Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One of Those Days - Pasta with Peas, Parsley, Mint & Bacon

Have you ever had one of those days?

You know, where you wake up after a long, restless night thinking it's Friday. But it's not. It's Tuesday.

You drag yourself out of bed to make some coffee, and realize you are out of filters. So you vow to get your coffee when you get to work, and you get yourself out the door and down to the bus stop. And when you get there it starts to rain. Actually, it starts to pour. And you're without an umbrella. And you're too stubborn to miss the bus and take the next one to go get it. So you get on the bus dripping wet and there's a fight halfway through your commute. So the bus driver stops the bus to break it up and all you can think is, "How is it possible that it is 9:30 in the morning, people are fighting and I haven't even had my coffee yet?"

So you get to work and you make it through the day, sustained only by a single thought: "Tonight, I will make cake." You rush to the grocery store and grab all the necessary ingredients, and you head home, pre-heat your oven...and then you forgot to get butter. A very necessary ingredient for cake. And you had the perfect blog post for this cake all ready to go. But there will be no cake. Because there is no butter.

Yeah. I had one of those days.

There was no cake. Instead, I went to the gym. And then I made pasta. Because dammit, one way or another, I was going to get my carb fix tonight.

Stay tuned for cake.

Pasta with Peas, Parsley, Mint & Bacon

adapted from Bon Appetit

1 16 ounce package pasta (I used Gemelli, shells would also be great)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 16 ounce package frozen petite peas (do not thaw)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
3 strips of bacon, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 375. Place bacon strips on a foil lined baking sheet. Cook for 25 minutes, then drain over paper towels. Chop.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stir occasionally until just tender but still firm to the teeth. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot.

While the pasta is cooking, place a large skillet over medium-high and bring the cream to a simmer. Add peas and simmer until just heated through, about 1-2 minutes. Add most of the Parmesan and stir until melted and the sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Stir in the mint, and most of the parsley. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to coat, adding pasta cooking liquid a little at a time if too dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and Parmesan and serve.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ease Into It - Brown Butter Risotto with Sherry & Poached Shrimp

In the span of five days, I went from Maui's 90 degree temperatures, warm blue waters and white sandy beaches with palm trees, to the 30 degree snowy slopes of Squaw Valley in Tahoe. Life is feeling very full at the moment.

And as I always say, the best way to ease out of one vacation is to throw yourself into another. I have no problem doing that with gusto.

The problem is, now I'm out of planned vacations for awhile, with nothing to tide me over. That is not an enjoyable feeling. I think I'm going to have to come up with an affordable idea or two. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to summer.

Here's a confession: spring is probably my least favorite season. Oh, I know it's when things are blooming, starting to come out of the ground, everything has a fresh taste and smell to it. It's lovely, but it's just not summer. I'm looking forward to a hot sun; swimming, windows open and down, summer tomatoes, peaches and berries. I can't wait!

But, in the meantime, there's still enough chill in the air for cozy dishes like risotto.

My fridge looked pretty bare when I came back from Hawaii, and seeing how I was leaving again so quickly, I thought the thing to do would be to rummage through the pantry to come up with a quick dinner. I had Arborio rice, sherry, an onion, chicken stock, butter, frozen shrimp and some Parmesan. Great for a basic risotto, but how to make it even better? So easy. Can't believe I'd never thought about it before. I simply browned the butter. It lent a wonderfully nutty flavor. A great way to add a bit of flare to an totally simple dish.

Brown Butter Risotto with Sherry and Poached Shrimp

8 frozen shrimp
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
3 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
chives for garnish (optional)

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Keep hot over low heat. After the risotto has been cooking for about 10 minutes, add the shrimp to the remaining broth and poach until shrimp is cooked through. Remove from the broth with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Cook until the butter begins to foam and then turns brown, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Add the onion and cook, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the sherry and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of stock and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of stock to absorb before adding the next. Cook until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Top with shrimp and garnish with chives

Friday, March 26, 2010

Textilists - Citrus Marinated Mahi Mahi

My Sister and I decided to spend one of our last days in Maui taking a dolphin snorkeling cruise over to the island of Lanai. We were promised said snorkeling with dolphins, whales breaching next to the boat, gorgeous colorful reefs and fish of all kinds. We lined up to catch our boat promptly at 8:15am, excited and ready. We noticed a large cruise ship docked offshore, and wondered if the passengers would be infiltrating our boat. Several lifeboats were making the trip from behemoth ship to shore (and getting swamped by waves in the process.)

10:30am and we still hadn't boarded our boat. They made an announcement to say that they were, of course, waiting for the cruise ship passengers who were having a hard time making it over by lifeboat due to the large surf.

When we were finally able to board at 11am, we had to wait even longer. The boat had to pull out of the harbor to let other boats in. A few of the cruise passengers who had made it over sat down next to us. At this point, there were about 20 people on board our boat, with 80 more yet to board.

"Are you two on the cruise?" asked a boisterous and slightly obnoxious older man. We answered no. "Oh!" He exclaimed, "You're textilists!"

Excuse us?

"Textilists! Y'know, you wear clothes!"

Turns out, it was a nudist cruise. A gigantic cruise ship filled with 1000 nudists.

We were baffled. And now two hours late in leaving, due to 80 nudists (thankfully clothed on our boat) but seemingly planning to disrobe once we donned snorkel masks.

At that point, our boat headed back into the harbor to pick up the other 80. My Sister and I had had it. The nudists had taken over our sweet little deck table, "You don't mind if we share this table with you, do you?" Errr...sort of? We jumped ship and got a refund as soon as we were back in the harbor. So much for our dolphin snorkeling experience.

It's not that I have a problem with nudists. Hey, if that's what floats your boat (so to speak) I'm all for it. Maybe not my personal choice (being a textilist and all) but whatever. It was more the fact that they were so pushy, loud, made us 2 hours late, and oh, the sheer number of them: 1000!!!!

I kept thinking about the David Sedaris essay where he stays at a nudist colony for 2 weeks to see what it's like. Being a germaphobe, he has a difficult time of it, as he can't sit down anywhere without bringing a clean towel along.

We did see dolphins later that day, just off the beach where we'd decided to spread out. Our textilist beach. And as we told each other that day, it makes for a good story, doesn't it?

And then, there's something about being next to the ocean. It makes you crave fresh seafood.
Does that seem wrong, somehow? Kind of morbid? Shall we just ignore the fact that I'm eating those friendly fish I was just snorkeling with?

Cool breezes, warm air, outdoor dinning: these things all screams for fresh and local, light and tangy, healthy and delicious with little preparation and mess.

The following was a collaborative meal. My Mother wanted Mahi Mahi, I wanted a citrus marinade. So I took care of that, and she did the rest.

Citrus Marinated Mahi Mahi

For the Marinade:
4 tbsp fresh orange juice (I used clementines, tangerines or any other citrus would work well)
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp fresh lime jice
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 Mahi Mahi steaks (about 1-inch thick)
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
lime slices, for garnish

Preheat the broiler to high. Whisk marinade ingredients together in a bowl.

Place the fish steaks in a shallow baking dish. Pour about half of the marinade over them (reserve the rest of the marinade). Let the fish sit in the marinade for 10 minutes at room temperature.

Transfer the fish steaks to a broiler pan and broil, turning them once with a spatula, until the steaks are golden on the outside and done to taste inside, about 4-6 minutes per side. Drizzle with the reserved marinade, garnish with the chopped cilantro, limes and serve.

If your steaks are thinner than 1-inch, reduce the cooking time slightly. If they are thicker, increase the cooking time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Maui - A Tropical Vacation is the Best Kind of Vacation

I'm having phantom smelling spells. I keep getting whiffs of plumeria, sunscreen and coconut. I'm having Maui withdrawals, obviously. I don't think I would have survived the transition back to the mainland, were it not for my dear friend Amber, who works at the bar on my street. She has been feeding my Pina Colada addiction, gunning full speed with her industrial strength blender and trigger finger.

One of the most exciting things about my recent trip, was that I conquered my fear of snorkeling. To be fair, I hadn't tried snorkeling since I was about 8, and at that age I was terrified of being nibbled by fish. This time, I had a hard time getting myself out of the water, especially when I realized I could hear the songs of the humpback whales underwater. It was an amazing experience to hear that, and to swim through the coral reefs. Add tons of green sea turtles to that, a few pods of dolphins, some white sand beaches and palm trees, and it all adds up to a pretty great vacation. I'm feeling very relaxed, though I'm sad to be back. And actually, kind of refreshed work-wise.

Not only did I encounter all kinds of magical sea creatures, but I also had a magical creature sighting on land. While wandering through a tiny local market, my Sister turned to me and said, "See that guy at the end of the aisle? Isn't he on TV?" I turned and looked, and there was Mr. Big from Sex and the City. I'll admit, I stared a bit (he's pretty damn good looking) but aside from that and a quick perusal of what was in his shopping cart (Fig Newmans, yogurt, milk and water) there was no conversation. Just some ogling on my part. He's Mr. Big! Who wouldn't ogle!? Best celebrity sighting I have ever had.

And yes, there was the typical tropical fare. As previously mentioned, I downed more than my share of Pina Coladas; but also fresh pineapple and papaya with lime, fresh fish, bananas right off the tree...a pretty wonderful way to eat. When everything is abundant, fresh and healthy, it seems you need less, but enjoy it more.

Corresponding recipes coming soon...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Home, Home, Again - Pasta With Beet Greens

I miss Maui. I missed it as soon as the airplane took off and the turquoise waters and lush green mountains disappeared underneath me.

I walked out of my apartment in Berkeley in a tank top this morning. That was wishful thinking. It was only about 65 outside. Lovely for the Bay Area in Spring, but no 85 degree Maui weather. I spun around and walked right back inside to change.

I tried to remember to enjoy every second of the trip. I haven't been anywhere tropical since I was 13. Time seems to move so much more quickly when you're hyper conscious about not losing a single second of it. It slips away so fast!

It was the quintessential vacation, and I hope to go back to Maui sometime soon. (A girl can dream!)

But, more on the trip later. For now, a recipe. A great one.

I made this pasta with the leftover beet greens from the beet hummus. I have to say, I was expecting it to be fairly good (I love beet greens) but instead I got something amazing. I could have slurped the balsamic reduction up with a spoon, it was so good. And it looked unbelievably pretty on the plate. All fuchsia and maroon. I sort of danced around after the first bite, wishing someone else was present to witness and taste this glorious dish. It's the kind of dish that's meant to be shared, so, in that case, I'll have to make it again.

Pasta With Beet Greens

adapted from Gourmet
serves 6

1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium red onions (1 lb), halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2
lb beet greens with stems (from about 2 bunches beets), stems cut into 1-inch pieces and leaves cut crosswise into 3-inch-wide pieces, divided
1 cup water, divided
lb spaghetti, bowtie pasta or penne
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add pine nuts and toast, stirring, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add garlic to oil remaining in skillet and cook, stirring, until golden. Add onions and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add vinegar and cook, stirring, until most is evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add beet stems, 3/4 cup water, and 1/2 tsp salt and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until stems begin to soften, about 12 minutes.

Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water (2 Tbsp salt for 6 qt water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta.

Meanwhile, add beet leaves to onion mixture in handfuls, turning each handful with tongs until the leaves are wilted before adding next batch. Add remaining 1/4 cup water and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add olives, then add pasta and cook, tossing and moistening with some of the cooking water as necessary, just until liquid has thickened slightly. Serve sprinkled with pine nuts.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Off I Go - Beet Hummus

I love Fridays. I love them even more when they mark the start of vacation. And this particular Friday, for me, does just that. Time to record "away" voicemail messages at work, to send out emails with particulars for while I'm gone... I'm actually considering leaving my own computer behind and unplugging completely. Although, to be honest, that sort of scares me. Not sure I'm ready to go cold turkey yet...

I won't tell you where I'm off to. I'd much rather post a few pictures upon my return. I promise to make a few location appropriate dishes while I'm gone. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about the trip. Although, it does mean I have to get on a plane again. Not. Going. To. Think. About. It. (Deep breaths.)

By the way, did you know you could make hummus out of beets? I had no idea, although it was amazingly simple and really just made so much sense. I stumbled across the recipe over on Simply Recipes, but honestly, you could figure it out yourself with a bit of common sense. I also think you could just make regular hummus and cut back on the amount of chickpeas when adding the beets. This has got to be a crowd pleaser for sure. Look at the color, so beautiful! I think it would be delicious with a dab of goat cheese on top as well. I finished the bowl pretty quickly. Feeling quite pleased that I now have another use for beets.

Alright, off you go. Enjoy it. See you when I'm back from vacation!

Beet Hummus
adapted from Simply Recipes

4 medium beets, cleaned and scrubbed
2 1/2 tbsp tahini
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice
zest of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
pinch of kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 375. Place the beets in a dutch oven, or baking dish covered with foil. Fill the dish with about 1/4 inch water, place the beets inside. Cover and bake for about 1/2 hour, until they can be pierced easily with a fork. Once the beets are done, set aside to let cool and then cut into cubes.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. You can also use a hand blender. Pulse until smooth and well combined. Season to taste.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guest Post By Leah - Raw Dino Kale Saad

There are some things in life that are just...great. Things like, a good gin & tonic. Italian Pizza. A kiss that makes you weak in the knees. Hearing your favorite song come on on the jukebox. Those are good things. Those are great things. Having your friend pick you up from work on your lunch hour so that she can recipe test on you...that qualifies as a great thing.

Enter Leah.

This Monday, she did just that. I'd driven home from Sacramento at 6:30 that morning. I could barely keep my eyes open at work, and was not so subtly trying to plan my escape, when Leah asked if I wanted to come over for lunch. I did. I am no fool.

And so she picked me up. And made me lunch. Made this salad, to be clear. I swooned over this salad. This salad was amazing. Had she not been looking, I would have gobbled the whole thing up in 5 seconds flat. I asked her to do a guest post for it, and she did just that. Enjoy!

Raw Dino Kale Salad - Guest Post by Leah

When Lily asked me if I was planning on watching the Oscars this year, I have to admit, I wasn’t that interested. But, then she pitched me the idea of making martinis and snacks and watching with a group of sensitive s**t-talkers. I was sold as soon as she said the word martini.

I love a martini.

Classic. With gin, of course.

I love the idea of it. I love trying to lift the awkward glass from the table to my mouth without loosing too much of the precious juice on the bar. I love the cold and crisp herby or citrus-y flavor. I love that it is uncomplicated. And I love that it comes with a snack. (ahhh, that emerald olive)

My dad introduced me to the best martini I have ever had about a year ago while I was with him on a business trip in Denver. The first night, we headed to his favorite restaurant in Denver, called Jax. We sat at the bar and ate red-curry muscles and drank martinis made from Cap Rock Gin. Cap Rock Gin is distilled at the Jack Rabbit Hill Biodynamic Farm in western Colorado's North Fork Gunnison Valley. It is made with apples, and so has a slightly sweet yet clean flavor. Oh, man, it is SO good!

And, I am digressing to the millionth degree. Martini’s make me do that.

So, the Oscars. We laughed, we cried. We discussed fashion, and the crazy white lady Kanye who stole Roger Ross Williams’s, (director of the best documentary short, Music by Prudence,) thunder. And we drank martinis. But, wouldn’t you know it, the real star of the show wasn’t the headliner, but the supporting actor. The raw kale salad I made as an after thought (we needed a vegetable dish to cut the richness of with our salumi and cheese-filled snack/dinner) stole my beloved martini’s spotlight.

I admit, I love this salad almost as much as I love a classic martini. It packs a punch of tangy-ness from the lemon juice and almost creamy-ness from the Parmesan. But the real treat is the raw kale. Dino kale is dark and bumpy, crunchy and satisfying, with a slightly sweet and herbaceous flavor, not completely unlike my favorite martini.

After a fall and winter of kale and leek pasta, braised kale, sautéed kale, and many, many other dishes of cooked kale, it was a pleasure to bring this back into the fold. I first read about this salad in the NY Times, and I have made it a few times over the years. It is always a winner It is the perfect accompaniment to just about anything, or it can stand out on it’s own, just like an Oscar dress or a martini.

Raw Dino Kale Salad
from the NY Times, October 2007

1 bunch Dino Kale (also called Tuscan or Lacinato Kale)
1/3 cup toasted, coarse breadcrumbs (from good white, sourdough, or Italian bread)
1-2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup grated cheese, preferably Pecorino Romano (or Ricotta Salata)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus some to garnish as needed
Fresh juice of one to 2 lemons (about ¼ cup)
1/8 – ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (to taste)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim kale removing stems and discard. Slice kale leaves, including ribs, into very thin ribbons (1/8 inch or so). You should have 4-5 cups.

For the breadcrumbs, tear bread into little pieces or pulse stale bread in food processor. Toast bread in 350* oven for 7-12 minutes or until the crumbs are dry and just browned. Let cool completely.

With a mortar and pestle or the side of a knife, pound garlic into a paste with the salt. Place in a small bowl with the cheese, oil, lemon juice, pepper flakes and black pepper, and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Alternately, place garlic, cheese, oil, lemon juice, pepper flakes and salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it is all incorporated and the garlic is finely minced.

Put kale in large bowl, pour the dressing over and toss thoroughly (dressing is a little bit thick because of the cheese and so needs lots of mixing to get all the kale covered. Using hands for this is a good method).

Let the salad sit for a minute, mix in and top with cooled breadcrumbs, and more cheese if you want.

If you are holding the salad for a while, and it will keep very nicely for a few days in the fridge, add more bread crumbs when you serve it or they will get very soggy (which, I personally love)

Yield: four side-dish servings

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In Other News - Sunchoke, Celeriac & Fennel Salad with Dried Cherries & Hazelnuts

Not to brag or anything, but I did get 13 predictions right for the Oscars. Including all the big awards. Why do I never take my instincts to Vegas? I could make a killing! My thoughts about the show on a whole this year, though, are basically, "Meh, whatever." Except for two things: Jeff Bridges (he should have been nominated, and should have won for The Big Lebowski), who I am terribly excited for, and the clothes. I care a whole lot about the clothes.

While no one beats my all-time favorite Oscar dress (this one), I did go crazy for both Rachel McAdams gorgeous pastel water-color confection, and also for Cameron Diaz's sparkly Oscar De La Renta number.

I am really in it for the clothes.

Thanks to Lesley for hosting me this weekend. We made a beautiful pizza together, so good that it was devoured before any pictures could be snapped. Then we headed up to Tahoe yesterday for a day of skiing. I'm not sure my legs will ever forgive me, not to mention my toes and feet. Ski boots are basically just torture devices. Will no one make a comfortable ski boot? Can anyone aid me in this search? The future of my participation in this winter sport depends upon the finding of a decent and comfortable ski boot. Otherwise my feet will go on strike. Suggestions?

In other news, I made this salad. Riffing off a recipe I saw in the San Francisco Chronicle, I never would have thought to shave sunchokes for a salad. To tell you the truth, I never thought about eating them raw. I'm glad I now know it can be done. Pretty, no?

Not necessarily Oscar dress pretty, but it does make for an attractive lunch.

On a side note, the mandolin (a gift from my Mother) worked so perfectly for this salad. I'm so excited to finally have one!

Sunchoke, Celeriac & Fennel Salad with Dried Cherries & Hazelnuts

2 Sunchokes, scrubbed and shaved/sliced thin
1 small head celeriac, shaved thin or cut into matchsticks
1 head of fennel, shaved thin or cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
shaved Parmesan or Manchego for topping
coarse salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp chopped fennel fronds for garnish

For the dressing:
2 tbsp champagne or sherry vinegar
1 tbsp or less extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt and pepper to taste

Whisk dressing ingredients together. Arrange sunchoke, celeriac and fennel slices together in a serving bowl. Top with cherries, hazelnuts, cheese and chopped fennel fronds. Drizzle dressing over the salad and serve.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Form & Function - My *Very* Tiny Kitchen

Earlier this week my friend and fellow blogger Kim posted some pictures of kitchens from around the blogosphere. I love sneaking a peak at other people's kitchens, both for inspiration and design ideas. People always say that the kitchen is the heart of a house, and I, for one, certainly believe that to be true. I love seeing how people's personalities are reflected in this particular space.

Kim asked me for a few pictures of my own kitchen. It took me awhile, but I've finally gotten around to it, and I thought I might as well post them here.

This is my tiny, nay, minuscule kitchen. This space is obviously not without its challenges. For prep space, I have a pull-out cutting board next to the sink. It tilts down at a good angle, and I'm still working at corralling all my ingredients so they don't roll onto the floor when things get cluttered, or when the angle becomes too extreme.

As you can see, there's not much space for a rolling kitchen-island type of thing. If I had the room, it would be the first addition on my list. Yet, as much as I can complain about a lack of space, it does force me to be creative and concise about what I bring into the kitchen area. Everything must have a place and a purpose.

In general, when you inhabit as small a space as I do, storage is at a minimum, and nearly everything is on display. If I don't want to look at it everyday, I don't buy it. While function is first and foremost, I've learned to combine it with form. The result is a small (tiny!) space that I like to spend time in, and that makes me feel good. You'd be surprised at the number of things you can cook and prep in even the tiniest space.

So now I'm curious. Anybody have a space that they'd like to share? Anybody have a space smaller that this?! If so, I'd love to see it! I'm sure there are kitchens smaller than mine, though it is hard to imagine...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

That'll Fix Her Up - Fried Chickpeas with Spinach & Chorizo

This past Saturday I slept late for the first time in recent memory. When I was finally able to drag myself out of bed, I enjoyed a lazy morning inside. I made myself a cup of coffee and turned on the TV to find that Julia Child's The French Chef was on. Julia was having an "omelette party" in her living room, cooking up dozens of omelettes on bunson burners. She listed her guests, and the kinds of omelettes she planned to create for them. "Oh there's my husband, spinach and cheese for him...there's so and so, ham and cheese for them," she said in her singsong voice, and then I heard her say, "And OHHHhhhhh here comes my Mother-in-Law, I'll give her a liver omelette, that'll fix her up."

I laughed so hard that coffee shot out my nose.

Oh, Julia! So enjoyable. I actually just finished her book, My Life in France, which was a birthday present from my sister. I loved it. It was amusing and entertaining. I couldn't believe I hadn't read it before. I highly recommend it.

On another note: thank you all so much for the words of encouragement after my post on knife skills. It's sometimes shocking to realize people actually read and recreate from this blog. It makes me very proud, and I'm always so happy to hear when people have enjoyed something, or have something to say about what was posted. And also, a huge thank you to Wendy. I opened up my blog email the other day to find a gift certificate to "Kitchen on Fire" from her. It was such a touching and thoughtful gift. Thank you so much, Wendy! It will be put to good use!

This Mark Bittman recipe caught my eye in The New York Times the other day: "Fried Chickpeas with Spinach and Chorizo." A totally affordable, quick and easy dish. I made it this weekend, and again tonight. I think it's going to become a regular around here. I tweaked it just a bit to my liking by increasing the amount of spinach called for, and also by adding lemon at the end. I think the lemon in particular adds some much-needed acidity to the dish. The best part of the whole thing? It's a one pan meal. Nothing better than that!

This recipe is easily amenable to for vegans /vegetarians. Just use soyrizo instead of chorizo. You can find it just about anywhere these days.

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo & Spinach
adapted slightly from Mark Bittman

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible
Salt and black pepper
1/2 cup chorizo, diced
1 pound spinach, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sherry
1 to 2 cups bread crumbs.
juice of 1 lemon

Heat the broiler.

Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add chickpeas, season with salt and pepper.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until chickpeas are crisp; remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.

Add the remainder of the olive oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, season with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium-low heat until very soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine; top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler to lightly brown the top. Once the top is browned, remove from the oven, and generously drizzle with the fresh lemon juice. Serve hot or at room temperature.