Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Baked Vanilla Custard and Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce



I've been making baked vanilla custard since I was a tween. That was when my mom developed a ruptured disc in her back and sporadically through my college days was on extended bed rest. During those periods when she was flat on her back I'd come home from school and go upstairs to my parents' bedroom, where my mom lay, help her into the prescribed corset that was attached to two heavy sandbags on a pole tucked into the end of their bed. With everything in place I'd carefully lower each sandbag, which had the effect of stretching her spine and relieving the pressure on the disc. That, my friends, was called "being in traction."

To get through these intervals, my mom was reliant on two things--small doses of valium (that's what was prescribed back then) and baked custard, which I'd make every few days after setting her up in traction. Everyone has their comfort food and custard is my mom's.

Turns out it still is. Recently, she underwent oral surgery. The weekend before we talked about provisions she'd need while recovering from it. Mashed potatoes. Check. Smoothies. Check. Jello and pudding. Check.


How about custard, I joked. Her face lit up. "I told my friends about how you used to make it for me when my back was out and hoped you'd ask me if you could make it."

So, I am back to making custard. It was like muscle memory. It takes all of about five minutes to whip up. The waiting is in the baking--and my oven must be off because it took far too long for it to bake. But once it did, it was the same divine dessert I made regularly for almost 10 years, using a reliable recipe from Joy of Cooking.

Once I got going on the baked custard I started contemplating the nature of custards. After all, this timeless mixture of milk, eggs, and sugar takes all kinds of forms--sauces, pie, flan, crème caramel, crème brûlée, sponge custards, pot-de-crème, floating island, and ice cream. Any of these variations lead to creamy comfort. They're the yin to mashed potato yang. Clearly someone who needed a hug from her mommy created the original dish.

But, as with anything worthwhile, making custard comes with risks.


With custards the primary risk is curdling. After all, you're introducing eggs to hot milk. But, when you make baked custard, everything starts at room temperature until you put the dish or dishes into the oven. With baked custard you want to bake the custard in a bain marie, or hot water bath. It's simple enough. Pull out a baking dish or roasting pan just large enough to hold the custard dish or ramekins. Fill the latter with the raw custard and place them in the larger dish. Some people suggest lining the bottom of the larger dish with a towel. I never have and never experienced a problem. Anyway, carefully fill the large dish with very hot (some say boiling) water, without splashing into the custard. This helps the custard cook evenly. You'll place this carefully into the middle rack of a 300° oven and bake until a knife inserted along the side of the custard dish comes out clean.

So that's baked custard. But I actually have another dish for you, too. With figs in season I thought I'd play with poached figs in a custard sauce. This custard is cooked stovetop. It's more labor intensive and you'll get a bit of a steam facial but the flavor and texture are so marvelous it's worth it--and can be done in advance if you're entertaining, then put together when you're ready to serve it.



Instead of a bain marie, you'll be using a double boiler. And now you risk the curdling. So, what you'll want to do to avoid that is cook the custard over, not in, the boiling water in the lower pot so it won't get too hot. Stir the mixture constantly. Cook only until the custard leaves a thick coating on the back of a metal spoon, then remove it from the heat to keep it from cooking. If worst comes to worst and you see streaks of scrambled eggs, you can either pour it through a fine sieve into a bowl or pour it into a blender jar and process it until it's smooth again, then return it to the heat.


For the figs, poaching is a dream. You can riff on the liquid flavorings--using red or white wine or a dessert wine or water and juice or even balsamic vinegar. Add sugar, perhaps herbs, vanilla, or citrus zest. I focused on orange, with a syrup made of cointreau and orange zest. The flavor perfectly complements the vanilla custard sauce. Combine the ingredients, bring to a simmer for five minutes, then add the figs and simmer for another five minutes. If necessary turn the figs as they're cooking to be sure the figs poach evenly. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool in the syrup.


When serving, quarter the figs and place them on a plate with a lip and spoon the custard around them.


Baked Vanilla Custard
From Joy of Cooking
Makes 3 cups
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Seeds scraped from 1-inch length of vanilla bean
Freshly grated nutmeg

Directions
Pre-heat oven to 300°.


Mix together the milk, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs and beat well. Then add the vanilla. Pour into a baking dish or individual custard cups. Dust with nutmeg.

Place the custard cups or baking dish into a heavy ceramic baking dish and add hot water until it reach halfway up the sides of the custard containers. Carefully place in the oven and bake 30 minutes (longer for a single large container of custard) until a knife inserted near the edge of the cup comes out clean. The custard may still be wobbly but it will continue to set up as it cools.


Remove the custard from the oven and the custard cups from the bain marie. Set on a rack to cool. Then chill.

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Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce
Serves 4
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
1 cup orange liqueur
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 vanilla bean, split
8 fresh figs (I used brown turkey figs)
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt,
Seeds scraped from 1-inch length of vanilla bean

Prepare figs first. To make poaching liquid combine liqueur, zest, water, thyme, and vanilla bean into a non-reactive medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for five minutes.

Add figs to the syrup and continue simmering for another five minutes, periodically turning the figs to ensure they cook evening. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool for about 10 minutes in the syrup. Then remove to a plate. You can save the syrup by straining it into a container.



Prepare the custard by bringing water in the bottom of a double boiler to the boil. In the top of the double boiler scald the milk. Then slowly stir in the egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Stir the mixture constantly over (not in) the boiling water. Once it has thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon remove the custard sauce from the heat and continue beating to release any steam. Stir in the vanilla seeds. Pour into a dish and chill in the refrigerator.

To plate the dish, quarter the figs to show off their interior. Place two each flower-like on a plate with lips or shallow bowl. Carefully pour the custard around the figs.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Little Italy Food Hall Debuts



If you're a Little Italy Mercato shopper you've probably been curious about the big, glass-front project under construction in the new Piazza della Famiglia on Date St. Now your curiosity can be sated. Not quite six months since it was announced last February, the Little Italy Food Hall is opening its doors. A project of Grain & Grit Collective, which also includes Carnitas Snack Shack and Broken Yolk Cafe, Little Italy Food Hall features six food vendors of widely varied cuisines:

  • Ambrogio15, which brought in another huge red pizza oven and Italian dough master to craft its Milanese-style pizzas--10 varieties--along with salads, cold cuts, and cheeses
  • Mein St. Asian Kitchen, which offers Asian comfort foods like ramen, dumplings, noodle soups, wings, and pork belly crisps, along with boba teas
  • Not Not Tacos, Sam the Cooking Guy Zien's debut dining experience, which features unusual dishes wrapped in tortillas, such as meatloaf, pastrami, and mashed potatoes
  • Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop, which features artisanal sandwiches, meatballs, whole roast chicken, and build-your-own Superfood Salads
  • Single Fin Kitchen, with traditional Japanese donburi, Peruvian ceviche, and oyster shooters
  • Wicked Maine Lobster, offering Maine lobster rolls, lobster mac & cheese, shrimp baskets, and chowder

Front and center as you walk into the light and airy space is the Little Italy Food Hall Bar, where you can get organic Italian varietal wines, local beers, and craft cocktails using ingredients that complement the neighboring food vendors' cuisines. There's plenty of seating, along with seating outdoors on the Piazza, where a mobile outdoor chefs' area will feature pop-up cooking demos. First up will be Sam the Cooking Guy and the bar team in an early August demo featuring summer apps and cocktails.


I had a sampling of almost all of the vendors (I hit a wall after five and didn't try the Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop). 


Perfect for a warm and humid evening was the hamachi donburi at Single Fin Kitchen. The fish was sweet and fresh and I enjoyed the pickled cucumbers and avocado.


If you like a big crunch on your chicken wings, you'll love the spicy fried chicken wings at Mein St. Asian Kitchen. The Mein St. wings have a not-too-sweet and goey orange sauce while the Zen wings are spiced with green and white onions, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. Get a lot of napkins. You'll need them!


Wicked Maine Lobster serves up a traditional lobster roll, packed with big chunks of sweet lobster, accompanied by a very nice side of coleslaw. 


Not Not Tacos is a unique concept that eschews any relationship with traditional Mexican tacos and goes for serving up some of Sam the Cooking Guy's favorite family foods. I sampled the Mashed Potato Taco, with its creamy potatoes flavored with Cholula sauce, green onions, and crushed potato chips.


Finally, there is Ambrogio15's pizzas. I had their thin-crust Prosciutto Crudo & Burrata, with, yes, a big fat sumptuous ball of burrata smack in the middle of the pizza. Slice into it and out runs the creamy cheese you must spread onto your slice. The burrata is imported from Puglia and has a flavor and texture you just won't find here. Very special.


The Little Italy Food Hall will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.


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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Peach Tomato Panzanella



So, here's what I had around the kitchen the other day: a huge heirloom tomato, about a quarter of a loaf of Bread & Cie onion bread, and a couple of peaches that were perfuming the house--that's how ripe they were.

All three were about a day from expiration. It was the perfect evening for a salad. So, how about a panzanella salad? Add some basil from the garden, some capers, and make a vinaigrette. Sounded good to me.


Now you may wonder why peaches and tomatoes? But they actually pair beautifully together. And peaches are perfectly lovely in a savory dish. Is it authentic panzanella? Well, consider this, the "pan" is panzanella means bread. Food experts, including one of my heroes, J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats, put it this way: "Panzanella is not a tomato salad with bread; it's a bread salad flavored with vegetables." I'm going to extend that to fruit. I doubt he'd mind.


There are a couple of tricks to making this salad that I picked up from López-Alt. First is that instead of letting the bread sit out to get stale, try drying it in the oven, tossed with olive oil. What you'll have are magnificent large croutons that will soak up the vinaigrette and vegetable/fruit juices, yet still remain crispy. It makes for a great bite.

The other is to chop your tomatoes (if you use them), toss them with salt, then drain the juices into a bowl with a colander. This will increase your juice yield, which you'll want when you make the vinaigrette.


Everything else is easy peasy. While the bread is toasting, make your vinaigrette, chop the peaches and basil. Once the toasted bread has cooled it's time to put it all together. Then let it rest for half an hour so the vinaigrette can penetrate the bread and the flavors come together.

One other thing I learned--on my own. It doesn't make for great leftovers unless you're fond of soggy bread. The next day, facing leftovers, I just picked around the bread and ate the tomatoes and peaches.


Peach Tomato Panzanella
Adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt’s Classic Panzanella Salad
Serves 2 to 3
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
1 pound tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound rustic bread, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 3 cups bread cubes)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons for the bread)
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large ripe peaches, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

Directions
Place tomatoes in a colander over a bowl and toss with kosher salt. Place on counter at room temperature to drain for at least 15 minutes. Toss periodically during that time.

To toast the bread, pre-heat oven to 350°.  Place rack in center position in oven. You can also do this in a toaster oven. Toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until crisp and firm but before they brown—about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Remove colander from the bowl with tomato juice. Place the colander with the tomatoes into the sink so it won’t drip on the counter. Add the shallot, garlic, mustard, and vinegar to the bowl with the juice and mix. Gradually whisk in the remaining olive oil until it emulsifies. Season vinaigrette with sea salt and pepper to taste.

In a serving bowl mix together the toasted bread, tomatoes, peaches, capers, and basil. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat all the ingredients. Season again with sea salt and pepper. Let rest 30 minutes before serving, tossing occasionally until dressing is completely absorbed by the bread.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Sourdough (Discard) Biscuits


I feed my sourdough starter once a week on Sundays. Every Sunday. That means I spend the latter part of the week fixated on what I might make over the weekend with the discards. After all, you have to discard part of your starter to feed it with new flour and water--or else you have an ever-expanding container of bubbling goop.

Admittedly, I don't do this every weekend. I'm only one person, after all. So if I'm not going to bake and I can't share the discards with anyone, yeah, I will toss some.

Last weekend it was cool and breezy so I thought I'd take advantage of that and bake. I scanned the web for ideas before settling on biscuits. Buttery sourdough biscuits.

Now some of my favorite biscuits are made by Matt Gordon of Urban Solace. And I'm so glad he taught me how to make his. They are divine. The biscuits I made substitute the buttermilk or cream in his with the discarded starter. That's the liquid.


This recipe isn't original to me. I found it on the King Arthur Flour website. If you love to bake and haven't been on it you should visit. Yeah, they sell great products but the site has a very rich section filled with recipes. What a resource!

One of the things you'll notice if you go to the recipe on their site is that it has measuring options: volume, ounces, or grams. Usually I like to go with ounces or grams--in other words weigh ingredients instead of measuring them. It tends to be more accurate. But when I did that with this recipe I found there wasn't enough starter because it was so heavy. So I switched to volume and that made a difference.


You can add herbs, chives, or cheese to these biscuits. I made them plain and they were perfectly flavorful. The other nice thing about biscuits is that they're freezable. I ate a couple and packaged the rest up for the freezer. Something to look forward to the next time I make a chili or stew.


Buttery Sourdough Sandwich Biscuits
Yield: 6 large (3-inch) biscuits
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1 cup sourdough starter, unfed/discard*

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425°F, with a rack in the upper third. Grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly.

Add the starter, mixing gently until the dough is cohesive.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (a piece of parchment works well), and gently pat it into a 1"-thick round.

Use a sharp 2 3/8" biscuit cutter to cut rounds, cutting them as close to one another as possible. Pat any scraps together, and cut additional biscuits.

Place the biscuits onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2" between them; they'll spread as they bake.

Bake the biscuits in the upper third of your oven for 20 to 23 minutes, until they're golden brown.

Remove the biscuits from the oven, and serve warm. Or cool completely, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze, well-wrapped, for longer storage.

*Sourdough starters can vary in how liquid they are. If your biscuit dough seems very dry, dribble in a bit of milk or buttermilk until it comes together.

Note: You can make smaller biscuits. Just remember they won't need as much time in the oven.



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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Gravlax for Brunch




When you're raised on bagels, lox, and cream cheese as the ideal brunch dish it's not a huge leap to gravlax. But there are some essential distinctions between lox, smoked salmon, and gravlax.

First let's tackle the difference between lox and smoked salmon. Lox is cured salmon, preserved with salt. But back in the day in places where salt was a scarce resource, the fish was smoked. According to Jewish food historian Gil Marks in his "Encyclopedia of Jewish Food," during early 1930s America cured salmon fillet became known to Eastern European Jewish transplants as lox. This is the Americanized spelling of the Yiddish word laks, or salmon, itself from the German lachs--and the Swedish gravlax. See where I'm going with this?

Skip ahead past the ways shipping and refrigeration technologies evolved and made intense brining to preserve the fish unnecessary and you have a lightly salted preservation method, which resulted in a smoother, milder tasting fish. What evolved for lox was a method that could include light brining or dry curing in salt and perhaps brown sugar before then cold-smoking it. This method doesn't cook the fish the way warm-smoking does. The result is a delicate slice instead of flaky flesh.

While we're here, let's also address the difference between lox and Nova. Lox became known as the curing style that was wet-brined with no additional smoking or cooking. Nova, with its origins in salmon from Nova Scotia, became known as the method discussed above: mild brining in salt, water, and perhaps brown sugar, then lightly cold-smoked for up to 24 hours. Lox, as anyone who tastes it knows, is the saltier of the two. And, as Marks notes, it's less expensive because it's easier to prepare. Today, the terms are largely interchangeable since most of the lox sold today is actually prepared Nova style with cold smoking.

Now to gravlax. Here's a brined salmon dish that anyone can make with just a few key ingredients. This Scandinavian cured salmon is primarily different from Eastern European lox thanks to the inclusion of dill. Look up recipes for gravlax and you'll find all sorts of intriguing variations. But what doesn't change is the salmon belly, salt, and dill. Lots and lots of dill. And time--48 hours in the refrigerator.

You can sweeten it a bit with sugar. You can add vodka to the brine. You can add pepper. You can also add complementary spices. I add fennel seeds and grains of paradise, a cool variation on peppercorns, with a floral scent and flavor.

Here's how making gravlax works:

Buy the freshest 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of salmon belly you can. Most recipes will call for it to be skin on. I accidentally found myself with a big piece that was supposed to be skin on but wasn't. It turned out fine.

Make sure you or your fishmonger pulls out all the pin bones in the fish. Then in a bowl mix up your cure: salt, sugar, spices. Mine is a mixture of lightly toasted, then crushed fennel seeds and grains of paradise along with sea salt, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. And have on hand bunches of dill. I also had Absolute Citron vodka to add a distinctly citrusy Scandinavian flavor.


Place half of the dill fronds in a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish. Then sprinkle half of the cure on the dill and place the fish on top and press down gently. Sprinkle the vodka over the top of the fish and then the rest of the cure and the rest of the dill. Cover the fish with plastic wrap.


Now you have to weight it down so the curing mixture will penetrate into the fish. So place another, slightly smaller, baking dish on top of the wrapped fish and a couple of cans into that dish. Refrigerate overnight. After 24 hours, remove the weights and flip the fish over so the cure will penetrate the fish evenly. Put the weights back on the fish and everything back into the refrigerator.

Once the 48 hours has passed you can remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights and unwrap the fish from the plastic. Don't worry about any liquid that's accumulated. That's exactly what you want. Discard the dill and rinse the fish with cold water, removing the salt, sugar, and spices. Pat dry.

Now comes the fun part. You'll need a knife with as sharp an edge as possible because you're going to slice the gravlax very thinly at a sharp diagonal. If you have skin on the fish, slice away and off the skin. You can plate the slices in straight lines or as rings. Sliced lemon goes nicely with it, as does diced red onion and capers.

And then we return to our initial conversation. Bagels and cream cheese? Sure, it's grav"lax" after all. But, how about some marscarpone cheese and black bread for a change?


Gravlax
Serves 8 or more, depending on how many other dishes are served
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon grains of paradise (you can substitute with black peppercorns)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
2 bunches of dill
2 tablespoons Absolut Citron vodka (or regular vodka)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds salmon belly, pin bones removed

Preparation
Lightly toast fennel seeds and grains of paradise. When cool, crush them together in a mortar and pestle.

In a bowl mix together the fennel seeds, grains of paradise, both sugars and salt.

Place half of the dill fronds in a pile the size of the salmon in a baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon. Sprinkle half of the curing mixture on the dill. Then set the fish on top. Sprinkle the vodka over the salmon and then press in the rest of the cure. Top with the remaining dill fronds to cover the fish.

Cover the fish with plastic wrap. Place another, smaller baking dish on the fish and put a brick or two cans into that dish.

Refrigerate for 24 hours, then remove the weights and turn the fish. Put the weights back on the fish and refrigerate another 24 hours.

When you're ready to serve, remove the fish from the refrigerator, remove the weights, and remove the plastic wrap. Discard the dill and rinse the fish under cold water, then pat dry.

Using a very sharp knife, slice the gravlax as thinly as you can at a diagonal. If the salmon still has skin on it, slice away from the skin and discard the skin once the salmon is sliced.

Serve with lemon, diced red onion, capers--and a whipped cheese--on brown bread, pumpernickel, crackers, or a bagel.



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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Summer Tomato Tarte Tatin



It's tomato time!!! I plant cherry tomatoes in my garden and already am harvesting them, little by little. Most of the time I can't even wait to take them back into my kitchen. Instead I tend to munch on them  them while watering my garden. There's really nothing like eating a sweet, sun-warmed, perfectly ripe tomato with one hand while holding a hose in the other.


There's no point in even mentioning the many ways to enjoy tomatoes. I assume you have your favorites. But if you've never tried making a tomato tarte tatin, you're missing out.

I made my first one years ago at the home of a friend. She has an abundance of tomatoes on her home's grounds (yes, it's that kind of home; it has "grounds."). One year when she had a bumper crop, she invited a bunch of friends over to make sauce. And I made a tart. It all went well until I took the masterpiece out of the oven and placed it on the stove to cool. I got involved in something else--I can't remember what exactly--but I needed to move the tart out of the way and unthinking just wrapped my hand around the skillet's handle. And screamed.

It was a stainless steel pan that had just come out of a 425-degree oven. And so I ended up with a painful second-degree burn. Yikes.

I learned after that to pay special attention to the pan since then.

This past weekend when I made the tart I pulled out the only 9-inch skillet I had, a flameware skillet. If you haven't heard of or used flameware, you're missing out on a great cooking experience. This is a clay cookware that is specially created to be totally heat resistant, that cooks evenly even at high temperatures, and doesn't get killer hot the way metal does. I bought mine online at a Minnesota shop cookbook author Paula Wolfert introduced me to, Clay Coyote.

I hadn't made a tomato tarte tatin in a flameware skillet before but it worked out perfectly. And, significantly, the pan is so light it makes flipping it over onto a plate a breeze, much easier than stainless steel or cast iron, and with almost no sticking--certainly no more than any other metal skillet I've used.

The tart itself is a marvel of sweet and savory. There are several ways to make it in terms of ingredients. Sugar instead of honey, sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. Whole tomatoes, cherry tomatoes. Whole or sliced tomatoes. Onions. No onions. Whatever. The fundamentals are tomatoes, some kind of caramelizing ingredients, and puff pastry. For me, I enjoy a lot of red onions, cooked down and caramelized in butter and a large pinch of brown sugar. Honey and vinegar. Kalamata olives. And, the star of the dish, whole organic multi-colored cherry tomatoes.


You'll start by cooking down and caramelizing the onions in a large skillet. Put them aside and in the oven-safe, 9-inch skillet you're going to make the tart in cook up the honey and water to a point at which it thickens, then add vinegar and swirl to combine the two. Remove the pan from the heat.


You'll sprinkle the olives over the honey vinegar mixture and start building the tart. The tomatoes go in--whole--over the olives, along with finely minced fresh thyme. (Want to use basil instead? Go for it.) They should cover the entire bottom of the skillet. Then you'll spoon the onions over the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper.


The last step is rolling out the puff pastry sheet and creating a 10-inch round. Place it over the onions and tuck the excess around the tomato onion mixture. Cut some long vents into the pastry.

Before you put the tart into the oven, be sure to place it on a baking sheet covered with foil to catch the tomato juices so they don't hit the bottom of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes until the crust is nice and puffy and golden brown. Then remove it from the oven and let it cool briefly before running a knife around the edges.

Photo by Tina Luu
Now comes the moment of truth: Select a plate/platter larger than 9 inches. Place it upside down over the pastry. Be sure to use oven mitts or a thick towel and carefully flip the skillet and plate over, place it on the counter and gently lift the skillet. If all goes well--and why wouldn't it--you'll have a beautiful, rainbow of glossy tomatoes staring back at you, encased in a crunchy crust. That's perfectly good enough as it is, but you can also decorate it with a scattering of basil leaves.


Tomato Tarte Tatin
(printable recipe)
4 to 6 servings

Ingredients
1, 14-ounce package all-butter puff pastry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
Pinch of brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
 Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of brown sugar and sauté until onions are caramelized. If you’re using a pan in which there’s some sticking, at the end of sautéing add a couple of tablespoons water and let it cook off, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan.

Transfer onions and brown bits to a bowl.

Combine honey and 3 tablespoons water in an ovenproof 9-inch skillet. Cook over medium heat, swirling pan gently until honey bubbles and thickens, 5 to 6 minutes. Add vinegar and swirl gently for another 2 to 3 minutes until combined. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle olives over honey mixture. Scatter tomatoes and thyme over olives, then spoon onions on top.  Season with salt and pepper.

Unfold puff pastry sheet and roll out into a 10-inch round. Place on top of onions  and tuck edges around the mixture. Cut several long vents on the pastry.

Place tart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around pastry to loosen it from pan, place a large plate upside down over the skillet, and, using oven mitts, flip the skillet upside down, place the plate on the counter, then carefully remove the skillet.



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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Radish, Scallion, and Sugar Snap Pea Salad


May Gray finally gave way to sunny skies the first weekend of June. I'm sure June Gloom is imminent so I took advantage of the balmy weather last Saturday to visit the Little Italy Mercato. I'm so tickled that it's back on Date St. where it originated. On that clear day at the corner of Date and State looking down the street the Bay was sparkling. It was just what the Chamber of Commerce ordered.

The vendors didn't disappoint either. Everywhere I looked--between the packed crowds of shoppers--was a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors of spring/summer produce. I couldn't help myself. I bought cherries and apricots from Smit Farms. I bought my favorite eggs, as well as green garlic and a huge Reed avocado from the Schaners. I indulged in breads and pastry from the Prager Brothers.


And then I stopped dead in my tracks at Maciel Family Farms' stall. I love this Bonsall farm run by Anthony and Adam Maciel and their siblings. Everything is always pristine and fresh and inviting. This week there were fava beans and beets. Stunning summer squash. Silky looking dill and a rainbow of chard.


But the radishes! This was no radish I could remember having seen before. Alongside bunches of flawless conventional and French breakfast radishes were long, vibrant magenta radishes that looked more like carrots.


And, Anthony Maciel told me, they are actually called carrot radishes--as well as Chinese and Dragon radishes. The radishes, which Maciel explained he first saw at a farmers market in Santa Barbara and then decided to grow, are crisp and mild. He suggested adding them to a salad or soup.


I bought a large bunch of these carrot radishes, along with the French breakfast radishes, and a container of gorgeous sugar snap peas--my favorites. Then I set about making a perky vinaigrette with the leaves that also featured the green garlic from Schaner Farms. It's so totally spring! I enjoyed it that night with a steamed artichoke.


The next day I made a simple crunchy salad with the radishes, sugar snap peas, and scallions. And tossed in some more radish leaves. Really--don't throw these away. If they're fresh and not slimy (as grocery store radish leaves tend to be), rinse them off and use them in salads, with sautéed vegetables, and even as the base (instead of basil) of pesto.


Green Garlic Radish Leaf Vinaigrette
(printable recipe)
Yield: 1 cup

1 stalk green garlic, trimmed and sliced
2 to 3 radish leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
pinch of sea salt
pinch of red pepper flakes
3/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in the bowl of a mini prep food processor. Blend until pureed. Add olive oil and blend until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve on Radish, Scallion, and Sugar Snap Pea Salad--or other salad. Use as a dip for steamed artichokes.



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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Evie's Chocolate Sugar Balls


Many of us are reaching an age in which our parents are leaving their long-time homes. This happened with my mom about a year and a half ago. She's got a beautiful apartment near where she and my dad used to live, but it's smaller than the house so she had to shed a lot (a lot!) of beloved belongings.


One of these was an orange metal recipe box that she ended up giving me. To be honest, all this time since my dad's death and her move I've been more focused on a magenta notebook we found hiding in a bookcase while we were packing up that turned out to be recipes my dad had collected. Turns out they were mostly recipes he printed off by Dr. Andrew Weil, who my dad had been intrigued by for years. It was only last week that the orange box, sitting on a shelf under a large kitchen window, caught my eye. I pulled it off the shelf and opened it.

It was like opening a treasure chest of memories, filled with recipes on index cards, some typed, some in Mom's handwriting or that of a friend who gave it to her. The names were mostly familiar, so many that I hadn't heard or thought of since childhood or adolescence. There were also her handwritten lists clearly tracking her progress in setting up for dinner parties (a habit I've adopted as well). Some are on notepaper from my dad's office, some on fragile wide-spaced lines of paper I remember from elementary school that my siblings and I used either to draw on or to practice cursive writing.

Many of the recipes were familiar family recipes--kugels, chopped liver and the like. In fact, I realized looking at recipes on scraps of envelops and others on index cards that my mom and my grandmother's handwriting were so familiar I wasn't sure who wrote them out. And there are a couple of empty bags of bright yellow Nestlé's chocolate chips saved for the Toll House cookie recipe. Many  recipes I'd never seen (and likely will never make; clearly of a time when convenience foods/ingredients were much more popular than today).

And then there were those I'd never seen but totally intrigued me, including this recipe my mom calls Chocolate Sugar Balls. Looking at the ingredients, they clearly were chocolate chip cookies sans the leavening. No eggs, no baking soda. But plenty of butter, brown sugar, vanilla, chocolate chips, and nuts.

I decided to make them over the weekend--and learned from the experience. The recipe was a little gung-ho on the nuts, so I've cut the amount in half (add them back if you like). And because there was no liquid from eggs to hold the balls together, I've added just a tablespoon of water. I've also added an amount for powdered sugar.

I happened to visit my mom later in the afternoon after making the cookies and brought her about a dozen, along with the recipe index card. She looked at it and laughed. She had come up with it herself years ago, she said, to mimic a treasured family recipe we call snow ball cookies--and agreed with my changes, adding that she would also reduce the amount of brown sugar. I left it as is.

I'm offering the recipe below with my changes and adaptations. The recipe makes more than 80 cookies so there are plenty to freeze and enjoy or share later. As it happened I didn't have enough semi-sweet chocolate chips but also had a bag of butterscotch chips for some reason, so I mixed them together and used walnuts that I toasted and chopped. They tasted great, so feel free to substitute chocolate chips with other flavors.

The Chocolate Sugar Balls are crunchy and sweet. They're a fun bite that represent the best of chocolate chip cookies, without the debate over soft vs. crisp. And the powdered sugar is an added sweet bonus. But don't bother to sneak them. That powdered sugar on your shirt will be a dead giveaway.


Evie's Chocolate Sugar Balls
Yield: 84 cookies
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanila
1 cup toasted nuts, roughly chopped
1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon water
3 cups powdered sugar

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
2. Sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
3. Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until well combined.
4. Stir in nuts, chocolate chips, and water.


5. Form balls, about an inch in diameter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.


6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until just browned.


7. Roll in a bowl of powdered sugar while still warm. Let cool and roll a second time.


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