4.19.2014

Emancipate & Resurrect the Kitchen.


This week means a lot of different things to a a lot of different people. This is the week of both Passover and Easter. And whether you are commemorating an enormous emancipation, celebrating a significant resurrection, really excited about warm weather, flowers and sunshine, or need an excuse to watch The Long Good Friday again, it's a pretty big stretch of celebration with lots of food involved.

Me, I fall into either of the latter two. But I do love a holiday. Fortunately, timing is really in my corner with this observing and reveling happening right when all of the new, beautiful food stuffs are literally popping up, out of the ground and into our markets to grab up and play with in my kitchen, to serve and share with my friends and family.

Peas, rhubarb, arugula, asparagus, strawberries, mint, Spring onions, tatsoi greens, radishes, fresh horseradish, fennel, ham and, of course, farm fresh eggs, milk and cheese, are just a few of the things I want, and crave, this time of year – holidays or no. To tell you the truth, I really wanted to make a rhubarb ice cream or a rhubarb lemon pound cake for Easter. But after talking to Paz, whose parents are hosting Easter brunch, I hear there is already an over abundance of sweets. One person in particular has apparently already dropped off five cakes for the occasion (*show off*).

So I guess I'm going savory. 


Paz has been needling me because I've never made an actual quiche before – that I can recall. I've made loads of frittatas and plenty of pies, but I guess I've never put the egg stuff into the pie crust. So I scurried off to my favorite, local green grocer and got to hunting for inspirato. And found it. I have to say, however, their eggs are quite difficult to crack open – because they are so, so beautiful. But crack I did. And what resulted was a stunning Spring dish, that would befit a brunch, lunch or dinner, to delight and impress using a lot of those different things for a lot of us different people. Especially the dude that brought five cakes.

Happy Easter!


Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Tart with Ham

Makes 1 10” tart

Ingredients
All-purpose flour (for surface)
1 medium bulb fennel
5 spring onions or 12 scallions
16 medium cremini mushrooms (about 1 lb.)
10 ounces cubed ham
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
4 eggs


Directions
Preheat oven to 350° F. Roll out pie crust on a lightly floured surface to a 12" round. Transfer to 10" tart pan with removable bottom and press onto bottom and up sides. Line the chilled crust with a piece of foil, leaving an overhang all around. Fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the beans and foil. Bake until dry and set, 5 to 8 minutes more. Let the crust cool completely before filling.

Raise oven temperature to 425°F.  Trim fennel of green top and root end, reserving fronds, and quarter bulb from top to bottom. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife, cut fennel into paper-thin slices.

Trim green onions. Toss fennel and onions in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on prepared sheet; roast, turning once, until onions begin to brown and fennel is tender, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

Meanwhile, clean and slice mushrooms. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add ham. Cook, stirring often, until ham is browned and slightly crisped, 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Heat remaining butter in skillet over medium-high heat; add mushrooms and sauté until they release all their liquid and most of it boils away, about 5 minutes.
Let cool slightly in pan. Spread ham and mushrooms evenly over bottom of tart crust.

Whisk cheese and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in eggs. Pour over vegetables. Scatter fennel and onion over.

Bake tart until edges of crust are golden brown and filling is set, 20-22 minutes. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Remove sides of pan. Serve tart warm or at room temperature.




Two years ago: The Pikey

4.14.2014

Good Grief.


This is hard, but I feel important to write.

My first baby and longtime best friend, Besito, passed on a few weeks ago. I have thought of little else but have not been able to articulate how to write about it as each day has brought with it a new crop of emotions and realizations. I am confident Besito's life was filled with love, affection, stimulation, beauty, enrichment and loads of snuggles and fun even in the face of the inordinate amount of health issues that were prominent in the later years of his life. I'm also confident that it was, as they say, his time. He was comfortably swaddled in my arms and against my heart when he went to sleep forever. But I am still having such a rough time reconciling it all.

And I realize this is a very natural, very common, way to feel.

People have been telling me that time is our saving grace, that it heals all wounds. But what I fear more than feeling the grief is not feeling it any more. And that, of course, is inevitable. But for now, my tears seem to keep him with me. In a way it's good grief.

We went through a lot together, me and that guy. Some of my twenties and all of my thirties, a life in Atlanta and a life in LA, with a road trip to get us there and all sorts of other journeys throughout. We went everywhere together until it was simply too difficult for him, physically. But he saw more places and met more people, and animals, than most folks I know. He was there to accept my new relationships; friends and boyfriends, happily – welcomed them right into our family. And he was also there if those people left. I can remember, more than once, feeling heartbroken - everything broken, really – and so alone, but having Beso right by my side and thinking, “We've got each other you and me. We take care of each other.” And we did. And we knew.

Besito skirted death quite a few times in his thirteen years. Some from illnesses, some from being adventuresome and defiant, and one time from swallowing a peach pit. I often joked that he had nine lives. After one of his surgeries to repair paralyzation from the neck down, he was on bed rest for three weeks. So I cancelled everything and stayed home for three weeks, too. We entertained in, ordered a lot of delivery and marathoned multiple seasons of Gossip Girl.


He was, without a doubt, a huge personality. He could sing – harmonize even. We loved to sing together. He would match my volume and pitch. He loved clothes, warm and fresh from the dryer. He would frolic in them like a child in a pile of fall leaves. And his all-time favorite food (though he would eat any and everything) was eggs. If he so much as saw me pull the egg carton out of the fridge it was over. Whenever I would have eggs for breakfast I saved some for Beso and let him lick the plate clean. But the most important thing to Beso, and I don't mean to boast, was me. And I felt it every single day. His eyes followed me everywhere I went, and when I would come home from being away, he greeted me each time as though I was one of the Beatles. And every, single night Beso slept curled up in my arms. He was the littlest spoon.

Beso was also like an alarm clock. He was so food obsessed that each day, both at exactly eight in the morning and at six at night, he would start yelling at me for dinner. And he would continue to do so until the food was in front of him. He always made quite clear what he wanted, actually – up on lap, pet me, no not there, yes, there, I want down, I need to go out, I hate wind, and rain, where's the sunspot, this would be a good time for a treat, give me your eggs.

As Fred said on a recent morning, when everything felt so still and quiet without Beso waking us up and screaming for breakfast, “He was the fizz that made the soda bubbly.”

And I couldn't have put it any better.

In the weeks I have been trying to write this, I've gone through many stages. But some interesting factors have been in play and continue to pop up during this time that I simply cannot ignore. As I mentioned, Beso was ill. He had a half dozen close calls, real nail biters, in the last year that I wasn't sure he would come through. It was very important to me that he at least make it back to Richmond. I wanted him to know home, be home. With me. And once we all got here, I really wanted him to make it to one more Christmas... and his thirteenth birthday. Which he did all of, gracefully. But now, so immediately after his death, what I can't help but notice is how poetic it is that Spring is suddenly in full force. New colors and new life are everywhere. There is a little bird's nest in a fern on my front porch and a baby squirrel nest in the tree in my backyard that I can clearly see from my window. The squirrels even used paper from our recycling bin to build their nest – which, a few weeks ago, I had thought Beso was doing to get into scraps. And most poignantly, I'm going to have a baby. Soon, now. In fact, he was laying on my shelf of a pregnant belly as drifted onward and upward.

I'm not a very spiritual or religious person. I know we all create signs and gods and heavens, really, to cope with the difficulties of understanding that which is death. But I can't help but look at Beso's timing, how well we knew each other, how unconditionally and ginormously he loved life, and me. And, though anytime I see something little and cute I think of him, how could the baby birds on the front porch and the baby squirrels on the back porch and the baby girl in my belly not also be a little bit of Besito saying, “It's okay Mom. Really, after all we've been through, all of that love, we're together always. What lives must die. Life is death as death is life. Plus, I really don't like babies anyway. They get all the attention - and it's time to give yours to her, now.”

So I will.

Fred and I will be planting a tree in our yard, hopefully a fruit bearing one, in the coming weeks, and we will scatter Beso's ashes there. That way he will always be home with me, with Fred and our family. He will see seasons and life and change and growth. I look forward to sitting by the tree and sharing stories with our baby girl all about Besito Ysidro and our many adventures together.

And all of this, I know he knows.


Besito Ysidro Shaffner
2001-2014


I haven't cooked much since Beso died. I especially haven't been able to make eggs, yet. But Fred and I did make this beautiful fish dish recently. It was so, so simple and very apropos for the warmer weather, and even dining al fresco. We made a fish stock out of the carcass that would have surely been incorporated into Beso's meals. Our other pups, Eduardo and Byron, enjoyed the stock in their own kibble!


Whole Roast Fish Stuffed with Lemon & Rosemary

Note: Trout, red snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are great choices; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine too. Cooking times vary with size.

Serves 2

Ingredients
1 whole fresh fish, cleaned and rinsed
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 lemon, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
Red pepper flakes
sea salt and pepper

Directions
Remove the fish from the refrigerator 10 minutes before roasting.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine garlic and olive oil and let sit to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain and discard garlic; set aside the oil.

Season the fish inside and out with salt and brush inside and out with the garlic oil. Thinly slice and seed the lemon and place all but 2 or 3 slices in the cavity with the sprigs of rosemary.

Arrange the remaining lemon slices and small rosemary sprigs in slits on top of the fish and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Roast until a knife easily penetrates the flesh and the top fillet begins to lift easily, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Carefully transfer the fish to a warm platter and serve.



Four years ago: Ludobites 4.0

3.12.2014

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.


I spend so much energy on my to-do lists and my tidying and my fretting about The Next Thing that I far too often fail to see the forest for the trees. For years now I have wanted to construct a different, idealized life for myself; one that would be simpler and, simultaneously, more fulfilling. A life that found me doing what I really want to be doing, where I really want to be doing it and with whom I really want to be doing it. And really, who wouldn't really want that stuff?

So here I am, almost forty years old, and less than six months ago I jumped off the high dive. I left my career and my friends and my home of most of my adult life to get back to it. To what I really wanted. But you know this.

What we really, really want. Funny thing. That's the hardest part, isn't it? Getting to the nut of it all, and figuring that out. It seems as though it would, it should, be the the easiest part. And for some it is. And then it's just a matter of aiming for the target, right?

But what if you should have turned right when you turned left? What if you choose to do this and you chose that instead? What if?! And therein lies the rub. Right there is why so often we end up doing what it is that we do (instead of where our major in college was to take us) and who we end up doing it with (instead of 'the one that got away'). Why, sometimes, our lives, our careers, our partners, find us rather than the other way around. And we can call it destiny. Fate. Something beyond our control, beyond our power.


Maybe I do or maybe I don't but I'd like to think I have a little more control over my past, present and future than to chalk it up to fate, destiny, 'shit happens' or 'c'est la vie' (which makes perfect sense coming from a consummate control freak). And that's why I'm right here, right now. I'm in Richmond, Virginia with Fred. We're having a baby girl this summer. I see my family and my Paz lots and lots. I'm eating, cooking and writing about food – and getting paid to do it. And I have to say that all of these things exist because I wanted them and I focused and worked to that end. And still, had Chris and I not had that conversation about 'that thing called a blog' six and a half years ago, there's a very, very good chance I wouldn't be here, doing this - writing this. With Fred. Had I turned right instead of left.

In my fifth grade yearbook, everyone in my class stated what they wanted to be when they grew up. I said Artist. So maybe all these years I've been staying the course. Hard to say.

One of the things I have always really wanted was to be in a creatively collaborative relationship with my significant other (think Frida and Diego, Anais and Henry, Virginia and Vita, or my favorites, Lillian and Dashiell) . Call it fate, call it destiny, call it finally locating that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I definitely have found a true partner in both the intimate and creative spheres. There is no doubt Fred's photography has elevated this blog exponentially. And though, while we work together we squabble like two Tweens over a strand of Justin Bieber's hair, what we create is beauty and that makes me beam with pride and accomplishment.


Well, we have taken it all a step further. We have made it official and are expanding from just F for Food with a real deal food photography and styling business: Fred + Elliott Food Styling & Photography. And I'm unveiling the curtain here. The website is up, the business cards are printed and the phone line is active (we just love the design done for us by A for Adventure). We are ready. I keep thinking of Annie Pott's character in Ghostbusters when they get that first call.

But, not to worry, I'm not going anywhere. I mean, where else can I talk freely in this way? That reminds me of another thing: one of the fun parts of this whole pregnancy thing (at least the stage I'm in now), is that I can eat what I really want. In moderation, of course. I'm told that if I crave something specific, my body probably needs it. This likely explains the sudden and bizarre cravings for peanut butter and honey sandwiches with a glass of milk (the first glasses of milk I've had in over twenty-five years). I guess I need protein and calcium.

Well, last night I really, really wanted ricotta cheese. So Fred made it for me again. And I also wanted pasta (always). So we made that, too. And with the weather being close to eighty degrees and the sun shining mightily, I wanted to make a bright springy dish incorporating those two ingredients. Five months in, Fred now knows that the pregnant lady – come Hell or high water – is going to find a way to get her hands on the food that she really, really wants.

So together, collaboratively, we did it all: from foraging for the right ingredients, to making our own ricotta and pasta from scratch, to the styling and photographing the food, to eating it (and yes, of course there was the requisite amount of bickering). I'm not sure if it was the process behind it, but man alive, this dish was exquisite. I can't see why anyone wouldn't really, really want it, too.

Here is the recipe, so you too can manifest your destiny, my friends.



Fusilli with Fava Beans, Fresh Mint & Ricotta

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 tablespoons coarse salt, plus more to taste
1 pound fresh fava beans, shelled (you can substitute edamame or peas)
1 pound fusilli pasta
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves, plus more leaves for garnish
Zest of 1 lemon plus juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Directions
Fill a large stockpot with water, add 1 tablespoon salt, and bring to a boil; meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. Place fava beans in a sieve, and lower into water. Let water return to a boil, about 1 minute; blanch beans, 1 minute more. Remove sieve from water, and place beans in ice-water bath. Transfer to a colander; drain. Peel and discard tough skins; set beans aside.

Discard blanching water; fill stockpot with fresh water. Bring to a boil, and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add pasta, and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta, lemon juice, lemon zest, and chopped mint. Just before pasta has finished cooking, add 1/2 cup cooking water to cheese mixture; stir to combine.

Drain pasta, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add olive oil, and toss. Add cheese mixture and reserved fava beans; toss to combine. Season with salt and sprinkle with mint leaves and a little extra lemon zest for garnish; serve immediately.



One year ago: Chocolate, Olive Oil, Blood Orange Cupcakes with Walnuts
Two years ago: Roast Chicken with Meyer Lemon & Thyme 
Three years ago: Roasted Parsnip-Carrot Soup with Crispy Bacon & Potatoes
Four years ago: Fresh Mint Pea Soup


3.01.2014

The First Seduction


I've noticed that lots of people (especially, ahem, older folks) really love to talk about the weather. What it was like a few days ago, the upcoming forecast, and the current moment's temperature - sky, light, precipitation or lack thereof - are all equally consequential. Perhaps I have noticed this more acutely after spending over a decade in a mostly sunny and 75 degree arid region. But LA does have its seasons. They come in hints, little seductions: the Santa Ana winds in the fall, the rains in the winter, the return of the bright blue sky in the spring followed by the June Gloom and the smog in the summer. There, I was a dog walker – out in the elements every day, and still it was rather pointless to check up on the forecast to figure out whether stockpiling was in order or making sure I had the right 'gear.' With the exception of the annual week long rainy season in February, a hoodie and a light scarf would always suffice.

Back in Southern California, with bounty and sunshine available all year long, I never gave a second thought to sharing a story and a recipe about my patio garden, fresh tomatoes or an anecdote about traipsing around by the beach. In March.

But my how the winds have changed. I haven't seen green grass or fresh tomatoes in months, I've spent the least amount of time necessary outside in the elements bundled up in a strata of fabrics with only my watery eyeballs exposed. The closest thing to any beach-like elements involved the salt stuck on my boots from being poured over the sidewalk after shoveling the snow from the front of our house. The trees have been bare and the sky grey.

Until a few days ago.


A few days ago the sun shone brightly and the temperature reached a balmy 70 degrees. And the city came alive – it was pulsing. People were out on their porches, out in the parks, out in the restaurants, out on their bikes, they were everywhere. And though the trees are still bare, and there is no green grass or fresh tomatoes yet, the promise of all of that and more was palpable. Exciting. Because it's a hint of the breathtaking glory, the explosion of Spring (which is downright stupendous here) that is just right around the corner. Even better than a clandestine glimpse between the button of a blouse, it was a major seduction.

And I do love a seduction. A little tease. Probably why I so love the femme fatales from Film Noir. It's all about the want, the suggestion. Once the characters get what they want, it's all downhill. But, given the chance, they would undoubtedly do it again. Just like the four seasons and our responses to each one and the one sneaking up next. Agitated about Winter by the end of Winter, daydreaming about carefree Summer, then agitated about Summer by the end of Summer, daydreaming about cozy Winter. I guess we aren't much different than the duped Walter Neff in Double Indemnity. He knew it was a bad idea, but Barbara Stanwyck's anklet, her seduction, was where his will and determination would lead him, hell or high water.


Speaking of the onset of Spring and of films, one tell-tale event that speaks to both, the Academy Awards, is happening this weekend. And in that very city of subtle seasonal changes, the city of limos and lights, Los Angeles (which, in an interesting twist from the ultimate femme fatale, Mother Nature, is experiencing torrential downpours). Though I was never directly involved in 'the business' during my tenure in LA, nor did I get too, too wrapped up in the glitter and glamour of that which is Hollywood, I have always enjoyed the Oscars. I love a simple little soiree to celebrate the occasion replete with drinks, precious crabby snacks and homemades and, of course, the requisite Oscar ballots for everyone to cast their votes.

So, tomorrow, on my first Oscar night back in Richmond, with my oldest and dearest friends all around me, I will take a peek back into the city I left behind, my City of Angels, glowing bright and beautiful, rain or shine. And I will serve these delicious little sandwiches, which are a twist on the classic Croque Monsieur, which I was first seduced by at the famed Chateau Marmont – easily my single most missed place in all of Tinseltown. That place is magical. Talk about a seduction.



Croques Besito

Makes 16 bite-sized sandwiches

Ingredients
Sixteen 1 1/2-inch cubes of a rustic loaf of bread (remove all crusts)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons melted
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole milk
4 ounces of Comté or Gruyère cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup finely diced, cooked bacon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Finely chopped fresh chives (for garnish)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375°. Using kitchen scissors, cut a 1/2-inch square from the center of each bread cube; don't cut through the bottom. Discard the squares. In a bowl, toss the hollowed-out bread cubes with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Arrange the cubes on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, until they are lightly toasted.

Increase the oven temperature to 425°. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk until a thick paste forms. Remove from the heat and fold in the cheese and bacon. Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Spoon the cheese filling into the bread cubes. Bake for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Top with fresh chives. Serve hot.


Two years ago: Byrd's Fresh Apple Cake
Three years ago: Son of a Gun
Four years ago: The Dogtown Dog Truck



2.14.2014

A Different Kind of Love


Valentine's Day has always been a mixed bag filled primarily with slightly overly bedazzled expectations brewing since the My Little Pony Dream Castle days. This bag pretty much remains overstocked well after Valentine's Day passes like the unsold candy hearts Now On Sale!/Half Price! at drug stores. And to be honest, if anyone genuinely managed to 'satisfy' those expectations (except my dad's always adorably, and unknowingly, cheesy gestures or my friend's adorably, knowingly, cheesy gestures, I probably wouldn't dig them so much.) I guess at the core I'm really just not a dozen red roses and heart-shaped box of ooey, gooey chocolates kind-of-girl.

This morning, while shuffling into the kitchen and wiping sleep from my eyes, still clad in my buttons-now-popping-at-the-seam-around-the-belly union suit, Fred had a song playing on the stereo while he made us coffee. It sounded familiar. I had heard it before. And I knew that voice. Then, as he looked at me and started lip syncing to it with his air mic, I realized it was the song he wrote for me, about me, and played for me the on our first Valentine's Day (also as I shuffled into the kitchen for coffee in my much cuter, and nicely fitting jammies) on our first trip away together at his family cabin in Inverness.


Wait. That is so ooey, gooey, My Little Pony Dream Castle days daydreaming material. Oh, baby.

Oh, baby. And yes, then there's that. This brand new, different kind of love happening. It's true, and I feel funny admitting it, but this morning, before I rolled over and kissed Fred, or even said good morning or Happy Valentine's Day, for that matter, I put both of my hands on my belly for a long moment. Every molecule of my being swelled with a huge, red, heart shaped love for this little girl I'm - we're - making. Just think, next year all three of us will be in the kitchen in our jammies listening to the song daddy wrote for mommy when they first met and fell in love.

Another, and also different kind of love (perhaps fondness) has been growing in me since last Valentine's Day. This is an unlikely love; kind of like King Kong and Ann Darrow (the Fay Wray version, of course). If none of you have noticed, I've been baking a lot. But have any of you noticed how much I've been baking with fruit? Well, I have. I've even been making my own smoothies for the past few weeks. Granted, I'm only brave enough for two fruits intermingling thus far – banana and orange with some yogurt and bee pollen. Baby steps!


Oh, baby. There it is again. And speaking of her. And fruit. It's a good thing I'm inching my way out of my fruit issues, because I'm likely going to be knee deep in the stuff. The ooey gooey worst kind of the stuff, too: applesauce. Oh, lord. I can't. I just can't. Not yet.

But, for this Valentine's Day, I made a baby step forward, away from my fear of cooked fruit, for our dessert tonight (after grilled lobster tails in the snow by the fire pit in the backyard!) and for our little baby girl's future nasty, sticky, messy meals that I promise I will relish every moment of making and feeding to her. When the time comes.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But today, Fred, these words are for you. 
In case you thought I didn't remember the first Valentine's Day in Inverness when you nervously stood in front of me with your guitar and sang your heart to me, I didn't. And in case you thought that that moment, and every beautiful moment with you, and from you, gets overlooked, it hasn't. I love you and I love us, all of us. Happy Valentine's Day.

Love,
Elliott



Cheddar Apple Heart-in-Hand Pies

Makes 8 hand pies


Cheddar Pie Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
Turbinado or demerara sugar or regular granulated sugar for dusting


Apple Filling

1 1/2 pounds (about 3) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
2 pounds (about 5) Opal apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
½ cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
Zest and juice of one lemon
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

*I think you could basically use any combination of crisp-textured apples. And you will have extra apple filling here. Use the rest to fry up and put in oatmeal or on top of pancakes. Wax creative...

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pulse flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Drizzle 1/4 cup water evenly over mixture. Pulse until mixture just begins to hold together (dough should not be wet or sticky). If dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse. Add cheese; pulse until combined.

Shape dough into 2 balls, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Make the filling: Stir together apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Roll out each piece so it's big enough to to fit your heart. Cut eight hearts out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough.

Put four hearts on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Spoon a couple of scoops of apple filling in the center of each heart. Using your finger, brush a little cold water on the inside of the circumference of the cutouts and top each heart with another heart. Seal the edges together with the tines of a fork.
Lightly brush with pies the egg yolk wash and poke little holes on top. Sprinkle sugar lightly over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake.

Bake pies until golden, about 30 minutes.

Serve while hot and I strongly suggest with a scoop of rich, delicious vanilla bean ice cream (Fred makes the best).



One year ago: Mimi's Baked Broccoli
Six years ago: Yang Chow



1.31.2014

The Cousin of Sleep


Now, I'm pretty sure I'm going to step on someone's toes with this statement, but toes be damned...

Nas' 1994 debut album, Illmatic, is in a word, perfect. From the first track to the last Illmatic is a narrative of literate, fluid rhymes with sophisticated, thoughtful beats rooted in some of the best and most esoteric of jazz and hip hop. It's both simple and ambitious with no extraneous elements. It's smart and it's fun as hell. Just you try not to move your body while you listen. And once the album is over, I am always left wanting more.

It's an especially great album to listen to in the car. And, of course, I'm listening to it while I write this.

But there is one line that always gives me pause. It's from the second track, N.Y. State of Mind, "I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” It could be that I'm a really big fan of sleep, or that I also have no problem, in concept or practice, with sleeping say, twelve hours straight. My head hits the pillow, I close my eyes, and I'm out. I also feel that sleep is really healthy (maybe not the twelve hour variety). It's good for the mind and body. A person can go crazy, can die, without sleep.

So why is it the cousin of death? Because your eyes are closed and you're lying down? Our minds are in superdrive with dreams during sleep, so it can't be mental. And wait, what about the ancient belief that sneezing is a near-death experience, and that a blessing will prevent your soul or sneeze from escaping your body and will deter the devil from entering? Shouldn't the line then be, “I never sneeze, cause sneeze is the cousin of death"? It surely seems more literal. And why cousin? I suppose it sounds better than nephew... the nephew of death.

The things that keep me up at night... At least they keep me further from death's cousin.


I've been thinking about sleep (and hence, that line) a lot because I'm not getting much of it. I'm pregnant and getting pregnant-er by the day. If I'm not up every hour for the bathroom, then I'm struggling to use the proper sleeping positions (my favorite body placement is apparently not recommended for pregnancy). Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night famished. And I know that this part will only get worse as time moves forward, and then there will likely be no sleep at all after our baby girl is born.

I've always been aware of, but paid little attention to, a couple of food/sleep – related old wives tales. One is that warm, liquidy stuff, like heated milk, tea or soup can be a soothing, sleep inducing aid. Another is that spicy food causes fitful sleep, or plainly put, nightmares. Well, what about spicy soup? Would that make for an extremely solid, good, long sleep with tremendously complex and mysterious dreams? Is this what the likes of David Lynch or Francis Bacon would have before bed while conceiving of their films/paintings? It most certainly would explain that which is Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel's surrealist extravaganza, Un Chien Andalou.

So I figured, not only will I get some sleep, but I'm going to get some wicked creative sleep. What do I have to lose, right? Heck, maybe just maybe my opus, my Illmatic, would result. And, upon more listening to N.Y. State of Mind - I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death. Beyond thewalls of intelligence, life is defined – I have to wonder if Nas himself tried this very same tactic. I'd like to think so. Maybe he'd like to try my racy-spicy pozole rojo one late night for the fuel to put him in the state of mind to put forth something as important and noteworthy as he did back in 1994.


Pozole Rojo

Makes 4 quarts

Ingredients:
1 head garlic
3 1/2 to 4 pounds bone-in pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 cups water
4 cups chicken stock
1 onion, sliced and 1 onion, chopped
2 ounces ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed
1 -ounce guajillo chiles, seeded and stemmed
1/2 teaspoon Emeril's Southwestern Essence, recipe follows
2 (30-ounce) cans white hominy plus 1 (15.5-ounce) can
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano


Accompaniments:
Diced avocado, for serving
Thinly sliced cabbage, for serving
Julienned radishes, for serving
Chopped scallions, for serving
Chopped cilantro, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving


Directions:
Season the pork with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.

In an 8 quart Dutch oven, over medium high heat, brown the pork on all sides. Add the sliced garlic, sliced onion, 10 cups of the water and chicken stock. Bring up to a boil. Skim off any foam that may rise to the surface. Turn the heat down and gently simmer the pork, covered, until very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

While pork is simmering, toast the ancho and guajillo chiles in a pan over medium-high heat. Turn the chiles several times, cooking until they are pliable and fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 2 cups of the remaining water; bring to a boil, turn off and let stand covered for 20 to 25 minutes.

In a blender, combine the chiles, the soaking liquid, chopped onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon of the remaining salt, black pepper, chili powder, cumin, paprika, coriander, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, and oregano and puree until smooth. Strain through a sieve to remove any skins or seeds. Set aside.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board, discard the bones, and shred the meat.

Rinse and drain the hominy. Return the pork to the broth; add the hominy, 1/4 cup of the chile sauce (or more to taste), remaining teaspoon of salt, and remaining water if necessary. Simmer the pozole for 30 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Any leftover chile sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks and may be stirred into marinades, sauces, soups, or stews, or used to flavor meats before grilling or sauteing.

The pozole should look hearty but be brothy enough to be thought of as a soup or brothy stew.

Serve the pozole buffet style with bowls of the accompaniments for guests to add to their taste.


Printable recipe.


One year ago: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Salami
Two years ago: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Three years ago: Mercantile
Four years ago: Swiss Fondue with Truffle Essence
Six years ago: Roast Chicken with Meyer Lemons

1.22.2014

The Office


Being back home has been a lot of a lot. A lot of memories-slash-skeletons uprocking in my face and a lot of me choosing whether or not to accept the dance. I'm much more selective with my memory-embracing dance card if Fred is with me, of course. I don't need to tell Fred that little anecdotal tale of that time that crazy thing happened at that party in that house we're walking past right now, right? Sure was a good story, though. You get the idea.

But really, the main a lot of a lot that has been happening in the three months since we landed in our new home, the reason for the absence of a lot of a lot of writing and sharing stories with you is that I'm pregnant. Fred and I are having a baby! And we are a lot of a lot of everything ranging from elated to petrified.

From the first months of my physical fragility, fear, nausea and hormonal tsunamis (poor Fred), to the last few weeks of genetic tests and waiting for results, I haven't been able to think, focus or mentally commit to much, especially with concentration for writing. And, of course, this is all I have wanted to talk about. But couldn't. Not yet. I'm relieved to be able to put it out there now.

When we moved into our new apartment, we discussed the smaller, extra bedroom being an office-slash-photo studio. Mostly, it became the room where we crammed all of the things we didn't want to look at or deal with until later. But then it became the mystery room that neither Fred nor I knew what to do with. Was it going to be an office or a nursery? We didn't want to treat it as either until we had some solid news. And so it sat, unattended to.


A week ago, in one of my OCD fests, I couldn't take it any more. I had to do something with the extra room. For some reason it had become my albatross and it kept staring at me, taunting me – even through the closed door. So I went to setting up sort of a mini office on one side of the room. An organized and tidy place for Fred or I to do work. But also something that would be able to stay and become part of the nursery, or could possibly expand and be a straight up office. Depending, you know?

Yesterday, Fred and I finally received the call that had had us emotionally upended during the wait, the definitive enough results of the genetic tests. And a bonus, the news of our baby's gender - she's a girl! Though all sorts of unforeseen events can happen in life, and one ultimately never knows, we had decided that this was our GO point. Game on. Hey world, we are having a baby!

So, I guess I will have start working on the nursery part of the extra room. And man, I don't know how or where to begin. I guess we have to get stuff. Advice is welcome. We're new here.

To tell you the truth, as far as my kitchen and its goings on, you haven't missed much. The most entertaining food things with me have involved my cravings that primarily require bringing outside things in. Most notably, my newfound sweet tooth-related items such as ice cream, donuts, very specific chocolate, mainly Rolos (absolutely nothing fancy – the trashier the better). But there was also the carrots-dipped-in-ranch-dressing phase, the extra-toasted-bagel-with-cream-cheese phase, the butter croissant phase, the cold sandwich phase (which was limited as I'm not supposed to eat cold cuts), the completely-void-of-seasoning-in-all-food-phase (think something akin to elderly people cafeteria food), and the spicy soup phase. In a bizarre turn I have not craved my usual salty crunchies: no chips. Until last night when I housed a family sized bag of the salt and vinegar variety. Following a dinner of New England clam chowder and a salad. What can I say?

The recipe I'm sharing with you today is from the spicy soup phase. It's Winter. Everyone loves soup. And I'm guessing you don't want a recipe for homemade Rolos. Wait, that's not a bad idea, actually...

Well, until then, let's celebrate with this soup and Thai one on.



Tom Kha Gai


Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:
1 1” piece ginger, peeled
10 kaffir lime leaves or 1 Tbsp. lime zest and ¼ cup lime juice
6 cups chicken stock
1½ lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” pieces
8 ounces of mushrooms of your choice, stemmed, caps cut into bite-size pieces
2 13.5-oz. cans coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce 
1 tablespoon sugar
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, tough outer layers removed
Chili oil, cilantro leaves with tender stems, lime wedges and sliced jalapeño (optional) (for serving)

Directions:
Using the back of a knife, lightly smash lemongrass and ginger; cut lemongrass into 4” pieces. Bring lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves, and broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors are melded, 8–10 minutes. Strain broth into clean saucepan; discard solids.

Add chicken and return to a boil. Reduce heat, add mushrooms, and simmer, skimming occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and mushrooms are soft, 20–25 minutes. Mix in coconut milk, fish sauce, and sugar.

Divide soup among bowls. Serve with chili oil, cilantro, and lime wedges. And maybe a slice or two of jalapeño peppers if you're feeling wild and crazy.



One year ago: Bagels
Four years ago: Chicken Pot Pie
Six years ago: Oyster Stew

1.04.2014

A New Year and A New Year.


We've done it again. Another round of holidays, another year. Interestingly, I now live just one block from my dad's house, the house I grew up in, yet I hosted both of the Thanksgiving and Christmas festivities at my little place this year. I offered to buy the tree, decorate the tree, un-decorate the tree and even remove of the tree myself, Dad still would have none of it in his house. Let's see how Father's Day treats you this year, pal.

Today Fred and I grudgingly removed all remnants of holiday from our place (never fun) and put things back to normal. We did this in spite of Paz telling me it was bad as it was before Three Kings Day; a landmark day of which I have no knowledge. Lest we forget, I still don't fully understand all that is Easter, unless we're talking Cadbury Creme Eggs. Plus, with the radiator heat being used pretty consistently for the three weeks the tree had been in the living room, even with daily water refills, one spark and that bad boy could have gone up like a powder keg. So, sorry Paz, it was time.

Today also marks the sixth (6th) anniversary of F for Food (!!!). It's my blog-birthday. At the ripe age of six, this little blog that could has come a long way. It has given me foods, wines, cocktails, recipes, cookbooks, cuisines, restaurants, events, interviews, chefs, meals, friends, meals with friends, exploits, wanderings and jobs that I never even expected - and I am eternally grateful. I'm not stopping at six, though. No way.


So, here we are. 2014 is laid out in front of us like the Yellow Brick Road. And this will, no doubt, for myself at least, hold a similar promise of adventure, wonder and intrigue (sans opiates, of course) as that golden thoroughfare. With my recent move, a new home, new job, new (and old) friends, and a surprise or two - how could it not?


Since I've been back on the East Coast, though I have not shared much of it here (yet), I have been going a little hog wild in the kitchen. Maybe it's all the New, maybe it's the cold weather, or maybe it was the holidays, but as a bit of a culinary deviation, I've done a great deal of baking over the past couple of months. One of these such Betty Crocker kitchen brainflowers was based on a recent phase/new morning routine I've been going through: croissants with my coffee. I've always loved a croissant. Just the butter variety, no chocolate or almonds, please.

BUT, as seemingly simple as the butter croissant may be, I have had a scant few in memory that hit it home, Tartine being the all-time number one. This is probably why I don't think about, or, pine for them regularly. When I do, however, that desire, that need, is fully reignited and that is all I want with my coffee. Every. Single. Day.


So it made perfect sense to give it a go in my kitchen. It always seems so simple when there are not so many ingredients and they're the very ones one might normally have in their kitchen anyway. And, er, it's not in one of Suzanne Goin's cookbooks. So it must be pretty straightforward. Right?

Well. Sort of.


Milk, flour, sugar, salt, sugar, water and butter, butter, butter. See, I'll bet you have that in your kitchen right now. Easy as pie (dough). The thing is, my nemesis as a cook, baker, what-have-you, is that I either don't follow recipes OR I don't read them all the way through before diving in. So this seemingly easy breezy recipe...

Right.


Had I been that person I would have taken note of the almost twenty-four hour turnaround time interspersed with committed and earnest periods of rotating, rolling out, refolding the chilled dough. Oh, and all the work with the mountain range of butter. And that is why God invented Fred (thanks, Fred!).

They turned out pretty great, I must admit. They undoubtedly rivaled many I've purchased in many cafes, bakeries and coffee shops, but they were not Tartine good (maybe they just needed more butter?). Which, really, I wouldn't want them to be. Talk about a magic food bubble getting popped but quick.


Here's the thing, at least in my humble-non-bakerly opinion: now that I've gone and made croissants, and done a pretty alright job of it, I don't see myself doing it again. Certainly not regularly. And my respect for those that do, those that rise at three in the morning to painstakingly and lovingly go through the tedious and time consuming routine of croissant making, that must do it because they must, has risen like yeasty dough. They must respect and love the process and I've got nothing but respect and love for them for that.

On that note, happy New Year and here's to six (6) wonderful years of F for Food! Thank you for being here. It means everything to me. Now, before we have to get all resolution-y, let's make some croissants, shall we?


Butter Croissants


Makes about 24 croissants.

To make the dough:

1 cup cold milk
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup + 2 Tbsp butter, frozen, then left at room temp. for 20-30 minutes
Parchment paper

Pour the milk and boiling water into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast and sugar, leave for 5 minutes until frothy.

Add in the flour and salt, incorporate it with your hands into a shaggy ball.

Tip the contents out onto a clean work surface and knead until you’ve incorporated all the flour (this should only take about 2 minutes). Place the dough into an oiled bowl, and leave in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.

When your dough has been in refrigerating for 30 minutes, take your frozen butter (which has been left at room temperature for 20-30 minutes), and grate onto a piece of plastic wrap.

Disperse the butter, and flatten into a rectangle, roughly 8″ x 5″. Fold up in the plastic wrap and pat together well.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Once the butter has been chilling for 25 minutes, tip the chilled dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a 16″ x 10″ rectangle.

Unwrap the chilled butter block and place into the center of the dough. Fold the dough into thirds over the butter (like a business letter). Seal all the edges by pinching the dough together.

Rotate the dough 90 degrees, use the rolling pin to make regular indentations in the dough.

Roll into a 15″ x 10″ rectangle.

Fold into thirds again. Wrap the dough in cling film, and refrigerate for 1 hour.  (steps 8+9 = ‘one turn’ of the dough).

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap and complete 1 turn (i.e. repeat steps 8 + 9). Re-wrap in the cling film, refrigerate for 1 hour.

Repeat step 10, two more times, so you have done a total of 4 turns.

Cut the dough into quarters. Wrap the quarters tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8-12 hours, or freeze for up to 3 months (if you freeze it, let the dough defrost in the fridge overnight before shaping).

Shaping the dough:

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge, unwrap it, and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 16″ x 6″ rectangle.

Cut into thirds, forming 3 smaller rectangles. Cut each of these rectangles in half diagonally forming 6 triangles.

Take one triangle of dough (I recommend putting the others in the fridge while you shape each one).
Pull on the corners of the shortest edge, to even up the base of the triangle. Then gently stretch the dough a little.

Cut a small slit in the base of the triangle, stretch it, then roll the dough up.

Place it, tip side down, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the triangles, placing them 2″ apart (at this point you can also freeze the shaped croissants on the baking sheet, then once frozen, transfer them to a plastic bag and leave in the freezer for up to 3 months, then defrost in the fridge overnight and proceed with baking as below).

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a cool place for around 2-3 hours ( if you’re making these the night before, you can actually shape them and leave them to rise in the fridge overnight instead).

Bake: 

Once ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 425ºF. Spritz inside oven generously with spray bottle and close door.

Brush the croissants with beaten egg using a pastry brush.

 Put croissants in oven, then spritz again before closing door. Reduce temperature to 400ºF and bake 10 minutes without opening door.

Switch position of sheets in oven and rotate sheets 180º, then reduce temperature to 375ºF and bake until croissants are deep golden, about 10-15 minutes more until lightly browned and puffy.

Let cool on a wire rack.

COOKS' NOTE: Baked and cooled croissants keep 1 month: First freeze them, uncovered, on baking sheets until firm, then wrap them snugly in foil before returning to freezer. When ready to serve, remove foil and bake (not thawed) on a baking sheet in a 325ºF oven 5 to 10 minutes.

For some really helpful GIF tutorials with regard to all the process involved with this recipe, click here.


Two years ago: Cheebo
Six year ago (!!!): Mozza & Dominick's