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Monday, January 12, 2015

Lentil-Veggie Stew, a One Pot Winter Pleasure

Over the weekend, the rain beat down steadily all day. At first more like a mist at a car wash, then in steady sheets that drenched any one deciding the time was perfect to visit a favorite restaurant. Which is exactly what we did. We met our sons at Yabu in West Los Angeles (11820 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064, 310-473-9757)  for a 2015 New Year's dinner.

With the weather outside cold and wet, we were happy to be inside the busy, warm restaurant. We ordered our favorite dishes: udon with mushrooms, tempura vegetables and shrimp on seasoned rice, salmon sashimi with pale white daikon threads & wispy pickled seaweed, spinach salad seasoned with mirin and sesame paste, sea urchin (uni) sushi with quail yolk, egg omelet sushi (tamago), baked crab hand roll and hot soba in soup with thinly sliced scallions and paper thin sheets of fatty duck breast.
We talked, shared a bottle of hot sake and looked at photographs from our holiday trips. A great way to begin the new year.

Yesterday the rain was reduced to a light drizzle. Not enough to soak through a thick sweater but enough to chill skin and bone. When it was time to think about dinner, I had only one thought. Cook something easy. Cook something in one pot. And make sure it is hot, filling and delicious.

A few years ago a press trip took me Spokane, Washington and Moscow, Idaho. The area is well-known for its agricultural products, most importantly lentils. A representative of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council gave us a "Lentils 101" talk that described the many varieties of lentils, their nutritional value and economic importance to protein-starved regions of the world. Each of us was given a copy of The Pea & Lentil Cookbook: From Everyday to Gourmet which has recipes using dried legumes in dishes as varied as appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts.

Cooking with lentils is easy.

The basics are wash and rinse the lentils. Discard any broken or misshapen lentils. Generally speaking lentils are cooked in water at a ratio of one cup of lentils to two and a half cups of water. Simmer covered for 30-50 minutes, tasting the lentils as they cook and removing the pot from the stove when they are to your taste. Cooked longer, lentils will soften and can be used in purees for soups, dips, sauces and spreads.

I like the lentils to retain their shape so I cook them only until they are al dente.

Lentils with Shiitake Mushrooms and Vegetables

Lentils come in many varieties. They are not all the same. Find the ones you like. My favorites are Beluga or black lentils and Spanish pardina lentils, which I used last night.

Roasted tomato sauce adds a pleasing acid. Canned tomato sauce may be used, but a better alternative is to make your own. For Zester Daily I wrote about making roasted tomatoes and sauce to keep in your freezer.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup lentils
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 garlic clove, washed, skin removed, minced
1 medium sized yellow onion, washed, paper skin, root and stem ends removed, finely chopped
2 cups mushrooms, preferably shiitake or brown, washed, the ends of the stems removed, finely chopped
1 medium sized carrot, stem cut off, peeled, washed
1 large roasted tomato, washed, stem removed or 1/2 cup roasted tomato sauce
2 cups spinach leaves, washed and thin sliced

Directions

Rinse the lentils, discarding any that are broken or discovered.

In a 2 quart sauce pan, heat the olive oil. Add the dry spices and garlic. Lightly brown.

Add the onions, mushrooms and carrots. Saute until lightly browned.

Add the lentils, water and roasted tomato sauce. Stir well. Bring to a simmer. Cover.

After 15 minutes, add the spinach leaves. Stir well. Cover.

The lentils may take 25-45 minutes to soften. How long depends on many factors. After 25 minutes, taste a few lentils. If they need more cooking and the liquid has evaporated, add enough water to keep the lentils covered.

Stir well, cover and continue cooking, checking the pot every 5 minutes until they have achieved the desired texture.

Serve hot.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2 Great Cookies for New Year's Eve or Any Fun Time

Planning New Year's Eve with friends, the big question is: celebrate a one of our homes or go out. The question was answered quickly.

None of us wanted to go out to a restaurant or go to a club. So the plan is we'll have a pot luck dinner. We'll hang out. Watch movies. Cook together. Try some new cocktails and a good wine (I was on a press trip to Napa last month and brought back a delicious bottle of Luna Vineyards' Pinot Grigio).
Right now we're putting together a pot luck menu that includes a hard boiled eggs with anchovies, grilled side of salmon, a chicken dumpling dish with lots of shiitake mushrooms and fresh vegetables, a cole slaw recipe I've been working on, assorted salads, maybe a thick cut steak to char on a carbon steel pan and assorted desserts including home made hot fudge sauce and caramelized almond slivers to make hot fudge sundaes.

I'm definitely bringing plates of the cookies I made when I wrote two recipes for Zester Daily. The "magic" of the two recipes is one uses egg yolks, the other egg whites. They are completely different. The pound cake cookies are crispy and light-as-air, perfect for dipping in coffee or tea. the financier cookies are adapted from a French cake recipe. They are chewy and filled with nutty flavors from the hazelnut and sweet from the orange simple syrup.

Making The Most Out of Yolks and Egg Whites

So, Happy New Year to everyone. All my best wishes for a healthy and happy 2015.




 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

DIY Foodie Treats Make Great Last Minute Gifts: Hot Fudge Sauce and Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Receiving and giving gifts feels good. What doesn't feel so great is shopping during the last week before Christmas. Parking lots are full. People are distracted so their driving is dangerously erratic. A good alternative to shopping in this competitive environment is to stay home, have a cup of coffee, listen to a podcast and make gifts in your kitchen.
I have two favorite recipes I want to share that are easy-to-make gifts guaranteed to bring pleasure to your friends and loved ones: hot fudge sauce and Moroccan preserved lemons.
Hot fudge sauce for hot fudge sundaes is a most delicious treat with delicious contrasts of warm rich chocolate, icy cold vanilla ice cream and crunchy almond slivers. 

Moroccan preserved lemons are used to make tagines, the wonderful meat and vegetable dishes that are served in conical dishes. Tagines seem exotic but at their heart they are braises. What gives them their unique flavor is the addition of preserved lemons. During a cooking class on a press trip in Morocco, we were shown how to make vegetable pickles, tagines and preserved lemons. Ready to eat within two weeks, the longer they are kept in the jar, the more flavorful they become. 

Both recipes are simple and easy to prepare, using no additives or preservatives and filled with the wonderful flavor of natural ingredients.

Hot Fudge Sauce for Hot Fudge Sundaes

Read the labels of store-bought hot fudge and there will be ingredients you did not want to put on your sundae. The beauty of this recipe is it's simplicity. Cream and good quality chocolate are all you need.

Four ounce canning jars are good for gift-giving. Buy canning jars (Ball and Kerr) because they will not break when placed in a warm water bath to reheat the hot fudge. 

Use good quality chocolate with no preservatives. I like to use Belgium chocolate with 70% cacao. The quality of the cream is no less important. The only heavy cream without preservatives I have found is sold at Trader Joe's. 

Yield: 6 four-ounce canning jars

Ingredients

6 four-ounce canning jars

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 1/4 cups dark chocolate, cut into dime-sized pieces

Directions

Place the canning jars in a large pot. Fill with water to cover the jars. Place on a burner and bring the water to a boil. Keep the water boiling for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Drop the canning lids into the hot water. Set aside.
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the cream until simmering. Remove from the flame.

Add the chocolate pieces.
Use a large wire whisk to mix the chocolate into the warm cream. Stir well until the chocolate is incorporated into the cream.
Remove the sterilized jars and lids from the water. Dry well. 

Fill each jar within 1/4" of the top. Seal with a lid.

Keep refrigerated.

Before serving, place a small saucepan on the stove on medium heat. Remove the lid and place the jar of hot fudge in the water. Simmer ten minutes or until the chocolate has heated. 

Drizzle onto scoops of ice cream. Top with caramelized nuts (see below recipe) and whipped cream (optional).

Caramelized Almond Slivers

Trader Joe's got me hooked on their blanched almond slivers. They are inexpensive and easy to use. The nuts can be used raw or lightly toasted. Caramelized, they are the perfect topping for a hot fudge sundae.

When I caramelize almonds, I make a lot because they are delicious as a sweet snack or used in cakes, cookies and muffins.
Serves: 20-25

Ingredients

8 ounces raw almond slivers

1/4 cup raw sugar

Directions

Place a large frying pan on a low flame. When warm, add the slivers and toss to lightly brown. 

Add the raw sugar. Mix well with the almonds. Use a non-stick silicone spatula to toss the sugar together with the almonds.

Continue tossing together until the sugar begins to melt. Be careful the sugar doesn't burn. 

Remove from the flame and allow to cool. Do not allow the slivers to form clumps.

When cooled keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

The lemons will keep for many months in the refrigerator. The longer they cure, the more fragrant their flavor. Mixed into a sauce, they have a unique citrus-perfume.

Yield: 6 eight-ounce jars
Ingredients

6 eight ounce canning jars

25-30 lemons, medium sized, preferably Meyer lemons, unblemished

1 1/4 cups kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

18 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

Directions

Place the canning jars into a large pot. Fill with water so the jars are submerged. Place on a burner and bring the water to a boil for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove from the burner, drop in the lids and set aside.
Rinse and scrub well the lemons. Dry and set aside.

Remove the jars and lids from the water. Dry.
Set up the dry spices and jars on a counter so you can work assembly style.

Into each jar, place 3 bay leaves, a 1/4 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns and a pinch of hot pepper flakes.

Pick out 18 of the nicest formed lemons, with smooth skin and set aside. Juice the remaining lemons as each jar is filled. All the remaining lemons may not be needed, depending on how juicy they are.

Each of the whole lemons to be preserved will be cut into quarters but kept whole by cutting 2/3s of the way down the lemon. Rotate the lemon and make a similar cut so there are 4 sections of lemon still attached on the bottom.
Each jar will have three lemons. Place the first lemon cut side up in the jar. Spread the lemon open and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Press down to release juice. Do the same with the next two lemons. Pour in lemon juice so the lemons are covered, just below the lip of the jar. Seal with the lid and place in the refrigerator.

Once a week, check the jars to see if more lemon juice should be added to keep the lemons covered. Periodically shake the jars for even distribution of the spices.

Refrigerate.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Cracked Olives

On our press trip we traveled around Morocco from Casablanca on the coast to Fez in the east and then into the center of the country with stops in Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains where we had our cooking lessons. The tagine is a basic dish with an infinite number of variations which depend on the seasons, the region and the personal taste of the cook. 
If you do not have a clay tagine, a Chinese clay pot or a heavy bottom large sauce pan will work almost as well.

Serves: 4

Ingredients


1 whole chicken, washed thoroughly
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/3 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of 1 package powdered saffron
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, peeled, stem removed, finely chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, cut into rounds
2 celery stalks, ends trimmed, washed, sliced
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)

1 preserved lemon peel (per above recipe), white part or pith peeled off and discarded

1 cup cracked olives

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions
Cut the chicken into wings, legs, thighs and breasts. Place the chicken pieces into a container. Cover with water. Add kosher salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Put the bones into a pot, cover with water and simmer 60 minutes. Strain and discard the bones. Refrigerate the stock to use in the tagine. 
Remove the chicken from the brine. Wash and pat dry.
Skim off any fat from the stock.
Bend the cilantro in half to better control and finely cut. Place the garlic and cilantro pieces into a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board and mash together.
Place the chicken pieces in a tagine or in a pot with a cover. Add the garlic-cilantro paste, oils, spices and toss well to coat. Place on a medium flame. Cover.
Use tongs to turn frequently to brown.
Add chicken stock and stir well to create the sauce.
Add carrots, celery, chopped raw onions, finely chopped preserved lemon peel and cracked green olives. 
Simmer 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt or ground pepper.


Continue cooking until the chicken pieces are tender, place the covered tagine on the table and serve with steamed rice as a side dish. If a tagine is not available, transfer the chicken and sauce to a covered casserole dish.




Friday, December 5, 2014

A Winter Pick-Me-Up: Roasted Vegetable Salad


Roasted kale and celery root salad.

In summer, a ripe tomato salad mixed with peppery arugula leaves and bits of salty, creamy Bulgarian feta can be a meal in and of itself. When the weather cools and a weakening sun denies farmers the heat they need to grow nature’s leafy wonders, we still hunger for salads but now it’s time to look to hearty greens and root vegetables to satisfy that craving.
In winter, walking through the local supermarket’s fresh produce section, it’s easy to believe we live in a one-season world. Vegetables and fruit that require summer’s heat are stacked high in the bins. But one taste and it’s easy to tell, these delectables have been grown out of season or traveled long distances to reach our tables.
Root vegetables like celery root, beets, turnips and potatoes grow well in the colder months. When roasted, their starches convert into sugar, coaxing the best out of these subterranean gems.

Winter produce is perfect for roasting

Sturdy leafy greens, like kale, especially black or Tuscan kale, come into their own at this time of year. Delicious raw in a salad, tossed with toasted hazelnuts, and a simple vinaigrette, kale reaches new heights of deliciousness when roasted.
When roasted, oil and heat drive moisture out of the kale, creating an airy crispness. That delicate texture beautifully complements the earthiness of roasted root vegetables when combined in a warm vegetable salad.
latt-celeriac2
Picture 1 of 7
Celeriac, celery root, peeled and cut in half. Credit: David Latt
Having only recently tried celery root or celeriac, I had to look beyond its decidedly unattractive exterior. Put simply, celeriac may have a pretty name, but it is a very ugly duckling.
You have to wonder at the leap of faith it took the first person who ate celeriac. What possessed that brave diner to bite into the pale brown bulb, stippled with stiff, hairy roots?
Only when the woody outer skin is peeled like a pineapple is the pale white flesh revealed. Cut into matchsticks and tossed with olive oil or mayonnaise, raw celeriac makes a refreshingly crisp salad. Like kale, however, celeriac achieves its best self when roasted.

Winter’s Best Salad: Roasted Black Kale, Celery Root, Shiitake Mushrooms, Shallots and Garlic

Simple and easy-to-prepare, a roasted vegetable salad can combine any of your favorite vegetables. For this dish, I wanted to complement roasted kale’s crispiness with tender, savory roasted celery root. Shiitake mushrooms, whole garlic cloves and large shallots added flavors to round out the umami of the dish.
Serves 4
Ingredients
2 pounds celery root or celeriac, washed, peeled, cut into batons 2 inches by ½ inch, yields 1½ pounds
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, halved
3 garlic cloves, root ends and skin removed
1 bunch black kale, washed, stems removed
3 large shallots or 6 small shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, root ends and outer skin removed, washed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
Directions
1. Heat the oven to 350 F.
2. Separately, toss each vegetable with a drizzle of olive oil, season with sea salt, pepper and cayenne (optional).
3. On a large baking pan lined with a Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil, lay out the vegetables separately because they cook at different times. Place the pan in the oven.
4. Every five minutes, use tongs to turn the vegetables for even cooking, using the following times as a guide: kale leaves (10 minutes), shiitake mushrooms, shallots and garlic cloves (20 minutes), celery root (30 minutes).
5. Except for the kale, using a paring knife, check each vegetable for doneness.
6. After cooking, roughly chop the shiitake mushrooms, shallots and garlic cloves.
7. In a flat bowl, toss together the celeriac, shitake mushrooms, shallots and garlic cloves. Top with the crisp kale leaves.
8. Serve immediately to avoid the kale leaves losing their crispness.
Variations
  • Together with the other vegetables, roast 2 large carrots, ends trimmed, peeled. Cut these into 1-inch rounds, seasoned with sea salt, pepper and olive oil and added to the chopped salad after roasting.
  • Roast 2 large beets, whole, stems and leaves removed, washed, drizzled with olive oil. Place these on a lined baking sheet and cook in a 400 F oven for 45-60 minutes or until a paring knife pierces the flesh easily. Use rubber gloves to handle the beets. When cool to the touch, trim ends and peel off the skin. Rough chop the beets and toss with olive oil, sea salt and pepper separately so they do not color the other vegetables. Place them on the bottom of the serving bowl before adding the other vegetables.
  • Season the vegetables with your preference of herbs, such as fresh rosemary, sage or tarragon, or toss any one of the herbs with olive oil and roast on a lined baking sheet in a 350 F oven for five minutes. Remove the leaves, finely chop and sprinkle over the cooked vegetables before tossing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Favorites Meet at the Table

For Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, we'll enjoy the holiday with 18 family members and friends. We know the dinner will be a lot of noisy fun, but until then, there's lots to do so the meal runs smoothly and everyone has what they want to eat.

We began preparing last Sunday when we shopped at the Pacific Palisades farmer market. This morning we picked up the turkey and a few last-minute ingredients at the Santa Monica farmers market. For "fuel" I ran into Starbucks to have a double espresso.
To prepare the turkey I'm consulting my own e-book: 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes.
As important as having good recipes, good planning and sharing the effort makes all the difference: Planning Well Makes for a Better Thanksgiving

Step 1 - invite the guests and see who will bring their favorite Thanksgiving dish
Step 2 - pull out the recipes we want to make
Step 3 - clean the house
Step 4 - borrow extra chairs
Step 5 - pull the extra table out of the garage
Step 6 - shop
Step 7 - cook
Step 8 - eat
Step 9 - clean up
Step 10 - lie down

Dietary restrictions are part of the calculations since some guests need to avoid gluten, some land based-animal proteins, others eschew sugar and for a few nuts are an issue. Avoiding those ingredients doesn't mean missing out on the fun.

Included in the mix of dishes there will be a pan charred salmon seasoned simply with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. The galette, this year's "apple pie," will not have almonds.

For everyone who can enjoy the traditional favorites there will be a large turkey stuffed with my wife's Corn Bread Stuffing with Italian sausages, pecans and dried apricots, which is a labor of love because she eats neither corn bread nor sausages (nor, for that matter, turkey).

The appetizers will include my personal favorite, deviled eggs with anchovies and capers, as well as delicious cheeses--supplied by our friend from Paris who stayed with us last week--,a selection of olives, charred pistachios in the shell flavored with dried spices, sea salt and cayenne pepper and turkey liver-shiitake mushroom pate, another personal favorite.

For side dishes there will be freshly made cranberry sauce, roasted whole tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes--the little ones which are sweeter and not starchy--, garlic-parsley mashed potatoes, oven roasted Brussels sprouts--quartered, seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar and roasted whole tomatoes.

Salads this year will be one with arugula with persimmons, a beet "carpaccio" salad, a toasted hazelnuts and cheddar cheese, black kale salad dressed with a vinaigrette and homemade rosemary croutons and--another personal favorite--frisee with blue cheese and chopped green olives.

And there will be pickles: kosher dill and Moroccan mixed vegetable pickles.

Friends are bringing desserts--a big bowl of mixed berries and selection of ice creams, a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie. I will contribute a plate of my almond-dark chocolate ganache chocolates, the apple galette and a slow cooked passion fruit custard.

Have a great Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the recipes for our dinner.

Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans

Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1/2 - 1 cup turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.

Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add 1/2 cup of the stock, toss well and summer 15 minutes. Add more stock as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. 

Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.



Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

Toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasoning, put in a roasting pan with enough room so they don't sit on top of each other. Roast in a preheated 350 F degree oven 30-45 minutes, turning every 5-10 minutes for even cooking.

They'll come out of the oven so warm and sweet, they'll get eaten before they arrive at the table.

Roasted Whole Tomatoes

A side dish, full of flavor and perfect to serve alongside turkey and stuffing.


Ripe and over ripe tomatoes work best. If you shop at farmers' markets, keep an eye out for discounted tomatoes. 

When they're roasting, tomatoes give off a clear liquid. The flavor is pure essence of tomato. The wonderful chef, cookbook writer, and founder of Fra'ManiPaul Bertolli was famous for hanging tomatoes in cheese cloth and capturing the clear tomato water that he called "the blood of the fruit."

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the whole tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 90 minutes. When the tomatoes are removed from the pan, be certain to spatula off all the seasoned olive oil and tomato water. That liquid is full of flavor. Spoon the liquid over the tomatoes.

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 F degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately.



Saturday, November 22, 2014

New Dishes Added to Thanksgiving Day's Favorites

My mother loved Thanksgiving. For her the day was the best holiday of the year. A time, she felt, when family would gather around the table and enjoy a meal with so many favorite dishes.
To prepare the meal, she would include my sister and myself as helpers. My father was old school, so his responsibilities involved showing up at the table when the meal was ready. Which was fine with my sister and myself. We enjoyed the time in the kitchen chopping vegetables and stuffing the turkey, which meant my sister and I held the turkey butt-up as my mom spooned in the stuffing.
For dessert, my favorite was her apple pie. My mom tossed peeled and sliced apples with lemon juice and brown sugar mixed with raisins. The combination of sweet and tart was kind of ideal. For this Thanksgiving, I'm going to make an apple dessert but a galette instead of a pie because I like the folded crust on top and it is easier to make.
For a new dish I'm going to make truffle macaroni and cheese, a dish demonstrated by chef David Codney (the Peninsula Beverly Hills). The recipe and video are on Zester Daily. The dish is elegant and easy to make and it's perfect as an appetizer or a side dish as a companion for Thanksgiving's more rustic fare.

I've been experimenting with dry sautéed nuts. The one I like a lot, which I'll make for Thanksgiving, is raw pistachios in the shell tossed with sea salt, thyme and rosemary. It's easy and quick with a carbon steel pan that can take the heat.

Have a great Thanksgiving.


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Impact of California's Drought on One Farmer - James Birch and Flora Bella Farm

Much of the time when I'm at the farmers market I'm so intent on what I want to buy I'm focused on  the produce only noticing the farmers behind the flat tables loaded up with fresh leafy greens, stone fruit and root vegetables when I pay.
Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2001

Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2014

Years ago I hung out with one of the farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market because we were talking about doing a cookbook together (he would talk about the "farm," I would talk about the "table").









James Birch has a farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Fresno. The farm has a lovely name: Flora Bella Farm. But these days the farm has a problem. The area where he lives is called Three Rivers. Right now there are no rivers.


Flora Bella Farm 2014
For Zester Daily, I wrote a profile of James and the way the drought is threatening agriculture in the West and California in specific. When the Water Runs Out: Farming in the Drought.