Manna

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I read a few chapters out of Exodus this morning in my “Eat This Book” Bible reading plan, and I found it interesting the description of manna that fell from the sky during the Israelite’s time wandering in the desert.  I don’t think I’d ever really remembered this description:

“31 The house of Israel called the bread manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers made with honey.” – Exodus 16:31

So I thought, “I am going to make that this afternoon.  It listed my ingredients for me”  So I did.  Looked up a basic recipe for an unleavened cracker, and improvised the rest.  The results were pretty good and my first thought was, “This would be great with some goat cheese” (future blog post) but I wouldn’t recommend eating only this for the next 40 years…

Manna
makes enough for at least 10 desert wanderers

2 cups flour (white, wheat or a mix – I used AP white)
1 cup water
1 tbs coriander seeds, crushed fine
1 tbs raw honey
pinch of salt

Combine the flour, pinch of salt and coriander seeds in a bowl until well incorporated.  Stir in the water and honey (I microwaved the honey for ease in pouring) and mix with a fork until fully combined and knead it a few times to form a ball.  Divide the ball into 8 smaller sections.  Roll out each little ball on a floured surface until really really really thin.  Place the strips side by side (they can touch – they don’t spread) and bake at 475F for about 10-12 minutes until browned on top.  While still warm, drizzle more honey on top and place back in the oven until bubbling.  Remove, let cool completely, break apart and eat.

 

Cappuccino Chocolate Cake

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Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, beards…this cake.  I made it on Sunday afternoon and we had a piece and it was extremely good, but we wrapped it up and let it sit in the fridge for a few days and THEN it was something to behold.  The layers meld into one another after a couple days in the fridge.  The whipped cream softens the layers of chocolate cake and it transforms into a Swiss Cake Roll/Tirimisu kinda thing and it’s amazing.  Good news: it’s a really great cake if you eat it instantly.  Greater news: it only gets better from there.

The recipe comes from Fran Bigelow’s wonderful book, Pure Chocolate.  I learned how to make truffles from this book with much sweat, tears and good results.  Fran is the expert when it comes to chocolate and none of her recipes have steered me wrong.  Her truffles and chocolate tempering require huge amounts of patience.  They simply can’t be rushed.  And when I have about 2 days, I want to try her recipe for dark chocolate brandied apricot torte.  But I didn’t have that much time and saw that this cake took only a couple hours. It delivered rich chocolate and creamy coffee flavors and honestly, what is better than that combination?  This is the perfect party cake or good to have in your fridge (since it lasts all week) to whip out with a cup of coffee when a friend stops by.  Given that friends still stop by in your neck of the woods.  Oh, to live in Mayberry…

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Cappuccino Chocolate Cake
serves 10-12

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% is preferable), finely chopped
6 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs sugar
3 tablespoons brewed cooled espresso
Cappuccino Whipped Cream (recipe below)
dark cocoa powder for dusting

With a rack positioned in the middle of the oven, preheat to 325F.

Lightly butter a 9×13″ or quarter sheet pan and line with parchment paper.  Lightly butter the parchment paper.

In a glass bowl set over a sauce pan of barely simmering water (I prefer this to a double boiler, as my DB always heats too quickly and scorches the chocolate = sad Alisa) and melt the chocolate.  Remove when nearly melted and continue stirring until smooth.  Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or using a hand mixer, combine the egg yolks and half the sugar and whip on medium high speed.  Once combined, scrape the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to high.  Continue whipping until the mixture becomes thick, pale yellow in color, and the sugar has dissolved, 5 to 6 minutes.

Clean the whisk and in another clean bowl, begin whipping the egg whites on medium high speed, increasing the speed until frothy.  Slowly add the remaining sugar and continue whipping until the peaks are stiff but not dry.

Pour the cooled coffee into the melted chocolate all at once and quickly stir together to prevent seizing.  If it does thicken and start to separate, don’t worry.  Constant stirring will make it smooth and creamy.

Lighten the chocolate mixture by folding in one-third of the yolks.  Then add the lightened chocolate mixture to the remaining yolks and gently fold.  The mixture will become light and airy with large air bubbles where some traces of yolk remain.  That’s okay and kind of pretty, anyway.

Lighten the yolk mixture by quickly folding in one-quarter of the whites, then gently fold in the remaining whites in 3 parts, trying not to over mix and lose the volume.

Pour the glossy dark chocolate batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.  The pan will be more than three-quarters full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is slightly domed in the center and dry to the touch.  A tester inserted will come out dry and clean with a few crumbs.  Let cool in the pan at room temp.  The layer will pull away from the sides of the pan as it cools.

Have ready the Cappuccino Whipped Cream filling in the fridge.  Remove the cooled cake by running a thin bladed knife around the edges of the pan.  Place the bottom of the baking sheet lined with parchment over the cake and invert.  Peel the parchment paper off.

Using a ruler and the tip of a paring knife, mark the cake into 3 equal sections across the width.  Cut the cake with a serrated blade to make 3 layers about 4 inches wide each.

Place one chilled cake layer on a serving plate.  With a metal spatula, spread one third of the filling over the layer, generously overlapping the edges.  Repeat with second layer and a layer of filling. (The layers should be equal in height to each other.)  Top with the last chilled cake layer.  Be careful not to overwork the cream and frost the top and sides.  Refrigerate at least 4 to 6 hours to set the cake an meld the flavors.  Before serving, dust with cocoa powder.  Can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days (or a week, if you’re us)

Variation: to make this child-friendly(er): just omit the espresso from the whipped cream.

Cappuccino Whipped Cream
makes 3 1/2 cups

1/4 cup plus 2 tbs sugar
3 tbs brewed espresso
2 cups heavy cream, chilled

In a stand mixer fit with the whisk attachment, whisk together the sugar and coffee until frothy.  The sugar will begin to dissolve.  Add the cream and whisk until thoroughly combined and soft peaks form.  Take care not to over whip the cream as it may begin to lose its creamy texture.  Store in the fridge till ready to use.

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Asparagus Tart – Roasting is still the best way to eat vegetables

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I know I said I’d write about what got the most requests on my question last week, but I haven’t had time to do a good job with the requests I got, so that will come at a later post.  The top requests were for kale.  Honestly, I’m a bit stumped.  What, exactly, is the mystery?  Put it in stuff?  Ha!  That would be my suggestion.  Stir it into soups, toss it in salads and wilt it a bit with warm roasted chicken or hot bacon.  However, I don’t want to be flippant, so I will look up some good uses for kale, the sad-replacement-for-chips, and get back to you.  The other suggestion that intrigued me was for proper hash browns.  My friend, Maria, said that she had tried them several times and hadn’t gotten that good, diner-esque texture to them.  Honestly, I haven’t, either.  So I am interested to look up ways to cook hash browns well and that will most definitely be a post, as it will be a learning process for me, as well.

Today I wanted to simply give you an awesome recipe that we had last night for dinner, as our “starter” dish.  A beautiful use of asparagus (hey, Tracey, you asked for asparagus recipes, too!) and a lovely and exciting way to serve them that feels indulgent (bet you’ve never used that word in association with asparagus) and fun for children, and even doable for one-year-olds learning to eat bigger chunks of food.  Olive ate about 6 bits of this tart and then she was done. I consider that a success.

Having a box of frozen puff pastry in your freezer at all times is a good move.  This stuff can make you look like a fabulous cook in about 20 minutes.  You can top it with anything and bake and have great appetizers, desserts, or a crust for a savory tart, like this one.

Also, I wanted to mention my deep love and perhaps borderline obsession with using up leftovers.  My goal at the end of most weeks is for my fridge to be empty, save condiments and milk.  It’s good to think of ways to use up your leftovers and I know no better way than to use eggs to achieve almost-better-than-the original-meal leftovers.  This morning, I took leftover pieces of the asparagus tart and fried an egg and put it on top.  Lots of fresh ground pepper and a few drops of hot sauce.  So good.

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Asparagus Tart

serves 4

1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
1 bundle of fresh asparagus, ends snipped and cut in half, length-wise (I found that this helped them cook faster than the original recipe)
Olive oil to coat the asparagus – 2 tbs
Freshly ground pepper and kosher salt
2 oz shredded Manchego cheese – Parmesan or Swiss would also work

Preheat the oven to 400F.  On a greased, rimmed baking sheet, roll out your puff pastry to about 9×13″ rectangle.  Poke all over the bottom with a fork and bake for 15 minutes, until golden.  Toss your asparagus in olive oil. When the pastry comes out, it will have shrunk.  It’s okay, I swear.  Cover the tart in the shredded cheese and lay your asparagus spears side by side, touching, and alternating head to toe (this just makes more asparagus fit and it looks prettier.)

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Sprinkle the top of the tart with salt and pepper.  If you have leftover asparagus spears, just place them, cut side down, on the baking sheet around the tart.  They turned out to be gloriously crispy when they came out.  Bake for 25 minutes until the asparagus is nicely wilted and slightly browned.  Let cool slightly, cut with a sharp knife into squares and serve!

In the morning, heat leftovers in a 350F oven and fry an egg to place on top.  Enjoy with a cup of coffee and try not to think about the fact that it’s only Wednesday.

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breakfast

*original recipe from Martha Stewart Living

Chicken Saute with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary

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My little eater is back.  She had a week of not wanting to eat much at all and being rather scared of texture and new things, but we are officially back in the game.  It’s a relief, really.  I spend the majority of my days figuring out what to cook next.  I will clean up from breakfast and think about what I need to do for lunch.  After Olive’s afternoon snack, I clean up and think of what I need to start for dinner.  I really love it (thank goodness), but when you spend that much time preparing food, you naturally want everyone at the table to consume it.

Our food structure in the day is this:  Breakfast (usually oatmeal with some kind of fruit and milk), Lunch, snack around 3:30-4, Dinner, a little milk at bedtime.  That’s the only times Olive eats.  She doesn’t snack on anything between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and 4 or between 4 and 7ish.  I really think that when you’re trying your best to get your children to eat a variety of good foods, it’s just shooting yourself in the foot if you let them snack around the clock.  In my (very short) experience so far, when Olive is hungry at meal times, there is rarely a fight over what is served.  She is rarely picky.  I think if she’d had a snack an hour before sitting down, it would be a lot easier for her to reject something new (tonight was roasted beets, pan fried fish and a tomato/bell pepper sauce).  And it’s happened before when she’s had a TON of milk before a meal.  Won’t eat.  Personally, I can’t handle going to the trouble of  cooking and having someone at the table refuse it and then beg for a snack 30 minutes after dinner is over.  The master chef, Fernand Pointe said, “Hunger is the best sauce” and I really love that imagery.  A sauce is a finishing touch – usually the part of the dish that makes it a little indulgent, a little special.  If you are hungry for a meal, everything is just a little more delicious than if you were merely eating because it was mealtime.  I’m not afraid of Olive being hungry.  I think it’s one of the very first lessons in delayed gratification that desperately needs to be instilled at an early age.  So many life lessons are learned by cooking and eating together, and this in my opinion, is one of the most basic.  Wait.  And how wonderful that you have at least 3 times a day to reiterate that important rule.  You wait to be served.  You wait on others before you start eating.  You wait and ask before getting down from the table.  You wait while others are talking before you talk.  It’s beautiful to me how sharing food can teach so much, and not only to children, but to adults as well.

This simple meal comes, once again, from Wini Moranville’s book, The Bonne Femme Cookbook.  A simple chicken dish and the sweet potatoes are an excellent finger food for little eaters.  I choose a baked tomato dish from the book as an extra side for this meal.  Everyone at the table enjoyed it all.  Olive liked the baked tomatoes the least and the chicken the most (but she tried everything) 🙂

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Chicken Saute with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary
serves 4

2 slices thick-cut bacon
Vegetable oil
2 1/2 tbs unsalted butter
2 to 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice (4 cups)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large shallot, sliced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy – can be found at most liquor stores) or 1/4 cup apple juice and 1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Cook the bacon in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Measure the drippings from the skillet and add enough vetetable oil to equal 1 1/2 tablespoons.  Reduce the heat to medium and melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter with the drippings and oil.  Add the sweet potatoes and salt and pepper.  Cook the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened, about 15 minutes; add the shallot and rosemary to the pan after 5 minutes.  Transfer the skillet to the oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile, place the chicken breasts, one at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4 inch thickness.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.

In another large skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over medium high heat.  Add the chicken in batches and cook, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 6-8 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a large platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chicken broth and Calvados, taking care not to let the liquid splatter.  Stir with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Return the pan to the heat, bring to a boil, and boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup – this should take about 2 minutes, depending on the heat and your pan size; it will take closer to 4 minutes if you’ve substituted apple juice and wine for the Calvados.  Whisk in the cream and cook to a desired consistency.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Crumble the bacon and stir it into the sweet potatoes.  Arrange the chicken on four dinner plates, arrange the potatoes around the chicken, spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with Tomatoes au Four (recipe below).

Tomatoes au Four

Tomatoes au Four
makes 4 to 8 servings

4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 small shallot, finely minced (about 2 tbs)
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the tomatoes without too much crowding.  Place the tomatoes, cut sides up, in the baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, shallow, garlic, parsley, thyme and salt and pepper.  Stir in the olive oil.  Spoon this mixture evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake until the tomatoes are hot and the bread crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

 

 

 

Weekend Fare: Pork Carnitas with Fire Roasted Salsa

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Every time we have someone over for dinner, we think a few days ahead of what we should make.  If it’s someone we are not 100% sure we’ve cooked for or not, we almost always ask each other, “Have we made them carnitas, yet?”  The answer is usually “yes…but I’m sure it’d be okay to make them, again.”  This is the kind of recipe that is so easy it feels like cheating, and people always ask, “What did you put on these?!” and it’s awesome to be able to say, “salt.”  And that’s it.  Salt, water, pork.  This is yet another example of how amazing pigs are.  And, this recipe makes a TON.  So you can feed at least 8 people if you have a couple side dishes and some tortillas.

The weather is looking more and more like summer, and while it’s not quite grilling weather, this recipe is about as close as it gets to being full-blown patio summer-fare.  We always have a little mise-en-place set up to go with these soft tacos: chopped onion and cilantro (necessities) and here I have pictured some shredded sharp white cheddar and a fire roasted salsa.  (not pictured, but always in my heart is my ultimate guacamole recipe, which deserves its own blog post.  And it will get it)

This salsa is also our go-to homemade salsa.  Beats anything out of a jar by a mile and is completely able to be altered to your heat preference or even your cilantro preference.  There’s two people in this world.  Those who think cilantro is the greatest and goes well on anything from Thai to Mexican cuisine, and those who think cilantro tastes like soap.  I’m very glad I wasn’t born in the second camp.  My brother was, and he’s made this exact salsa recipe without cilantro and swears it’s the greatest he’s ever made.  So there you go.  Not coincidentally, both of these recipes are from Rick Bayless.  He’s our absolute go-to for Mexican cuisine.  Not only is he an amazing chef and cookbook author, but he COULD be the nicest person to ever appear on television, and probably in real life as well.  One day, we will go to Chicago and spend the week doing nothing but eating at his various restaurants.  Until then, we’ll live vicariously…

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Pork Carnitas

4 pounds bone-in pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch slabs
Salt

Moist cooking.   Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut each slab of pork in half and lay the pieces in a baking dish (they should fit into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish without being crowded).  Liberally sprinkle with salt (about 1 teaspoon) on all sides.  Pour 1/3 cup water around the meat, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 1 hour.

Dry cooking.   Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees.  Uncover the meat and cook until the liquid has completely reduced and only the rendered fat remains, about 30 minutes.  Now, roast, carefully turning the meat every 7 or 8 minutes, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes longer.  Break the meat into large pieces and serve on a warm platter, sprinkled with salt.

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This is what the meat should look like before you shred it.  Nice and glistening in its own fatty juices and caramelized from the oven.

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Fire Roasted Salsa

1 to 2 fresh jalapeño chiles
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, preferably fire roasted
1/4 cup (loosely packed) chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt

In a small ungreased skillet over medium heat, roast the chiles and garlic, turning regularly, until they are soft and blotchy brown, about 10 minutes for the chiles, 15 minutes for the garlic.

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Cool until handleable, then pull the stem(s) off the chile(s) and roughly chop.  Peel the skin off the garlic.  Scoop into a tall measuring cup and pulse with an immersion blender until smooth (or in a regular blender, but this is so much cleaner.  I hate cleaning my blender.  I hate my blender.)

Add the tomatoes with their juice.  Pulse until you have a coarse puree.  Scrape into a serving dish.  Stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2  teaspoon.  You’re ready to serve.

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Try to keep a list of everyone you make this for, as to not appear a one-trick pony like we have numerous times.  We can cook more than this, we swear…we just don’t want to.

Green on Green Salad

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It’s the first day of Spring!  I used to be a complete fall/winter gal, and as far as loving cardigans to a fault, I still am.  But the new mother side of my life has made me  crave warmer weather, the ability to leave the screen door open so we can hear the birds, and not worrying if my kid is constantly too cold.  This time last year, I had a two week old baby in the house.  We were scared and bewildered, yet happy to have her as a part of our pack.  It’s been such a learning process.  Is there a “right” way to do things?  Well, if there is, I was sure on the hunt this year.  I asked every person I knew who might have an ounce of understanding or empathy, what they thought the “right” way was to feed/sleep/play/instruct my baby.  I’m sure they, like me, are breathing a sigh of slight relief that along with her first birthday passing, so has a large amount of my questions.  I think part of me craves that close knit village type atmosphere of raising a baby.  Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins; all within arms reach of advice.  While that isn’t our reality, I am very thankful for technology that has made virtual villages out of our spread-apart lives.

One of my favorite parts of this “virtual village” is the way in the short time this blog has been up and running, I’ve been able to answer questions of fellow moms across several states on the basics of cooking, what to cook for baby, where on earth do you get Chinese 5 Spice?! and so on.  I love cooking so much and I hope that along the way, I can make at least one other person excited to cook a meal for their family or try something new.  I love when someone tells me, “I salt my pasta water because of you” (which is funny because at least three people have told me this, and I learned it from Mario Batali. Salty like the ocean!) I feel useful, even though I might be stuck in this house (or feel stuck from time to time), I feel knit together with so many by a common ambition for the quest for good food and a simple sense of accomplishment.

This salad is once again, from THE best cookbook of my year, so far, The Bonne Femme cookbook.  I served this salad with the broccoli and cauliflower recipe from Monday and seared chicken breasts with a simple pan sauce  (butter, chicken stock, pan drippings, reduce, reduce, reduce) and sliced, toasted almonds.  Very filling meal, very heart healthy – no one felt deprived!  (baby side note: Olive didn’t try this.  She was still sickly when I made it.  Will try again with her soon)

Green on Green Salad

serves 4

1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (about 1/4 tsp each)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
a few drops of Tabasco, Cholula, Tapatio, or whatever peppe sauce you like best
4 cups baby arugula or just a bag of mixed greens
1/2 cup, halved, thinly sliced cucumber
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 avocado, peeled and sliced

In a small bowl, use the back of a spoon (or I use a drink muddler) to mash the garlic clove with the salt and pepper.  Add the lime juice and whisk until the salt is dissolved.  Add the olive oil, whisking until incorporated.  Whisk in the honey and red pepper sauce.

In a large bowl, toss the greens with enough dressing to make the leaves coated, but not too heavy.  Arrange the arugula on a large platter.  Toss the cucumber and scallions with a bit of the dressing and arrange them on top of the greens.  Arrange the avocado slices across the top of the salad.  Drizzle just a little more dressing on top of the avocado and serve.

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Confession Time and a Side Dish You Never Thought You’d Love

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I said I’d be honest on this blog and today is just such a post.  Last week, a sweet friend of mine said, ” You are officially one of those moms that makes me question my ability to fully parent and live well/completely.” I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with that comment, but I think I know, now.  It’s time to be honest!  Last week wasn’t good.  Olive got sick on Tuesday with her first stomach bug in her little year on this earth.  It wrecked her appetite, needless to say, and she subsisted for the rest of the week on mostly bananas, bits of bread, small bites of chicken and forced bites of a few benign vegetables like carrots and…carrots.  My little super-eater turned into the “picky eater” kid and even today, isn’t back at full steam.  She plays fine, acts fine, but when it comes to eating – it’s a fight.

I tried my best to stay the course; don’t force her, don’t get stressed, if she doesn’t eat much at lunch, she’ll catch up at dinner – but I was fearful all week that this stomach bug would make her afraid of food, of eating, of trying new things and in one week, all would be lost.  You think I’m exaggerating for the sake of this blog.  I wish I was.  I guess, today, my confession is that I try too dadgum hard to make things go perfectly, and when they don’t, I feel like an utter failure.  Perhaps this isn’t the day to write because last night I slept maybe three hours (my inability to turn my brain off and relax) but I thought about my friend’s comment on my status, and I just wanted to tell her that we only show our best online.  We only write statuses we are either proud of or find ironically funny.  So no one heard all week how scared I was that Olive was sick, or how miserable I felt when she wouldn’t eat a bite all day for a couple days in a row.  And of course I didn’t write statuses about how I got angry with her and made her cry because she kept dropping food off the side of the high chair.  I don’t like writing about that part of life.  The hard part.  The part that makes you question if you’re doing everything wrong and will, inevitably, scar your child when it’s all said and done.  I thought, “How much would everyone love if Olive ended up hating a variety of food just because I want her to love food so much?”  And it’s sad, but I really do feel that most of the people I know would secretly laugh if that happened.  And I can’t say that I blame them.  I’m very passionate about cooking and food and banning “kid-food” and teaching children to eat well and have manners at the table.  I wouldn’t say that I have much camaraderie in that area, at least not locally.  Or maybe I just don’t feel it because I’m not admitting to the hard parts that happen, as well.  I’m only telling you that she ate baby bok choy with fish sauce vinaigrette last week and loved it.  Not that she cried big, fat tears today because I wouldn’t let her hold a fork while she ate (she’d just throw it or poke herself in the face).  Sigh.

Our hard week came to a head this morning as Olive had her one year check up and got 5 shots in her little legs.  So, I made a soup for her for lunch.  Cream of celery, and I pureed the heck out of it so that there’d be no chunks.  I just didn’t feel like challenging her today. She ate fine.  Not as much as last week, but enough.  And I will continue to do what I know in my heart to be best.  Let her be a person with feelings and a new found opinion on things, and try not to force her to like something just because I do.  She’ll come around.  And if today, she only wants the texture of soups and yogurt, then that’s fine.  Maybe tomorrow she’ll eat something more challenging.  The point, I think, is to get back to the heart of what makes food and cooking beautiful: it’s something to be shared.  Eating, first, should be enjoyable.  Not nutritious, not organic – but delicious.  Good for the soul.  Shared with family and friends.  Happy.  Stress-free.  Not another lesson to pass or fail.  I vow to back off in my intensity for success at having a “good eater” a bit and get back to what makes food so amazing.  It’s good.

An incredible way to enjoy a couple of vegetables that might not be everyone’s favorite is first: roast them till they’re a little crispy.  And second: toss them in a vinaigrette!  In today’s recipe, that vinaigrette is one that contains fish sauce and it’s incredible.  I know you wouldn’t typically put “fish sauce” and “incredible” in the same sentence, but you’ll start to once you try this.  Also, it’s from David Chang’s genius book, Momofuku, and I’m pretty sure he’s never made anything bad in his life.  It’s so simple and the vinaigrette recipe makes a lot, so you can save it in your fridge to toss with pretty much any roasted vegetable.  The original recipe called to toss it with roasted brussels sprouts, which is a vegetable most think they don’t like.  But I’m pretty convinced you’re always just one recipe away from liking something you thought you never would.  So!  Try this today and let me know what you think.  Fish sauce can be found in most Asian sections of supermarkets near all the soy sauce, but if you have trouble, you can definitely find it at any Asian mart in town.

roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts

 

Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower with Fish Sauce Vinagrette

1 medium head broccoli
1/2 head cauliflower
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbs Fish Sauce Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Cut up the broccoli and cauliflower into small, bite sized pieces.  I trim the “trees” in half so that they roast better.  You want to aim to make the size of your vegetables all nearly the same so they cook at the same rate.  Toss in a couple tablespoons of olive oil and spread out on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Don’t crowd the pan.  Put it on two pans if you need to.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes, or until they start to get kinda crispy and browned on the edges like in the photo above.  When they’re done, toss in a large bowl with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.  For some reason, broccoli gets cold faster than any other vegetable known to man.

Fish Sauce Vinaigrette

1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tbs rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 to 3 red bird’s-eye chilies, thinly sliced

Combine everything in a large mason jar with a tight fitting lid.  Or any container with a tight fitting lid that won’t leak.  Shake it all around until the sugar dissolves.  Keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Deep Dish Strawberry Pie

Strawberry Pie

Yesterday was Pi day, and there’s really no reason to need an excuse to make a pie, but I took the excuse and ran with it.  Spring is creeping in on us.  Warmer days and cool breezes in the evening and there’s this smell in the air that smells like Easter and wet grass and being a kid again, all rolled into one, deep inhale.  I love the longer days and the way the sunlight stretches across the grass until nearly 8 p.m.  On the days when it isn’t blowing 50 mph in this town, and it’s not yet 100+ degrees, it’s nearly sinful to stay inside and miss it.  These perfect days are fleeting.

I had 5 lbs of strawberries on my counter top yesterday and decided to use part of them for a pie.  I knew exactly the two books to consult: Sweety Pies and Bouchon.  Bouchon has the perfect, and I mean PERFECT pie crust recipe.  It’s actually the crust recipe for a deep dish quiche, but I use it for pies and it’s perfect.  It rolls out and stays together so well, you can pick the entire thing up once it’s rolled out and move it like a towel.  It’s flaky and tastes like butter, because that’s all the fat that’s used!  I have gone down the road of lard crusts and half butter/half crisco, and none have held up as well as this recipe.  So, if you’re struggling with your pie crust at this juncture in your life, struggle no more.  As always, Keller, or in this case, his pastry chef, has done the dirty work for us.

For the filling, I consulted the amazing and funny book, Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations.  Every recipe has a story and a unique woman behind it. I strongly recommend buying this book.  Every pie I’ve tried from it has been wonderful and the stories are hilarious and make you wish you were a Southern woman with a fiercely defended pie recipe to make all your other Southern friends jealous.  To be honest, though, the crust recipes included don’t hold up for me (cracked, crumbled, cried-I’m sure it was my fault), so that is why I use the crust from Bouchon.  Because I hate failing with a recipe that’s supposed to be a comfort.

This pie is more like a cobbler.  The recipe even says to just put the crust on top.  But I’m a crust-gal and it’s my favorite part, especially if it’s a good crust.  The crust recipe makes just enough for a deep dish pie plate plus a little extra.  I used the little extra to cut out hearts for the top.  You’d probably have enough to do a lattice top, or even a thin shell for the top, especially if you didn’t use such a deep pan.  The filling is quite syrupy, so I’d suggest serving it in bowls with vanilla ice cream.

Strawberry Pie 3

Strawberry Pie 4

Strawberry Pie

For the crust:

2 cups AP flour, plus extra for rolling out
1 tsp kosher salt
8 ounces chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1/4 cup ice water

Place 1 cup of the flour and the salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Turn the mixer to low and add the butter a small handful at a time.  When all the butter has been added, increase the speed to medium and mix until the butter is completely blended with the flour.  Reduce the speed, add the remaining flour, and mix just to combine.  Add the water and mix until incorporated.  The dough will come around the paddle and should feel smooth, not sticky, to the touch.
Remove the dough from the mixer and check to be certain that there are no visible pieces of butter remaining.  Pat the dough into a 7-8″ disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to a day.

For the filling:

3/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup AP flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
6 cups hulled and halved, fresh strawberries
2 tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out your pie crust to about a 12″ circle.  Fit into the pie plate and trim off the excess and roll up into a ball and let rest.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and cloves and mix thoroughly.  Add the strawberries and toss gently until well combined.  Let stand for 15 minutes, then toss again and spoon into a 9″ deep dish pie plate.  Dot the filling with the butter.  Roll out the excess of your dough and cut into hearts and arrange on top of the filling.  I folded the edges of my crust over because the filling didn’t come up all the way to the surface of my dish, and connected the edges a bit with the tips of the hearts.  Do what you like – be creative!  Brush the crust with the beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you like!
Place the pie on the center rack of the oven and bake until the pastry is golden – 30-45 minutes.  I tented my pie with foil so that the bottom of my crust would be cooked through but the top wouldn’t burn, and I probably left the pie in there for a total of one hour, the last 20 minutes with it tented.
Let cool completely and serve in bowls with scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Use the juice from the pie as a syrup on your ice cream.  Be happy.

Strawberry Pie 5

That lovely, crunchy sugar is from King Arthur Flour.  I love that company and all the fun things you can get for your baking adventures!

Strawberry Pie 2

Time for Spring

We have less than ideal weather conditions in this region.  Lubbock has some of the worst dirt storms imaginable, the worst wind and the hottest summers.  We’ve been suffering through a drought the past 3 years and two years ago it was the worst we’d seen in nearly a century.  No rain that year from January till April of the next year (and even when the rain did come, it was one or two light showers).  Trees died and were uprooted, everyone’s yards were yellow like straw.  Farmers had to look for employment elsewhere, wildfires burned up homes, livestock, and thousands of acres of land.  Everywhere there were severe water restrictions and the people who cheated could be seen a mile away with their green, foot-thick sod yards that they clearly watered around the clock.  Needless to say, things haven’t been growing very well for aspiring back-yard farmers lately.  But with a few inches of rain last year and a few inches of snow this winter, we are more hopeful for the spring.  There’s still watering restrictions – we can only water on Tuesdays and Fridays, using either drip irrigation or standing there, holding a hose, but we are optimistic that maybe this year, something can grow.

Seeing growth is healing.  When you sow a seed and water it and leave, trusting that it will grow, you have faith in the purest form.  And when that faith is rewarded by a tiny, green shoot popping out of the dirt (and it’s not a weed) it gives such a rush that you want to do it again and again.  I’ve never been a successful gardener (rain helps) but this year, I’m going to try my best.  Choosing vegetables that say “full sun” is a start, and I’m focusing on herbs, which are used most frequently and are the most pricey per-ounce at the store.  And since nearly every single recipe in my most recent cookbook obsession calls for parsley, chives, tarragon, or chervil, and chervil is no where to be found in this town, I’m going to just grow my own.  (Lord willing.)

After working in the yard today and feeling the warmth creeping in the air, I decided to keep dinner light tonight.  I chose a green lentil, leek and endive salad and roasted some free sausages Matt got as a thanks from the butcher for buying a good cut of beef on Saturday.  Odd, but hey, we’ll take it.  And you’re welcome, Mr. Butcher.  Thank YOU for carrying dry-aged USDA prime.  Oh, and Olive wasn’t a fan of the texture of this salad.  She immediately scraped her tongue with her fingers to get every last lentil off.  Ah well, at least she tried it! green lentil salad 2 green lentil salad1

Green Lentil, Leek and Endive Salad

serves 4 to 6

1 cup green lentils
3 cups water
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large head Belgian endive (or two small), root trimmed off and leaves sliced
1 tbs snipped fresh chives
2 tbs heavy cream
1 tbs white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse, drain and pick through the lentils to discard any debris.
Place the lentils in a large saucepan with the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender but still firm, about 15 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cool water, and drain again.  Transfer the lentils to a serving bowl.
Heat 1 tbs of the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until they are slightly wilted but still have some crunch, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds more.  Add the leeks and garlic to the bowl with the lentils, along with the sliced endive and chives.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the heavy cream, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Add this dressing to the lentils.  Toss to combine.

 

Serve the salad immediately at room temp.  Sear off some sausages for a full meal.

A First Birthday Cake

olive-00171

Exactly one year ago, this pic was taken.  Olive was just 6 days old and we were home, out on our porch, having a glass of wine and marveling at this red headed little girl in our arms.  Matt made a birth DAY cake that we had when we got home from the hospital with friends and family to celebrate her actual birth and the only thing that changed this year was the cake and the size of the red head.

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We’ve had such a wonderful year with Olive.  It’s been amazing to watch her discover things, develop likes and dislikes (kitties, peas – respectively) and one of the most enjoyable activities in my life this year has been showing her food.  It’s crazy to realize that these little creatures don’t know what ANYTHING is.  They don’t know a peach from a mango from a pear from a plate of spaghetti.  They don’t know how garlic smells while roasting or the magic that is mire poix sizzling away in butter.  It’s our JOY to get to show them!  For

“…no matter what they think, we know: We are the ones who have tasted and seen how gracious it all is.” 

In this spirit of education, Matt and I contemplated what we wanted Olive to try for her first birthday.  She’d had many fruits so I considered a lemon layer cake, strawberry shortcake, something with banana cream.  Matt really wanted her to have chocolate for the first time and REALLY GOOD chocolate, at that.  So we combined forces and created a Neapolitan-esque cake with a flourless chocolate cake as the base, a white chocolate mousse in the middle and topped with a thick, strawberry whipped cream.  The chocolate cake is by far the best chocolate “cake” I’ve ever had.  Taken from the brilliant Dave Lebovitz, it’s nearly like a truffle center, or the best fudge of your life.  The white chocolate mousse was taken from Annie’s Eats, which I’d used on a cake for Matt for Valentine’s day this year, which he was crazy about.  And then the strawberry whipped cream was just a last minute sort of creation by me for Olive.  Because she loves strawberries and I figured if she didn’t like the rest, she’d at least like a third of her cake and we wouldn’t look like complete fools when it came show time.

Olive's Birthday Cake

For the bottom layer, Matt baked it in a 9″ round cake pan.  We had a hard time getting the cake out (panic moment) and so I crumbled it all up and pressed it tightly into a spring form pan.  Then I lined the pan with a couple layers of acetate strips, stacked on top of each other and taped on the outside, to get that tall form for piping in the other two layers.  All you do is pipe in the white chocolate mousse on top of the chocolate cake, let it sit in the fridge while you make the whipped cream, and then pipe in the whipped cream and wrap plastic wrap across the top of the tube so it doesn’t dry out and let it sit in the fridge over night, or for an hour in the freezer.  This makes it much easier to cut.

Chocolate Cake (Orbit Cake)

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes, plus more for the pan
10 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (our FAVORITE dark chocolate, which we exclusively used for this cake, is Lindt’s 70% dark chocolate bars.  Heaven.)
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar

Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter a 9×2″ round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (if you do this easy step, you won’t have to mush it all into a spring-form pan like I did.)
Place the butter and chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave at 30 second increments, stirring after each, until the chocolate is completely  melted, glassy, and incorporated with the butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Gradually whisk in the melted chocolate mixture and continue whisking until thoroughly combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Place the pan in a larger roasting pan, and cover the top of the cake pan with foil.  Add enough hot water to the baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes until the cake has set.  To test, touch the center of the cake lightly with your finger: the surface will be slightly tacky, but your fingers should come away clean.
Carefully remove the cake pan from the water bath and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours – up to 3 days.
To assemble with the mousse, run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen the sides.  Invert onto a serving plate, wrap in the acetate strips (or wax paper – tape doesn’t stick to parchment) and get on with making the next step.

White Chocolate Mousse

1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
2 tbs water
12 oz white chocolate chips (don’t use almond bark – it won’t taste right)
3 cups heavy cream

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand at least 5 minutes to soften.  Place the white chocolate in a medium bowl.  Bring 1 cup of the cream to a boil in a small saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the white chocolate and let stand about 1 minute.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the remaining 2 cups of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Spoon the white chocolate mousse into the pan over the chocolate cake.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Strawberry Whipped Cream

1 jar of strawberry jam – the fancier the better
3 cups heavy cream

Scrap the jar of jam into a small saucepan over low heat and add about 1/4 cup of water.  Heat it just enough so that it incorporates with the water and you break up any lumps with a whisk and the jam is smooth.  Transfer it to a bowl and let it cool about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to help it cool.
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, stir the cream on medium for a while until it starts to thicken.  Then whip on medium high while you gently let the jam stream into the edge of the bowl, careful to not hit the whisk in the middle, until completely incorporated.  Whip until a little firmer than soft peaks.  At this point, I added a little red food coloring (just a few drops) to make it more pink and folded it in with a spatula until fully incorporated. Do what you will with that.  I just wanted it to be pink to truly look Neapolitan. Transfer cream to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe, pipe, pipe until you can’t pipe any more.  Have fun with it.  Make zigzags and peaks and star flowers – whatever you want.  Just fill in all the gaps and sprinkle the top with extra crunchy sugar for effect.

serves at least 20