Chard-Chickpea Stew with Spicy Red Pepper Sauce

Chickpea chard stew with spicy red pepper sauce

Despite the global economic crises, the fact that the apocalypse was supposed to enshroud us (myriad times), and that many journalists have branded 2011 as one of the worst years in several decades, I fancied it.

We planted a garden, which is insidiously spawning more craziness than simply growing our own veggies and baking our bread. (Anyone want to grind their own flours with me? Raise chickens? ) I began this website and a couple of writing side projects when I am not actively raising, cleaning, teaching, lifting, and generally engaging with my children.

My first baby began kindergarten. My second baby is crafty enough to snatch and hide her brother’s toys and the gall to stash them in secret hiding places. And I am in my final trimester with our third child. What a splendid year. What a lucky gal I am.

I hope that your 2011 treated you well too and wish you a 2012 that tops it and then some.

And I leave you with a simple dish that I concocted for my kids, based on a few key ingredients that they adore. This is a perfect way to ring in the new year because it is vegan, chock full of superfoods, simple enough for my inept-but-earnest cooks, and insanely delicious.

One starts with a stew of chickpeas and greens (this time I mixed rainbow swiss chard from our garden and lacinato kale) and pour on a hefty amount of a garlicky, spicy, almond and roasted red pepper sauce and–if you do not mind disqualifying it from the vegan awards–a dollop of creamy yogurt. On the dry side, one could name this a chickpea salad (in which case it actually beats out my old favorite chickpea salad with pumpkin), and if  made a little wetter, it is much more like a winter stew. Either way, it is healthy and phenomenal.

Happy New Year!

Chard-chickpea stew with roasted red pepper sauce and yogurt

Chard and Chickpea Stew with Spicy Red Pepper Sauce

Notes: You can skip the sauce if you want to make this a really quick and simple meal, but if you have a food processor and you purchase canned roasted peppers, the sauce takes a mere 1 minute to make. Also, I mixed Swiss chard and kale, but you could use one or the other if that is your preference.


2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion

4 cloves garlic

4 cups cooked chickpeas

1 large bunch swiss chard

1 bunch kale (optional) (I had 6 leaves leftover from something else)

1 large lemon, zest and juice

2-3 tablespoons tomato paste (or 3-4 tablespoons plain tomato sauce, or 2 minced tomatoes)

salt to taste

Yogurt to dollop (optional)


Red Pepper Sauce

3 roasted red peppers, oven roasted or from a jar

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1/4 cup sliced almonds (raw or toasted, depending upon preference)

salt to taste


Mince your onion and garlic and cook in the olive oil on medium heat until just past translucent and beginning to color light brown. If you cut your onion thinly, this should take no more than 8 minutes with stirring. Add the chickpeas and their cooking liquid if you made them yourself. (If using canned chickpeas, add no more than a cup or so of water.) Bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the chard and/or kale and add together with the tomato paste, salt, and half of the lemon zest. Let cook for 3 minutes and then add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and taste for balance. A minute before serving add the remainder of the lemon zest and more lemon juice if needed. If the stew seems too dry, add more water until it is the consistency you desire.

While your stew finishes up place all of the red pepper sauce ingredients into the food processor and blend until you have a smooth sauce. Taste for balance and add more salt or crushed garlic, if needed.

Serve each plate individually, passing around the sauce and yogurt so each person can doctor it to their taste.

Posted in Almonds, Chard, Inept-but-Earnest Cook's Night, Kale, Legumes, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Winter Kale Salad

The weekend before Thanksgiving I went on a babymoon with my husband to Portland.  I had heard a lot of buzz related to the city’s blossoming food reputation (and chocolate Raleigh bars) so we booked a flight. Serendipitously for me, a week later the Oregon tourism board sponsored visits by some of the heavyweights in the internet food community. Their descriptions and pictures made it relatively simple to enact some envious, drooling, pre-trip, Oregon reconnaissance. (Here, here, here, and here are some lovely posts.)

In between a lot of Stumptown coffee, Voodoo doughnuts, Nuvrei pastries (their pretzel croissants revive the dead), Pearl Bakery, Powell’s bookshop (my brain imploded there, in a good way), the Saturday Farmer’s market, Lincoln Restaurant, and an obscene chocolate bar binge at Cacao, our favorite meal was hands down dinner at Grüner.

They describe themselves as a restaurant “devoted to the warm, hearty flavors of Middle Europe” with “[o]ld-world comfort meets new-world sophistication.” While the notion that the “New World” has attained some sort of pedigree seems a bit laughable to me, I concur that their food is both warm and sophisticated. Though they dabble in “hearty” specialties of Bavarian and Hungarian cuisines that are relatively well-known here in the U.S., nothing was heavy or greasy, but rather a surprising mix of belly sticking and simple elegance. In their originality and execution, perfectly roasted squab with house-made sausages, pickled cranberries, and stack of paper-thin creamy potatoes and the warm spiced hazelnut doughnuts with chocolate ganache dipping pot bested the (delicious, but traditional) Alsatian tart with onions, cheese, and bacon and the creamy buckwheat noodles with chanterelles.

The star of the exceptional meal, however, was their kale and farro salad.

I have grown lacinato kale in my garden for six years and despite a two-year hiatus of irresponsible neglect, volunteer arugula and kale (also called dinosaur kale or cavolo nero) continued to grow unattended and unheeded. With frozen swirls of frost it not only survives, but thrives, attaining a sweetness that trumps the flavor of cabbage. For me, kale is a quintessentially winter vegetable. Even before this last year’s garden revival, my son knew that we “San Francisco farmers” grew delicious kale that could be added to soups and sautéed into pasta as fast as you could pick it and wash away the aphids.

Cozied up reading with my star reader

In my mind’s eye, my personal Grüner kale salad begins with a bed of farro and thinly ribboned kale, julienned carrots, radishes, and whatever other root vegetable one might have on hand. It is then tossed with a lemony-garlic vinaigrette (an anchovy-less Caesar dressing really), a handful of minced garden herbs like chives and thyme, grated salty cheese, and then showered with grated hardboiled egg.

While I will always sing high praises of perfectly crafted salads, I tend to crave them more in warm weather and, rather typically, cook up pots of soup, pot pies, and pastas in the winter time. Resisting the status quo, here is winter’s salad–a nourishing, balanced, healthy salad that takes no prisoners. In an arm wrestling match against a rack of ribs or winter beef stew, I am putting my money on this kale farro salad. Best of all, it is a recipe one can turn to after the upcoming sugar-laden days of baking holiday cookies where I, for one, will taste three or four of every batch and end the day craving something fresh and devoid of butter and sweetness.

The only downside of this salad is that you have to prep the farro and egg ahead of time. If you are home half an hour before you plan on making the salad, that is not a problem. However, since most salads at my house are conceived, prepared, and consumed in around fifteen minutes, I also strongly recommend Tea’s dynamo kale salad here, which fits that bill, and I eat for lunch often.

Finally, feel free to play around with the size of the vegetables you add. The easiest, quickest, and most uniform thing to do is to julienne the roots (radish, carrot, kohlrabi, etc.) with a mandoline or box grater, throw everything in and dress it. However, if you have tiny little early spring/late fall radishes and carrots, you could also add those whole, dress the salad without the pecorino cheese in the vinaigrette, and then shave large, thin flakes on top with the crumbled egg.

Winter kale salad

 Ribboned Kale and Farro Salad with Garlic-Lemon Vinaigrette

(serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a salad)

4 cups thinly sliced kale

1 large or 2 medium carrots

3 large 5 medium radishes

1 small kohlrabi (optional)

1 cup cooked farro (cook to al dente and let cool)

handful of chives, snipped into bits

two springs of fresh thyme, minced

2 large lemons (about 5-6 tablespoons juice, plus some of the zest)

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

6-7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste

freshly ground pepper (optional)

2-3 hard-boiled eggs

Stack the cleaned and dried kale leaves in a flat tower on the cutting board to cut into thin ribbons and set aside in salad bowl. Julienne the roots (carrots, radishes, etc.) with a box grater, a mandoline, or cut by hand and add to the kale. Add the farro and the minced chives and thyme.

Make the vinaigrette. Zest at least one of the lemons and then juice the rest until you have approximately 5-6 tablespoons of juice. Whisk together the lemon juice, zest, crushed garlic, and salt and let rest a minute to mellow the garlic. Whisk in the grated cheese and olive oil. Toss the vinaigrette with the farro, kale, and julienned roots. Finish by box grating (or pushing through a sieve) the hard-boiled eggs. Sprinkle over the salad and top with freshly grated pepper if you like.

Posted in Carrots, Dinner, Kale, Radishes, Salad, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa Nibs

Homemade decadent "Nutella" spread

I have so many things to share with you right now that I actually do not know where the best place to begin is.

How about my riff on Grüner‘s kale ribbon salad with farro, radishes, and a garlicky-lemon vinaigrette that I made for Thanksgiving?

Or my ongoing experimentation to make a perfect whole grain crumpet? (After six batches I think I have finally nailed it.)

Clotted cream? Yes, I make that every couple of months, to my thighs’ chagrin, but how about cultured clotted cream?

I have been on a pumpkin spell for a while now, so why not my new maple-pumpkin granola with nuts and seeds?

Perhaps the best place to start is with something both deadly simple and also deadly delicious–the most gussied up dark chocolate-hazelnut spread you will ever taste. A couple of months back I splurged on Askinosie‘s chocolate hazelnut spread. The intense flavors absolutely killed me. I smeared it on English muffins, toast, crumpets, and plundered the jar by the spoonful for one of my thrice-daily chocolate fixes. The trouble was, my chocolate loving kids loved it as much as I did so it was gone before I could hide the jar and hibernate for the winter.

Since then I have bought a jar or two of Nutella, a mainstay when I was in Italy, but somehow it pales in comparison. Sad to write, Nutella has become a mere echo of my magical Askinosie jar.

Thanksgiving rain walk

Every year I go a bit nuts with homemade cookies around the winter holidays. Eighty percent of them are either family recipes or else made the cut in recent years. The remainder, however, consist of new auditions. I am constantly on the hunt for the next dynamo cookie and so I try out a lot of recipes, at least one a week, all year long. Last year I found a compilation of homemade gifts from the LA Times and encountered a recipe for a  homemade Nutella copycat. It looked heavenly.

Do not ask me what has taken me this long to make it. I have no idea. I was spurned on last week by my daughter, who apparently is not (yet) too cool for Nutella, and who requested more of the spread for the multigrain crumpets I had made the day before. Let me neither urge or insist that you make this spread, but rather hazard you. This spread is so incredibly addictive–deadly even–that at eight thirty in the morning I found myself desperately scraping the empty food processor with a rubber spatula and licking it clean, which literally necessitated washing my face like the elated two-year old who devoured her chocolate-hazelnut smothered breakfast crumpet.

Bliss with her grandfather

Chocolate Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa Nibs

(adapted from the L.A. Times)

fills roughly 2 half-pint jars

2 cups raw hazelnuts

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder such as Guittard Cacao Rouge or Valrhona

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons hazelnut oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 cup cocoa nibs

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet for approximately 10 minutes or until the turn a golden (not dark) brown. Remove from tray and spread upon a clean dry surface to cool. When cool enough to handle, repeatedly rub a kitchen towel over the nuts until almost all of the skins come off.

In a Cuisenart type food processor, blend the cooled, skinned hazelnuts into a smooth butter, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides in between. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the cocoa nibs and sea salt and blend for another 3 or 4 minutes. Finally add the cocoa nibs and salt and blend until the spread has a texture you prefer (i.e. less time if you want to taste a nib here and there).

This tastes best at room temperature, but should be kept in the refrigerator when not being obliterated by the spoonful.

Posted in Chocolate, Dessert, Hazelnuts, Nuts, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pumpkin Pots de Crème

Pumpkin pot de crème

I thought I would share a little dessert I put together last week since it would be a perfect do-ahead (even a day or two) treat for Thanksgiving. After making pumpkin kamut scones last week I had some leftover pumpkin puree to use up. In fact, when I reflect upon my method of creating recipes, I cannot help but admit that most of my original creations, indeed the majority of what we consume over here, is born of an egg white here, extra buttermilk there, a third of a can of chipotle chilis, etc.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

For instance, an egg yellow (or “orange” for many non-English speakers) in my imagination equals:

-Richer, more sumptuous soft-scrambled eggs with creme fraiche and chives

-Zabaione/ Sabayon cream

Cornmeal Pinenut cookies

-Custard based ice cream

-Pastry cream for a simple fruit tart

-Glaze for croissants (hey, who needs an excuse to make croissants?), turnovers, and pies

-Buttercream frosting for filling macarons

-Crème brûlée or pots de crème

The majority of my egg yolks lately end up in crème brûlée –with the crunchy sugar layer for me and my husband and without (!) for my kids. In this case, however, I had a couple of egg yolks and leftover pumpkin puree. For my love of most things pumpkin, I am altogether ambivalent about pumpkin pie, which technically uses many of the same ingredients as a pumpkin custard. The spices here are what make the recipe.

A boy and his dog at a frigid Bernal Heights sunrise

This is such an easy dessert to make ahead of time that I will publish it now for those of you in charge of Thanksgiving dessert. Even if you have not been assigned dessert, this is a phenomenal desert to make this time of year when the days are barely warm and the nights frigidly cold (or if your heater goes out–argh!). I prefer my pot de crème slightly warm from the oven or at room temperature. As for the crème brûlée variation, if you have never experienced the delightful contrast of the warm and crunchy sugar, the pleasure of cracking it with your spoon Amelie style, and then diving into the cold creamy custard beneath, you have missed a crucial, mandatory even, milestone in life. This is a seriously delicious treat.

In terms of making the pumpkin pots de crème your own, you can certainly make them healthier by lowering the amount of cream and using half and half or milk instead, but it will not be as smooth a custard. The spices here are what I felt would best compliment the pumpkin without being the same old pumpkin pie spice kit. Feel free to change it as you wish–just make sure that whatever you choose you let steep for a proper amount in the hot cream to infuse it with more flavor. The only one I urge you not to forgo is the bay leaf because it is really unusual and intriguing with the pumpkin. Finally, if you do like to have the thin caramelized candy layer on top of your pots de creme, either use a blow torch (really, they are not that expensive), culinary torch, or put them under the broiler for 2 minutes.

Pumpkin pot de crème and my favorite pumpkin we grew this year

Pumpkin Pots de Crème/ Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

(Makes 4-8, depending upon the size of your ramekins)

2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream, preferably organic

1/2 bay leaf

1/4 cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)

3 cloves

1 lightly smashed cardamom pod

dash of freshly ground nutmeg

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

6 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar (or combination of white and brown sugars)

1-2 teaspoons extra sugar if making crème brûlée, optional

Boiling Water, kitchen towel, casserole dish for the oven, ramekins

Preheat the oven to 300F degrees and have a pot of boiling water at hand. Prepare a  baking casserole dish by lining it with a cloth napkin or kitchen towel and confirm that all the ramekins fit inside. You will be filling the dish with boiling water so it reaches half way up the sides of the ramekins.

Heat the cream with all of the spices except the vanilla extract until the edges just start to bubble and steam rises. Remove from heat and let it steep for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture and remove all of the spices. In a mixing bowl vigorously whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks until thick, yellow ribbons begin to fall from the whisk, about 5 minutes.

Whisking constantly, slowly pour the warm cream mixture into the sugar-egg mixture, followed by the pumpkin puree. Pour equal amounts into your ramekins (4 large or 8 tiny ones) and nest them into the towel lined casserole. Pour the boiling water into the casserole, careful not to drip any into the ramekins so that the water goes half way up the sides of each ramekin. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until each ramekin sets. The custard should jiggly uniformly and not look like liquid. Remove from the oven and set each ramekin atop a cooling rack. Eat warm or refrigerate for several hours (or a couple of days, covered with plastic wrap).

If making crème brûlée, lightly sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons (err on the side of less here) equally over the top of each ramekin. Torch with low flame, moving in little circles until the entirety of the sugar caramelizes or put directly under the hottest broiler for 1-2 minutes, checking to make sure it does not burn to black. Let sit for 2 minutes before serving.

Posted in Dairy, Dessert, Recipes for Egg Yolks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Kamut Pumpkin Scones with Demerara Sugar Crunch

Pumpkin Scones with Kamut Flour

In the past week there have been vegetable pot pies with potatoes, leeks, and carrots from our garden and flaky, buttery, homemade pie crusts. There was a wholly experimental, but scrumptious six-layer (!!!) strawberry cake (when three would have much more reasonable and, uh…sliceable) for a five-year old’s birthday party. There have been Indian spiced red lentil soups with cauliflower and potatoes and a spicy broccoli basil capellini whose leftovers were fought over like Roman cats the next day at lunch. There was even a (delicious, but poorly rising) vanilla-pear swirl bread aside a traditional irresistible cinnamon-raisin loaf. (That will be repeated really soon because my kids and husband demolished it in a day.)

The thing is, these days I have been awful at documenting all of this with my camera. Life has gotten hectic, and however often I find myself dreaming up creations, they are consumed “There will be…no… survivors!” style fifteen minutes after I make them. (Ten points if you know the “poor and perfect” movie from which that came.)

Kamut pumpkin scones with Demerara sugar

Fortunately, I have finally recognized that no one will be following me around to shoot a series of the “Heartbreaking Errors and Stupefying Successes of la Cuoca Ciccia’s Kitchen.” And so I am making a concerted attempt to photograph my efforts this week. Which brings me to pumpkin scones.

If you have followed this neophyte blog in the past half-year or so, you may have gathered that I adore breakfast and baked goods, especially scones. Every year I cannot help myself from making a couple of batches of pumpkin scones, but this year I decided to go the way of some underappreciated whole grain flours from my pantry.

Just baked pumpkin scones

If you came looking for a chalky, dry scone, faintly reminiscent of pumpkin if not for anything else than the fact that nutmeg and cinnamon are present, I simply must direct you to a certain chain coffee shop with green straws. They will even kindly try to mask the poor excuse of breakfast for you with a maple syrup glaze. (Really, if you must have breakfast there just get a sausage egg sandwich and save yourself the agony of selecting the best pastry.)

If, however, you believe you would be tempted by buttermilk scones with kamut flour, naturally sweet oats, organic pumpkin puree, and a Demerara sugar crunch on the top, then these are your pumpkin scones. (And a cinch to make if you have a total of an extra half hour.)

Pumpkin scone with some pumpkins from our garden

1 cup kamut flour (or whole wheat in a pinch)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup rolled oats, plus extra for rolling the dough in (optional)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup dark brown sugar (can be increased to 1/3 cup if you like sweeter scones)

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold butter (can be reduced to 6 tablespoons if necessary)

1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice)

1/2 generous cup pumpkin puree, preferably organic

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 tablespoon organic molasses

Milk or extra buttermilk for brushing on the scones

Demerara sugar (or turbinado or muscovado) for sprinkling on the scones

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl whisk together the dry ingredients (kamut flour, a.p. flour, oats baking powder, brown sugar, spices, and salt). Cut the butter into 1/2-1 inch cubes and carefully work into the mixing bowl of dry ingredients with two forks or a pastry blender until little pea sized clumps appear. Whisk together the wet ingredients (buttermilk, pumpkin puree, egg, and molasses) and stir into the mixing bowl of dry ingredients and butter until the dough roughly comes together.

Dust a clean work surface lightly with flour and (if using) extra rolled oats. Knead the dough in the bowl twice or thrice with your hands, enough to make it barely come together in one mass, and dump it out onto the floured surface. Pat down to make a dish about 2 inches high and cut into 8 scones. Place on the parchment covered baking sheet, brush the tops with milk or buttermilk, and generously sprinkle with Demerara sugar.

Bake for about 15 minutes, turning the back sheet from back to front halfway through baking, until the scones are golden brown color on the top and a toothpick comes out clean.

Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Homemade Squash Blossom Quesadillas

Bouquet of Squash Blossoms

One of my favorite months of the year is over. Halloween has come and gone. And I have not posted a single thing related to squash, pumpkins, or the host of phenomenal sweet and savory delights that I enjoy making with them. This post may be a little tardy for those of you not experiencing the golden summery autumn days of the Bay Area, and thus, I assume, beyond the season of fleeting sunset yellow squash blossoms, but you can pocket it for next season.

Trying to pull her wagon over the hose

If you intend on visiting a farm for a fall U-pick or somewhere that grows its own squashes, you will likely notice that many of the pumpkin plants are still producing massive edible blossoms. My advice is to ask the farmer if you can pluck a few and bring them home with you (and it is always nice to offer some money). The squash vines that we have not already uprooted in our back yard are still producing twenty or so blossoms a day. They open a couple of hours into the day and have closed by the setting of the sun.

Barely opened squash blossom

Part of why I love this year, is indeed, related to all of the “winter squashes” available. Put simply, I adore the sight of orange pumpkins and the variety of wrinkly, rosy, warty, green, white, and even curly squashes makes me giddy. Indeed, all of the varieties that we grew in our garden, and half of the pumpkins that we picked up at a favorite Petaluma farm a couple of weeks ago are edible. However, since the sugar pie pumpkins, rugosa, red kuri, and butternut squashes will last for another couple of months, I will restrain myself for another week or so (excepting, of course, the chickpea-pumpkin salad with Israeli couscous that I made last week).

Quesadillas with squash blossoms and poblano chiles

For the months that you could keep a squash on your kitchen counter, however, the blossoms come and go within the rising and the setting of the sun and most plants stop producing and wither up by November. One of my new favorite ways to prepare them is a perfect and simple harvest dinner, since one can combine it with favorite end-of-the-season mildly spicy peppers.

In search of the "weirdest" pumpkin

As with a lot of my favorite quick dinners, a recipe with exact measurements is a little silly since the proportions are entirely up to you and what you happen to have on hand. I had been holding onto some locally made masa harina and made this filling with homemade corn tortillas, but you could absolutely use store-bought tortillas to really speed things up.*

Yucatan habañero sauce

The salsa too, while utterly simple, can be omitted for the quickest of meals. I made a version of a Yucatan salsa that I adore and drizzled it on top of the quesadillas right before eating.

*If, however, you have a certain, ahem, cheese and pepper averse child who would much prefer the pumpkin already,  homemade tortillas with a little melted butter and pumpkin blossoms will delight them while you indulge in the rest of the harvest meal.

Homemade corn tortillas with poblanos and squash blossom filling

Pumpkin Blossom & Poblano Pepper Quesadillas

(serves 4)

1/4 onion minced

10-15 large squash blossoms, stamens removed, cleaned, and roughly chopped

2 medium poblano (sometimes called pasilla) peppers, seeds removed, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

salt to taste

Oaxacan or Monterey Jack Cheese (or queso fresco in a pinch), grated or thinly sliced

8-12 Corn Tortillas, preferably homemade (see below)

Yucatan Habañero Salsa (see below)

Saute the onions on medium heat until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the poblano peppers and squash blossoms and a sprinkle of salt. Once the peppers are cooked to your liking, take the pan off heat. In a separate frying pan or comal, heat a tortilla on medium heat. Flip after 1 minute and sprinkle a bit of cheese on to melt. After another minute remove, add the poblano-blossom filling and serve with the Yucatan salsa.

Homemade Corn Tortillas

Masa harina

Hot Water

Place the desired amount of masa harina into a heatproof mixing bowl. Slowly stir in just enough hot water to make a barely wet dough. Cover with a towel and set aside for 20-60 minutes until ready to pat out tortillas.

Line a basket or bowl with a clean kitchen towel to receive the just-made tortillas. Using a tortilla press or a sturdy frying pan upon a clean flat surface, make your tortillas. To do this, I recommend using two flat, clean plastic bags, placing a 1 1/2 inch ball of tortilla dough between the bags and pressing down with the tortilla press or with your home-rigged system. Heat a comal or cast-iron skillet to medium and cook the first tortilla until the edges just begin to curl up. Immediately flip the tortilla and cook for another 30 seconds on the other side. Flip back to the original side and cook another 30 seconds. Place the tortillas in the towel lined basket and cover until finished making all of the tortillas.

Yucatan Habañero Salsa

2-3 habañero peppers, minced or squashed in a mortar and pestal (or molcajete)

1 garlic clove, mashed

1/4 cup white vinegar

juice from half an orange (optional, if using use only 2 tablespoons vinegar)

salt to taste

2-3 sprigs cilantro, minced

Mix all the ingredients together. If you desire a more smooth salsa, work the solid ingredients in a mortar and pestal and slowly add the wet ingredients.

Posted in Dinner, Inept-but-Earnest Cook's Night, Whole Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shirin Polo (Persian Rice with Orange Peel, Nuts, and Raisins) and Kashk-e Badamjan (Persian Eggplant with Whey)

Shirin Polo with "tadik"

My story of rice actually begins with last week’s cultured butter and 15 gorgeous eggplants from the farmer’s market.

I adore all manner of Persian food, even the stuff that my Persian friends think is quacky (like “doogh” the salted, fizzy, mint-yogurt drink). Every fall when our markets are bursting with purple Thai, Japanese, and Italian eggplants, short small green and white globe eggplants and bitter (and aptly named) pea eggplants, I dream of Kashk-e bademjan, “eggplant with fermented whey,” one of the world’s most wonderful ways to prepare eggplant.

Kashk-e bademjan

Kashk-e bademjan begins with a base of either roasted or fried eggplant that is cooked with caramelized onions, garlic, herbs, and sometimes a bit of tomato paste and smashed into a not-too-homogenous puree and then topped with the inimitably sour and almost cheesy tasting kashk, crispy fried onions and garlic, and mint. I eat it as is, with soft and warm, paper-thin Persian lavash bread, or as a side dish to rice. Having tried half a dozen recipes over the years, the one closest to my heart and taste buds is loosely based upon Najmieh Batmanglij’s New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, the best Persian cookbook that I have encountered.

Given my recent culturing mania, this last week I was on a hunt for a recipe to make homemade kashk. There are some odd-sounding ones online recommending a yogurt base, but I have always read that Persian kashk is a whey product. I even consulted with my favorite cheesemakers–whose miracle mozzarella kits are to die for. (Sadly, they do not have a tried and true recipe either, but they have extended the search to the  online community for their October Moosletter, so my fingers are still crossed. Please let me know if you have a good recipe.)

Peeled and thinly sliced orange peel

As I planned out my eggplant dish, I determined to make my favorite Persian rice dish as well. Sometimes known as a jeweled rice because of the bright, jewel-like colors dotting the bright white long grains of rice, shirin polo has a complex mixture of sweet flavors and is often served for large celebrations like weddings. Does having a friend over who has been away for a couple of months count? I think so.

I love spiced rices, especially various Indian and Burmese ones with cardamom, cloves, raisins, carrots, and peas, but in terms of sheer artistry and sumptuousness, Persian rices trump all. When I really analyze the preparation of Persian rices my affinity and love makes perfect sense.

Persian rice is a lot like making Italian pasta.

Rice beneath the "tadik"

For me, Persian rice is the apogee of rice because, like a perfect prepared Italian pasta, it is cooked al dente and judged on how the isolated grains of rice stand alone, never sticking together in heaps and clumps of rice. Persian rice is an art form. In its simplest incarnation, the long-grained basmati rice is rinsed until the water runs clear, soaked at length in cold, salty water, parboiled in salty water, and then left to steam in a pot over low heat until fully cooked. The end result is fragrant, fluffy basmati devoid of tacky, starchy clumps. It is a dish that could stand alone without being relegated to side-dish territory.

Cinnamon candied almonds, pistachios, and orange peel

Shirin polo takes these techniques a couple of steps further in that it is a flavored rice with some sort of dried fruit (barberries and/or raisins), a warm spice kit, pistachios, almonds, and candied orange peel. On top of that it has tadik, another phenomenal Persian culinary feat. During the final cooking stage, one makes a couple of deep holes in the rice and pours in several tablespoons of melted butter or vegetable oil.

The crunchy top of the rice, "tadik"

The rice is left to cook on the lowest flame possible for about 45-60 minutes. In the process, the bottom of the rice begins to turn a golden color, with a crispy crust, redolent of popcorn and let’s-hunker-down-by-the-fire comfort. To serve, I simply flip the rice from the pot onto my serving platter so that the bottom becomes the top.

It is irresistible. (Especially with kashk-e bademjan.)

Shirin Polo with "tadik"

Shirin Polo (Persian Basmati Rice with Orange Peel, Raisins, Pistachios, and Almonds)

Note: Thanks to my sweet hubby, I now make this rice with my Pars Persian Rice Cooker. It allows one to do all of the rice cooking in one pot and then add the additional flavorings near to the end. I simply stir the candied nuts and orange peel into the top (soon-to-be-bottom) level of rice so that I do not break the tadik before flipping it all onto a plate.

2 1/2-3 cups Basmati rice (high quality)

2 organic oranges

1/2 cup yellow or Persian green raisins

1/4 cup dried barberries, rinsed and patted dry (optional)

1/2-1 cup pistachios (to taste)

1/2-1 cup slivered almonds (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons butter

pinch of saffron threads (optional)

1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter (or a mix)

Salt for cooking the rice

4 to 24 hours ahead of time, place the rice into a mesh strainer inside a large bowl and rinse completely, five or six times until the water in the strainer is clear. Leave rice to soak in salted water for 4 to 24 hours before cooking.

Drain the soaked rice. If not using a Persian rice cooker, boil a large pot of very salted water. While waiting for the water to boil, make the nut-peel mixture in a frying pan. To make thin strips of orange peel, use a potato peeler to take off long strips of orange (not the white part!). Stack these strips on your cutting surface and then cut thin strips in a diagonal fashion so they are longer. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in the frying pan and then add the orange peel strips and cook for 30 seconds on medium-low. Add the 1 tablespoon sugar and the 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and cook for another minute before adding the nuts. Stir to coat  for 1 minute and remove from the heat. Add the raisins and/or barberries and set aside.

Once the salted water is boiling, add the rice and cook to al dente, 3-5 minutes. Drain in a mesh strainer to avoid loosing grains of rice.

Here you have a choice. If you like the nuts to soften, you can mix the nut-peel-fruit mixture into the rice before the long steam. I prefer to add mine at the very end.

Coat the bottom of a fairly large pot (maybe even the one you boiled the water in) with the 1/4 cup vegetable oil/ melted butter. Mound the cooked rice in a mountain shape. With the back of a wooden spoon, make three narrow holes that reach to the bottom of the pot. Cover the pot with a clean tea towel, place the lid on top, and then wrap the ends of the towel over the top of the lid to prevent them from catching fire. Turn on the burner and cook on the lowest heat for 30-45 minutes. You can check how the tadik is progressing around 30 minutes by probing the edge with a fork to see if it has crispened. You want it to turn a golden color.

Five minutes before finishing, remove a handful of rice and set it aside. In a mortar and pestal let the saffron threads soak in a tablespoon of hot water and then pestal them to a bright orange slurry. Add the handful of the cooked rice and stir until the rice turns bright yellow.

If you did not add it already, stir the nut-peel-fruit mixture and the saffron rice into the top (soon-to-be-bottom) of the rice. Cover and cook for five more minutes.

Take a large flat platter and swiftly, but carefully (maybe with help) invert the rice onto the platter so that the crunchy tadik is now the top of the rice. Serve each person a piece of the crunchy tadik with the rest of the rice.


Kashk-e bademjan

2 large Italian eggplants or 8 long Asian eggplants

2 onions

4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup kashk

15-20 leaves fresh mint

salt to taste

2-3 tablespoons olive oil for sauteing

vegetable oil for frying.

Peel and cut the eggplants lengthwise into long pieces no more than 2 inches wide. Lightly salt them and set in a colander in the sink for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, thinly slice one onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Saute them in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring every once in a while until the onions look soft and translucent.

Once the eggplant has begun to sweat after 20 minutes, rinse off the salt and pat until each one is dry. Add them to the sautéed onion-garlic mixture and cook on medium-high until the eggplants and onions brown a bit. Add half a cup of water, cover, and cook on low for 30 minutes. While this is cooking, thinly slice the other onion and 2 garlic cloves and fry on high heat in a large quantity of vegetable oil. This should be fairly quick as the onions crispen and turn a golden brown color. In the last 30 seconds of frying this mixture, add some chopped mint. Strain the onion-garlic-mint mixture, lightly salt and set aside.

Once the eggplant mixture is done, mash down the eggplant mixture a bit with a potato masher until it is more of a paste. Once the mixture has cooled to medium-warm stir in 1/4 cup kashk and taste for salt. Spoon 2 tablespoons extra kashk on top and then sprinkle with the crispy onion-garlic-mint mixture and serve.

Posted in Almonds, Dinner, Eggplant, Nuts, Pistachios, Rices, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Vanilla Pear-Apple Compote

Vanilla pear-apple compote

If you are enamored with the taste of real vanilla bean then it is certain that when you are done scraping the vanilla bean seeds to steep into cream for your creme brûlée or gelato or folding them into your meringue, marshmallow, or cobbler filling, what you are left with is a lot of vanilla bean pods. And no doubt you have been warned not to throw it away.

Pack it in half a cup or so of sugar, shake it up, and save it for a lovely vanilla infused hot cocoa or to add into your morning muffins. Yes, I do that too and it works well enough, but frankly I taste no difference between a little vanilla extract and the vanilla bean pod infused sugar in the finished product. It just doesn’t serve up the same heady, warm, and frankly exotic flavor that the vanilla bean seeds do. I can tell that it is just the used up husk of what it was.

To really get the most out of your expensive, sad, and worn out vanilla bean pod, make a compote. And not just any compote, but this vanilla pear-apple one. Similar to steeping the seeds in hot heavy whipping cream in advance of making fancy chocolates, ice creams, and other dairy based treats, using the pod not only frees the remaining bits of vanilla seeds into the fruit juices, but enables the juice to soak into the pod itself.

Roasting marshmallows in Yosemite

We went camping last week in heavenly Yosemite and ended up with a lot of leftover, ripe pears begging to be cooked into something marvelous.

Mirror Lake and Half Dome

When my daughter began to eat solid foods a year or so ago, I was always searching for ways to cook fruits such as apples and pears so that the rest of us were not just eating baby food. This compote–in no way an applesauce or pearsauce–is out of this world. There is no sugar at all. The vanilla bean tickles your taste buds into the impression that you are feasting upon a delicate and sumptuous dessert. And as any family friendly “dessert” should be, it takes 5 minutes of peeling and chopping (unless you are an Iron Chef in which case it should take 2 minutes) and tantalizes the masses.

Every time I have even a quarter of a vanilla bean husk leftover, I make this. In my opinion, it is the most delicious thing to do with it. If you want to use only pears, do so, but do not use merely apples. The silky texture and juicy caramel flavor of the pears is crucial. If you have leftovers from breakfast (or dessert), add this to yogurt, irish oatmeal with a tablespoon of organic cream, or atop a tangy creme fraiche-whipped cream blend. If you have puffed pastry on hand for a 10 minute quick tart, or would like to swap this in for raisins instead of raisin-cinnamon bread, it would be divine. (And I am preemptively jealous because sadly, ours from this morning is already gone.)

Vanilla pear-apple compote

Vanilla Pear-Apple Compote

4 very ripe pears

4 apples

1/4-1/2 empty vanilla bean pod

Peel, core, and roughly chop the pears and apples. Add them and the vanilla pod to a pot. Cover and cook on medium for 15-20 minutes, depending upon the softness of the texture you want, stirring every five minutes. There will be noticeable chunks of pear and apple, not a smooth sauce.

Posted in Breakfast, Dessert, Jams & Preserves, Jams and Preserves, Pears, Rustic Fruit Desserts, Vegan | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Homemade Cultured Butter

Homemade cultured butter and bread

I really love butter. Over the past few years I have come to appreciate huge differences in the quality and taste of butter. Butter varies in color from a golden-yellow to pale white, mostly from the diet of the animal’s milk from which the cream has been skimmed. The yellowest butter occurs because the cow/goat has eaten very fresh grass and yellow or orange vegetables such as carrots, whereas the whitest butter is often the product of a winter hay-based diet.

I have gone on chocolate tasting binges, wine tasting binges, and olive oil binges, but one of my favorites in the last year was butter tasting. I purchased a slew of European butters, several from here in the Bay Area, one from Oregon, and a Vermont lightly salted cultured butter. My two favorites were actually the Kerry Gold Irish butter, which I could not believe since it is imported and the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery’s cultured butter. Both are phenomenal.

Neither, however, is as delicious (or thrifty) as homemade cultured butter.

Homemade cultured butter on a baguette

Before you call me crazy and ask how one butter could taste different from another, taste different creams. If you have not already jumped camp to organic cream, try that first. Purchase your run of the mill ultra-pasturized (if it will last over a month it is probably ultra-pasturized) heavy whipping cream and use that in your soup, whipped cream, oatmeal, etc. Then compare it with the very best organic cream (not ultra-pasturized) that you can get your hands on. If you are not pregnant or feeding it to a little baby, try to get organic raw cream. You will notice an incredible difference in sweetness and a full flavor that is similar to comparing boxed wine with a nice bottle that you spent more than five bucks on.

Add a little tangy culture and you have entered a whole different (mouth-watering) playing field.

Thickened cultured cream after 9 hours

As with making homemade yogurt, something else I do every other week, making cultured butter is as simple as adding some dairy with live cultures (creme fraiche, yogurt, buttermilk) to fresh dairy (cream in this case) and letting them grow slowly in a warm environment. When finished, one simply whisks the cream past whipped cream stage until the butterfat breaks away from the buttermilk. On that note, the delicious by-product of cultured butter is homemade cultured buttermilk that one can use too. After pouring off the buttermilk, one molds the butter together in ice water and then rinses it in fresh cold water, repeating back and forth four or five times until the water runs clear of buttermilk, which would cause the butter to spoil prematurely.

Churned butter before pouring off the cultured buttermilk

The fun part is deciding what salt to add to your butter and how to mold it. Creative ice molds and tiny ramekins look creative or a round, homey log of butter allows you to slice off perfect little rounds of your own butter.

And how cool would it be to add your homemade salt to your homemade butter? These instructions look like a lot of fun, especially given how much Maldon, fleur de sel, and other various pricey sea salts we go through over here.

If you plan on making a large batch with a windfall of splendid heavy cream, I highly recommend baking with it in your favorite butter-based pastry (pie dough, cookies, galette, brioche, etc.). Every couple of months I make croissants and I am itching to try using my tangy, cultured homemade butter since the quality of the butter makes a tremendous difference in croissant pastry.

Finished cultured butter with sea salt

Homemade Cultured Butter

1 pint organic heavy whipping cream, the best you can find

2-3 tablespoons creme fraiche, yogurt, or buttermilk

Sea salt (optional)

In an impeccably clean glass bowl whisk together the cream and the creme fraiche (or yogurt or buttermilk) and cover with plastic wrap only if you are in a really arid climate. Set in a warm place (70-80 F or 21-26 C degrees) for 8 to 18 hours. The longer you leave it, the stronger flavor it will have. Depending upon what culture you use and how warm the temperature is, this will vary from cheesy to tangy. With creme fraiche I leave it around 8-12 hours.

Once a layer of thickened cream appears on the top you will know that things are progressing nicely. In a mixer, whisk the cultured cream on high past the point of whipped cream. The cream with now begin to resemble butter as pieces clump together and the buttermilk separates from the fat. Turn the speed down to low and let it go another minute, being cautious of splashing buttermilk. With a clean fork, press the butterfat together and pour off the buttermilk into a clean container to refrigerate for another use.

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Dip very clean hands into the ice water and then quickly press the butter together and dip the ball of butter into the ice water for a few moments. Massage it and then rinse it in freshly running cold water. Repeat several times until the butter is clear of any left over buttermilk.

If using a special salt, add it now and then shape the butter however you would like. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Posted in Dairy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Quince and Apple Frangipane Tart

Baked apples and poached quince atop the finished frangipane tart

Rosy-pink Spanish membrillo with an aged cheese plate is delightful.  Yet, I had never cooked a quince myself until this last week. As the seasons begin to hint at a change here in the Bay Area, the leaves turning orange, red, and golden and the air crispening and making one hanker for a warm pot of soup and an old-fashioned chicken pot pie…..Wait!

Alright, that is certainly not the beginning of fall here in San Francisco. Right now we are having what seems to be the hottest day of the year. Almost every September and October are like this, a delightful extension of summer (or a blissful reimagination of the dreary foggy summer we actually had). And every year on these warm and golden sunny fall Saturdays I seem to find quince at the farmer’s market.

It is difficult for me to resist ogling at the fruit. Quince is such an “ancient” fruit, popping up in some of the earliest known literature and certainly trumping Adam and Eve’s “apple.” The ones I have seen are so innocuous. They look like bumpy and irregular (even ugly) apples or pears–nothing flashy about them. What the heck would I do with it anyways? Last weekend, I snagged two pounds of freshly picked quince and decided to try something new.

Poached quince and Gravenstein apple franigpane galette

I perused various sites (including this fun fanatical one) and cookbooks for inspiration–lamb and quince tagine, a variation on a favorite Persian khoresh, quince preserves (uh…membrillo), roasted quinces with whipped cream, and a lovely looking quince salad with gorgonzola dolce in the latest of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. All of the authors marveled similarly about the transformation that a quince undergoes in order to be savored at its most lovely, fragrant, and delicious.

Three quinces

One begins with a greenish-yellow, mostly unyielding fruit. Peel away the skin and core the middle. Keep these throw-away pieces to cook alongside the quince. You can toss them at the end. The inside texture of the quince resembles an apple or a very unripe pear, as white as can be.

Raw Gravenstein apples and poached quinces

After two or three hours of slowly poaching on the stove or roasting in the oven, however, the pale wedges of quince transform from tan, to rosy, pink, and finally, if one waits long enough, crimson red. It seems miraculous, or at least alchemous, like something that Marlowe’s Faust would have concocted. Ta-da! Helen of Troy and quinces.

Crimson poached quinces in their poaching liquid

I elected to poach my quinces in quarters in a simple syrup with just half a wedge of lemon because I really wanted to see what the fruit itself tasted like and I wanted to be able to control a slower poach than roasting them or poach-roasting them (pouring poaching liquid into a roasting pan) in the oven to get the dark crimson color. They were delicious and not too soft.

Poached, sliced quinces

Nonetheless, I felt that the poaching liquid was a bit too sweet for my personal preferences and next time I will both lower the sugar and also add a couple of spices (at least star anise and a cinnamon stick or I’ll go Middle Eastern with some rose-water) or I will slowly roast them and turn the liquid into a caramel sauce the way I do with fall and winter pears. (I love Pim’s suggestion to turn poaching liquid into little quince caramels.)

Gravenstein apples and poached quinces on frangipane

This time around I decided to mix several of my poached quince wedges with some Gravenstein apples on a frangipane tart. I made a really flaky all-purpose flour crust, but I think that next time, given the sweetness of the fruit, I would go for this crust with whole wheat to offer a more complex range of flavors. You can cook this free form as I did or cook the tart in a removable bottom tart pan (just take out the bottom and cook the whole tart in the ring but on top of a parchment lined baking sheet). And try to be sparing with the frangipane. Just a thin layer along the base of the tart is all you need.

And last, but not least my alchemists, this would be stunning with a dollop of creme fraiche spiked whipped cream.

Rectangle pear-quince frangipane galette

Quince and Apple Frangipane Tart

1 tart crust (recipe below)

2 tart apples like Gravenstein, Pippin, or Granny Smith cored, quartered, and thinly sliced lengthwise

3 poached quinces (recipe below), sliced the same thickness as the apples (after poaching)

1/3-1/2 portion of frangipane (recipe below)

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon butter

Water, milk, or cream for brushing

Demerara or natural sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. If making a free form galette, roll the tart dough fairly thin, about 1/4 inch thick (either in a circle, or a rectangle). Spread a thin layer of frangipane over the tart dough, leaving about a 1 1/2 inch border. Arrange the fruit in concentric circles or overlapping parallel rows over the frangipane, depending on your tart shape.

Drizzle a little of the poaching liquid and the honey over the top of all the fruit. Cut the butter into little pieces and scatter them over the fruit. Fold up the sides carefully, gently pinching the folds as you go. Brush the folded sides with milk or cream and then sprinkle with a little extra sugar to adhere. Bake for 45-50 minutes.


Poached Quinces

3 cups water

1/2 lemon

3/4-1 cup sugar

3 quinces

3 start anise and 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

To make the poaching liquid

Bring the sugar, water, lemon half, and spices (if using) to a boil and remove from heat. As you peel, core, and quarter the quince throw everything, including the peels and cores, into the poaching liquid so that the quince does not begin to brown. Once you have finished all of your quince, bring the liquid to a very light simmer, likely the lowest heat possible. Place a lid that is smaller than your pot on top of the liquid and weight it down with one or two small teacups to keep the fruit submerged during poaching. Cook for 2 to 4 hours depending upon how soft the fruit was to begin with and how soft or red you want the quince to turn during cooking. Allow to cool somewhat and discard the cores, peels, lemon half, and spices. Set aside the poached quince and then reduce the syrup, if you would like. Cook on high for another 5 or 10 minutes and then pour it back over the quince and refrigerate until ready to use.


Flaky Tart Crust

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

10 tablespoons very cold butter, cut up into tiny 1/2” cubes

sea salt or kosher salt to taste

1/3 cup ice water

Combine the flour and salt. With a pastry blender or two forks, incorporate the tiny cubes of butter until the mixture resembles little peas. Slowly pour in the ice water and stir around with a fork until a shaggy mass comes together. Dust a clean surface with flour, pour out the dough, and then knead the mixture two or three times until it forms a rough ball. Pat into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using (or in an extreme pinch, 30 minutes in the freezer).



1/2 cup (75 grams) any type of almonds, toasted and cooled

1/8 cup sugar  (37 grams)

1/4 cup (37 grams) powdered sugar

pinch of salt

5 tablespoons (75 grams) butter at room temperature

1 egg

In a Cuisenart type food processor mince the almonds with the sugars and salt to form a fine powder. Add the butter and whir until incorporated. Add the egg until incorporated. Take aside 1/3 to 1/2 of the final amount for your tart and freeze the rest for another use.

Posted in Almonds, Dessert, Nuts, Rustic Fruit Desserts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments