Friday, December 11, 2009

My Favorite Kitchen Tools

I use the following kitchen tools all the time whether I’m cooking or baking. In one way or another, I couldn’t cook without them—or at least I couldn’t cook with as much ease and grace as I do. If you are searching for a stocking stuffer or a little something to give to a friend or loved one who cooks, look no further. You can find many of these items at Sur la Table or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, except where noted. Best wishes for a lovely holiday seasons filled with wonderful food coming from your kitchen.

Japanese knives. These are just the best. When I reach in the drawer for a knife, I reach for one of these. They keep their sharpness. In the Bay area, you can find great Japanese knives at The Japanese Woodworker in Alameda, CA or Hida Tool and Hardware in Berkeley.
Microplane grater. Great for grating cheese, ginger, lemon zest. Easy to use. I really like the handle on mine. If you grate a lot, it will grow dull—in which you need to get yourself a new one.
Pastry cutter. I’ve called for this tool in a number of recipes on this blog, including Apple Crisp, Apple Crumb Pie, Biscuits, and the Breakfast Cake. Probably others as well. Lots easier to clean than the Cuisinart and easier to use than your fingers.
Silicon pastry brush. I use this to paint anything that calls for being painted. Its primary advantage is ease of cleaning. Most pastry brushes have bristles like paint brushes and are the dickens to clean, especially if you’ve been painting with butter or an egg yolk mixture.

Silicon spatula. I love these most when I am trying to get every last drop out of a mixing bowl. They work better than anything else. Period.
Egg beater. Of course you can also use a whip or an electric mixer, but the hand egg beater works really well for whipped cream without the extreme effort of the whip or the noise of the electric version.
Measuring pitcher. This pitcher has the advantage of being able to read the measurement by looking down inside the pitcher itself as opposed to the traditional one which you read from the side. Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?
Potato ricer. I think making really excellent mashed potatoes is both a science and an art. You use the ricer after the potatoes have been properly boiled. The riced potatoes are light and fluffy ready for the warm cream, butter, and salt. No lumps.

Suribachi. This Japanese bowl has a rough surface on the inside and comes with a wooden pestle. The rough surface makes it really easy to make a paste of ginger and garlic, for example. I find it much easier to use than a regular mortar and pestle. You can find them at a store selling Japanese cooking equipment, like Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley.

Lemon juicer (electric). You may have noticed that I use a lot of lemon/lime/orange juices in my food. I just love the citrusy flavor. This machine makes it so easy to squeeze your juices. Those glass pitcher juicers are hopeless.
Spice/coffee grinder (electric). First off I want to say that I no longer ever use this grinder for coffee. If you want to use yours for both, make sure to clean it out very well between times. There is nothing that grinds up hard spices—like star anise or cinnamon sticks (broken up)—better than this kind of grinder. The one in the photo is over 30 years old but new models abound.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holiday Breakfasts and Brunches

Holidays are a great time to think about breakfasts and brunches. So nice to gather friends and family together in a more casual and informal way. Check out my September 17, 2009 blog for more breakfast and brunch ideas, including the omelet which is great with the Breakfast Cake below.

Breakfast Cake 
This quick bread needs to be baked and eaten immediately. It loses its interest if allowed to sit around for very long. You can do steps 1, 2, and 3 ahead of time. Wait to add the liquids to the dry until your guests have arrived, assuming you want a little time to chat and drink something bubbly before eating. Your house will smell just wonderful. While the cake is baking, you can make some omelets if you want.


2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cut into ½-inch squares
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk

1. Blend the flour, sugar, and butter together with a pastry cutter, a food processor or your fingers until the mixture is crumbly.
2. Move ¾ cup of this mixture to a second bowl. It will become the topping. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon to the topping.
3. Add the baking powder and the coriander to the original mixture. Mix in well. Combine the beaten egg and the milk.
4. Stir the milk/egg mixture into the baking powder/flour mixture. Pour this batter into a buttered 8 x 8 pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the top.
5. Bake in a 350ºF oven for 35-40 minutes or until the middle of the cake bounces back and the cake has slightly pulled away from the side of the pan.
Serve hot or warm.

Makes one 8 x 8 pan.
Adapted from my handwritten cooking notebook from Japan, 1971-73. Unknown provenance.

Crunchy Granola
Believe it or not, there was a time when the only way to eat granola was to make it yourself. Way back in the 60s, Quaker Oats was still just rolling regular or quick-cooking oats—nothing as exotic as granola. I have recently started making this again thanks to my former husband finding the original handwritten recipe and sending it to me. It is just delicious with yogurt, fresh fruit, or milk. You can also put the granola into small jars from IKEA or the hardware store, wrap them with a bow (or not) and give them for holiday presents.

Dry ingredients:
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 cup dried coconut, unsweetened
1 cup wheat germ
½ teaspoon salt
Add any seeds or chopped nuts you have on hand

Wet ingredients:
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup canola or other vegetable oil
¾ cup brown sugar (I know it’s not wet but it works best in this group)
¾ cup hot water

1. Combine the dry ingredients.
2. Combine the wet ingredients.
3. Add the wet to the dry. Mix well.
4. Spread evenly on two rimmed baking sheets.
5. Toast in a 275°F. oven for about 60-80 minutes, stirring every 20-30 minutes, until it is golden brown and crunchy enough for your taste. You might want to rotate the sheets halfway through baking. You can use convection bake if you have that setting on your oven. Regular works fine too of course.
6. Cool on sheets. Store in an air-tight tin or a large glass jar.

Found originally, I believe, in a newsletter for Albany Village, (University of California married student housing) sometime between 1966 and 1970. To the left is my handwritten copy, recently acquired.

Holiday Sweets

I’ve written before (July 11, 2009 blog) about my issues with making desserts, especially baking. While I’m over being scared, I still don’t make desserts very often. For weekday dinners, Katherine and I try to stay away from sweets—for several reasons, all with an eye toward our spreading mid-sections. I do make them whenever friends and family come to dinner, especially during the holidays. I prefer them to be small and not too sweet. My daughter-in-law-Michelle and her friend Nicole continue to instruct me on these matters.

Chocolate Pots
These little pots are so good. And so easy. Nigella calls for 70% cocoa solids but I find that percentage just too intense. You can experiment for yourself. Some folks might be nervous about putting the raw egg into the chocolate mixture. If you are, don’t make this recipe. I’ve never had a problem.

6 ounces best-quality chocolate, minimum 62% cocoa solids
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon allspice, optional
1 egg at room temperature, use the freshest you can find
8 ¼-cup pots, sake cups, or tiny custard cups
Roasted strawberries during strawberry season, optional
A dab of slightly sweetened whipped cream, optional

1. Crush the chocolate to crumbs in the food processor.
2. Heat the cream and milk until just about boiling. Add the vanilla and the optional allspice to the milk and pour it through the funnel over the chocolate. Let it stand for 30 seconds.
3. Process for 30 seconds. Then crack the egg down the funnel and process for 45 seconds. It’s done.
4. Pour into whatever little cups you have and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Take them out about 20 minutes before you want to serve them.
Note: Don’t be tempted to use larger dishes. The chocolate is very intense and just a little is sufficient.

8 servings
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites

Apple Crumb Pie
This is such a delicious dessert. Basically it’s an Apple Crisp with a granola-like crust. A little more complicated than I usually make. But after a nice simple dinner, it is a splendid holiday treat. Plus I get to use more of my apples from the backyard tree.

1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
6 tablespoons butter, melted

6 cups peeled and sliced apples (about 7)
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon coriander
Zest from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice (½ Meyer lemon)

¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter
¼ cup finely chopped candied ginger, optional
Serving options: whipped cream or ice cream

1. Take your 8½-inch spring-form pan apart. Place a large sheet of aluminum foil over the round base/bottom of the pan. Place the sides on the base over the foil and attach to the base. Fold the excess foil up around the outside of the pan. (This procedure is an attempt to prevent leakage in baking.)
2. Place the crust ingredients in a bowl and stir with a fork until completely combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of the spring-form pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350°F.
3. Turn the temperature up to 375°F.
4. Place the apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl and stir until the sugar is evenly distributed. Pour the apples into the crust and press down lightly to even them out and pack them down.
5. Place the topping ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork, a pastry cutter, or your fingers until crumbly. Distribute evenly over the apples.
6. Place the pie in the oven with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drippings. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the apples are soft. If the top browns too quickly, cover the pan loosely with foil and continue baking. Cool on a rack.
7. To serve, slip a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the filling; release the sides of the springform pan. Slide the pie off the spring-form bottom and onto a serving plate leaving the foil underneath. Peel the foil from around the edges, leaving the rest hidden underneath the pie. If you find an easy way to remove all of it, let me know. When you cut the pie, leave the foil on the serving plate. Serve the pie with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

6 servings
Adapted from Megan and Jill Carle’s Teens Cook Dessert.  This is a great cookbook for any young person you know who likes to cook.

Persimmon Bread

Finally my hachiya persimmons are soft enough for eating and baking. Slices of this persimmon bread are great with tea, as an appetizer with goat cheese, for dessert with whipped cream, or anytime you want a sweet holiday treat. These mini-loaves wrapped up with a bow make great holiday presents.

3½ cups flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2-2½ cups sugar (I use the smaller amount)
1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup Jack Daniels or cognac
2 cups persimmon purée (about 7 medium very soft hachiya persimmons)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

1. Sift flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and sugar together into a bowl. Mix together the melted butter, eggs, Jack Daniels, and persimmon purée.
2. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the melted butter mixture. Mix together. Fold in the nuts and raisins and mix well.
3. Pour the mixture into 6 buttered mini pans, filling ¾ full.
4. Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes; then turn out of the pans onto a rack to finish cooling. Wrap well in plastic wrap or foil. They freeze well.

Makes 6 mini loaves, 4 small loaves, or 2-3 regular loaves.
You’ll need to increase the baking time for the bigger loaves.
Adapted from Susan Weeks, Co-President, Meals on Wheels, Sonoma, as it appeared in The Sun, December 2005

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nick Rupiper and His Chicks

Nick Rupiper of Rup Nut Farm has recently opened a very small destination farm stand on a private driveway off 16331 Norrbom Road, north of Sonoma, out First Street West. You’re not likely to stumble across it. On a regular day only about five cars pass by. But two or more days a week when the trapeze crowd gathers to fly on a rig located down the road a bit, the stand is likely to do a lot of business. Nick’s Chicks, now numbering about 90, provide the eggs. His garden provides the rest. When I took this photo in October, it was apples. Now he’s heading toward kale, chard, and Brussels sprouts.

Nick’s been raising chickens for a couple of years. He was introduced to them in a psych class at Sonoma State taught by professor and organic farmer, Shepherd Bliss, who also raises chickens. Bliss says, “Chickens are the farm animals that I personally find most healing…. They can be funny, as well as beautiful. I enjoy watching and hearing chickens dance, talk to each other, clown around and dig into the Earth with glee, and herald the dawn.” Bliss contends that human and chicken interactions have a lot in common and that humans could learn a lot from them. He continues, “I sometimes take chickens as ‘Teaching Assistants’ to my psychology classes at Sonoma State University, much to the delight of my students.” Nick found Bliss’s enthusiasm inspiring and contagious. He also got some first hand knowledge from his friend Tobias, who lives on an adjacent piece of the property, and has always had a chicken or two as part of his magic show.

Nick started out with three chickens, then bought six more, then another six, then another fifty and another fifty. Currently he has about 15 varieties. They live just across from the farm stand and at the Sonoma Garden Park. He says, “I raise my chickens with care and treat them the way I would like to be treated if I were a chicken. That means fresh green grass to run, peck and scratch on, a clean coop, organic feed, and fresh organic fruits and vegetables from behind the market (they compost otherwise, so they let me take it to feed the girls). I really do think these chickens are the most happy chickens I have seen.”

Now that he has a fair amount of experience with chickens, he’s building chicken coops for people in the area who want their own. In addition, he plays drums with the Green String Farm Band and does some teaching on the side.

The stand is open intermittently so best email him at before making the trip. He also sells his eggs at the Sonoma Garden Park on Seventh Street East on Saturday mornings and occasionally at Readers Books.

Classic Cheddar Cheese Soufflé

When my boys Franz and Ben were growing up, we would have a cheese soufflé every couple of weeks. Making a soufflé often meant that I was running out of food in the fridge—and that, in fact, we were pretty much down to the basics: butter, eggs, milk, and cheese. They would greet the meal with a moan “Soufflé again?” Poor boys. Little did they know that many people would find it an elegant and almost ethereal repast. Last week I served it to a friend who said that it was like eating clouds. What a perfect antidote to the excesses of Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Dash cayenne pepper or ¼ teaspoon hot smoky paprika or Aleppo pepper
4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup flour
1½ cups milk, warmed in the microwave
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan and ½ cup grated cheddar or whatever mixture you might like

1. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks in a large bowl and the whites in a medium bowl. Add the salt, mustard, cayenne or paprika to the egg yolks and mix well.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan; blend in the flour. Let bubble, stirring, for a minute or two to cook the flour. Off the heat, add the warm milk, stirring to combine. Return the pan to the heat and cook until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese and stir until melted.
3. Stir in several large spoonfuls of the sauce to the yolk mixture to temper the yolks. Then add the yolk mixture to the sauce, mixing steadily. Return to the large bowl and set aside to cool for 15 minutes or more.
4. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter a 2-quart soufflé dish and dust it with flour.
5. With a perfectly clean wire whisk, hand or electric beaters, whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir ¼ of the egg whites into the cheese mixture. Then fold in the remaining. Pour into the prepared dish.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until puffed and brown on top. Serve at once.

4 servings, 3 if people are really hungry
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prologue: My Favorite Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Cookbooks

Here is a list of my six favorite cookbook authors (in alphabetical order in Part I below) whose cookbooks focus on the Middle East and the Mediterranean. I own and have used all of them, both those highlighted and those listed as “other.” All of them are interesting, great fun to use, and generally trustworthy. They would all make great presents. Recipes from three of the books follow in Part II below.

When I fall in love with a cookbook writer, I basically buy and use every cookbook that he or she writes. Maybe I like their aesthetic,their way of writing a recipe, their congeniality, their honesty, or their reliability. Something draws me to them and I am a devoted follower from then on.

These authors have differing takes on authenticity. If they are purists (Paula Wolfert, for example), you are assured of an authentic dish but you’ll also have to hunt high and low or order from an on-line food purveyor to get the ingredients you need. There are others (Alford and Duguid, for example) who want to make their recipes as accessible as possible for American cooks and hence offer substitutions, allowing the cook some discretion. I value both approaches. I love approximating as true to the original a taste as possible. I also don’t want to be misled into thinking that I am making an authentic dish when in fact it is not. But I also don’t want to have to struggle to gather exotic ingredients or cook ware, especially if an easy substitution is available. The rest of these authors fall somewhere in between these two poles.

Most of these cookbooks are incredibly beautiful. Full of photographs of both the food and the countries of origin. The recipes are integrated into the culture in a way I find completely absorbing. Many are also quite expensive, some as much as $50. I figure I amortize the price every time I use it. But $50 is still a lot, amortized or not. I always check if Pegasus or Half-Price Books in Berkeley have used copies. If they don’t, I try my favorite independent bookstores, Readers in Sonoma and Books, Inc. in Berkeley on Fourth Street before resorting to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Part I: My Favorite Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Cookbooks

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid 
This twosome was the subject of a great 2008 New Yorker piece by Jane Kramer called The Hungry Travelers. Naomi Duguid was a lawyer in Toronto and Jeffrey Alford was involved in various illicit and possibly dangerous activities when they met on a hotel roof in Tibet in 1985. They have traveled extensively since that momentous meeting and are excellent guides to the food they find in pretty far-flung places.

Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas (1995)
Favorite recipe: Two Reds Salad (See recipe on my September 1, 2009 blog.)
I found Flatbreads & Flavors upon returning from Israel and Jordan where I was amazed by a local bread, called shrak, made over something resembling an up-side-down wok set over a heat source. This book includes a recipe for it, although I have yet to make it. This is one of their first books and has far less color photos but some nicely labeled black and whites. Great food.

Seductions of Rice (1998)
Favorite recipe: Grilled Beef Salad
This cookbook’s focus is on all the cuisines of the world that have rice as the primary staple food: China, Thailand, Japan, India, Central Asia and Persia, the Mediterranean, Senegal, and North and South America. As with Flatbreads & Flavors, they include food to eat along with the many different kinds of rice.

Other cookbooks: Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Tour through South East Asia (2000), Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Sub-continent (2005), Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China (2008)

Sam and Sam Clark 
Casa Moro (2004)
Favorite recipe: Carrot Purée with Caraway and Feta (See recipe below.)
I love that they are Sam and Sam (actually Samantha and Samuel). We’ve eaten at their London restaurant, Moro, which was just great. They are as fascinated as I am by the Moors, believed to be both Arab and Muslim, who crossed the Straits of Ghibraltar from Morocco to Spain in 711 bringing with them all sorts of fruits and vegetables hitherto unavailable: saffron, sugar-cane, rice, figs, grapes, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, bananas, peaches, apricots, eggplant, artichokes, cumin, coriander, and almonds. The food the Clarks offer is a rich combination of both cultures, Morocco and Spain; they are marvelous taste companions.

Other cookbooks: Moro: The Cookbook (2001)

Tessa Kiros 
Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes (2009)
Favorite recipes: Boiled Potato Salad and Red Pepper Soup with Olives, Lemon Zest, and Yogurt (See recipe below.)
This is truly an international cookbook featuring foods from Finland, Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, and Italy. It is much easier to read than Apples for Jam whose recipes were printed in a light gray color in an odd typeface, so hard to read that I didn’t use it much. This one is much improved. Lots and lots of photos, nice print face and color. The recipes are written in paragraph style which I find more difficult to follow than the numbered step-by step method. But she has a great aesthetic and design sense and the dishes are colorful and really good.

Other cookbooks: Apples for Jam (2007)

Greg and Lucy Malouf
Saha: A Chef’s Journey through Lebanon and Syria (2005)
Favorite recipes: Sweet and Sour Eggplant Salad or Braised Swiss Chard with Crisp Fried Onions and Tahini Sauce

Turquoise: A Chef’s Travels in Turkey (2008)
Favorite recipe: Green Olive Walnut and Pomegranate Salad
These are the most gorgeous books. You might think they belong on the coffee table but that would be a serious mistake. They are as fun to cook from as they are to read. Malouf and Malouf hail from Melbourne, Australia where Greg has a restaurant, MoMo. Once married, now separated, they continue to work together on cookbook projects, I am pleased to say, she as the writer, he as the chef.

Other cookbooks: Artichoke to Za’atar: Modern Middle Eastern Food (2008)

Claudia Roden
Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, & Lebanon (2005)
Favorite recipe: Eggplant Slices with Pomegranate, Yogurt, and Tahini (See recipe below.)
I acquired Claudia Roden’s first cookbook A Book of Middle Eastern Food in 1974, a comprehensive survey of Middle Eastern food but without photos or much charm in terms of design. I fell in love with the flavors. Thankfully Roden is a very good writer and her explanations and stories were great. Thirty-some years later, cookbook aesthetics have changed. Arabesque has a lot of photos showing the food in all its glory. All the dishes I’ve cooked from it have been wonderful and it is a pleasure to read.

Other cookbooks: A Book of Middle Eastern Food (1972), The New Book of Middle Eastern Food (2000)

Paula Wolfert
Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking (2009)
Favorite recipe: Creamy Bean Soup with Florina Red Peppers (I used Gypsy)
Paula Wolfert wants us to cook food that is as close to authentic as possible and gives detailed recipes on exactly how to attain the best results, whether it’s handmade couscous or duck confit. I truly admire her dedication to keeping ancient cooking traditions alive.
Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking is her most recent book. The clay pots are simply a joy to use. Among other places, you can buy them at Bram in Sonoma or The Spanish Table or on line. The recipes I’ve tried so far are just great. The publisher must have decided to put as little money as possible into the design, printing and photographs. For all the effort and care Paula put into the recipes, the book is not a joy to read. The photos are humdrum and there are some page numbering mistakes. I have taken matters into my own hands by photographing the dishes I’ve cooked and gluing them into my book to give it a little more character and color.

Other cookbooks: Mostly Mediterranean (1988), Mediterranean Cooking (1994), Mediterranean Grains and Greens (1998), Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco (2001), The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen (2003), The Cooking of Southwest France (1983) and (2005)

Part II: My Favorite Recipes from these Cookbooks

Carrot Purée with Caraway and Feta

This would make a great pre-eating (as my friend Sam says) experience for Thanksgiving.

1¾ pound carrots, peeled
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, roughly ground in a mortar, optional
Note: I haven’t used these because the carrots by themselves are so good. Of course, this presumes really tasty carrots.
¼-½ cup feta cheese, crumbled, for garnish
2 tablespoons chiffonade of mint, for garnish (See my October 23, 2009 blog for explanation of chiffonade.)
5 rounds of pita bread or squares of lahvash

1. Slice the carrots into ¾-inch rounds, toss with half the olive oil and some salt and pepper, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Cover with foil and roast at 400ºF for about 30 minutes or until they are completely tender. Remove the foil and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes or until they are golden.
2. Cool a little before puréeing in a food processor or mashing by hand. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the optional caraway, the remaining olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. If the purée is too thick to spread, thin it out with a little water.
3. To serve, put the purée in a shallow bowl, crumble the feta on top, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with the mint.
4. Serve with toasted pita bread which you make by cutting each circle into 8 pieces (or the lahvash cut in 3-inch squares), arranging them on a baking sheet and toasting under the broil for 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully. They burn in a flash, especially if guests arrive as they are toasting.

6-8 servings as an appetizer
Adapted from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro

Red Pepper Soup with Olives, Lemon Zest, and Yogurt

Great comfort food. Gorgeous colors.

4 red bell peppers or 5 red gypsy peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded (catching the liquid), and chopped
Note: I seed the tomatoes over a sieve placed over a bowl. The seeds drop into the sieve and the liquid falls into the bowl. Periodically I swish the seeds around to release more tomato liquid.
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ cup thick yogurt
Note: If all you can find is soupy yogurt, line a sieve with two layers or paper towels, place the sieve over a bowl, and pour the yogurt into the sieve. Let it drain until the consistency is as thick as you like it. See photo on my May 17, 2009 blog.
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or smoked or regular paprika
1/3 cup pitted black olives, slivered in quarters
Finely grated zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon rosemary [the original recipe calls for this], very finely chopped, but I prefer finely chopped thyme.
A drizzle of olive oil

1. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and arrange the peppers in a single layer. Broil on high, turning the peppers, until the skin has darkened all the way around and the peppers are soft.
2. Place the peppers in a bowl. Cover and let them sit for 10 minutes. Peel the skins and remove the seeds. Don’t worry if some black remains or if you miss some seeds. Sometimes I peel them while they are still hot and puffy.
3. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the garlic and onion for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until the mixture begins to bubble. Tear up the peppers as you add them to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add 3 cups water, or a combination of the tomato liquid (from seeding the tomatoes), the liquid released by the broiled peppers and enough water to make 3 cups. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and purée in a food processor. Return the soup to the soup pot and add the Aleppo pepper. The soup should be fairly thick: if it seems too thin, simmer uncovered for a while longer; if it is too thick, add more liquid. You can let it sit at this point until you’re ready to serve it.
6. Before serving, reheat gently. Check the seasoning and serve the soup hot with a dollop of yogurt, a sprinkling of the olives, lemon zest, rosemary or thyme, and a drizzle of olive oil.

4 servings
Adapted from Tessa Kiros’s Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes

Eggplant Slices with Pomegranate, Yogurt and Tahini

This is superb. I'm having it for Thanksgiving, along with everything else.

2 globe eggplants, or as many eggplants as it takes to make about 2½ pounds
Olive oil
1½ tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1½ tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt, drained if it is very soupy (see instructions above)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons tahini
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup pomegranate seeds

1. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and then crosswise into 5/8-inch slices. Place them on an oiled sheet of foil on a rimmed baking pan. Brush both sides of the eggplant with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.
2. Place in a very hot 475ºF oven for about 30-40 minutes, until they are soft and browned, turning the slices once mid-way through cooking.
3. Mix together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar, and 2 tablespoon olive oil. Brush the eggplant slices with the dressing and arrange them on a large platter. You may have some dressing left over; use your discretion as to the amount the eggplant can absorb.
4. Whisk the yogurt with the garlic and tahini and pour over the slices. Fry the pine nuts very briefly in ½ tablespoon of olive oil or toast them in your toaster oven, watching them carefully, until they are light brown. Sprinkle the pine nuts and the pomegranate seeds over the yogurt. Serve at room temperature.

4 servings as a side dish
Adapted from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Tune with the Seasons

Something dramatic happened to me this year when we moved to day light savings. Up to that point, I was happily cooking, roasting, baking and making salads with the end-of-summer tomatoes, lettuces, and basil. And loving them. I just couldn’t get enough. And then it happened. Like someone threw a switch. I awoke on November 1 changed. I no longer wanted summer veggies. I wanted winter squash: butternut, delicata, kabocha. I wanted that warm mouth feel. The sweet full rich flavor even without maple syrup or brown sugar or butter. And I wanted Brussels sprouts and cranberries and hearty pastas. Baked apples. Bacon. Why this year, I ask myself. Why?

Maybe I have fully absorbed the messages urging me to be ecologically responsible, to eat seasonally and locally to decrease my carbon footprint. It’s true that when I walk to The Patch down the street to buy my fall vegetables, grown on the adjacent land, or stroll into my backyard to pick herbs and apples and watch persimmons, Meyer lemons and navel oranges ripening on the trees, I couldn’t get much more seasonal and local. And my awareness of eating as a political act has been growing for the last couple of years, thanks to Michael Pollan and others.

Or maybe I’ve been frequenting Farmers Markets more regularly and hence have seen the tomatoes dwindling and the squashes increasing week by week. Like the fashion in hems going up and down and up and down, perhaps the visual images of squashes have imprinted themselves on my brain. “You don’t want those old out-of-season tomatoes,” my brain says. “You want a nice juicy butternut.” It is true that over the last few years I have noticed seasonal changes with much more awareness and delight than in the past. Whether it’s asparagus in the spring or pomegranates in the fall.

Or maybe at this time of the year my body is done with acid and needs more carbohydrates to wrap me up for the cold times ahead. Like a bear preparing to hibernate, perhaps I am experiencing an ancient reality that calls for a layer of fat to stave off winter’s scarcity even though mine is not a scarce reality. I won’t freeze; I will have sufficient food. It is true, however, that my body seems to be demanding I eat what is in season. I want squash. I want cooked apples. I want stuff that is coming out of the dirt right now. And I  don’t want tomatoes.

There is an additional and very important piece: maybe my spirit needs these foods. Less and less daylight. More and more darkness. Sunset at 5:00pm today. I find myself a little vulnerable and depressed as I anticipate the cold and rain lasting until March. My spirit shivers in anticipation of the gray gloom of it all. I want comfort. I need comfort food. So I’ve been trying to provide it for myself. For lunch I ate some warm Apple Crisp. For dinner I’m having a pasta dish with Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and bacon. Butternut Squash Soup tomorrow night. These foods give my spirit what it desires most: nourishment, soft mushy warmth, and gentle sweetness.

Perhaps my awareness of the importance of seasonal cooking and eating has been on the increase for some time. Maybe I’ve been moving my way towards this new approach season by season, making all the above speculations accurate to some extent. The dramatic event on November 1, my seasonal epiphany, while stunning, was readying itself for some time. I had simply reached the tipping point. The real insight is this: I don’t just want to eat in tune with the seasons, I need to eat in tune with the seasons. My physical and spiritual well-being demands it.
What about you?

Fall Comfort Food

Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Toasted Almond Dressing
Surprising as it may be, salads can be just as comforting as any other fall dish. This one and the next are two prime examples. They would also make great side dishes for your Thanksgiving meal.

1 (2-2½ pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch cubes
Note: I tried it recently with a mix of unpeeled delicata and peeled butternut. I prefer the butternut.
5½ tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup slivered almonds
1½-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼-½ pound fresh spinach, stems discarded
½ cup dried cranberries

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F.
2. Toss the squash with 1½ tablespoons oil on a rimmed baking sheet; spread them out in one layer. Season with salt and pepper and roast, stirring once halfway through roasting, until the squash is just tender, pale golden, and just slightly caramelized, about 30 minutes. Cool on the sheet until warm, about 15 minutes.
3. Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat. Add the almonds and cook, stirring constantly until golden, about 3 minutes. Put a fine mesh sieve over at large bowl and pour the almonds into the sieve, catching the oil in the bowl. Let them both cool for about 10 minutes.
4. Whisk the lemon juice into the cooled oil until well combined. Add salt and pepper and taste for the right balance between oil and lemon.
5. Add the squash, spinach, dried cranberries, half the almonds, and gently toss to coat all the ingredients. Check for seasonings and add whatever you think is necessary. Serve the salad sprinkled with the remaining almonds.

Note: If you want to make this ahead, do everything except add the spinach to the salad and store in the fridge. Let the squash warm up a bit before serving. You may need to add a bit more dressing to the spinach if the squash has soaked it all up.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook

Prosciutto, Pear, and Parmesan Salad with Lemon and Chervil (or Dill) Vinaigrette
This is a gorgeous combination of flavors. I sometimes serve this salad for dinner without anything else. Last night we had it with the grilled cheese sandwiches below.

4 large handfuls arugula or watercress
2 ripe pears
Juice of 1 lemon
3½ ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
3½ ounces parmesan, sliced with a vegetable peeler
2 tablespoons small chervil sprigs or other fresh herb, like dill, coarsely chopped
1 recipe of the Lemon and Chervil (or Dill) Vinaigrette, see recipe below

1. Put the greens in a bowl and pour over half of the dressing. Toss to combine.
Place on four individual salad plates.
2. Leaving the skin on, cut each pear into 8 pieces. Sprinkle them with the lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
3. Tear or cut the prosciutto into bite-size pieces. Scissors work well.
4. Arrange the pears and prosciutto over the greens. Scatter the parmesan and chervil or dill on top.
5. Drizzle the salads with more dressing. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Note: If you want to make this a dinner for 2, reduce the amounts to 1½ pears and 2 ounces of prosciutto.

4 side-salad servings or 2 dinner servings
Adapted from Jane Hann’s Salads: Cooking with Style

Lemon and Chervil (or Dill) Vinaigrette

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon finely chopped chervil or other fresh herbs, like dill
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed
Salt and pepper

1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Whisk until well blended.

Makes ½ cup
Adapted from Jane Hann’s Salads: Cooking with Style

Grilled Sharp Cheddar Cheese and Cranberry Sandwiches
I almost burned these sandwiches. I pulled them out of the cast iron frying pan just in time.

10 ounces best quality cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
8 slices good quality firm white bread, such as challah
½-¾ cup Cranberry Walnut Relish with Grappa (from last week’s blog)
Your own chilled cranberry sauce
About 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
Note: You can soften the butter in the microwave at 50% power for 1 minute.

1. On a cutting board, set out four slices of bread. Arrange half the cheese over the bread. Spread the relish over the cheese. Top the relish with the remaining cheese and set the remaining slices of bread on top. So it goes bread, cheese, cranberry, cheese, bread.
2. Evenly spread the top of each sandwich with about ½ tablespoon butter. Preheat the griddle or frying pan over medium/low heat. When hot, invert the sandwiches, butter side down, onto the pan. Quickly and evenly spread the tops of the sandwiches with the remaining butter. Cover and cook until the bottom is light golden and crisp, about 2½ minutes. Watch carefully. The sandwiches can burn so quickly.
3. Flip the sandwiches, cover the pan, turn the heat to low and cook until the bottom is golden brown, and the cheese is melting, another 2 to 2½ minutes. Again, watch carefully. Remove from the pan when done.
4. With a serrated knife, cut the sandwiches in half and serve immediately.

4 servings
Adapted from Carrie Brown’s The Jimtown Store Cookbook

Friday, November 6, 2009

Giving Thanks for Gourmet Magazine

I was shocked and dismayed a few weeks back to hear that Condé Nast was doing away with Gourmet Magazine. I vented for several days. Dang. How could they (a big corporation) shut down such a venerable magazine with so much history? How could they dismiss such an interesting and influential editor with a simple phone call? How could they? Impossible to believe.

Then I started to think about it more carefully. Why was I so upset? Yes, it is just awful when something is cut off peremptorily. Yes, I hate corporations when they change the design of a perfectly good coffee maker or a pair of comfortable pants or when they get rid of a food magazine because they want me to buy another more fashionable model so they can make more money. And yes, I really don’t like to be taken by surprise. But what else was going on in me?

Let me go back to the beginning of my relationship with Gourmet.
I started reading Gourmet Magazine in the downtown Berkeley Public Library when I was first learning to cook in the second half of the 1960s. I sat during my lunch hours with my small yellow pad and copied out recipes that sounded delicious and easy enough for a beginner. I have pages and pages of these handwritten notes and used many of the recipes, as my barely legible penciled notes indicate.The one pictured is from the Gourmet of July 1968.
I especially loved the lavish holiday spreads, Thanksgiving in particular. Gorgeous photographs: The beautiful table with elegant crystal and china, elaborate center pieces, and candles with hurricane covers. The exquisite food: Perfectly browned turkey with luxurious side dishes. Chestnuts, lots of cream, oysters in stuffing, many different wines. All well beyond my ability and means. At the time, we were living in graduate student housing on my husband’s modest stipend and my hourly wage at the University of California. None of this was possible. But I could aspire to it. And I must admit, I did aspire to it. I wanted that kind of style, sophistication and elegance.

But our lives continued to chug along. In 1970 we left Berkeley, traveled in Asia for three years, had two kids, and moved to North Carolina. Somehow during that stretch of time, I lost my connection to Gourmet, and it has never been rekindled. I have occasionally bought a single copy with a particularly enticing cover. I bought and use the yellow-jacketed Gourmet Cookbook. But Gourmet Magazine has not been a regular part of my life, my lunch hours, or my menus for forty years. Perhaps I am not alone in this shift from avid to occasional reader.

But here we are in the present moment. My regret and shock at the closing of Gourmet is linked inextricably to a particular time I recall with great fondness. The hours of pleasure in the Berkeley Public Library, the carefully saved yellow sheets of paper with handwritten recipes, the Thanksgiving dinners I longed to replicate or to attend, my desire to be elegant and sophisticated--all these memories contribute to my sadness. Part of my past has been shut down, rendered obsolete or old-fashioned. I choose to believe that the managers of Condé Nast don’t want me to feel irrelevant or shut out; they just want me to purchase one of their other food magazines. Perhaps they felt that Gourmet hadn’t kept up with the times and was too fancy or down right extravagant for this new economy, that lavish Thanksgiving spreads were no longer of much interest, economic or otherwise. I might even agree with them. But let me tell you, it will be hard to buy Bon Appétit knowing that it was chosen over my lunch time companion of many years ago.

In this season of thanksgiving, let me offer a toast to the Gourmet Magazine that educated and inspired a young cook sitting in the Berkeley Pubic Library writing out recipes for Oven-Fried Chips and Melon a l'Indienne. My heartfelt thanks to one and all.

Three Excellent Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Brussels Sprout Chiffonade
Brussels sprouts have grown on me over the years. This one is just great. The slicing takes some time, so if you are doing these for a crowd, get some help.

1 pound Brussels sprouts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ stick)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, optional
Note: If the rest of your dinner has a lot of strong flavors, you might make your sprouts without the cumin. If it is pretty bland (like roast chicken and mashed potatoes), you might increase the cumin seeds to 1 teaspoon.
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1. Trim Brussels sprouts and halve lengthwise; slice crosswise into very thin slices.
2. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over moderately high heat until the foam subsides. Add the sprouts, cumin seeds, salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the sprouts are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. You may want to add 1-2 tablespoons of water to hasten the cooking. The water will disappear and the sprouts will be done.
3. Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir in the lime juice and taste for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook

Six-Spice Squash Purée
This is just incredibly good when the squashes are tender, flavorful, and moist.

1 large (or 2 small to medium) butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Note: The most recent time I used a mix of delicata, butternut, and kabocha.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
1½ teaspoons Spice Mixture (see recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil or line with parchment paper.
2. Halve the squash lengthwise and remove and discard the seeds. Place the squash cut-side down on the baking sheet and roast until it is soft and easily pierced with a knife, 40-50 minutes. While it is roasting, make the Spice Mixture.
3. Cool the squash for 15 minutes. If the squash looks watery after roasting, squeeze as much of the juice out of it as you can. If it is very dry, be prepared to add a lot more liquid to the mixture (orange or apple juice, stock, even water).
4. Using a large spoon, scoop out the flesh and transfer to a food processor. While the squash is still warm, add the butter, maple syrup, and salt and process until smooth. Add the spice mixture and blend.
Add additional salt or spice mixture to taste.

Spice Mixture

1 tablespoon fennel seed
5 or 6 whole star anise
1 tablespoon aniseed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cloves

1. Grind the fennel seed, star anise and aniseed in a coffee or spice grinder.
2. Combine with the cinnamon, pepper, and cloves and set aside. You will have about 1/3 cup. Store the leftovers in a spice jar; label the jar so you don’t forget the contents.

6 servings
Adapted from Matthew Kenney’s Big City Cooking

Cranberry-Walnut Relish with Grappa
There are many wonderful cranberry relishes. I like this one a lot. You can make this ahead of time and add the walnuts a little before serving.

½ cup walnuts
1 tablespoon finely chopped orange zest
Juice of 1 orange and enough water or apple juice to equal 3/4 cup
1 cup sugar
1 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon grappa, optional
½ teaspoon salt or to taste

1. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 400ºF.
2. Spread the walnuts in a single layer in a shallow metal pan and toast, stirring once, until crisp and lightly browned, about 3 minutes in the toaster oven, 5 to 8 minutes in the big one. Watch the nuts carefully. They can burn in an instant. Cool and coarsely chop.
3. In a medium non-reactive pan, combine the orange juice/water combination and sugar. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cranberries and simmer, uncovered, stirring once or twice until about half the cranberries have burst, 6 to 8 minutes. Frozen berries will take longer. Transfer to a glass or ceramic container.
4. Stir in the zest, grappa, if using, and salt. Cool to room temperature. The relish will thicken up as it cools.
5. Add the walnuts just before serving. The relish can be used immediately or covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Makes about 2 cups
Adapted from Carrie Brown’s The Jimtown Store Cookbook

Friday, October 30, 2009

Marie Clare Smith: The Next Generation of Cooks

Marie Clare Smith moves with grace, confidence, and speed as she makes pumpkin chocolate chip mini-muffins (recipe below) in her Oakland kitchen. With her mom, Karyn, working on dinner in the background, Marie Clare checks out the recipe, reaches for the flour, the sugar, cracks the eggs, opens the can of pumpkin, stirs the mixture together, adds the liquid to the dry ingredients, squishes everything together with her hands when she realizes that her spoon is not up to the task, fills the muffins tins, bakes them, and tastes the results. She dances through the process, focused and relaxed, carrying on a conversation with me and her mom. She is a very experienced cook. But get this: Marie Clare is thirteen years old.

It started seven years ago when Marie Clare, then six, pulled up a chair to help her dad, Neil, make pancakes for the family’s Saturday breakfast. At nine, she was making dinner of pizza or macaroni tuna salad for herself when her parents were going out for the evening. Brennan, her brother, would join her if he liked the menu and if it went with ketchup, his favorite condiment. Noticing how much Marie Clare loved both cooking and earning money, Karyn started paying her $10 for each family dinner she prepared. The plan worked for everyone: Karyn got a night off (sort of); Marie Clare added another dinner to her repertoire and increased her shopping fund. Recently she’s started cooking meals for family friends when they come for supper.

So what’s for dinner? She might make potato latkes, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Eggplant Parmesan, Potato Chip-Crusted Fish with Tartar Sauce or her famous Salmon Pockets (salmon wrapped in puff pastry with lots of dill) which she invented by combining the best of two recipes. Usually she’ll include a side vegetable like green beans, some bread, always a salad, and dessert if she has time.

Her passion for cooking has been nurtured and encouraged in a number of ways:

1. Her mother is a wonderful cook and is willing to let her experiment and use the kitchen. This is big. The only thing Marie Clare can’t do is cook over an open flame when she is by herself. Everything else is fine. Karyn says “Knives were never a concern to me. Fire worries me a lot more.” She adds, “If she is cooking with friends, she needs to clean up the kitchen. If she is cooking for the family, we take over the clean-up duties.”

2. She has access to a lot of good cookbooks, some written for kids, as well as her mom's recipes. Teens Cook and Teens Cook Dessert by sisters Megan and Jill Carle are favorites.

3. For three summers she has gone to Sprouts Cooking Club led by Karen Rogers, where the kids learn skills and cook food with area chefs and then have a chance to “jam” in the kitchen, creating recipes of their own. This past summer she was a Counselor in Training and may assist Karen in a café she hopes to open. At King Middle School in Berkeley she has also taken cooking and gardening classes with her friends in the Edible School Yard which her father started with Alice Waters when he was the principal.

4. I must confess that I am Marie Clare’s doting fairy godmother, supplying her over the years with way more treats than her parents might allow. On our very first outing together, we went to SFMOMA. After a quick tour of a gallery or two, Marie Clare shyly expressed a desire for some food. We purchased a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Fish Ice Cream--my effort to suggest something healthy was unsuccessful--and she proceeded to eat most of it while we sat on Union Square watching the scene. What do you think she remembers about the trip? You got it. The ice cream. From then on food dominated our activities together. We ate a lot of superb ice cream and chocolate, frequenting Lulu Rae and Fenton’s Creamery in Oakland, Ici in Berkeley, and the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory (closed I’m sorry to say).

Now at thirteen, she no longer needs the indulgence of a fairy godmother; she is fully capable of providing herself with just about any treat she might want. So what am I to do? Of course I will continue to support her culinary enthusiasm or any other enthusiasm for that matter. I can write about her on my blog. Perhaps I can also become her cookbook editor or her publicist or her biggest fan or watch her on the Food Channel. When I asked her in an off hand way if she might want a career in cooking (Who but an indulgent fairy godmother could ask such a question and get a civil reply?), she said she had absolutely no idea. Being a baker is out because of the early hours. But she might be a chef or maybe a lawyer. “I have a lot of time to decide,” she said.

And finally I asked her what she would tell kids who wanted to learn about cooking. She said, “Cook what you like to eat. Enjoy eating it. Have fun.”
Not bad advice for any of us.