Thursday, October 29, 2009

Conundrum - Roasted Cauliflower with Kalamata Vinaigrette

When opening up my fridge tonight I was faced with a conundrum. In actuality I was faced with a head of cauliflower, but that posed a difficult question. Namely, what to do with it? If you can believe it, I had not one, but two cauliflower recipes I was dying to try. Would it be Thomas Keller's Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Roasted Beet Chips? Or Gourmet's Roasted Cauliflower with Kalamata Vinaigrette?

Is it wrong to be excited about a vegetable? Especially such a nondescript, usually boring vegetable such as this one. I don't know where the enthusiasm comes from. Growing up this stuff was only seen as a snack to munch on while dinner was being assembled. I remember thinking it smelled funny. Like feet. Actually, I still think that. It's amazing how smells can utterly and totally transport you. They're so connected to our memories. When I start chopping cauliflower I'm suddenly back in my childhood kitchen. Preparing dinner with my family and sharing stories of the day, planning the next day's schedule. It's a funny kind of trigger.

Eating it raw is ok, but something really happens to this stuff when you roast it. It caramelizes beautifully, and takes on an earthy taste and aroma. I also love slicing it into thick chunks, right down the middle. Ending up with cauliflower "steaks."

I opted for the Gourmet recipe. When I paged through the September issue this is one that immediately caught my eye. I have a deep and undying love for Kalamata olives, and pairing it with the cauliflower is a combination I'd never considered. Something about the description, "a briny olive vinaigrette adds just the right sharp-savory note," and oh man, is that a perfectly apt description. Wow. This is so simple, but so good.

Not to mention easy. Easy and elegant all at the same time. Don't overlook the simple stuff. It's where the hidden gems lie.

Roasted Cauliflower with Kalamata Vinaigrette
Gourmet Magazine

1 large head cauliflower
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small garlic clove
1 to 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (to taste)
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 with rack in the lower third. Cut cauliflower lengthwise into 3/4 inch thick slices. Put in a large 4 sided sheet pan and toss with 2 tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Roast, turning once or twice, until golden and just tender, about 25 minutes.

While cauliflower roasts, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt, then whisk together with lemon juice, remaining 2 tbsp oil, olives, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Serve cauliflower drizzled with Kalamata vinaigrette.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In the Spirit - Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash & Hazelnuts

With Halloween coming up this weekend, I'm feeling the pressure of putting a costume together. Something I haven't done in several years. Probably not since 2006, when I made Lauren take BART over to Berkeley in her costume around 4pm.

Her: "Are you sure I should take BART in my costume? It's so early, no one else will be dressed up!"

Me: "It'll be fine, everyone is in costume all day here!" (Lie.)

Needless to say, she was a bit ticked off at me when she got off the train, having been the only one in costume among the commuter suits and high heels. But, in my defense, I hadn't realized her Cleopatra costume would be so...ummm...sheer, shall we say.

She was also less than pleased that I wasn't yet in costume.But needless to say, she was very popular on BART. Especially with the guys in suits.

This year, with Friday and Saturday off from rehearsal, I should have some time to put a costume together. I'm thinking this will probably involve a trip to Michael's craft store, a trip that is always simultaneously terrifying and fascinating. Much like roaming around the city on Halloween night. Gone are the days of the giant Castro Halloween celebration. Now we're left to our own devices and house parties.

Is it just me, or has Halloween reached the kind of pressure usually associated with New Year's? Where are you going? Who are you seeing? When will you be there? What are you wearing? What if I just want to stay inside, watch Rocky Horror Picture Show for the umpteenth time and eat macaroni n' cheese straight out of the pan! How about THAT Halloween?

At least tonight's dinner reflects the spirit of the holiday. I am so in love with this dish. I wasn't even sure what to call it. The truth is, it's roasted, glazed and caramelized, all in one! I mean, how delicious does that sound? I first had it at Luna Park in San Francisco. It was pretty easy to recreate at home. The honey adds a sweet note, and it's a wonderful combination with the crisp and roasted edges of the sprouts and the nuts. Be warned, this stuff goes fast!

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Butternut Squash & Hazelnuts
adapted from Luna Park Restaurant

1/2 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
Cayenne pepper to taste
sea salt

Bring a small pot of water to boil and heat the oven to 450. Once the water is boiling, blanch the trimmed and cut brussels sprouts for about a minute. Drain and run cool water over them to stop them from cooking further. Toss the sprouts (loose leaves and all) and squash together on a large cookie sheet with the olive oil, honey, cayenne pepper and salt. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until sprouts and squash are nicely caramelized and brown. Shake pan once or twice during cooking.

Once the sprouts are in the oven, toast about 1/4 cup hazelnuts in a toaster oven or on the stove. Once the nuts are browned and fragrant, use a paper bag or paper towel to rub the skins off. Or, if you're lazy like me, you can leave most of the skins on.

Once the sprouts are done, toss the mixture with the hazelnuts. Serve while hot.

Procrastination - Sourdough Starter

Someone needs to learn their lines. That someone would be me. I have the general shape of things...but a word, a phrase here and there...I tend to stray a bit. And by the combination of bold and italics in my Stage Manager's line notes, I can tell patience is wearing a bit thin.

So. More time devoted to lines, less to procrastination baking. At least for now. Dinner last night was a repeat of spaghetti with braised kale, and tomorrow will be frozen pasta sauce. Leftovers and freezer central at this house. Not much to bring you.

Except a recipe for sourdough starter.

Bread is all well and good, but it's especially well and good when it's sourdough. I do live in the Bay Area after all.

This takes five days. Patience is necessary. Procrastination is acceptable here. I'll edit this post with pictures as things progress and let you know how it all turns out.

Sourdough Starter
recipe from thekitchn
Makes roughly 1 quart (4 cups/32 ounces) of starter

Day 1

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour (4 ounces)
1/2 cup of filtered or spring water (4 ounces)
a large container (at least 2-3 quarts) with a lid (glass or plastic, avoid metal)

Combine the flour and water in the container until all the flour has been absorbed and there are no more dry particles. It will look like a sticky, thick dough. Scrape down the sides and cover. Put the container somewhere with a consistent room temperature (like the top of the refrigerator) and let sit for 24 hours.

Note: If you'd like a little extra insurance, you can throw in a pinch of commercial yeast to get things started. While not technically 'authentic,' this does help get things moving along.

Day 2

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour (4 ounces)
1/2 cup of water (4 ounces)

Your starter should be fairly thick and soupy. You may see a few small bubbles here and there. This is good! The bubbles mean that wild yeast from the air and the flour itself have started making themselves at home in your starter. They will eat the sugars in the the flour and release carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and alcohol. They will also increase the acidity of the mixture, preventing other 'bad' microbes from growing.

Add the fresh water and flour. Stir vigorously to combine everything and incorporate more oxygen into the mixture. Scrape down the sides, cover, and let it sit for 24 hours.

Day 3

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour (4 ounces)
1/2 cup of filtered or spring water (4 ounces)

By day three, your starter should be getting nice and bubbly, be the consistency of pancake batter, and have roughly doubled in size. If you taste a little, the mixture should make your mouth pucker with sour and vinegar flavors. It will also smell musty and fermented, a bit like grain alcohol.

Day 4

Repeat day 3.

Day 5

By day 5 (or even day 4) your starter will be ripe and ready to use. The surface will look frothy and fermented, and if you've been using a clear container, you can see an intricate network of bubbles when you hold it up. It will smell and taste very pungent and tangy like, well, concentrated sourdough!

At this point, your sourdough is ready to be used, or you can cover and store it in the fridge for up to one week. After a week, you'll need to refresh the starter by taking out a cup or so of starter (to use or discard) and then "feeding" it with 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of filtered water. Likewise, after using some of your starter in a recipe, you can replenish what's left with equal parts flour and water.

Starter will keep indefinitely as long as you feed it every week or so. Treat it like a household plant that needs to be watered and fertilized regularly. It's very hardy and will even perk back up with a few daily feedings if you've neglected it too long. If a clear liquid forms on the top, just stir it in (this is actually alcohol from the wild yeast). The only time you should throw away the starter completely is if that liquid has a pinkish hue, which indicates that the starter has spoiled.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Bet - Pale Ale Bread

I lost a bet and ended up at Benihana's at 6pm on a Saturday. In case you're wondering, Benihana's is basically a Chuck e Cheese at that hour.

I had never been before. Lauren summed it up perfectly, "Benihana. Always a salty and interesting experience."

I think our chef was a bit of a hack. Or maybe he was in training. Whatever it was, he failed to catch all the shrimp tails he knifed and tossed in his hat. One tail actually flew over his shoulder and into the bowl of an unsuspecting diner at the table behind us. We clapped obligingly.

So. Now I know. The mystery of Benihana's is no more for me. Would I go back? Sure. If I had several six year old's in tow that is. Although I must admit, I am as impressed as any six year old by truly good knife skills. And grilled shrimp of course.

Rehearsal this afternoon was unexpectedly rescheduled for a later time, which gave me a few hours to work up some bread dough. Weekends are perfect for a newly found bread-making obsession. Make the dough in the morning, let it rise all day, and come dinner time you have fresh bread right out of the oven. Couldn't be easier.

I thought the original recipe could use some tweaking. I couldn't find the exact one I wanted, but I knew I wanted to try one with beer (specifically, pale ale) and vinegar. The final product is good, with a more complex flavor than the basic no knead version. It doesn't have the tang of sourdough, but if you're looking for something similar to french bread, this is pretty dang close.

Pale Ale Bread
adapted from Mark Bittman and several other sources

3 cups bread flour
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup pale ale beer
1 tbsp white vinegar

Mix flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Add the water, beer and vinegar, stir until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at room temperature for 4 hours.

Once the dough has risen, lay it out on a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper. Turn it over into itself once or twice. Heat the oven to 500 with a dutch oven inside for 30 minutes, keeping the lid on the dutch oven. Remove dutch oven and carefully place the dough inside with the parchment paper. Turn the oven down to 425, and place the dutch oven back inside the oven with the lid on top. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid, then remove the lid for another 30 minutes.

Remove bread and cool on a rack.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Healthy Appetite - Spaghetti with Braised Kale & Crimini Mushrooms

I was lying in bed working on my laptop when I heard the refrigerator door open. It closed a few seconds later, and the cabinet door opened. When that shut, I heard the distinctive rustle of a plastic bag. "What are you eating in there?" I asked Daniel, knowing full well I didn't have much food in the house. A short pause, and then, "umm...pine nuts."

Ladies and Gentleman, it's official. This house is out of food.

Although, in my defense, we'd just finished off the last of my first loaf of bread only minutes earlier, and man, he has one healthy appetite (being 6'4 will do that to you I guess.)

Between work and rehearsal it can be tough to get to the store on a weeknight. As it is I need to bike home as fast as I can at the end of the day to be able to sneak in a quick bite before running off to the theatre. Thank god for Leah who kindly brought me two more bunches of kale from the Tuesday farmer's market this week. Thrown together with some Crimini mushrooms and tossed with spaghetti, it came together in 20 minutes, it's healthy and it was absolutely delicious.

Unfortunately I realized too late that Daniel had left me some pine nuts in the bag. How kind of him. Next time I'll throw them in as well.

Aaaaaannnd on another very exciting note: Tah-dah!!!!!

Look what arrived in the mail today! Thomas Kellar's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook! The ultimate in comfort food recipes. And let me tell you, this book is coffee table worthy. I keep opening it up and thumbing through the pages. I must confess it stayed open on my desk at work for a good portion of the day after lunch. Oh, there are good things to come from that book and onto this blog! I for one, cannot wait!

Spaghetti with Braised Kale & Crimini Mushrooms
adapted from Molly Weizenberg in Bon Appetit

1/2 lb spaghetti or bucatini, cooked according to the package directions
1 large bunch of Lacinato kale

1/2 yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1 cup Crimini mushrooms
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp or more fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for serving

Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. In the meantime, remove the large center ribs from the kale and slice into thin ribbons. Set aside. Dice the onion and garlic, and slice the mushrooms thinly. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat, when the olive oil is hot (it will dimple slightly when you tilt the pan) add the onion, saute about 3 minutes until translucent, next, add the garlic and saute about a minute more, then add the mushrooms. Saute till the mushrooms are tender and brown (adjusting the heat as needed.) When the mushrooms are done, scrape the mixture out of the pan and set aside in a bowl.

At this time the pasta water should be about ready to boil. Put the pasta in and cook according to directions. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over high heat in the saute pan, when it's hot enough, add the kale and let sit in the pan for about 1 minute before stirring. Saute about 3-4 minutes over high heat, stirring occasionally. Next, add the onion mixture back in. When the pasta is done, drain (reserving a small bit of the pasta water in case you need it at the end) and add to the saute pan with the kale and onions. Toss in the pan with lemon juice and salt and pepper. If the pasta seems dry, add a bit of the pasta water. Top with Parmesan and serve.

No Fear - No Knead Bread

As long as I can remember I have had (what I admit to be) a completely unreasonable fear of yeast. I have avoided recipes that called for yeast like the plague. I can't really explain this fear, I know not from whence it came, but this past Monday night, at exactly 6pm, I finally conquered my fear of yeast.



I mean just look at it. Is that gorgeous or what? It rose out of my oven like a phoenix out of the ashes, like Athena sprung from the head of Zeus! It was pure magic people! Baking bread is like some kind of wizardly alchemy!!! I can't believe I've never done it till now! It came with a shattering crust and a delightfully tender and chewy crumb. It looked like a sourdough loaf, but tasted more like country bread. I can't even tell you how anxious I am to move on to sourdough, as soon as I get my starter. I'm new to this bread thing, but now I'm all gung-ho about it. Soft pretzels? On the list, cinnamon rolls? Oh baby, yes! Swedish Cardamom Bread? Abso-freakin-lutely. All will hopefully be making appearances on my counter soon. If only I can find the time.

Because here's the thing about bread-making. It takes a bit of time. It's not so much about the effort, there's really very little of that. What you'll need is a whole lot of patience. I started with Mark Bittman's recipe for quick No Knead Bread. Several sources had pointed me in that direction for it's short time requirement and it's relative ease. I couldn't have been happier with it. Such a painless process to get started with! I can't wait to try something more involved.

Seriously. You'll be so proud of yourself when you take this out of the oven. I've literally been showing off my sandwich slices to friends and co-workers, "See? See this? It may look like a loaf from the store, but it's not! I made this!"

I'm embarrassing myself.

I realize others might not share my fear of yeast (just one of many phobia's including flying and snakes (you can imagine how terrified I was when Snakes on a Plane came out)) and I'm happy to be able to strike this one off the list! But anyway, it's a great starter recipe if you're looking to make some bread and don't own a breadmaker. My handy 3.5 quart Le Creuset was the perfect fit for this recipe.


No Knead Bread
Mark Bittman - NY Times

3 cups bread flour
1 packet ( 1/4 ounce) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 & 1/2 cups water
Oil as needed.

Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add the water and set aside for at least 4 hours in a warm dry place, around 70 degrees. If it's not warm enough the dough will take longer to rise.

Once your dough has risen, llightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a dish towel and let it rest 30 minutes more.

Once the dough has been covered and set aside, immediately heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a 3.5 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When the dough has rested for 30 minutes, remove the hot pot from the oven and place the dough inside. Shake the pot once or twice to let the dough settle at the bottom, it will settle even more as it bakes.

Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where is My Mind? - Pasta with Braised Leeks, Porcini Mushrooms and Breadcrumbs

Being a Capricorn, I have extreme anxiety over being late to any kind of occasion. I am the type to always show up at least 5 minutes early to things and I am not usually prone to forgetting when I'm supposed to be somewhere. Which is why I was completely befuddled to arrive out of breath from an ill-fated bike ride (involving several wrong turns-downhill) at rehearsal exactly as it ended on Saturday afternoon, and why the looks on my fellow actors faces were confused as well. I had written down noon-2pm instead of 10am-noon. Oops. Even with the wrong turns, I'd still arrive 10 minutes before I'd planned...which was, unfortunately, in actuality, one hour 45 minutes too late.

I'm not sure where my mind is these days. Even the task of memorizing lines, something that normally comes pretty easily to me, has been more illusive lately. I'm feeling the urge to hunker down with a good book (rather than with my lines, or the pile of laundry that I should be attending to) and procrastination is hovering over me in all areas it seems.

I can't even get it together to pull together a seriously ambitious recipe. When I opened the fridge yesterday the contents seemed disjointed and out of place. I had some fresh pasta that needed to be made that day, 3 large leeks, some prosciutto that also needed to be used up, a head of cauliflower, carrots and mustard greens. I fumbled around through old issues of Gourmet and Bon Appetit, looking for some kind of edible combination. I found a Jamie Oliver recipe online, pasta with braised leeks and Porcini mushrooms. I had a bag of dried mushrooms hanging out in the pantry, some bread and some thyme on the windowsill. Just a few tweaks to the recipe and it all came together nicely.

This is one I'll work on in the future. It's fairly economical and easy to pull together. Don't skimp on the garlic. The next time around, I'll use fresh mushrooms and maybe even some sherry. It came together beautifully, the breadcrumbs and mushrooms added a great texture. The flavors are fairly mild and earthy, which is why I think it's important to use ingredients that are fresh and in season.

Pasta with Braised Leeks, Porcini Mushrooms and Breadcrumbs

adapted from Jamie Oliver

3 large leeks, trimmed and washed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
A small wineglass of white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 slices prosciutto or good ham
1/2 lb pasta (I used fresh Porcini Pappardelle, plain fettuccine would also work well)
Parmesan for serving

For the mushrooms and breadcrumbs:

1 small handful dried mushrooms (I used Porcini)
1/2 loaf of country style bread, preferably stale, cut into chunks
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

*Update 10/22 - upon considering this recipe further and stumbling upon something similar from a Thomas Keller cookbook, I would add about 1 & 1/4 tsp red wine vinegar to the wine and stock when braising the leeks.

Halve the leeks lengthwise and slice into 1/2 inch pieces. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. When it starts to sizzle, add the garlic and leeks. Stir with a wooden spoon to coat each leek piece in butter. Add the wine, chicken stock, prosciutto and the salt and pepper. Heat a wide saucepan, add a splash of oil and a knob of butter, and when you hear a gentle sizzling add the sliced garlic, thyme leaves and leeks. Move the leeks around so every piece gets coated. Pour in the wine, season with pepper and stir in the stock. place a lid on the pan and cook gently for 25 to 30 minutes. Once the leeks are tender, take the pan off the heat.
While the leeks cook, pulse the bread, mushrooms, salt and pepper in a food processor until the whole mixture is breadcrumb like. Heat the olive oil in a sautee pan, add the garlic and sautee for one minute. Fry the crumbs in the oil until golden and crisp. Keep shaking the pan - don't let the bread crumbs catch on the bottom. Drain on paper towels and let the crumbs cool.

Next, cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions.

Remove the Prosciutto from the saucepan, slice up and stir back into the leeks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and then stir in the Parmesan. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the leeks. Toss with the crumbs, and add a little of the cooking water if need be to make a sauce to coat the pasta. Serve while hot.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Ultimate - Basic Chocolate Chip Cookie

I am about to launch a bomb on my friends and co-workers. I have hereby commenced the great chocolate chip cookie bake-off of 2009.

Listen, god knows the blogosphere certainly doesn't need another chocoloate chip cookie recipe. I'm sure there are a million recipes out there that will do just fine. And frankly, when it comes right down to it, when you want a chocolate chip cookie, you want just that. You don't want to spend a whole lot of time pouring over the intricate details about what makes this particular cookie so much better than the others. You just want it to be warm, straight out of the oven and to go nicely with a cold glass of milk. At least, that's what I want.

But. I do have my curiosities. There are several recipes out there proclaiming to produce the end-all-be-all of cookies. Three of these recipes have caught my eye.

1. The 2008 NY Times David Leite/Jaques Torres cookie (Claim to fame -a combination of bread and cake flour and chocolate discs, or feves.)

2. The Thomas Keller Ad Hoc cookie (Claim to fame - Keller uses dark brown sugar, a departure from the light brown sugar method so many recipes call for. He also uses two kinds of chocolate chips. One 55% chocolate, the other 72%, which gives a more complex flavor, apparently.)

3. The Cooks Illustrated "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies"
( Claim to fame - two words. Brown. Butter.)

Aren't you curious to know which of the three produces the ultimate cookie? Let's go over our requirements, shall we? The perfect cookies should be:
  1. Warm, right out of the oven and served with the requisite milk

  2. Crisp on the edges, chewy and soft on the inside. Not crumbly and cakey.

  3. Have the correct ratio of sugar and salt. Good salt can go a long way towards bringing out the chocolate flavor.

  4. The cookie should not have an overpowering vanilla extract flavor.

Is that it? Have I missed anything? What does your perfect chocolate chip cookie require?

And finally, I said that the quest had begun. I took what I believe to be a very basic cookie recipe and adapted it from several sources to start us off. Here it is, the recipe upon which, all other recipes will be based. And I will have you know that one of my co-worker's pronounced a cookie from this recipe to be the best she'd ever eaten. Just wait!

Oh, and in case you're curious? Yes, this is basically exactly the same as the recipe on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip bag. The ol' standby of all our youths!

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Basic Recipe

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse salt
10 ounces dark chocolate chips
2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl whisk together the flour through the salt. Combine the chocolate chips. Cream the butter and sugar together in another bowl until well combined and fluffy with a hand-held mixer or in a kitchen-aid. Add the vanilla and one egg at a time, mixing well after each egg is added.

Gently fold in half the flour mixture in with a rubber spatula, mixing well. Add the other half and combine. Cover and chill in the fridge for 24 hours (this is the key to a really chewy cookie, but if you, like me, can't wait that long, put them on a middle rack in a 350 oven for 15-18 minutes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.) When you're ready to bake, use your hands to form balls of dough about 2 inches in diameter. That's if you like a fairly large cookie.

I like to rotate the cookie sheet at least once during the cooking time so that each side bakes evenly.

I sometimes add a teaspoon of espresso or finely ground coffee to give these a kick.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Variations on a Theme - Kale Two Ways

Braised Kale

My love for (and addiction to) kale cannot be overstated. I yelped in joy upon opening October's issue of Bon Appetit and opening to Molly Wizenberg's Spaghetti with Braised Kale recipe. I'm happy to see the leafy green out and about, holding it's place at the table. No longer relegated to a back seat position in hippie type casseroles and rendered unrecognizable stewing away for hours upon hours in a soup pot. It takes very little for kale to reveal it's delicious flavor and nourishing quality.

My preferred method involves just a few short minutes over extremely high heat, but last night I added another version to the rotation. The Smoky Greens with Beans recipe landed in my inbox around noon yesterday. A rainy day dinner request from Daniel. With 2 bunches of deep green, stalky leaves waiting on my counter, it really was the perfect thing. A fine accompaniment to the mouth-wateringly good lamb sausages I'd bought at the Temescal Farmer's Market.

So, it's always good to have a collection of variations on a theme (wait until you see the numerous chocolate chip cookie recipes I have in store) especially since I'd be hard pressed to pick just one method and stick with it. And so, with that, I bring you two different ways to cook it. See the recipes below.

And at the going rate for kale these days (3 for $1 at the Farmer's Market!) I'll need to add even more variations. I have a feeling kale chips will be making their way out of my oven very soon. Just don't call me a hippie. Kale is way too fashionable these days.

Lamb Sausage & Smoky Greens with Beans - Photo by Daniel

Braised Kale

1 lb kale, or about 2 bunches (center ribs and stems removed, slice kale into thin ribbons)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over high heat. Add the kale once the pan is extremely hot, after the oil starts to shine. Add kale and let sit in the pan about 30 seconds before stirring or tossing with kitchen tongs. Let kale wilt and saute in the pan for about four minutes over high heat. You may want to turn the heat down just a touch. A fast and high saute ensure the kale will hold it's structure and be a bit crisp on the edges. Add garlic in the last 30 seconds of cooking. Remove and toss with lemon and salt and pepper. Serve while hot.

Smoky Greens and Beans
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 cup chicken broth (vegetable broth can be substituted)
8 cups coarsely chopped assorted greens (such as kale, mustard greens, and collard greens; about 8 ounces)
1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), drained
Grated Manchego or Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium high heat. Add onion and saute until soft and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and paprika; stir 1 minute. Add broth and greens; bring to boil, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until greens are wilted and tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in beans and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Divide among bowls; sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blown Up - Pappardelle with Brussels Sprouts & Pine Nuts

Hurricane force winds in San Francisco! But it's cozy inside with candles lit, my boy lying on the bed and chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. It really couldn't be nicer in here. Outside, it's another story. The storm was so intense, and the rain so abundant, that a transformer blew up under the street outside the theatre I work for. Luckily, no one was injured, but it did blow out both tires on a car going past, blow the manhole cover into about a dozen pieces, and it also knocked out all the power on our street. And so, no show tonight. The first time in years we've had to cancel. Not to mention the fact that internet and phones were also down. This creates some difficulties when trying to notify ticket holders that the show they're braving the elements to see will not, as they say, be going on.

But dinner sure did. Thankfully the power is on at my place, and the lines at Berkeley Bowl were mercifully short. And while this is not what we ate for dinner tonight, it is what I had the last two nights. Amber can attest to it's deliciousness, as we had it before our weekly Mad Men fix the other night.

This is my new favorite pasta. No, wait, I take it back. It's my new favorite dinner, period! I've only recently become a brussels sprout convert, but now I'm one of the faithful. This dish can turn any sprout hater the right way 'round. It's one I might soon try on my Father...maybe I won't tell him what's in it till after....

The brussels sprout hash is also terrific on it's own, and there might be a chunkier version of it making an appearance on my Thanksgiving table this year.

Whatever you do, don't skip the cream! It makes the final texture so velvety and rich. The lemon zest brightens it all just a touch. Take care to just slightly brown the nuts. There's nothing worse than burned pine nuts.

Pappardelle with Brussels Sprouts & Pine Nuts
adapted from Gourmet and Orangette

1 lb brussels sprouts, washed & trimmed
1/2 lb pasta
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp pine nuts
Porcini Mushrooms (optional, I think the woody/earthy flavor of these would go great, stirred in and sauteed with the hash)
1 tbsp cream
1 tsp lemon zest
salt & pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta, meanwhile, put the brussels sprouts into a food processor with the slicing attachment. Pulse until all the sprouts are coarsely chopped, about 10-15 seconds. You'll want to cook the pasta first, and start on the brussels sprouts about 5 minutes before the pasta is done. At that point, place a heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add the butter and the olive oil. At this point, you can either cook the pine nuts in the saute pan for about a minute while stirring or toast them in a toaster oven (my preferred method). Add the brussels sprouts to the saute pan with the nuts, and a bit of salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook until the sprouts are slightly tender and just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in the cream. Toss the brussels sprout mixture with the pasta and top with lemon zest and Parmesean. Serve while hot. Serve 4.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Well Hello There - Flour + Water on a Saturday Night

Saturday was a good day. A very good day. The morning found Daniel and I gallivanting across the bridge on our way to who knows where? "Where" ended up being Tiburon - quaint little town of gorgeous views and a frustrating lack of parking. We caught a movie and a glimpse of the fleet week spectaculars over the Bay. We then hopped over to the Heath Ceramics outlet in Sausalito, where I proceeded to drool over every item in the store, which at half-price and more off still managed to be devastatingly out of my price range. Oh to be a woman of wealthy means. If that ever were to be the case, I might just move in to the Heath outlet. In any case they would have have the most difficult time getting me out the door.

As luck would have it, Brian answered both my phone call and request for his presence and dinner. Flour + Water has been on our hit list for awhile now, and Saturday was the perfect evening to give it a try. The restaurant opened at 5:30, we arrived at 10 past 5 and there was already a line of at least 10. Our expectations were high, but they were more than well-met. This was one of the best meals I've had in years. The pasta was incredible, rich and perfectly cooked, each flavor stood out. The pizza was a stellar combination of crispy and chewy with black and blistered edges of crust.

Pizza Cavalo Nero - Tuscan Kale, Potato, Crescenza and Speck

It was the kind of meal you never want to end. We did our best to extend it by ordering dessert, something I hardly ever do after a large meal. I could wax poetic for days about Flour + Water, but I think the thing to do is to share Brian's photos from the meal along with the menu description. But please, I cannot be held responsible for your finding yourself trying to lick the screen, or drooling over your keyboard. Best just to go there yourself...

Pumpkin Tortelli with Sage and Toasted Hazelnut

Pappardelle with Braised Duck Leg and Porcini Mushrooms

Chicken Rotolo with Roasted Turnips, Pancetta, Mustard Greens and Walnuts

Pork Chop & Belly with Pumpkin and Vin Santo Glazed Apples
Brian says, "The "pork" came from some hybrid spotted pig/wild boar offspring from Sonoma. It's the new secret weapon against vegetarians and vegans

You must hate me now. I'm sorry, I just couldn't help myself!

Gorgeous photos courtesy of Brian Scipione, take a look at his flickr photos here!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stormy Weather - Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Crispy Breadcrumbs and Kale

A large sign in the farmer's market today proclaimed this week's tomatoes the last of the season. There go the Early Girl's, the Brandywines and the Purple Cherokee's. I'm feeling guilty that I've only managed to can one whole jar, but, considering the fact that it was my first attempt at canning, I am ridiculously proud of that singular jar. Now, let's just hope I followed all directions correctly and that the sterilization techniques worked...I have a healthy fear of botulism.

Fall feels a bit like winter tonight. Apparently we're in for a large storm tonight. I had to turn on my heater for the first time today. I even left the oven door open for a bit when I took out a batch of cookies. Anything to warm my apartment up. They're predicting winds of 40 mph and at least 3 inches of rain. A bit of a hindrance to my bike to work commute, but I have to admit, the first big winterish storm is always a bit of a thrill. We're planning for power-outages, collecting candles and picking out reciepes to stay busy and cozy indoors with. I'm actually pretty thrilled to take the opportunity to stay in, cook and be warm while the wind howls and the rain pours outside.

Speaking of staying in and cooking, Leah and I collaborated on this pasta the other night before our weekly viewing of Project Runway. Nothing like fashion, Tim Gunn and a big bowl of pasta! This was a particularly great combination of roasted tomatoes, crispy oven roasted bread crumbs and sauteed kale. Tossed with olive oil and salt. Doesn't need anything else, except for a dusting of Parmesan of course. It's really not even the kind of thing you need a recipe for. Just roast the tomatoes for about half and hour on a low oven setting, do the same for the bread crumbs, saute the kale in a screaming hot pan, cook the pasta and toss! Delicious and completely addicting. It's the time of year when I start adding kale to everything.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Baking Void - Flourless Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Sitting on the couch with our Stage Manager during rehearsal the other night, she bemoaned her lack of time for baking. Seeing as how I have a few nights off from rehearsal a week, and she has to be at every single one, I offered to fill her baking void. Because this is how I relax people! I bake!

I asked if she had any requests, crumble? Cake? "Cookies," she replied. I was more than happy to oblige. I'd seen a delicious looking recipe on The Bitten Word, and after the success of my last flourless-chocolate venture, I was dying to try a flourless cookie recipe.

These cookies are almost brownie-like in texture. Crackly on top, soft and chewy on the inside. The kind of chocolate you use makes a huge difference. I suggest Sharffenberger. Something not too sweet. One more thing of note, these cookies are gluten free. A great choice that will work for people with celiac disease or a wheat allergy. They're incredibly rich, hence, double chocolate!

Flourless Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

adapted from The Bitten Word and Everyday Food

2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped hazelnuts
4 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl combine the sugar, cocoa, and salt. Next, add the chopped chocolate and hazelnuts. Mix in the egg whites and stir just until the mixture is well-combined and shiny.

Drop the dough in large spoonfuls onto a silpat or baking sheet lined with parchment, taking care to keep space in between the cookies. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cookie tops are dry and cracked. Let cool completely before you remove them from the sheets, otherwise they'll stick. Makes about 20 cookies.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kitchen Disaster - Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Tonight is basically a tale of kitchen disaster. Not the quiet night of a long bike ride, soup and some armchair reading I wanted it to be. The soup plan went awry when I hit the handle of the very full stock pot with my elbow and it went crashing to the floor. Soup. Went. Everywhere. My white cupboards stained an embarrassing red, the steaming liquid seeping into the cracks of the floor. It was a mess. So that batch was a loss. I took a few breaths, cleaned it up and started a new batch, determined to have my roasted red pepper soup. I seem to have these major kitchen spills/disasters about once every couple of months. Last time it was a full pot of orzo, just cooked. Soup is worse. Much messier.

Roasted Red Pepper soup is my best friend Lauren's specialty. She got it from her Aunt, apparently it's a specialty at her New Mexican Restaurant. It's become a bit of a tradition to make a batch of this around New Year's. Typically our group of friends head up to Tahoe to stay at a cabin and hole up for a weekend of sledding, snowshoeing, eating and intense games of Monopoly and Risk. This soup comes together so quickly, and is so comforting and filling with a slice of good crusty bread, a crunch salad and a glass of red wine. It's our first task on our first night at the cabin (after building the sled run and icing it down of course) and I look forward to it every year.

But why reserve it just for the months of December and January? That doesn't seem fair. Poor neglected Red Pepper Soup. You are not just for the winter months. You'll do just fine on a crisp October evening.

Well, when you're not all over my floor that is. I much prefer you in my bowl, and not all over my cabinets.

Lauren's Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Can easily be made vegan by using olive oil in place of butter, omitting the cream and using vegetable broth or water in place of chicken broth.

2 16oz jars roasted red bell peppers
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 tbsp butter
4 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup cream
salt to taste
basil & Parmesan for garnish

Drain and rinse the peppers, set aside. Saute onion in butter until soft and translucent. Add the peppers to the onion and saute about 5 minutes to help break the mixture down. Add to cuisine-art and blend until mixture is well combined. Add to a stock-pot or large saucepan with chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the paprika, cayenne and salt. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cream and stir. Dish up and garnish with basil and Parmesan.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Birthday Tacos - Pork Chops with Mustard-Maple Pan Sauce

This Saturday was the birthday party to end all birthday parties. Lily turned 30, so we celebrated in style, with back-yard karaoke and a honest to goodness taco truck that drove up and parked in the driveway. Let me tell you, the combination of a couple al pastor tacos, some Mack the Knife and birthday cupcakes and beer make for one of the best Saturday night's in recent memory. Thanks for turning 30 Lily! Can we do this again next year?

Sunday was filled with rehearsals, photo shoots and some weekend work tasks. Oh yeah, rehearsal...did I mention that? I'm a sometime-actor on the side, working with a local company that produces in the basement of a pizza parlor. Pizza, beer and couches while you watch theatre (theatre simply doesn't get better than that) and it's a good time. The current show is a comedy, and also a world premiere. So far so good, although the guy I play opposite of spends the entire show nearly naked. A bit distracting, I must say. Not that I'm complaining. Anything for comedy, eh?

Point being? Things are going to get a little crazy around here. And by crazy, I mean busy. From work to rehearsal, it makes for a very full day. Sadly there's not a lot of time for cooking. I'm learning to try and enjoy the boxed Indian lunches (meh, not so much) but I did make it a point to promise my stage manager a batch of cookies on Wednesday. So I'll take some time out tomorrow to bake. After that, cooking will have to wait till the weekend.

So that's how it's going to be for the next few weeks. In the meantime I hope to have some guest posts, lots of weekend dishes and then, there's this deliciousness. I'm telling you, you may feel wary of this sauce, it may not sound appealing, but I promise, it most certainly is. You can substitute chicken for pork, both would be terrific, but the sauce is the star. It's so easy and perfect for fall.

Pork Chops with Mustard-Maple Pan Sauce

adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 4

4 Pork Loin Chops (boneless)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp plus 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp grainy mustard
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Heat the oven to 350. Season chops with salt and pepper. In a large oven-proof skillet, brown the chops in olive oil over medium-high heat on both sides. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the dijon mustard, grainy mustard, maple syrup and broth in separate skillet. Boil the mixture until reduced by half. Add the butter and transfer the chops to the sauce skillet. Continue to cook in the sauce until done. Serve over bitter wilted greens.

Monday, October 5, 2009

In the Air - Salmon with Curried Yogurt Sauce

Tonight as I walked home I smelled it in the air. Fall. The very first scent of it. It went very well with a large harvest moon and a pumpkin patch, grown overnight it seems at the corner of 51st and Telegraph. Hello, October. So far your days are warm and your nights crisp. The sweaters are coming out along with the coats, and I'm having visions of gnocchi with crispy fried sage and brown butter. Something warm and comforting while the wind picks up outside.

Speaking of wind, last night, after a dinner of pho in the Sunset district, we headed up to Sutro Tower to check out the view. Sutro Tower is a major landmark in San Francisco, it can be seen from practically everywhere, towering over the city. I'd never seen the view from there. We took the motorcycle up to the top, and thank goodness for helmets and motorcycle jackets, which seem to be the perfect wind protection! The wind was so strong you could lean into it and still be held up. The helmets kept us warm, as did the jackets. The city shone below, streets laid out in perfect rows of light. Planes from both Oakland and SFO stacked up in the sky, one after the other. It was something to see.

One more summer recipe. Awhile ago I posted a recipe for fish cooked in parchment. This is a good way to dress it up a bit. It's also pretty healthy. It also happens to be my entry in the recent recipe contest for thekitchn. I couldn't post the recipe in full till now. Another continuation of my curry obsession.

Tomorrow, a fall dish. I promise.

Salmon in Parchment with Curried Yogurt Sauce

For the Salmon

2 salmon fillets (I used wild king salmon)
1 tbsp basil (chopped)
6 lemon slices
salt & pepper for seasoning the fish
2 sheets of 15 inch parchment

For the Curried Yogurt

1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 clove garlic (finely minced)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cilantro (chopped)
1/2 tsp mint (chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 400. Place each salmon fillet in the middle of your sheet of parchment. Make 3 deep slits with your knife in each fillet. Stuff the slits with the basil. Season the fish with salt and pepper and lay the 3 lemon slices on top of each piece. Fold the parchment paper in half and cut into a large half circle, discarding the cut scraps of paper. Place the fish on one side of the half circle, fold the other side over so the cut sides meet, and roll and press the open edges together until it creates a sealed package for the fish. Set each parchment package on a baking sheet and put into the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the yogurt, curry, cayenne, garlic, salt, cilantro and mint together in a medium bowl. Set aside. I like to blanch green beans, zucchini and carrots to go under this dish. A bed of arugula is delicious as well.

Once the fish is cooked, cut through the parchment, remove the fish and top with the curried yogurt sauce.