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Posts tagged ‘photography’

a soup to carry you through winter

What’s to like about winter? A low-slung sun. A bluer sky than blue. The last golden leaves to cling. Grass  that crunches under foot. Children’s boots and mittens.  Hot cocoa. The glow of candles near your bath. Longer hugs. And soup.

This is winter’s version of pistou, a Provençal vegetable soup, and I believe it is very possibly the finest winter soup I’ve ever made. It is, in fact, so fine a soup I’m going to be adapting it to different  kitchens and circumstances. (Slow-cooker and pressure cooker versions will follow before winter’s done with us.) It’s gob-full of vegetables, heavenly hearty, and will warm you to your chilly toes.

This makes an enormous potful. We took half out to our mom and the half we have remaining is enough to feed a table full. There’s quite a bit of chopping involved, but sharpen your knife and trust me…it will be so worth your time.

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Provençal Vegetable Soup

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Extra-virgin Olive Oil – 5 Tablespoons

3 plump, moist Garlic cloves

Onions - 4 medium, cut in ½ – 1-inch pieces

Leeks - 3 medium, white & tender green parts only, rinsed, quartered & thinly sliced

Bouquet Garni: several fresh or dried bay leaves, fresh celery leaves, thyme sprigs & parsley - either tie together or put in a wire mesh tea strainer

sea salt

Carrots - 8 medium, scrubbed & cut into thin wheels

firm, yellow-fleshed Potatoes (Yukon Gold) – 1 lb. (500 g)  peeled & cubed

Celery ribs - 4 ribs with leaves, cut into thin pieces

Butternut Squash or raw Pumpkin – 2 lbs. (1 kg), peeled & cubed (yield: 1 qt. or 4 c.)

Farro or Spelt – or substitute Barley - 1 cup, rinsed & drained

can peeled Italian plum Tomatoes in their Juice - 28-ounce (750 g) can

Tomato Paste – 2 Tablespoons

small White Beans – such as navy or flageolet (see NOTE)

Cranberry Beans (such as Borlotti) (see NOTE)

mixture chopped Kale & Spinach *

freshly-ground coarse Pepper

freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese – ¾ cup

freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – ¾ cup

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NOTE: If using fresh beans, 1 pound of each in their shells. If using dried beans, 8 ounces (250 g) of each  – pick them over, making sure you have no little pebbles, rinse the beans, place in a large bowl & cover with boiling water;  allow to soak for 1 to 2 hours. Please note the different instructions – step 2 below – based on whether fresh or dried beans are used.

* – a bag of frozen chopped kale & spinach works great for this. Add as you’re ready to serve – each time you heat up a new potful of soup, add a handful or 2 of this mixture and you’ll have bright green in each bowl.

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1. In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, combine the oil, onions, leeks, bouquet garni and salt to taste,  then stir to coat. On low heat, sweat the onions & garlic mixture – cooking with the lid on for several minutes until what’s in the pot is softened and fragrant. Drop in the carrots, celery, squash, potatoes, farro (or spelt or barley), the tomatoes with their juice, along with the tomato paste. Add four quarts (4 liters) cold water. If you are using DRIED BEANS – add only 3 quarts cold water at this time. Cover the stock pot and bring to a simmer. Gently simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for salt & add as needed.

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a soup of celery and blue cheese

Celery: a humble veggie, commonplace, entirely taken for granted, under appreciated for all she contributes in the kitchen,  from soups to stews, sauces to stuffings.  She’s no  head-turner but she’s no slouch either.  There’s a certain grace about her, if you’ll take the time to notice. Still, who sings  celery’s praises?

The homely bulbous root of the plant from which she rises (almost proudly) is the sort of thing boys, desperate for a game, would kick around a vacant lot,.  Or, even worse, the sort of “good-for-nothing” that’s tossed to the compost. We have far better things in mind.

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We recently had a simmering bowl of soup, just right for the changing season, while on a dream trip to the Scottish Highlands. Dipping our spoons into this delicate green, almost featherweight, soup, bringing it to our lips, our wide eyes fixed on each others’ and we audibly sighed, in unison. We hadn’t expected anything like this at all. Which is why I want to talk to you about it, because maybe you wouldn’t have either.

The chef came out to our table after dinner and we asked after the soup. After falling all over him with our compliments, I vowed I’d try (though certainly fall short) of that exquisite bowlful. The chef had created an airiness to this brew by actually injecting air into it. A number of ways you could do this –  use an aerating wand made for the purpose, whir it extra long in your powerful blender, or use an emersion blender…or the steaming wand from an espresso machine. They each work pretty well it turns out. But, being practical, like a good Scot, it’s not a  necessary step. The bowl is just as delicious without it (though maybe just slightly less Cloud 9-ish.)

A note on the cheese: Apparently celery and English Stilton blue are commonly found together at Christmastime in the UK. Stilton would be fine here, but for this soup, you might prefer a saltier, bluer cheese, like Roquefort. We do.

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I’ve promised you (and me) simple things for the season, and this my friends is simple….

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Celery & Blue Cheese Soup

celery – a large head

onion – medium

celery root – half a head, about 9 ounces (250g)

butter – a thick slice – OR – fruity mild olive oil – a good drizzle

chicken stock – 4 cups (1 liter)  – see NOTE

bay leaf – 1 large or 2 small

blue cheese – 4½ ounces (125g)

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NOTE:  A vegetable broth may be substituted but you’ll want to be careful that it’s not a powerfully flavored  one or the gentle distinction of this soup will be lost…and that would be such a shame!

Wash the celery stocks carefully  and chop coarsely. Peel the outside of the celery root and onion and chop. (No need to be fancy.)

Into a deep and wide pan over medium heat, drizzle the olive oil or drop in the slice of butter. Add the vegetables and sauté for about 20 minutes, or until relatively soft. Pour in the stock, add the bay leaf, a dash of white pepper (if you have it) and a good pinch of salt. (Remember that the stock contains salt, and so does the cheese, so be light-handed with it at this point.) Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Place into a blender or food processor. (If you have a powerful VitaMix, bring it out.) Process for a good while as these vegetables are naturally a bit stringier than some others and you want velvet.

You have a choice at this point: Add all the cheese to the pureed soup, and whir again. Add most of it but reserve a bit for scattering on top when serving. Or, divide the cheese into four portions and drop into each of four bowls their share. Stir, but not to completely melt the cheese, allowing each person the pleasure.CeleryAndRootSoup-3

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crêpes au chocolaté

As full as life is these days, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to share a special treat that a MOM might like. Besides, I promised a mom I would.

I’ve shared another crêpe recipe with you previously (“plain,”  yet not-so-plain, and simply wonderful) – partly because of its versatility, savory or sweet, it remains our favorite.

Don’t misunderstand – today’s crêpe is no slouch! And it steps in to fill the cockles of a chocolate-lover’s heart…it  might even be the one to make a Mom or Grandma swoon….if you aim for that sort of thing.

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With a plateful of warm crêpes of chocolate, you’ll be faced with choices…What to pool inside? What to dribble over?

♥ A mixture of sour cream & crème fraîche, sweetened & flavored with vanilla, tucked inside (see below), and fresh berries toppled over…

 Or perhaps the yogurt of your choice, and then once again berries on top…

♥ Or even sliced bananas tucked inside and then a good dollop of cinnamon-scented whipped cream…and even an extra drizzle of chocolate…

 You might decide to roll them instead of folding them like hankies…

 You can dust the finished crêpes with either dark chocolate or confectioners sugar…or both…

For a dessert:

 Maybe you’d like to macerate your berries in melted raspberry sorbet first – you’ll know what to do with them from there…!

 You might like a softened vanilla ice-cream inside & a rich chocolate sauce dribbling over the edges of your hankies…

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NOTE:  Keep in mind that it’s best to prepare these at the very least one hour ahead of cooking. Two hours is better. Overnight, or a full day ahead, is great! This allows the flour molecules to become fully hydrated and the crêpes to become their tenderest.

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Chocolate Crêpes

Makes 12 – 8 to 9-inch crêpes

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Butter - 1 Tablespoon

Bittersweet Chocolate - 1½ ounces (40 g) – chopped

Milk – 1 cup (250 mL)

Large Eggs – 2 

Sugar – ¼ cup (55 g)

Vanilla Extract - 1 teaspoon

All-Purpose Flour – 1 cup (125 g)

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Into a small to medium saucepan place the butter, chocolate and milk and gently heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat.

Using a medium-size bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar. Add the vanilla and then the flour. Now beat in the chocolate milk mixture, slowly at first to eliminate lumps from forming. Pour the mixture into a pitcher or jug.  (If lumps are present, strain into the pitcher.)

Allow to sit for at least one hour. See NOTE above.

Check the consistency of your batter. It should be like a thin cream…add small amounts of milk, mixing thoroughly, until desired consistency is reached.

When it’s time to cook your crêpes, a non-stick skillet (8 – 10″) will work best. But any skillet of this size will work…they will just require a spraying or a buttering/oiling of the pan from time to time. Crêpes are better if they’re drier, but don’t let this stand in your way of a treat!

Heat the oven to 150°F (65°C) and place a plate inside. Place your skillet over medium high and allow it to come to temperature.

(Count on the first one or two crêpes being trials, just as in pancakes.)

Depending on the size of your pan, you’ll only need 1½ to a scant 3 Tablespoons of batter per crêpe. Once your pan has reached temperature, raise it off the heat and drop in the batter, tilting the pan in a circular motion so that it coats the bottom of the pan evenly. Any holes can be filled with a touch of additional batter. When the underside is cooked and the topside is mostly dried (only about 1 minute!) lift one edge with a butter knife, or a skinny spatula (or even your fingers) and flip it to finish the crêpe – 30 seconds or so.

Place them on the heated plate in the oven (covered with foil) as you prepare the others, or serve them as they come out of the pan, as you prefer.ChocolateCrepes-10

These crêpes will freeze well if prepared ahead. Simply place parchment paper or waxed paper squares between them, and then placed in a freezer bag. Allow them to come to room temperature and then gently reheat them in a warm oven. Then fill and prepare as you like.

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pasta that stands out in a crowd

Several years ago, three of us went to a newly-opened restaurant here in Portland by the name of Fin. Great name for a (primarily) fish restaurant, no? One plate after another was brought to us, bearing exquisite-tasting and exotic-looking creations, works of culinary art, in very small portions…each with just a few bites to share. We saw one on this tasting menu using “Squid Ink Pasta” and our eyebrows went up and our eyes grew wide and we looked at each other with question marks across our foreheads that read, “Dare we?” We did! And what a good move that turned out to be!

About a year later, Fin closed its doors…lost its lease, through no fault of its owners…the landlord just wanted another and quite different use for the property. We have so many very good restaurants in Portland, but we were sad to see Fin go.

How I’d like to thank them for first introducing us to this intoxicatingly delicious, love at first bite, pasta. The one thing I know to do is to share the good noodle news with you’s!

This wasn’t the way it was prepared for us the first night we dined at Fin, but I’ve been thinking of preparing it like this for quite some time. And, turns out, it was as good as a very good food dream can be.

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Before we get to the recipe, a word about the pasta. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Pasta as black as winter’s midnight! It still has the tooth-feel of a good spaghetti or fettucini noodle, but with a certain inexplicable velvety silkiness. Don’t think for a minute that I mean slippery like an eel! I mean smooth (and please, when you say it, say it slowly, drawing out those oo’s!) It tastes a bit of the sea, a little briny, but not salty. It will cost you a little more, and it may be hard for some of you to find, depending on your markets nearby, but it’ll be worth the hunt and worth a few extra dollars (only a few!) for a meal…this…this..indescribably good.  (If you have trouble locating the pasta locally, you can order from Amazon. There are several names and sizes to choose from.  Here’s one Italian brand I like a lot –  the  link here.)

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I recently discovered a wonderful article in Cooks Illustrated on how to prepare (perfect, yes I’ll use the word) shrimp under the broiler. Being thus equipped, it was a cinch to put these two together. You’d have done it too…

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Shrimp & Squid-Ink Pasta with Lemon & Basil

This all comes together pretty quickly…once you get those rascally shrimp clean and deveined. But be sure to leave the shells and tails on…lots of good flavor in those shells, and they share it with the shrimp as they cook. (Though of course you’re permitted to take them off before you eat.) The cleaned & butterflied shrimp are then dropped into a brine for 15 minutes before cooking. That will give you plenty of time to gather the rest of your dinner.

Garlicky Roasted Shrimp

( serves 4 to 6 )

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Salt - ¼ cup

 Shell-on Jumbo Shrimp - 2 pounds (16-20 per lb)

Unsalted Butter – 4 Tablespoons

Vegetable Oil -¼ cup

Garlic – 6 cloves, minced

Red Pepper Flakes – ½ teaspoon

Black Pepper – ¼ teaspoon

Fresh Parsley - 2 Tablespoons minced

Garnish: Lemon Wedges

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Dissolve salt in 1 quart cold water in a large container. (It will take you some long minutes to prepare the shrimp so I wouldn’t add to the brine until you’ve got them all done so they’re all flavored equally.)

Using kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife, cut through the shell and devein but do not remove the shell. Using a paring knife, continue to cut the shrimp ½-inch deep, taking care not to cut in half completely. (See Illustration.)

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Submerge the shrimp in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Adjust oven rack 4 inches from broiler element and pre-heat the broiler. Combine melted butter, oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and pepper in a large bowl. Remove shrimp from brine, pat dry with paper towels then add shrimp, along with the parsley, to the butter mixture. Toss well, making sure that the butter mixture gets into the interior of the shrimp. Arrange on a wire rack set into a rimmed baking sheet.

Broil until shrimp are opaque and shells are beginning to brown on the top side, 2 to 4 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through the broiling. Then flip shrimp over and continue to broil until second side is opaque and shells are beginning to brown, another 2 to 4 minutes, rotating halfway through. (Very doubtful this will require anything close to 8 minutes total time!)

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You may think now to plop these beauties onto pasta – and how lucky! That’s the very thing I’m recommending!

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the pasta!

I’ve paired this pasta with a couple herbs and with lemon, three ways – the tart juice, the bright zest, and the Incomparable Preserved Lemon. (You can omit the preserved lemon if you wish, but I don’t know why you would! : ]  If you still haven’t made your own, you can buy them already prepared. In an upcoming Spreenkle I’ll share a quick trick for making a reasonable facsimile much faster in your freezer – or Google it and you’ll see the method. I still prefer the slower method though.)

Squid-Ink Pasta with Lemon & Basil

( serves 4 with shrimp )

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Squid-Ink spaghetti, fettucini, linguini, capellini (your choice) – 8 ounces

Juice of 1½ – 2 Lemons

Lemon Zest – from the juiced lemons

Preserved Lemon (the rind only, finely-diced) – from ½ lemon – rinsed well, pulp removed

Unsalted Butter - 3 Tablespoons

Extra-virgin Olive Oil – 3 Tablespoons

White Wine - a good Splash

Basil Leaves – 16 medium to large ones

Italian Parsley – 1½ Tablespoons chopped

Salt – to taste

Freshly-ground Pepper – to taste

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getting my way with granola

…and you getting  yours.

This has been a busy season for me, one project or commitment rolling into another. Deep messes and deadlines, some utter joys, others a bit…not. I’m poking my head up again to say hello and that I think the way is clearing.

As loaded as a schedule might get around here, breakfast is one meal that’s never forgotten. (Lunch and dinner are the other two.) I know some of you are quite content to break the fast at noon, but we need Fuel around here and we need it early. During the week, breakfast for us is frequently a bowl of good (unflavored) yogurt, topped with toasty, very crunchy, nutty  granola imbued, through and through, with the tropical aroma of coconut.  (And then there’re the extras, which hold your horses we’ll get to further down.)

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It’s quite simple, not too sweet, not too fatty, and (we think) quite delicious.

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Golden Granola

with coconut & almonds

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Old Fashioned Rolled Oats*  – 3 cups

Shredded or Flaked* Coconut – Unsweetened – 1 cup

Slivered Almonds ½ cup

Sesame Seeds – raw – ½ cup

Ground Flaxseed – ¼ cup

Maple Syrup – ¼ cup

Honey – ¼ cup

Coconut Oil (or see alternatives below) – ¼ cup

Raw Sunflower Seeds – ½ cup

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* We prefer flaked, for toasty little ribbons of coconut.

*Oats available gluten-free

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Preheat oven to 300°F.  In a baking dish (11 x 14 or thereabouts) mix all ingredients except the sunflower seeds. Add them after other ingredients are combined.

Slide the granola into the oven and set timer for 1 hour. (It may take longer.) Every fifteen to twenty minutes, give it a good stir so that it all browns evenly. Bake until toasty, crisp and evenly brown. In our oven that’s about 1 hour 15 minutes.  Cool. Store airtight.

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don’t be turning your nose up so quick…kale salad

Kale is a Super-hero among vegetables, a phyto-chemical-antioxidant-rich green dragon, repairing DNA damage to cells, boosting immune systems, helping prevent macular degeneration, and even blocking the growth of cancer cells. It does all this weighing in at a measly 35 calories per raw cup!  Kale is a super-hero you’ll want to befriend.

Is all that enough reason to pal around with a vegetable hero that tastes nasty? No, not in my book. I could rave about this kale salad but I’m going to quietly step aside and let Dr. Andrew Weil do the talking. He and chef Sam Fox opened True Food Kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona, and that restaurant has since blossomed into five others across the country. (Their mission: to serve food that promotes the diner’s well-being while being uncompromisingly delicious.) This is their Signature dish. (shocking, no?) This is the dish on their menu, year-round, that nearly everyone asks for. This is the dish that so many people enjoyed and went on to duplicate in their own kitchens that farmers all across the Phoenix area started pulling out other crops and planting instead, Tuscan kale. (It goes by other names too: Lacinato, cavolo nero, Russian kale or dinosaur kale.)

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Here’s a story Dr. Weil tells:

Not long ago, a mother with a son and a daughter about seven and five came up to me in the Phoenix restaurant. ‘Tell Dr. Weil what your favorite thing to eat here is,’ she said to the girl, who was too shy to answer. Her brother spoke for her, ‘Kale salad! Kale salad!’ he said with great enthusiasm. {That made Andrew Weil very happy.} If folks in Arizona, which is hardly a bastion of veg-heads, can learn to love raw kale, it is only a matter of time before true love for it blooms across the land!

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This is one of those rare salads that gets better as it sits, better the next day than it was the day before. Any bitterness present in the kale is softened by the lemon and salt in the dressing. With a pinch of red chile flakes, a scattering of crunchy toasted bread crumbs and shavings of Pecorino Romano, this is a salad you are almost 100% guaranteed to love, and I mean love.

You can assemble this salad in minutes and enjoy it for two days. He says it serves 8…I say 4.  (Perhaps because it’s possibly twice as good as he says.)

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Kale Salad

Extra-virgin Olive Oil - ½ cup

Freshly-squeezed lemon juice -  ¼ cup

Garlic - 3 cloves mashed – 2 may be enough for you

salt - ½ teaspoon

Kale - 2 bunches – about 14 ounces, 400g.

Grano Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – ½ cup finely grated

Toasted Whole-wheat Bread Crumbs – 2 Tablespoons (or perhaps a bit more)

Grano Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese shavings – for garnish

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A NOTE on the quantities – I find that the amount of dressing is more than sufficient to dress these leaves. I hold about ¼ of it back and drizzle on steamed vegetables. But make the entire amount…it may be different for you.

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Remove the ribs from the washed and patted dry kale. Slice into ¼-inch shreds. Read more

little lemony tartlets

Spree’s been making messes around here for 2 years now! That deserves something. It’s not a huge anniversary – no reason to go hog-wild. Let’s keep it simple, very simple. That suits Spree best. Jeans, soft sweaters and comfy shoes. Bring a dish of comfort if you like but nothing more. We’ll have lots to eat and drink. We’ll build fires, sit on quilts and wait for Spring to come. We’ll watch the birds eating just outside the windows and we’ll look close at crocus pushing up the dirt. We’ll eat savory popcorn and watch old movies. We’ll tell each other stories and laugh til our sides ache. We’ll roll the rugs back and dance (like the winter-weary but happy fools we are.) We’ll rest our heads on each other’s shoulders and maybe nod off a time or two. And then before you leave for home again, we’ll have little lemony tartlets, so that everyone can have their own, and

Spree will have 2.

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A two-part dessert that’s easy as pie:

Little Lemon Curd Tartlets

In a Gingersnap Crust

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The Curd:

(makes 1 pint)

Lemons - 2 or 3

Sugar - ½ cup

Eggs – 3 – lightly beaten

Unsalted Butter – ½ cup (4 oz/125g)

Optional: Lemon Extract – ½ teaspoon

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Cut the butter into small cubes. Finely grate the zest of one lemon. Set aside and cover. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze enough juice to measure 1/3 cup.

Place a non-reactive, heat-proof bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Be certain that the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Add the lemon juice, sugar, and eggs (lightly beaten) to the bowl and whisk or stir continuously. Add the butter, a few small cubes at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next. Continue stirring until all the butter has been incorporated and the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. (10 – 15 minutes)

Pour the curd into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and stir until the silky lemony pudding has made its way to the bowl below. Stir in the zest (and lemon extract if you like – I do) and then set aside to cool.

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The Crust:

makes 4 tartlet shells

I used a store-bought gingersnaps for this crust – and (weird that I am) I counted them so that I could tell you it will take 20 cookies to make 4 tartlet shells. Of course that will depend on the size of the cookie, but the standard shelf brand in the US measures out that way. But if you have a kitchen scale, it’s a snap.

Gingersnap crumbs – 1¾ cups (5 oz/155g)

Unsalted Butter – 5 Tablespoons

All-purpose Flour – ¼ cup

Optional - Powdered Ginger - ½ teaspoon

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Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and butter four 4½ inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms.

In a food processor, combine the gingersnap crumbs and flour; drop in the butter. Pulse until the butter is evenly distributed and the mixture begins to clump together. (It’s unlikely, but is dependent on your brand of snap – if the mixture is too “dusty” and doesn’t cling together, add another pat of butter.) Remove the mixture from the processor, divide into 4 equal parts, and press into the pans –  first onto the bottom and secondly up the sides. Read more

butternut squash ravioli with toasted pecans & sage

Many of you are well-acquainted with the Italian gentleman whose handsome head pops up on many pages around this neighborhood. Always nattily dressed in dark suit and narrow tie, always raising his glass and leaving kind words to cheer us. He’s known to us as Chicago John. And he’s a legend in these parts.

You’ll find John cooking up a delicious Italian storm in the Bartolini Kitchen, every Wednesday.  The smells that rise from his oven and bubbling pots will make you hungry. They’ll make you wish you could pop into his kitchen and pull up a chair and spread your napkin and toast the cook and lift your fork and stay long into the night! They might make you wish you’d grown up Italian, with family recipes handed down, and down again to you. For sure they’ll make you wish you could cook like John does. And that’s where this little journey began for me…

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Only a handful of times in my life have I made pasta from scratch. I should be throttled for that! The man I married (who calls himself my grateful guinea pig and is such a good sport) is an enormous fan of pasta. Wrong word choice…he likes pasta, a Lot. So it was that when I spotted John’s series of posts on pasta – and then – Ravioli! – I knew I’d just discovered the Holy Grail – no question about it – this was D.i.n.n.e.r. – written in the Guinea Pig’s own Language of Love.

Now you understand, I’m not the one to learn pasta making from. No, no. I’d head over to John’s if I were you. Below is the recipe for the Bartolini’s pasta dough. It’s the one I used (Naturally!) I followed his expert guidance on how to roll and what dies to use as a novice raviol-ist. I prayed the rosary (ok, not exactly), asked John for one more encouraging word and then I dove right in. Fearless! (ok, not exactly.)

(You’ll be able to view this recipe better if you click on it.)

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It all went quite well, just like John said it would. I had mechanical issues with my pasta roller and I think I’m tossing it (but not til I’ve found a replacement.)

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I made a sweet & savory butternut squash filling…

(recipe follows)SquashRavioli-2

Closed those little pillowy parcels up…SquashRavioli-3

Gently boiled them in salted water, drained them and then slid them into a simple sauce of browned butter, garlic & sage, thyme & parsley & toasted pecans. G.P. will probably chime in here and tell you about it, but if he’s still tied up licking fingers, I’ll tell you…

it was pretty fine!

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Butternut Squash Ravioli with Toasted Pecans and Sage

1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds

Vegetable Oil – just a wee bit for brushing squash

 Cayenne Pepper – a Dash

Freshly-grated Nutmeg – (about 5 passes over the grater – to taste)

Salt & Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Freshly-Grated Parmesan –  ½ cup

dried bread crumbs - ½ cup

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Freshly-Made Pasta ala Bartolini (recipe above)

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Brown Butter with Pecans & Sage

Butter - 4 to 6 Tablespoons, melted

Garlic – 1 medium to large clove

Chopped Fresh Sage Leaves – 2 Tablespoons

Chopped Parsley – 2 Tablespoons (divided)

Chopped Fresh Thyme – 2 teaspoons

Toasted Pecans, ½ cup coarsely chopped

Freshly Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (I prefer the latter here)

Prepare the filling: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) Slice the squash in two, from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. Brush the cut surface with vegetable oil and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Bake until soft – about 40 minutes (though begin checking at 30.) Scoop out the flesh and measure 2 cups full. Drop it into a food processor (or mash well with a fork) blending with 2 Tablespoons butter. Season with a dash of cayenne, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Season to your own tastes. (It will not need to be fully seasoned with salt since the cheese will bring some of its own.) If the squash seems a bit too liquid-y you can dry it out by dropping it into a skillet on high heat for a few moment. Add bread crumbs and cheese. Set aside.

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possibly the best spinach salad

As good as your pita may be, occasionally your pita will grow stale. Once you’ve tasted this salad, you’ll make sure that occurs regularly! Pita, past its prime (which happens quite quickly) makes delicious croutons!

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Today’s will be a very quick post, on an extraordinary salad. (Another recipe from chef Ottolenghi. Forgive me, I can’t help myself.) This ranks amongst the best salads I’ve eaten, anywhere, ever. In flavor and texture, perfectly balanced. Sweet, tart, spicy heat, soft and crunch. The onions, macerated in vinegar with the dates, now softened and sweetened. The pita & almonds, browned together until crispy, then scattered with spice. The spinach, crisp, green, fresh. Dressed simply in olive oil & lemon.

A salad greater even than the sum of its parts.

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NOTE on Sumac: If you don’t have Sumac (get some!) you can find it on line. It’s red like paprika or chili powder, tart like a lemon or cranberries. It sits on many Middle Eastern tables like salt and pepper do on ours. After you’ve made that depression in the middle of your hummus, and filled it with olive oil, sprinkle sumac! You’ll find other uses for it too…it brightens up so many dishes,  but if nothing other than to use in this salad, you’ll be happy you and sumac met!

baby spinach salad with dates & almonds & pita croutons

from Yotam Ottolengthi

serves 4 (or so) as a first course 

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1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

½ medium red onion, thinly sliced

3.5 ounces (100 g) pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthwise

2 Tablespoons (30 g) unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil (separated)

1/2 cup (75 g) whole, unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons sumac (see NOTE)

½ teaspoon chili flakes

5 ounces (150 g) baby spinach leaves

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

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Into a small bowl measure the vinegar and drop in the onion and dates. Allow to marinate for 20 minutes, then discard the vinegar and set aside the rest.

In the meantime, heat the butter and 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, drop in the broken pieces of pita and the chopped almonds. Cook, stirring all the while, until the pita is golden brown and crunchy. Remove from the heat and scatter with the sumac and chili flakes. Stir and set aside to cool.

BabySpinachSaladOttolenghi-1When you’re ready to serve, toss the pita/almond mix and the spinach into a large bowl.

BabySpinachSaladOttolenghi-2Add the marinated dates and red onion, the last tablespoon of olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt.

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Hummus – stuffing our pockets

Hummus was one of the first things I learned to make as a 20-something year old bent on eating well, while not making life difficult on relatives of cows I’d grown to love as a girl. The hummus of those days has morphed a number of times over, as we ourselves tend to do.

Back then I used canned chickpeas. I prefer to cook my own these days, but I’d much rather use canned chickpeas than face the dreadful plight of hummus-lessness when the mood for hummus-in-a-hurry strikes. I’m not at all a fanatic about cooking my own and  always have canned chickpeas on hand. BUT, I do think home-cooked beans are noticably better-textured and flavored and if you want to consider giving it a gohere are some reasons why you might consider it too -

You’ll cook them with no preservatives, no gross amounts of salt in the canning liquid – (though not all canned beans come loaded this way.) You can use some of your own cooking liquid to puree in with the beans. (Much better than plain water.) I won’t use the liquid if they’re canned. A batch of your own fresh-cooked chickpeas is a fraction of the cost of canned. There’s less to throw away (or recycle.) And then, there’s the taste.

One of the changes to my hummus has come about quite recently – only since developing a mad crush on Ottolenghi (I mean, his recipes!) It would seem that the skins of the chickpeas, even when the beans are cooked to softness, retain a bit of their toughness unless measures are taken to further soften them. Ottolenghi adds baking soda to both the soaking water, and then again to the cooking pot. This addition and sufficient cooking time are  probably THE keys to THE creamiest, most velvety hummus your mouth will ever taste. I’d like to compare it to ambrosia’s savory cousin, but having never tasted ambrosia…Anyway…

Another measure which I’ve read about recently – in several places – seems awfully tedious at first. – but perhaps especially in the case when canned beans are used, worth the extra effort. You squeeze each and every little chickpea between thumb and forefinger, easily slipping them out of their filmy skins. This happens all the more easily with the addition of baking soda to the cooking water. (It’s as if they were itching to shed them, and you came along, right place, right time.) What’s left, once these naked beans are pureed with garlic and fresh lemon juice and tahini (the “butter” of sesame seeds”) is exquisitely smooth.

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The pita-pocket sandwich is just about whatever you’d like it to be. What I’d like it to be goes something like this:

Home-baked pita, sliced in half. A good slathering of lemony hummus, topped with thinly-sliced tomatoes and English cucumbers (the kind with the very small seeds); perhaps some sprouts or pea-shoots or micro-greens; maybe some delicate leaves of Spring lettuce, or any other lettuce shredded; perhaps some shredded carrot; a little feta; thin slices of red onion; perhaps some marinated & grilled kabobs of fish or chicken (or you decide); definitely some Greek-style yogurt or tzatziki. And maybe an extra drizzle of olive oil. And because each half is fairly small and because life comes with SO many choices, and choosing is sometimes very hard, make them every which way.

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But DO start with the hummus:

PitaHummus-2

The Hummus

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1¼ cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (See NOTE)

1½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

Juice of 2 to 2½ lemons, or to taste

2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed

salt to taste

4 – 5 Tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

a pinch (or several) of ground cumin

extra virgin olive oil

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OPTIONAL: see below for optional garnishes & serving suggestions

Hummus becomes a personal thing over the years. You find what you like – more garlicky or lemony, or less? – more tahini, less tahini? – more herbs or none at all? It pays to taste a little as you go. Taste your tahini before you start. Is it bitter? Then go with far less than what’s shown above. (I ruined a batch once with tahini far different than what I was used to.) Add most of the lemon and 2 cloves of garlic to start. It won’t be the right consistency yet, but Taste. If it’s tasting about right, don’t add the rest until closer to the end if at all. You’ll develop your own perfect proportions. With that out of the way, here’s the method -

NOTE: 1¼ cups dried chickpeas will equal about 3¾ cups cooked - if you use canned chickpeas you can give them a little extra cooking time in fresh water to soften them further, and then if you like, remove the skins from them as well.

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