Chocolate Cookies with Cacao Nibs and Milk Chocolate Chunks

Chocolate Cookie with Milk Chocolate and Cacao Nibs

Chocolate Cookie with Milk Chocolate and Cacao Nibs

May I confess something? Ok, a couple of confessions? First off, I am not going to attempt a lame sort of explanation of where I have been. If you know me, you are probably familiar with all of the reasons, essentiate beings, and hubbub that is in a constant, harmonious, and often-frenetic orbit over here. If we have yet to meet, just know how much I enjoy cooking, photographing, and writing for this blog and that I never actually intend for months to pass without a recipe.

Confession #2: I….like…..milk chocolate.

Wait, wait, no judging. I am a deadly serious dark chocolate lover. Want to send me my favorite chocolates? How about Amano Dos Rios, Madecasse 70%, Pralus 75% Cuba, almost anything by Amedei, Woodblock salt and nibs bar, or just a good old Raleigh bar? All dark chocolates right? Yes. But, Ay, there’s the rub.

Chunks of melted milk chocolate

Chunks of melted milk chocolate

Milk chocolate is something different. I refuse to play the milk-versus-dark game because it is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Milk chocolate is chocolate with milk fats (uh…butter…or even brown butter) and milk solids added, as opposed to a dark chocolate bar, which typically has only cocoa butter as its added fat. (I promise not to go on another rant about why the supermarket chocolate bar is neither a dark nor a milk chocolate bar because that usually has palm oil, vegetable oil, or some other mess desecrating the chocolate completely.)

There are a host of incredible “dark milk” bars, as they are called these days that one can choose from. My favorite ones are in the 40%-50% range, but a good milk chocolate may contain less, closer to 33%. (Mind you, that a Hershey’s “milk chocolate” bar has 11% chocolate solids).

As I have experimented with these milk chocolates over the past year or so I have made a couple of decisions about recipes with milk chocolate. First, what I appreciate most about the flavor of good milk chocolate is the caramel flavor backing the chocolate. As for the smoothness of the bar, I love how it coats the mouth like a mildly tannic wine. As such, I veer towards combinations that play the texture and flavor of chunks of milk chocolate off of other bittersweet chocolate flavors or crunchy bits.

My favorite decadent snack is one such play: toasted pecans, cacao nibs, fleur de sel, and good milk chocolate.

Milk chocolate, cacao nibs, toasted pecans, and fleur de sel

Milk chocolate, cacao nibs, toasted pecans, and fleur de sel

I assure that this snack is worthy of a dinner party dessert. If you had the time to temper the chocolate yourself and then let it all set into a bar, it would be phenomenal.

With these preferences in mind, I set to adapting a favorite cookie to the milk chocolate-meets-bittersweet-crunch philosophy.

Milk Chocolate and Cacao Nib Cookie Dough

Milk Chocolate and Cacao Nib Cookie Dough

Visible Chunks of Milk Chocolate in Cookie Dough

Visible Chunks of Milk Chocolate in Cookie Dough

It is my opinion that a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with milk chocolate subbed in does not work. The cookie dough is wonderfully buttery, but just too similar to the milk chocolate for each part’s flavors to sing.

This cookie, however, has a dark chocolate dough base (with melted dark chocolate in the dough, kind of like a brownie) with milk chocolate chunks and cacao nibs. And I adore this cookie dough for the miniscule stack of dishes left in its wake. Great for throwing together after dinner or for a quick Mommy and 4-year old project while the toddler is napping. Just melt together the chocolate and butter in a medium pot (so it can be your entire cookie dough receptacle), add sugar, and the rest of the stuff. Roll the (impossible to resist) cookie dough onto parchment and you are ready to go.

Chocolate Cookies and Tea

Chocolate Cookies and Tea

Dark Chocolate Cookies with Cacao Nibs and Milk Chocolate

(adapted from here)

Notes: This is not a cookie that can overbake. If you are worried about the timing, underbake them. Also, I adapted this recipe from peanut butter sandwich cookies. These also make a phenomenal base for unsalted peanut butter (or Skippy Reduced Fat like my husband loves, which is sweetened) and crunchy sea salt sandwiched in between.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or sub A.P. flour)

1/2 cup unsweetened cacao powder, natural or dutch process

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick of butter (4 oz)

4 oz dark chocolate

3/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/2-3/4 cup regular sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

6-8 oz roughly chopped milk chocolate (over 33% cacao solids)

1/4 cup cacao nibs

Line baking sheets with parchment and preheat oven to 325F degrees. In a pot that is larger than you think you need, melt the butter with the 4 oz dark chocolate. Leave to cool a bit.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and cacao powder and set aside.

Stir the two sugars into the melted butter and chocolate, and then the eggs, one by one. Stir in the dry ingredients until a dough forms and then add the chopped milk chocolate and cacao nibs.

Form into balls on the parchment lined cookie sheets and bake for 10 or 11 minutes or until just barely firm (they will lose that doughy sheen). Do not overbake! Let cool and then enjoy alone or filled with peanut butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Posted in Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert, Uncategorized, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Asian Carrot Dressing or My Latest Salad Crush

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Red Miso Carrot Salad Dressing

I want to share a recipe with you that has been dazzling my taste buds for a couple of weeks now. For lack of a better name, we call this Asian Carrot Salad simply for its having similar flavor profile (rice vinegar, sesame oil, and miso) to the ubiquitous “Asian Salads.”

A couple of years ago, I tried an avocado carrot salad from Gweneth Paltrow’s GOOP website (via Smitten Kitchen) and while I am the kind of gal who will devour guacamole, stuffed Peruvian avocados, or the entire fruit naked (the avocado…Geez!), the combination of a ginger carrot dressing with avocado chunks just did not do it for me. Dazzling to look at, but not a match made in heaven. The textures did not complement each other.

Craving something umami, and lacking the time to commute to Sandbox Bakery for a Negi Miso pan full of scallions, sesame, and miso paste, I decided to revisit the carrot dressing and play with it a little.

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Just a Spoonful of Red Miso Carrot Salad Dressing

While you could conceivably use this dressing on any greens, I do play favorites. If you are a butter lettuce kind of person (as am I) the salad takes on a classy look with the vibrant orange dressing.

My favorite greens with this dressing, however, is the mix of spinach, tiny Swiss chard, and baby kale from Trader Joe’s. I believe they call it “Power to the Greens” and as healthy as it is, it is frankly phenomenal as a base for my salad. You could also mince up larger leaves of kale and cabbage into ribbons and it would also be great.

I add either minced green onions or a handful of chives and their blossoms, toasted sesame seeds and almonds, and end up with a hearty, gorgeous, and completely delicious umami salad. It stands alone. Have it for lunch or dinner.

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Asian Carrot Salad

While you could definitely just whiz all the ingredients into the food processor, I believe that the order makes a difference. Start with the shallot and the rice vinegar. Puree them together in the Cuisinart and let it sit for 2 minutes before proceeding. As with most French vinaigrettes, this mellows the shallot. If you like a real bite to your salad, then please ignore my advice.

Asian Carrot Salad

Dressing

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 small shallot, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons miso paste (I used red)

2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Salad

Toasted sesame seeds (preferably a mix of black and white)

Toasted sliced almonds

Sliced green onion or chives with their blossoms

Whiz the shallot and rice vinegar in the food processor until finely minced. Let stand for at least two minutes.

After 2 minutes add the carrot, miso, and sesame oil until pureed. While the motor is still running, slowly pour in the vegetable oil to emulsify. I let the dressing go another minute or so afterwards so that the dressing is utterly smooth.

Lay out your salad bed, spoon the dressing on top and finish with the green onions/chives, and toasted nuts and seeds.

Posted in Almonds, Kale, Salad, Uncategorized, Vegan | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Valentine’s Day Treat: How to make a phenomenal savory tart or sweet galette

Chard and Sunchoke Savory Tart

Chard and Sunchoke Savory Tart

I have been meaning to share a fantastic tart/crust/pastry technique with you for a long while, but due to problems with the new camera that we inherited, have not gotten around to actually photographing it. This would make a great base for a Valentine’s Day treat. The most important part of the dough is its very simple, but magical technique.

Homemade Valentines

Homemade Valentines

With this trick, fine whole wheat pastry flour creates a base for a juicy jammy blackberry tart that shatters into a buttery crunch of shards you can sweep into a pile of crumbs on your plate and subsequently tip into your mouth.

Spelt and rye flours make their way into various sweet stone fruit galettes in July and August.

Peach Galette?

Peach Galette anyone?

And though a free formed fruit tart sounds heavenly just about anytime (like a pistachio frangipane galette with pears, hmmmm), my favorite use for this pastry dough of late is in a savory tart.

A couple of weeks ago we picked up a Mystery Box from Mariquita Farm and as much as I adore sweet, fragrant, and abundant summer produce, I have a soft spot for the vegetables that they grow this time of year. Spigariello, octopus-tentacled Italian dandelions, Portuguese cabbage Couve Tronchuda, Swiss chard, baby turnips, sweet and gnarled winter carrots, and knobby sunchokes.

Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes

Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes

What do you do with sunchokes? I have only used them raw in salads, and they are crunchy and delicious, much like a barely sweet jicama. I have also had them thinly sliced and fried like potato chips and added to all kinds of dishes. For a couple of years I had been eying a quiche-like tart with sunchokes in the Ottolenghi cookbook, but never simultaneously had sunchokes in the fridge, until last week.

Cooked sunchokes loose their grainy (but pleasing) jicama type texture and convert into a silky, firm root vegetable. It is as though it were an entirely different ingredient. I also had Swiss chard in our garden and the Portuguese couve tronchuda, many Meyer lemons, and a lot of homemade creme fraiche that I had not assigned to anything yet. And so my favorite savory tart was born.

But first you need that pastry base.

Near frozen butter cubes

Near frozen butter cubes

This technique is basically like making a really rough puff pastry dough, but with some ice water. Chilled butter layers create pockets that melt and then steam while cooking so that you end up with an incredibly tender and flaky crust. First cut your butter into roughly 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes and set in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. While the butter is chilling, measure out your flour, salted ice water, and a little bit of a sea salt that has some panache (Maldon, grey, fleur de sel, or even a cheap coarse sea salt all do great).

Butter and flour

Butter and flour

Sprinkle most of the flour and salt out on your work surface and spread the near-frozen butter cubes on top with just a dusting of the rest of the flour to prevent the butter from sticking to your rolling-pin too much.

IMG_8367Start rolling. You want the butter to flatten out like little cat tongues.

Little cat tongues of butter

Take a spatula or bench scraper (if you have one), and scrape it all back into a pile and repeat the rolling. Scrape and roll once or twice more.

Now form a little depression in the middle of the butter flour mixture and pour in your salted ice water. With your bench scraper/spatula, scrape the outsides into the liquid in the middle and keep cutting in until the whole mass becomes roughly stuck together.

Rough mass of pastry dough

Rough mass of pastry dough

Finally, sprinkle a bit of flour and roll out the dough once more into a rectangular shape. Fold in the edges, flip the dough so the smooth side is up and roll out again once, repeating once or twice. End with a nice neat folded package and plastic wrap in the freezer for months or in the fridge for 2 hours to a week before using.

IMG_8386

If you are making a free form tart, like a galette, roll it out, fill it, and let it sit in the freezer or fridge for at least 20 minutes before cooking it. If you plan on making a formed tart in a pie or fluted free bottom tin, roll out the dough and press it into the form and likewise refrigerate at least 20 minutes before cooking it.

Summer Peach Galette

Summer Peach Galette

As for the savory tart, this is one instance where I advocate blind baking it ahead of time. If you read this blog, you probably already know what that is, but just in case you do not, it means you have to partially pre-bake the tart shell before filling it and cooking it the rest of the way. The other thing I suggest is to cook it a bit lower than your usual U.S. of A. standard 350F degrees. With a long cook time I always feel that pie crusts and tart crusts cook beyond flaky and delicious and end up tasting dry, chalky, and burnt. Arbitrary as it may sound, go for 330 or 340F. (See the top photo again and notice the flaky layers even on the bottom of the tart.)

Finally, choose your cheese wisely. A really good feta cheese makes all the difference here. I am very fond of Bulgarian and Israeli fetas in this tart tucked in big chunks all around the top. Enjoy the best crust you will ever have and Happy Valentine’s Day!

IMG_8177

Galette or Tart Crust

(makes 2)

600 g total flour (my favorite versions include 50/50 whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose unbleached flour, 25% spelt with %75 all-purpose, and 50/50 rye and white pastry flour, but you could also do 100% all-purpose flour if you don’t mind hearing me grumble about how boring you are)

1/2-3/4 teaspoon of your larger grained sea salt (coarse, Maldon, fleur de sel, etc.)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

320g almost frozen butter, cut into 1/2-1 inch cubes

140ml ice water

Mix the kosher salt with the ice water and keep ready in the freezer or with a couple of ice cubes in it.

Mix together your flours and your sea salt and dump out most of it into a rectangle on your work surface. Lay the butter cubes on top and dust with the remaining flour so that your rolling-pin does not stick. Roll out so that the butter cubes begin to flatten and elongate like cat tongues. Scrape the mixture back to the center and repeat two more times.

Make a depression in the middle of the flour-butter mixture and pour in the ice water. Slowly scrape the flour mixture from the outside and cut into the water in the middle and repeat until you have a nice shaggy mess of mostly uniform dough.

Dust lightly with flour and roll out to a rectangle and then scrape the edges back in, flip over so the folded parts are underneath and repeat (roll, fold, flip) once or twice more. Cut into two doughs. You should end up with nice cohesive pastry dough packages that you can plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours to a week or freeze for a couple of months. See directions above about how to proceed if you are making a sweet (or savory) galette.

Chard, Feta, and Sunchoke Savory Tart

(adapted from Ottolenghi)

1 tart crust

500-600g of sunchokes/ Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 massive or 2 small bunches of chard (or Couve Tronchuda if you can get your hands on it)

1-2 Tablespoons Meyer lemon (or lime, etc.)

1 garlic clove, crushed

235ml creme fraiche

2 eggs

150g Israeli or Bulgarian feta cheese

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 330-340F. Roll out the tart crust and fit it into a free bottom tart pan, if you have one. Press it into the sides so that there is a bit of overhang. Refrigerate for 20 minutes and then prick the bottom all over with a fork. Lay a circle of parchment paper on top of the base and cover with either pie weights or old beans, split peas, etc. that you don’t mind keeping just for this use. Cook for 35 minutes and then remove the parchment paper and beans and cook for another 5 or so minutes. Allow to cool, but leave the oven on. (Can be done well in advance, even the night before.)

While your crust is cooking, cook the cubes of sunchokes in salted water until fork tender. Drain and let cool. Prepare your chard or Portuguese couve tronchuda. Head 3-4 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat. Lay your cleaned leaves in a bed and then roll them up into a cigar shape and slice very thinly into ribbons. Chop once or twice more so the ribbons are not too long and then saute in the pan until they are wilted and have released a good deal of liquid. Turn off of the heat and quickly add 1-2 crushed garlic cloves and squeeze in your Meyer lemon juice. Let cool a bit.

Whisk together the creme fraiche and eggs with a little salt and pepper. Carefully layer the sautéed chard and the sunchokes in the tart shell so that both vegetables show in different places. Sprinkle the large chunks of feta cheese on the top and finally slowly pour the creme-egg mixture in the shell so that it does not spill over the top. Sprinkle a tiny bit more salt and freshly cracked pepper on the top and put in the oven to cook for 15 minutes uncovered. Remove the tart and tent it in aluminum foil and return to the oven to cook for another 30-40 minutes, until the center is no longer jiggly and the custard has fully formed between the vegetables. If need be, you can take the aluminum foil off for the final five minutes of cooking.

Let stand to cool for 5 minutes before eating, if you like it hot, or let cool for a full hour if you prefer it at room temperature.

Posted in Chard, Dinner, Lunch, Rustic Fruit Desserts, Savory Tarts, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Garden Soup (Kale, potato, bean, and lemon)

Gorgeous “Good Mother Stallard” beans and little purple potatoes with swirls of E.V.O.O.

Hey there Friends. Let’s just pretend that months and months have not elapsed since the last time I posted. We all have that buddy who we see about 1/12 of the time we actually wish we could, right? The best part about that friend is the virtually seamless reunion. You just barrel through the first five awkward minutes of,

“Oh, you had another kid last year?”

“Wow, raising goats in the East Bay now?”

“Fighting fracking in the Western States?”

“Ghost writing Cher’s autobiography, Even Stronger than Strong Enough?

And cetera….

Finally you move on to the important stuff, like your daily life, the beautif-arduous grind of raising children, working, partners–covering the fact that you have actually become one of those hollering parents, but only the last 10 minutes before heading out the door to schools. “Put on your coats!” “Lunchboxes in the stroller?” Why are you wearing rainboots?!” “No masks!” “Hold on! I’ll get your scooter helmet after I change Baby who just filled his drawers again” (Tittering and general degeneration into silliness over that one that merely delays even more.)

Well, let’s just say that we got past all of the where have I been and what I have I done and we are conversant again. I continue to throw flour around the kitchen, make frequent delicious messes, and enjoy cooking, but my life has swelled quite a bit over the last few months to the point that it is bona fide full. I love writing here and hearing from those of you who read, however, so I will again endeavor to get back on the Ciccia train.

“What began as a way to use up all of the Kale-Gone-Wild from our garden several years ago evolved into what is hands down the household favorite soup. Sure, there are subtle variations in the potatoes or the allium mixture, but the basic ingredients and technique do not waiver.

Crucial to making this soup, since the ingredients are so simple, is idyllic produce and technique. And more homemade bread wouldn’t hurt either.

Toast from naturally leavened cornmeal pumpkin seed bread

Last week I used the last dinky summer potatoes. I grew six varieties this year, but my location was a good deal shadier than last years’ so I had neither large potatoes nor an abundance of them. The good news is that I had oodles of lovely, marble-sized, tasty fingerling potatoes and ended up tossing them in this rendition of our soup. Purple Peruvians looked particularly stunning next to my favorite Rose Apple Finns.

Kale? Check. We always have kale growing. My six year old adores it.

Homemade Spelt Levain

Onions and garlic. Broth of choice. Extra virgin olive oil. Tender beans that hold their form, but give way to a soft sumptuous middle (our two favorites are currently either Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stallard beans or the Yellow Eyes). One Meyer Lemon. Pecorino Romano Cheese.

Garden soup with various tiny fingerling potatoes, kale, and Rancho Gordo Beans

Garden soup with various tiny fingerling potatoes, kale, and Rancho Gordo Beans

As with most of my favorite recipes, this one is really the sum of its marvelously simple parts. Without blackening the onions and the garlic, really let them accrete color beyond translucent before adding anything else to the pot. Finally, before you serve the soup, squeeze in a teaspoon of the citrus at a time until it heightens (but does not dominate) the flavor of the soup, drizzle your best olive oil and grate Pecorino Romano cheese in each person’s bowl to serve.

Feel free to substitute leeks, shallots, or other onions for the red onion or other fancy cabbages or kales for the lacinato kale. I have done and do do this frequently.

With billowy soft grated pecorino romano...

With billowy soft grated pecorino romano…

Winter Kale and Potato Soup with Beans and Meyer Lemon

4 Medium cloves of garlic

1 Large onion (using red lately)

1 Bunch of dark lacinato kale leaves, sliced into very thin ribbons

1 1/2 lbs Mixed Fingerling Potatoes, preferably marble sized, chopping the larger ones

1 1/2-2 cups cooked beans of your choice with some cooking liquid reserved

8 cups broth of choice (I usually use a blend of chicken and vegetable)

1 small Meyer lemon or a Bearss lime

2-3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus extra for drizzling

Pecorino Romano Cheese to finish

Chop your garlic and onion into the size you prefer. Always keep in mind that the finer your chop, the quicker it will cook and less perceptible each piece will be. I go for pretty thin half inch pieces. Cook on medium, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes until the onion is not merely soft, but coloring slightly brown. Add the potatoes and broth. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the kale and beans and cook until the kale is the softness you desire. Check the saltiness and add a bit of salt, if necessary. Zest and squeeze in the lemon/lime, one teaspoon of juice at a time. You do not want a soup that screams lemon/lime, but rather a heightening of the whole soup’s flavor.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls and drizzle a good amount of olive oil into each one and finish with the grated cheese.

Posted in Dinner, Kale, Legumes, Lunch, Soup, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes with olive oil and salt

Oven dried tomatoes with olive oil and salt

My friends, we have gotten way too extreme over here. I’m talking two months or so of homemade wild yeast starter breads. This has consumed the spare 4 and a half minutes that I used to dedicate to photographing for this blog so I apologize. Unfortunately, I do not think this bread obsession is going to wane so I might as well just admit that this is the point that I face the facts. I am in way over my head. One almost-six-year old’s majorly fractured arm (see: full arm cast), a too-big-for-her breeches 3-year-old, a sleep regressive 6 month old, a mid-aged German Shepherd mix who is convinced that, even post-operative two back legs that he is a puppy, and 3 seven week old chickens.

We cut out the arm of Tough Guy’s jammies

So, insane bread schedules and starter “feeding” schedules? Extreme, right? Over my head, no? I do it to myself. That’s the painful part.

I have baked my own bread for almost two years now and it is fairly addictive. I will never be one to renounce carbohydrates so do not come crying to me for low carb recipes. I embrace carbs, especially slightly tangy whole grain ones. The thing is, working with yeast, especially with ones own starter is fantastically brainy. Honestly, making good bread, is really tough. Hence Chad Robertson’s fame over at Tartine here in San Francisco. It’s thoughtful. There is pace. You have to give naturally leavened bread dough breathing room and time, paying attention to its needs (more hydration? warmer temperature? overnight cool rise?). Ironically, it is this pace and timing that has permitted me to continue to bake with 3 kids and a (not-growing-anymore!!!) menagerie.

Karate Kid or Flapper?

My first five bakes were a series of permutations in what I did wrong. The flavor of the bread was stunning. Tangy and complex without that obnoxious grocery outlet crumbly sourdough flavor. But the crumb? Not open! I could go on and on (and believe me, there are novels out there on the web on this topic) about my failures, which my husband teased me about because I would curse when I cut into not-perfect loaves, but my obsession paid off. As you can imagine, however, we have had a lot of bread on hand in the process.

Enjoying the beautiful weather

What else have we had a lot of? Tomatoes! Every year my zeal for canning jams and sauces cannot be contained and I get to know the farmer’s market fruit guys way too well. Oh there’s that insane young woman (I like to believe that I would still be addressed as “Signorina” in Italian) with the three kids buying 30 pounds of fruit…again. After I canned my San Marzano Tomatoes from Mariquita, I decided to preserve my dry farmed Early Girls in the manner that I usually eat right away.
Slowly Oven Roasted. Right now in California, you can still find tomatoes spilling out of boxes at the market and likely at your neighbor’s house (so long as s/he does not live in San Francisco, that is). I have employed this simple and absolutely transformative technique for a couple of years now and thought I would share.

Remember the sun-dried tomato craze in the 80s? No, sorry. I am not resurrecting it. This is different and superior. You want supple, concentrated tomatoes with crispy salted edges. Not fruit leather. Aim for the kind of tomatoes that you pop into your mouth and your ecstatic mouth simply must have more. These are fantastic where tomatoes feature as usual suspects: pastas, caprese salads, pizzas, etc., but I love making these with tiny little cherry tomatoes (in which case the baking time is much closer to 2 hours) and popping them into quinoa, fresh lunch salads with arugula and herbs, and blending them into Moroccan tomato dips.

Oven dried tomatoes, creme fraiche, and softly scrambled egg tartine

My other favorite for oven roasted Early Girl tomatoes is to combine them with toast made from superlative bread (ahem, ahem), softly scrambled eggs, creme fraiche (which one can also make at home instead of paying the hefty over-priced amount the store charges), and sea salt. And I suppose it wouldn’t kill you to add some fresh basil, arugula, tarragon, or other stunning garden herbs. This, my friends, is how to do an early lunch when you have just 15 minutes to yourself between the baby’s nap and picking up big girl at preschool. The kind of phenomenal lunch that you can savor after a morning where no doubt your neighbors are having a lovely chuckle over the nutso gal on the block who, on an unseasonably hot morning ran out of the house in shorts arguably too short for her age and frumpy beaten up tennis shoes, hollering at her poor little broken armed almost-6 year old because he let the dog out of the house before she had a chance to put a leash on him and now he is traipsing through everyone’s yard looking for a nice little kitty to chase while the 3-year-old and baby who really needs a diaper change are sitting patiently, but with notably concerned expressions at their mother’s antics, and waiting to be pushed up the hill on the walk to school and…..hurry up we are late!!!!!

Dear God, please go make yourself this sandwich and tremble with the intense deliciousness of it all.

OK, It’s time for me to go fold laundry, pull a loaf out of the oven, and perhaps even go to bed.

Pilfered Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Olive Oil and Sea Salt.

Tomatoes (large cut in half, tiny just scatter on the parchment or maybe prick once)

Kosher or sea salt

Olive oil to taste

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. I place the tomatoes cut side down and then drizzle the olive oil and salt over the tops. Cook at oven’s lowest setting. I cook them at about 180-200 F for 8-10 hours for larger Early Girl Tomatoes and 2 hours for tiny abundant cherry tomatoes. Freeze whatever you do not eat within a couple of days and you can use them all year long.

 

Best Egg and Tomato Sandwich

(gives 1 harried parent brief ecstasy)

Toast, from the best bread you can get your hands on

1 softly scrambled egg

Creme fraiche

3-4 oven roasted tomatoes (see above)

sea salt and herbs to taste

Toast the bread. On the lowest heat cook your egg(s) by stirring constantly for a couple of minutes. For the last minute fold the eggs once or twice and take off heat before the actually look done. They continue to cook a bit. Arrange eggs atop phenomenal toast. Add roasted tomatoes and a hefty dollop of creme fraiche. At a smattering of herbs and a sprinkle of sea salt. Indulge.

Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Dinner, Jams & Preserves, Jams and Preserves, Lunch, Tomatoes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Gateway Dressing

Purslane salad with salted almonds and honey dressing

I love salads. Almost every day as I water the newest seedlings in my garden and tend to the older plants, I raid our wild arugula patch for a handful of fiery spicy leaves of unadorned arugula to munch on. Crunchy kale salads, sweet crisp butter lettuce, and mixed baby greens are my favorites, but done right, I will even cavort with plain Jane (and nutritionally devoid) iceberg lettuce.

Sea-salted pan-fried almonds

But then, beyond the fresh lettuces one has Burmese tea leaf salads with crunchy garlic chips, peanuts, fried lentils, lemon juice, shrimp powder, sesame seeds, and jalepeños. (Swoon. I could eat that one every day.)

Fried almonds

One of my favorite Italian salads, as prepared by my family in the Piemonte region is “valeriana,” a longer type of mache lettuce, with fresh tomini cheese, lavender-thyme sea salt, and several healthy glugs of divine olive oil.

Another friend makes a phenomenal Ecuadorian salad with tomatoes, avocados, mangoes, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice (at least that is how I re-enact something she made for us a couple of years ago).

I could write a salad manifesto.

Purslane salad with honey dressing

Kids, on the other hand, typically disagree on the boon that is salad. While my vegetarian five-year old luckily adores salad, my carnivorous three-year old has taken some major convincing. Two weeks ago we picked up a couple of bags of purslane at the Alemany Farmer’s market from Two Dog Organic Farm. We grew some as well, but it has already gone to flower. Wanting to make sure that my kids (well the solid food eating ones anyways) at least tried it, I concocted a phenomenal and simple salad that I have since made twice more.

Yes, yes, the pan-fried sea salted almonds are scrumptious and the purslane’s fresh, citrus-like crunch is divine, but what really gets a non-salad eater to try this (or any new salad green) is the salt and pepper honey dressing. The Gateway Dressing.

Salt and pepper honey dressing

For those who insist on a recipe, I will include it below, but really it is simply a matter of mixing 1 part honey to two parts extra virgin olive oil and whisking it together with either kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle it over an arugula and fig salad with a nice Bulgarian feta or Pt Reyes Blue. Try it on bitter greens or finely shredded brassica leaves (any kale, really). Add a little freshly roasted and ground cumin and some cayenne and one has a great carrot salad dressing. And while it is terrific with a cheap pasteurized honey, it is over-the-top with a floral raw honey like orange blossom or lavender.

As a rule of thumb, kids (and um, adults) love fatty, salty, and sweet so you get a punch of all three with the honey dressing. Maybe Marion Nestle will come after me with obesity statistics, but I think it is great to melt some butter or add some olive oil and salt on steamed vegetables if it enables kids to eat more of them.

Pretty purslane from Two Dog Farm

Purslane Salad with Pan-Fried Almonds and Honey Dressing

1 bunch purslane

20-30 raw almonds

Olive oil for frying

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey (preferably floral scented)

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Break the purslane into bite friendly sprigs. Heat the olive oil and the almonds in a pan until the smell toasted, take on a golden brown color, and some of them begin to pop like popcorn. Do not burn them. Remove to a paper towel and let excess oil drip off. Sprinkle with sea salt. Whisk together the 2 tablespoons e.v.o.o. and the 1 tablespoon honey with salt and copious pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the purslane and finish with the salted almonds on top.

Posted in Almonds, Inept-but-Earnest Cook's Night, Nuts, Salad, Uncategorized, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peach-Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Cobbler

Strawberry-Peach Oatmeal Breakfast Cobbler

Where have I been? For at least two months I attempt to answer this question, fill you in on my calamities, felicities, and all the news in between and I realize I am completely stymied. Therefore, I have decided that in lieu of an arduously long post, I will come back into posting little by little. No thick updates. Just some realistic snapshots.

I heard a fantastic program on NPR around the New Year regarding resolutions. (Yes, I am aware that we are now in August and, in fact, closer to next year’s resolutions than last year’s.) The notion of massive, life-changing resolutions fails for most people because the intentions do not become habitual and ingrained into daily life. As an example, the speaker suggested flossing. Many people (your Cuoca Ciccia included) floss intermittently at best. To make this happen regularly, one first must link the activity with something else one regularly does. Second, one must initiate the habit with minimal effort. To begin, he flossed one tooth a day, right after brushing his teeth for a week. Ridiculous sounding? He gradually increased more teeth until it became something he completed in its entirety on a daily basis.

A first-day-of-school pep talk from big brother

Now I do not mean to compare this blog with flossing because it is infinitely more fun than groggily maneuvering waxed string between my teeth, but I must admit that with all of the changes in my life in the past five months (ahem, yes my littlest boy is indeed the same age), I have gotten out of a regular pattern of posting. The good news is that despite the frenetic pace, I have not gotten out of the habit of cooking.

Rose Finn Apple Fingerling Potatoes from our Garden

As you probably guessed from many of the pre-baby posts , I have been extremely excited by whole grain breakfasts. Given that my kids genuinely love breakfast, inventing delectable new whole grain dishes comes with ease. I have a phenomenal new spelt and brown butter waffle for you that I have made about five times this summer, a caramelized nectarine oven pancake with oat flour, and a couple of new whole grain muffins. However, the simplest breakfast, which takes the time it would take to cook Irish/Scottish oatmeal is this baked oatmeal.

Blackberry picking

I have been eyeing baked oatmeals for a couple of years now and have no idea what has kept me from making them more often. I have finally come up with one that is all mine. The end result is something that honestly resembles a hearty, healthy breakfast version of a cobbler. The caramelized peaches form the base, a custardy oatmeal the middle, and the top of the dish crispens with the crunchy oats and brown sugar much like a granola.

My almost-five month old jumping with true joyMy recipe could be made vegan by either substituting vegan eggs or omitting them altogether and cooking the whole thing with almond or soy milk and a dash of cornstarch. Finally, if you want to make this even easier, feel free to compose the whole thing the night before and cook it in the morning. Your kitchen will be filled with the aroma of oatmeal cookies.

I have really missed posting and hearing from all of you who enjoy food as much as I do. Expect me to ease into this with more snapshots very soon. I want to make this a habit again.

A spoonful of peach and strawberry baked oatmeal

Oatmeal Breakfast Cobbler

1-2 tablespoons melted butter

2 sliced peaches (or other fruit like plums or apples)

1 cup rolled oats

2-3 tablespoons sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 cup milk

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup berries (I used sliced strawberries this time)

Handful of walnuts (optional)

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Organic heavy whipping cream or whole milk for serving (optional)

(Note: If making this vegan, either substitute vegan eggs and almond/soy milk or omit the eggs and whisk a teaspoon of cornstarch into a little water and add to the almond/soy milk before proceeding with the recipe.)

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Grease a baking dish a small baking dish (I used a 7 inch diameter circular one) with butter or non-stick spray. You can also use an oven safe frying pan. Slice peaches or other fruit and scatter on the bottom of the dish with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Mix the oats, baking powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and salt and then pour on top of the peaches.

In a separate dish, whisk together the milk, egg, vanilla, and half of the melted butter. Pour on top of the oat mixture and then scatter the berries, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and the walnuts, if using. Finish by drizzling the last of the melted butter. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the custard is completely absorbed, the top is golden and crunchy, and your kitchen smells like oatmeal cookies. Let rest for five minutes before serving with a drizzle of organic heavy whipping cream.

Posted in Berries, Breakfast, Stonefruits, Vegan, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments