pastry, potentially overlapping them, keeping the border clear. Season with salt and pepper, crumble the goat cheese on top, and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds and chile. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is cooked through. Check underneath; it should be golden brown.

4.  While the galettes are cooking, stir together the olive oil, garlic, parsley and a pinch of salt. When the pastries come out of the oven, brush them with this garlic mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lemon Gâteau in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake // Cook Your Books

In this Cook Your Books series, I have chosen 15 books to read in 2017 based on somewhat arbitrarily chosen categories. My theory (bogus it might turn out to be) is that all 15 of these books will somehow connect to food. And I plan to write about that food in what appear to be rather long-winded posts (seriously, these are long!). This fourth installment is a book about food. 

Okay, the choice of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender was an easy one. We all knew that this would incorporate food in some meaningful way. But come on, from time to time we need an easy path. So let's take it.

But I have a question to ask: why is so much food connected to innocence or to its loss?  I have some answers, some of them perhaps flimsy, but answers nonetheless. We often associate food with our families, and when did we spend the most time with our families?  Or more specifically with our parents? And if we are parents, with our children? When we were young, and (mostly) innocent or when we were watching the innocence of our children.  

This book is in that vein. 

Lemon Gâteau in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake // Cook Your Books

Sure, I thought about choosing another food in this book (and there are plenty--fried chicken (13), sugar and jam on toast (36), chocolate chip cookies given to our protagonist by the boy she likes (61) homemade pretzels (117), Doritos (127), Tunisian lamb stew and eggplant-tomato tart (138), mass-produced and "utterly blank" enchiladas (167)), but in a book entitled The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, it seems a bit blasphemous to choose anything but the lemon cake. Given that it is so particular. 

The book opens with Rose Edelstein touring the ingredients her mother, Lane, is putting together to make lemon cake: "Flour bag, sugar box, two brown eggs nestled in the grooves between tiles. A yellow block of butter blurring at the edges. A shallow glass bowl of lemon peel" (3).  Rose is nine, and she is about to discover that she can taste other people's emotions, particularly her mother's pain. In a move that conjures up Like Water for Chocolate (truly one of my favorite books), there is a transference of one person to another through the food we eat, even if we're not ready or able or even willing to carry that transference with the originator of the emotion.

Rose's mother is not much of a baker, but she is a craftswoman who likes to work with her hands. She has gardened, stitched, installed oak doors, and as the book goes on, she becomes a furniture maker. This is a woman who wants to mold things, to produce things, to have her hand in it all.  Her desire for creation seems to be a desire to leave her mark, to produce something less transient than her emotional state or her relational attachments to others.

While Rose's and her mother's lemon cake is one with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles, I wanted something a little less geared for the nine-year-old set. But there is no cake--sprinkle-laden or not--described more lovingly than does Rose of her birthday confection: 
The room filled with the smell of warming butter and sugar and lemon and eggs, and at five, the timer buzzed and I pulled out the cake and placed it on the stovetop. The house was quiet. The bowl of icing was right there on the counter, ready to go, and cakes are best when just out of the oven, and I really couldn't possibly wait, so I reached to the side of the cake pan, to the least obvious part, and pulled off a small warm spongy chunk of deep gold. Iced it all over with chocolate. Popped the whole thing in my mouth. (6)
Here, Rose is in tandem with her mother--who has gone to lie down "for a bit"--taking the cake from the oven. And like her mother, Rose is full of desire and curiosity--in Rose's case, for the taste of her just-warm cake, for the celebration of her own birthday, for the connection to something luxurious and purely pleasurable. But it is a secret desire, one that she has to hide or at least not make look obvious. And I love the last two sentences--so simple and pure and confident that this would be as she had always expected it to be.

But such are not the realities as we enter into knowledge. It seems no mistake that Rose is nine.  She is just entering those tween years, those years often hyperbolically marked by profound solipsism coupled with a growing awareness of a world beyond one's self. It's scary stuff:

[A]s I finished that first bite, as that first impression faded, I felt a subtle shift inside, an unexpected reaction...Because the goodness of the ingredients--the fine chocolate, the freshest lemons--seemed like a cover over something larger and darker, and the taste of what was underneath was beginning to push up from the bite. I could absolutely taste the chocolate, but in drifts and traces, in an unfurling, or an opening, it seemed that my mouth was also filling with the taste of smallness, the sensations of shrinking, of upset, tasting a distance I somehow knew was connected to my mother, tasting a crowded sense of her thinking, a spiral, like I could almost even taste the grit in her jaw that had created the headache that meant she had to take as many aspirins as were necessary... None of it was a bad taste, so much, but a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that make it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate where just surrounding a hollowness. My mother's able hands had made the cake, and her mind had known how to balance the ingredients, but she was not there, in it. (10)

And so she begins to understand that her mother is more than just her mother. That her mother is unhappy, unfulfilled, searching. "[W]ith each bite, I thought--mmm, so good, the best ever, yum--but in each bite: absence, hunger, spiraling, hollows" (10). Being Rose's (and her brother Joe's) mother (or being a wife to Paul) is not enough enough for Lane. That somehow making a cake is not the extent of what she wishes to create.

And so Bender sets off this novel in the first ten pages, letting us into Rose's burgeoning understanding of a world outside herself, into Lane's desire to mold and shape something bigger than herself in order to truly create her own individual self, into Rose's brother Joe's uncanny ability to merge so fully and completely with others (people, objects) than himself. 

It is certainly no accident that Bender chose Brillat-Savarin's quotation in her epigraph, "Food is all those substances which, submitted to the action of the stomach, can be assimilated or changed into life by digestion, and can thus repair the losses which the human body suffers through the art of living." Particularly the losses of innocence, repaired through a sense of knowledge, connection, and the realization that our parents are more than just extensions of our selves. This is certainly a bildingsroman whose protagonist aches to stay young, to stay protected and innocent and ignorant. But we suffer through the art of living and hopefully repair what losses we can.

Which Rose ultimately does. 

She learns to cook for herself: the first time a spectacular spaghetti with marinara sauce and big bowl of Parmesan cheese. (221).  A simple dish, often one of the first many of us learn to make solely for ourselves in our first apartments or dorm rooms. And when Rose does, she tastes "sadness, rage, tanks, holes, hope, guilt, tantrums. Nostalgia, like rotting flowers. A factory, cold" (222). But it is hers, and Rose (now in her late teens) has a glimpse into herself the same way she did with her mother. She makes it again and again it tastes like a factory (241). "A machine-tinge I could not identify... Alongside a little-girl voice wanting to go back, to go back to a time with less information. Go back, said the little girl. Blank, said the factory" (242). But she cannot and will not go back.

Instead, she learns to cook, joining her sense of self to a simple French restaurant. She impresses the chef not through her cooking skill (which she is slowly acquiring) but through the simple knowledge that her first quiche has eggs from Michigan, milk from Fresno, bacon from an organic farm in Northern California, cream from Nevada, and parsley from San Diego (and she also knows that the parsley farmer is a jerk) (270). All from just a taste. Like it or not, Rose has learned two important things--that others are not extensions of herself and that, perhaps, she and the food she eats are truly products of and extensions of each other. 

Thus, we repair each other's losses endured from the art of living.


Lemon Gâteau

"Flour bag, sugar box, two brown eggs nestled in the grooves between tiles. A yellow block of butter blurring at the edges. A shallow glass bowl of lemon peel... I dipped my finger into the wax baggie of brown-sugar crystals, murmered yes, please, yes" (The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake 3). 

Adapted from Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson's Citrus: Sweet and Savory Sun-Kissed Recipes

This literally and figuratively sweet, little cake needs no topping (it has a lovely lemon juice glaze); however, I topped it with candied lemon peels (recipe here). Oh, but a thick whipped cream would be divine or even a drizzle of chocolate (if you want to conjure up the chocolate frosting from the book). The cake itself is tart and sweet and light and perfectly lemony.

Serves 6


⅔ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
zest and juice of 3 lemons
2 eggs
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
⅔ cup confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch round springform pan, then dust with flour and tap out the excess.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Slowly pour in one-third of lemon juice and then add eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until well combined. Add flour and baking powder and continue to beat until a thick, smooth batter forms. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold in two-thirds of lemon zest until evenly combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

3.  Bake cake until a thin wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and prick top of cake all over with skewer. Set aside.

4.  In a small bowl, whisk together confectioners' sugar and remaining lemon zest and juice. Pour glaze over cake and allow to sit 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan, slide it onto a plate, and serve. Feel free to add some whipped cream (which would have been lovely) or candied citrus peels.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Duck Confit and Tagliatelle

Duck Confit and Tagliatelle

Where has March gone?  Where is April going? I cannot keep track of this spring and it seems to be slipping away. For example, I made this duck confit (post on how to make duck confit itself, here) and then I made this pasta and then two months passed and now we're here

And here seems to be spring break, our move to Richmond (oh, Oakland how we already miss you), and a life lived out of boxes, which admittedly, we have been doing lately.  I have come to appreciate the well-labelled box, and to shake my fist at my past self who labelled far too many boxes "Miscellaneous."  Those are the most frightening boxes.

Until we have a full kitchen, I am resurrecting old dinners that I haven't posted and am subsisting on pickles and popcorn. Both of which I love. Don't judge. I just love salt, okay? 

Maybe I'll just get a salt lick for the new kitchen. It could happen.

However, if you're feeling fancy (and we both know you and I like to feel fancy), then I recommend this dish. While the duck confit takes a while itself, the pasta is a snap. One of those jazzy snaps that requires a fancy French beret and a cigarette, mind you, but a snap nonetheless. Unhurried (read: this takes a long time) and a little bit sophisticated without announcing itself as such, duck confit requires patience. But the pasta, well, the pasta could be thrown together with just enough planning to saute some sunchokes. That's all you need--well, if you have them, go ahead and saute up some wild mushrooms because those would be divine in this recipe. 

So this weekend, maybe make some duck confit (until I post the recipe I used, this one seems like a good one), and then all next week, eat succulent, luxurious duck, as you marvel at how this spring is passing us by so quickly already.


Duck Confit and Tagliatelle

Adapted from Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor's Twenty Dinners

Serves 4

Olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced small
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup Marsala or Madeira
2 cups duck or beef stock
2 legs duck confit
1/2 cup crushed walnuts or pecans
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
8 2-inch long sunchokes, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 lemon, cut into wedges
¾-1 pound tagliatelle
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta.

2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Sweat the shallots until their are translucent, about 5 minutes. Lightly season with salt, and then add the garlic. Sweat for another minute. 

3.  Pour the Marsala into the pan (be careful to do it slowly, as you're pouring alcohol into a hot pan and if you have a gas range top, then it's over an open flame). Bring the Marsala to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until it begins to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and reduce the stock mixture until it is a bit thinner than maple syrup.  Remove the pan from the heat. 

4.  Using your fingers, tear up the duck confit into bite-sized pieces.Add the duck and the crushed nuts (either walnuts or pecans) to the sauce and reserve.

5.  Warm the tablespoon of butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and allow it to foam and brown lightly. Saute the sunchokes, with a pinch of salt, until they have softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer the sunchokes to a small bowl. Finish them by squeezing a little bit of lemon over the top of them. Set them aside.

6.  Cook the tagliatelle in the boiling, salted water until al dente.  Strain, reserving about ½ cup  of the pasta's water; add the pasta water to the reserved sauce. Warm the sauce over low heat, add he remaining tablespoon of butter, and stir as it heats to make a butter emulsion. Taste for salt and add a generous amount of pepper. 

7.  Mix the pasta with the sauce, and add the sunchokes. Top with a heaping of Parmesan cheese and finish with parsley.