Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Recipes of 2013

I'm feeling rather at peace with the arrival of 2014. 2013 was eventful, far more so than I anticipated when I rose my glass of champagne into the air to salute its beginning, and it feels ready to be over and done with. At least by my approximation.

A sentimentalist to the core, it's impossible for me not to reminisce, not to think back to the moments that defined this past year -- a fractured finger, a trip to NYC for my 30th birthday (!!!), first dates that were actually followed by subsequent dates, and the *best* nights spent laughing with friends and family over too much wine.

The stories have all been told here, perhaps inappropriately so for a site that is categorized as a "food blog," but the act of cooking has always been deeply personal for me. Something I do to recharge, to find my center, to express how I'm feeling -- even if it is just hungry.

These are the recipes that defined my year. The ones I found myself either making over and over again in my glovebox of a kitchen or ruminating over long after I took the final bite. I hope they in some way inspired you too, the friends and silent readers who have stayed with my through this year and perhaps even the years prior, listening to what I have to say even if it's not very much at all.

Thank you.


And may God bless you in the year that's stretched out ahead of us -- a blank canvas waiting to be scribbled over with fresh recipes and stories. 

 

Baked Oatmeal via Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Even though this recipe has not yet made it's way to this page, in the past few weeks it's made it's way into my morning routine in such a dramatic fashion that I'm having a hard time fathoming my eventual return to stove-top oats. Baked up like a casserole, it's the antithesis of the sticky, sludgy oatmeal I've not only grown accustomed to, but, admittedly, grown rather fond of in the years since its initial introduction. There will be more words on the matter later, but for now, know that very good things happen when you bake oats with cinnamon, bananas, raisins, walnuts, maple syrup, and almond milk. Very very good things. 


Sweet Butternut Squash Coconut Jam
I fell hard for this jam this past November. Head over bread heels hard. Particularly bread heels that have been toasted and smothered with more of this spread than is reasonable for a simple sliced carbohydrate to withstand. Sweet, subtly spiced and aggressively perfumed with tufts of coconut, it's far more than just jam. It's the thing you eat standing barefoot in the kitchen straight from the jar, that you stir into oatmeal, and that you bring to Thanksgiving dinner with no regard for the pies and casseroles you should be bringing in its stead. 


Roasted Root Vegetables with QuinoaThis dish is fall - comforting, yet necessarily nourishing in a season that seems more inclined toward heavy braises and baked goods that subscribe to Julia Child's cooking philosophy. I've eaten it dozens of times in the past few months and am always in awe that simple roasted vegetables can be this good. Without even a pat of butter or splash of cream. 


Egg, Caper Avocado Toast
Last year, I found myself dizzy in love with the simple pleasure of avocado toast, and this year, I upped the ante with a riff on the house-cured salmon toast at local LA gem Sycamore Kitchen. It's quickly become my favorite weekend lunch, cobbled together in the time it takes to hard boil and peel a farm fresh egg.


Homemade Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwiches
This was the product of one of those picture perfect lazy summer weekends that only seem to happen in the movies and on episodes of "The Hills" (may it RIP). Everything seemed momentarily okay, and there was *time* and that time was spent hiking and eating fish tacos in Malibu, and making peach ice cream and homemade cinnamon sugar pecan pop-tarts smashed together into the sandwich of my wildest dreams. I ate it standing over the sink with ice cream dripping down my chin and fingers and arms and all I could think was, "This is what it's all about."  Life, summer and the invention of stretchy pants. 


One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes
This recipe also defined my summer. It was a tough one for me - I was working too much, eating far too much chocolate because I was, well, working too much, and this dish was often the light at the end of that tunnel. I'd whip up a big batch of it on Sundays and eat it for dinner all week, not minding the repetition because I was so grateful to have it ready when I'd arrive home at 9 p.m., blurry-eyed and ravenous. It's the kind of recipe that will age well, not just, you know, in the fridge for a couple days, but down the line, during future summers when tomatoes are everywhere and you want to eat them in everything.  Especially this, and only this, for nights on end. (Though full-disclosure, it can also be made with a can of diced tomatoes in a winter pinch!)


Chickpea Sauté with Greek Yogurt
Of all the kale recipes I made, loved and obsessively ate this year, this one was my favorite. It's the sort of dish that treats vegetables with a different sort of respect than is customary, a respect that can rightly be traced back to Yotam Ottolenghi. While the buzz this year was for his other cookbook, the newer one, this recipe had me bookmarking every other page in his trusty vegetarian offering, Plenty.


Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
I often use family gatherings and holidays as an excuse to make the baked goods I myself have been lusting after under the guise of "contributing" to the celebration. Sometimes I'm the only one who actually wants the contribution, but in the instance of these pink-streaked scones, prepared for my family's annual Easter brunch, it was a welcome interloper amidst the buttery croissants and blueberry-flecked muffins. I ate two before they'd even cooled to room temperature, and then made them again two days later for a co-worker's birthday. As, you know, a "gift."


The Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich
While my kitchen doesn't often come into contact with the great bacon, cheese and butter trifecta, every now and then a girl needs a serious breakfast sandwich. The kind that greases lips and fingertips, and is all the better because of it. This is that sandwich.


Slow-Cooked Broccoli
If there's a way to make broccoli sexy, this dish would be it. Cooked tortuously slowly amidst a slew of onion and garlic, it transforms from the vegetable you eat because you ought to, into the vegetable you eat because you can't stop. Won't stop. Until the pan is bare and you wonder why you never saw broccoli in this way before.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Classic Shortbread: Not coming up short


It seems remiss to be writing about a holiday cookie recipe after Christmas. A bit like posting a gift guide three days before the holiday itself -- utterly useless for 90% of the population.  Particularly for those perfectly coiffed, check list-abiding folks who have their packages purchased, wrapped and under the tree by December 1st, and their holiday cookie recipes catalogued on Pinterest before fall has even made a dent in my consciousness.

I'm terrible at that sort of thing.

Organization amid structure. Or really, organization without a bit of chaos - the piles of magazines and meeting notes that threaten to teeter off my desk whenever I move my mouse, the bags of Brussels sprouts and pink lady apples that overwhelm my at-capacity produce drawers, and the storage closet that stores far more than it should.

While every now and again I'll go on a crazy rampage and attempt to West Elm-ify my life with calendars and labelled Tupperware, it only lasts for a moment. Approximately the length of time it takes for me to chip my nails after a manicure or dribble red wine on a newly laundered dress. And just like that I'll be back to me - the girl who posts about holiday cookies three days after Christmas while the whole world moves on to the New Year's resolution kale salad or heart-shaped everything. 

But there's something about these particular cookies that demands to be shared in a more meaningful manner than what I managed to communicate via a haphazard hashtagged Instagram photo on Christmas Eve. Because I never would have picked the recipe out as the stunner that would most captivate my sweet tooth this holiday season. My eyes would have soared past it, falling for chocolate-pistachio sables or chewy molasses cookies or something with a bit more pizazz and star power than… shortbread.

Even the name seems to indicate it's lacking in something - coming up short or edging far too closely to an item that does not instantly evoke a sugar high. Yet when a friend pulled the hot pan from the oven during a holiday cookie baking party inspired by that issue of Bon Appétit - you know, the one with the glossy, painted sugar cookies on the cover all chic and West Elm-like - I was done.

It's really meant to be a template for something else. The blank canvas where rosemary and caraway seeds reside (as it originally appears in Bon Appétit), where lavender becomes something other than the scent du jour for fancy hand soap, where layers of chocolate and caramel and nuts find a foundation. In my estimation, however, it's best just as it is - cut into fat fingers and served plain with a liberal top coat of coarse sugar.

Not particularly glamorous nor worthy of a magazine cover, but everything a holiday cookie should be - a resolve-killer, even three days after the holiday itself. 


Classic Shortbread
Lightly adapted from the December 2013 issue of Bon Appétit

Notes: Aside from nixing the rosemary and caraway seeds, which I'm sure are perfectly lovely contributions when a savory shortbread is in demand, I followed this recipe rather closely. My only "tweaks" so to speak were borrowed from the friend (a former pastry chef) who introduced the shortbread to me during that holiday cookie party. I baked the batter in a 13x9'' baking dish rather than two 8''-diameter cake pans, and cut it into strips while still warm from the oven to avoid any unfortunate crumbling after it had cooled completely. My friend thinks these get better on the 2nd or 3rd day, and I'm torn -- there's something to be said for a warm cookie, peeled straight from the pan while the sugar is still slightly molten and caramelized, but these are equally (and perhaps more) compelling at room temperature as a companion to a stern cup of tea.

Ingredients:

2 sticks (cold) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2'' pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten
Turbinado sugar (or another coarse sugar), to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 13x9'' glass baking dish (probably not entirely necessary given the amount of butter in the recipe itself, but something I feel inclined to do regardless).

Place the flour in a medium bowl and gently stir with a whisk to lighten the texture so it's easier to incorporate into the batter.

In a separate large bowl with fairly high sides, combine the butter, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and salt. Use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to beat until the batter is very light and fluffy (around 7-10 minutes). I imagine it would be equally fine to use a stand mixer for this step, just as long as air is beaten into the butter in some capacity, which Bon Appétit notes makes for tender shortbread. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, half at a time. Mix until just combined - the dough will not come together perfectly and it shouldn't.

Gently press the batter into the prepared pan, taking care to ensure it is spread into an even layer. Brush with the whipped egg, then aggressively sprinkle with turbinado sugar or whatever coarse sugar you are using. Bake 25 minutes or so or until the edges start to brown and the center feels to the touch.

Cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes, then slice into wedges or bars. Enjoy warm or store in an airtight container to steal bites from all week.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Six Last Minute Gifts for the Food Lover


I'm not sure how it happened.

December 22nd.

I had so many intentions for Christmas this year. *Real*, tangible holiday cards that I would hand write in loopy illegible cursive and dorn with mistletoe postage stamps. An actual Christmas tree that I would decorate with sales bin metallic ornament finds and show off on Instagram. New and old cookie recipes that I would whip up in my snowflake apron and package for everyone I've come into contact with… ever.

From the girl who sells me kale and Brussels sprouts at the Farmers' Market, to anyone who's liked one of my posts on Facebook this year. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

And yet, here it is, December 22nd and I've written approximately one holiday card, am celebrating the season with a ten-inch, unadorned tree from Trader Joe's named "Larry," and the only holiday confection I've confected are my grandma's walnut caramels.

I've been telling myself it's because "Thanksgiving was late this year," and that "We missed a WHOLE weekend!", and I suppose it is true. Yet something about the holidays makes me feel like I should have done more. Could still do more.

Or at the very least compose a list of my favorite DIY edible gifts and cookbooks that might inspire someone else to do more… in the next 48 hours.

DIY Edible Gifts

For the Breakfast Lover - Mason Jars Filled with Granola
- This is my go-to for a homemade housewarming or holiday hostess present. It's heartfelt and keeps well so its recipient can enjoy it for several weeks after receiving. My standby granola recipe is still Early Bird Foods Granola via Molly Wizenberg at Orangette. It's just rich enough to taste like something special is happening in your cereal bowl without teetering too far into dessert territory.

For the Snacker - Spiced Glazed Nuts & Pretzels
- This nut mix from David Lebovitz, like most of his recipes, still obliterates any bit of restraint I might possess if I didn't like eating/food/nuts so much. This is why we make it to give away, not hoard all to ourselves. (Life Lessons 101)

For the Sweet Tooth - Sea Salt Walnut Caramels
- My absolute favorite recipe to make during the holidays. While they take patience to individually wrap in wax paper, anyone I've given these to has made subsequent requests for more of the same the following year. These caramels are love and nostalgia, which, in my mind, is the best gift to give anyone during the holiday season.

Cookbooks

You still have 18 hours to order on Amazon for arrival on Christmas Eve. For a personal touch, if you've prepared recipes from the cookbook, tag your favorites with post-it notes, offering your tips and serving suggestions. You can also pair it with a key ingredient showcased in the book (suggestions below!).

For the Vegetable Lover - Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
- Even though I've had this cookbook for two years, I'm still blown away by both the creativity and the precision of the recipes. It's the cookbook that I most often pull from my bookshelf in search of inspiration - usually because I have some odd vegetable lingering in the produce bin. Most recently, my world was rocked by the Baked Oatmeal, which has emphatically nudged its way into my top ten favorite recipes from this past year.  
INGREDIENT PAIRING: A mix of oats, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, toasted walnuts with the directive to use it to make the aforementioned Baked Oatmeal immediately.

For "The Big Salad" Orderer - The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and JoAnn Cianciulli
- A new release that features recipes from the beloved Southern California mini-chain including the fan favorites Broccoli with Ricotta Salata, and Roasted Cauliflower with Curry Vinaigrette. Perfect for anyone, who like Elaine Benes, enjoys a "Big Salad" with more substance than just lettuce leaves, or just wants to learn the proper way to make a vinaigrette (Note: You're probably making it wrong).
INGREDIENT PAIRING: Assorted oils and vinegars.

For the Food Porn Addict - What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies
- This is the cookbook for the home cook who can't make a recipe that doesn't contain a picture. The stunning, Instagram-esque photos will leave your recipient drooling and inclined to drop everything to make a Wild Rice, Mint and Chickpea Salad if you're me, or a Rib-eye Steak with Anchovy Butter if you're, well, not me.
INGREDIENT PAIRING: Pretty plates from Anthropologie so the recipient can photograph and Instagram the fruits of their kitchen labor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coq au vin: Fall ritual


Fall finally arrived in LA this past weekend. The kind of fall that drives us Angelenos to turn on the heater and wear knit caps indoors and break out every single winter-esque accessory in our possession.

In other words, it was 55 degrees.

And… it rained.

I wasn't expecting it when I peeled myself out of bed on Saturday morning, sleep still clinging to my eyes and limbs as I stumbled toward the front door with plans to go running at the beach. Initially annoyed, I was later thrilled at the notion of spending the day in hibernation, cooking, writing and watching terrible ABC Family holiday movies on Netflix. It felt necessary, like my personal rite of passage into the season I've been desperately craving for the past two months.

In the midst of it all, I found myself reminiscing back to my experience of fall as a child. My mom trucking my brothers and I off to the beach in wool sweaters to take photos for our Christmas card, burrowing under the piles of leaves that our Liquid Ambers would deposit on the front lawn, and eating coq au vin.

It was a given. As soon as the temperatures began to dip low enough for us to, you know, wear wool sweaters at the beach, my dad would lug out the giant iron-clad pan. The scent of frying bacon would start to tickle our noses and remain there, intermingled with simmering chicken, for hours while we'd wait in rapt anticipation. We'd gather around to watch him or my mom light the pan on fire - our favorite part of the whole ritual - while we'd sip Coke's because it was the weekend and that's what we did on the weekends.

Coq au vin was one of the few dishes that I truly loved as a child, that I would eat without pushing the pieces around my plate, declaring with a stubborn curled lip that I was "full" after two bites. I savored it, mesmerized by the way the chicken's muddy red wine-stained exterior would give way to flesh as white as snow. Even to my underdeveloped palate that preferred Top Ramen to most of my mother's wholesome home-cooked meals, it felt special, like the beginning of something.

It's been years since the last time I've celebrated fall with coq au vin, but this Saturday, as I sat shivering in my apartment because I refused to turn on the heater, it was all I could fathom eating for dinner. So while the world went on outside attending to Christmas trees and holiday shopping, I roasted pearl onions until the exteriors wrinkled and tanned. I nearly took my eyebrows off lighting brandy-ensconced chicken on fire, and then I waited in rapt anticipation while it simmered away on my stovetop, etching its scent into the walls of my apartment like graffiti.

Like always, it was even better on the second night, and even more so on the third when the temperatures dove even deeper south. But I was ready for it. And ready to turn on that heater whilst huddling on the couch with a fleece blanket and a wool cap.

Fall. In LA.

I could get used to it. 


Coq au vin
Serves 4

Notes: This recipe is cobbled together from the bits and pieces I remember from my childhood, along with some procedural and fundamentals that I borrowed from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My approach with this was to cook by feel rather than a strict set of instructions and the results were everything I hoped them to be. My soul was satisfied. I hope yours is too.

20 pearl or boiling white onions (this seems like a lot, but trust me, you'll want more)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 heaping teaspoon thyme, divided
4 strips of lean bacon
2 lbs skinless chicken pieces on the bone (you can use anything - breasts, thighs, legs, though I used breasts in my rendition)
1/4 cup Brandy (or Cognac)
1 1/2 cups red wine (something fruit-forward and full-bodied is preferred)
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato paste (or a scant teaspoon of Amore tomato paste - my preference!)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 carrots, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 shallot, minced
1/2 lb button mushrooms, quartered
2 tablespoons flour + extra for dredging
Chopped parsley for serving
Salt, freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the white onions in the pot and blanch for 1-2 minutes depending on whether you are using the larger boiling onions (my preference) or pearl onions which will only need to blanch for a minute. Drain and let cool slightly and then remove the skins. They should slip right off at this juncture.

Toss de-skinned onions with 1 teaspoon olive oil, a pinch of salt, pepper and some of the thyme. Roast in an oven-safe dish for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until they start to shrivel and brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the strips of bacon in a large, deep, flame-resistant pan (as you will be lighting it on fire and all). Cook over medium heat, watching as they begin to release their fat to flip as necessary. Brown until crisp, then remove and set on a paper towel. Pour some of the bacon fat into a small dish to freeze for later use (this stuff is liquid gold, I tell you), reserving the rest in the pan for browning the chicken.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and lightly dredge in flour, shaking any excess off.

Turn the heat a notch above medium, then add the chicken to the hot bacon-greased-lined pan. Cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown.  Turn down the heat, add the brandy or cognac, then, using caution and a very long lighter or one of those giant matchsticks, light the liquor on fire, averting your face/eyes to avoid potential eyebrowlessness. Shake the pan back and forth until flames have extinguished completely, then add the red wine, chicken stock, garlic, most of the remaining thyme (leave a pinch for the mushrooms), and the bay leaf. Whisk in the tomato paste, then bring to a slow boil. Reduce the heat and cover, letting it simmer away for 20 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the carrots, flip the chicken over, and continuing simmering away for another 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small dish and combine with 2 tablespoons of flour to make a roux to thicken your sauce when the time comes.

Heat the other tablespoon of butter in another pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, mushrooms, a pinch of thyme, salt and freshly ground pepper, and a glug of wine if it seems dry.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms begin to deflate and brown and release their liquid.  Set aside with the onions.

Remove the chicken and carrots from their pan, then whisk half the roux into the sauce. Bring to a low boil, stirring frequently until the sauce starts to thicken. It should coat a spoon, but not be globby, so start with a little roux and add more if needed.

Once the sauce is at its desired consistency, add the chicken and carrots back to the pan, along with the onions and mushrooms.  Reheat through until everything is nice and piping hot, then serve, sprinkled with parsley and crumbled bits of that crispy bacon.  I prefer mine served alongside roasted fingerling potatoes (more on that later, I suppose, because there are things to be said), but this is also terrific with egg noodles or even mashed potatoes if you want to be completely over-the-top about it. For a low carb version, try simply steamed green beans - not particularly seasonal, but a substantial accompaniment nonetheless.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sound Bites: San Francisco Edition


Because there's not always time for a full meal...

1. The recipe I'm dying to make - Quinoa with almond, cauliflower, popped sorghum via Daniel Patterson's Coi: Stories and Recipes. Because, quinoa. And also, I'm fascinated by the idea of popping sorghum seeds like popcorn. This is going to make for a pretty crrrrazy Saturday night some time in the not too distant future.

2. My new obsession - BART. I was in the Bay Area last month for less than 24 hours and even though I have the navigational intelligence of someone who has very terrible navigational intelligence, I decided to use BART to get from the Oakland Airport to San Francisco and then onward to my final destination in the East Bay (Concord). It was easy, cheap, fairly devoid of offensive smells, and I got to tell everyone about it when I got back to LA like it was no big thing. "Oh yeah, I took the BART… got off at the 16th St. Mission stop." See how hella cool that sounds? (Note: They don't say "hella" in the Bay Area - that's just me being hella dorky.)

3. Where I'm eating - Tartine aka the whole reason I made a detour from my final East Bay destination. I walked in with a giant Adidas backpack and kept bumping into people's heads with it like a tourist with no navigational intelligence, but it was all worth it for… the sandwich. Peppered turkey smothered with melted provolone and broccoli rabe pesto sandwiched (as sandwiches are) between two crusty, grilled slices of the best white country bread in existence. This is probably hyperbolic, but, you guys, the bread. It completely overshadowed the banana cream tart I ate for dessert and the crispy, infant head-sized chocolate chip cookie I ate for breakfast the next morning. Did I mention I'm having a hard time buttoning my jeans this month? Yep, pretty much.