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What to serve? We were hosting 12 of our family for brunch to celebrate the visit of our Philadelphia cousins and their 2-year-old daughter. Some of the guests were vegetarians, some gluten-free, everyone loves to eat, and I wanted lots of time with the relatives. I decided to make 2 big frittatas as the centerpiece of the occasion.
Eggs are my favorite morning food, but scrambling, frying, and poaching are challenging for a crowd. Frittatas, however, are easygoing because eggs and flavorings are cooked together in one pan without much attention. Added bonuses: they don’t demand toast as an accompaniment- an important consideration for those of us who are gluten free- and they can be prepared ahead and served at room temperature.
After lots of experiments at Bon Appetit magazine’s test kitchen, I favor the following technique to avoid dry or rubbery eggs: I sauté onions and other flavorings in a heavy nonstick skillet, pour in eggs beaten with cheese, stir the mixture a couple of times to mingle the ingredients, cover the pan and cook over a medium-low heat just until the eggs are mostly set with areas that are still runny. I like to sprinkle on a little more cheese before setting the skillet under the broiler to finish cooking the top. The result: a lightly browned beauty with a tender texture.
Eggplant and peppers are abundant at the end of summer, and I indulge in them frequently before they are replaced by winter squash, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. I can’t resist experimenting with slender lavender eggplants, bulbous white ones, and magenta striped Italian versions. And it’s fun to compare the long red lipstick peppers, green smoky poblanos, and meaty pimientos. I often include peppers and eggplant in the same dish because the creamy richness of roasted eggplant balances the tangy sharp flavor or browned peppers.
I recently braised eggplants and sweet peppers in a tomato and white wine sauce, seasoned with capers and olives. I made a big batch of this colorful dish so I would have plenty of leftovers for a second meal. Chunks of albacore tuna simmered in the sauce turned it into a piquant fish stew to spoon over whole grain couscous on the first night. The extras became a hearty pasta dish a few days later.
Steve returned from a business trip to Washington DC with the tenacious flu that is going around this year. He’d been sick for over a week and wasn’t getting better. I made a big pot of chicken pho for dinner- a fragrant, spicy, fresh herb crowned, Vietnamese noodle soup- and his health was restored by the next day. I ended up with the same malady right before Christmas, and had the worst time shaking it. So, I cooked another big pot of chicken pho last night, and here I am back to blogging. What a relief to feel well.
Pho became our favorite comfort food during a family trip to Vietnam 3 years ago. Ever since, I have made it frequently in winter, and always when one of us is sick. Happily, it is naturally gluten free, relying on rice stick noodles rather than wheat pasta, and Asian fish sauce rather than gluten containing soy sauce. You will need to read labels for a couple of ingredients: prepared chicken broth and Hoisin
sauce. I rely on Trader Joe’s Organic Low Sodium Chicken Broth
or Swanson’s Natural Goodness chicken broth
and Dynasty Hoisin Sauce
The restaurant in Vermont where I started my cooking career was famous for their apple crisp- fragrant with cinnamon, and boasting a delightfully crunchy walnut and brown sugar topping. Each fall, as soon as the Santa Anna winds subside here in Los Angeles and brisk weather arrives, I think about my autumns in New England and want to cuddle up with a warm bowl of fruit crisp, with vanilla ice cream melting into the tangy filling.
Today it finally cooled down enough to get enthused about planning our Thanksgiving menu, and I want to serve an apple crisp for dessert.
This will be my second gluten-free Thanksgiving. Last year my sister-in-law brought her signature fall offering- a big bowl of pomegranate arils and blackberries, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream. We will enjoy that again this year, but I am prepared to bake a gluten-free dessert to add to the feast.
The wild chanterelle mushrooms and sweet blue lake green beans I found at the farmers’ market this week reminded me of an intriguing fall salad I recently enjoyed at Jar restaurant. Chef Suzanne Tracht offered special dishes at a dinner benefitting the Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, and I was a lucky guest at my friend Margaret’s table.
I had been thinking about the salad ever since I tasted it, and I wanted to create something similar. I started by whisking up an easy vinaigrette with tangy whole grain Dijon mustard and Sherry wine vinegar, anticipating that the rich flavor of the vinegar would compliment the earthiness of the mushrooms.
The vinaigrette was sumptuous and vibrant, and I realized the concoction would make a fine seasoning for both the salad and the arctic char fillets I was fixing.
Roasted Fennel and Potatoes
Enjoying leftovers: Char, Fennel and Potato Hash
Artic char is among my favorite fish; I love its delicate, sweet flavor and pink colored flesh that flakes ever so delicately. I love how easy it is to cook; I prepare it all year- on the grill in the summer, roasted or sautéed when it is too cold to barbecue. I love its versatility - acidic ingredients brighten its flavor, earthy mushrooms compliment its salmon like taste. Last night I roasted char, and garnished it with a simple kumquat gremolata (chopped kumquats, shallot, and Italian parsley). I cooked potato and fennel wedges alongside, so the entire meal was made at one time.
Steve and I enjoy fish, and we usually eat it a couple of times a week. But choosing seafood can be confusing- which fish are environmentally correct, and which of those are low in mercury? It is easy to settle on wild salmon as the one safe fish, but I like to venture further out. My friends are always asking for help choosing and cooking seafood and I intend to help them and lure you with recipes for a variety of delicious, risk-free fish.
Baking holiday cookies is a fun project for this cold and wet weekend. I warmed up my kitchen this morning with a big batch of tender rugelach. The contrast of a delicate unsweetened crust wrapped around a sweet nut filling has always made these bite-sized pastries impossible for me to resist. They take a little more work to form than simple drop cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal, but they are so tasty with such an exquisitely fragile texture, every bite reminds me why I like to make them.
Mixing the butter and cream cheese dough the night before simplifies baking day. This morning I sprinkled the dough with nuts, sugar and spice, rolled it up into little rugs (the meaning of rugelach), and popped them in the oven. Within minutes, the cinnamon in the filling scented the house, and made me eager to taste the first batch.
I couldn’t resist the gorgeous chanterelle mushrooms at the farmers’ market last week. The cool, crisp days and the wild mushrooms signal it is time to return to heartier cooking. In fall, I love to sauté earthy chanterelles, and then add them to soups, heap them on toasted rustic bread or sautéed chicken breasts, or fold them into a risotto. But a favorite preparation is a topping for pizza.
Caramelized onions, chunks of ripe Brie cheese, and the lush mushrooms, baked atop a simple crust turn into an irresistibly fragrant pizza. It was a perfect Friday night, end of the week celebration dinner. For a very satisfying, but less luxurious version, shiitake mushrooms, crimini, or even button mushrooms can replace the chanterelles.
It is time to plan our Thanksgiving feast. I have been looking through cookbooks and my recipe files, choosing favorite preparations. The turkey was the first decision, and the choice was easy: The Cider-Glazed Turkey with Cider Gravy, found in Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home. I developed this recipe for the Thanksgiving cookbook I wrote years ago, and it was reprinted in this big, new collection of recipes.
The kitchen will fill with tantalizing aromas while this turkey roasts, and the bird will emerge from the oven burnished with an apple cider glaze. Cider also flavors the gravy, adding a hint of fruit, which is balanced by caramelized shallots and fragrant thyme- a marvelous sauce to spoon over sliced turkey and mashed potatoes.
Here are a few simple tips I learned during the testing of countless turkeys at Bon Appetit magazine:
Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home is a big, beautiful cookbook, filled with timeless recipes for classic dishes seasoned with modern flavors, food that is perfect for weeknight cooking and entertaining. The book is packed with helpful tips, hints, and charts too. Many of the recipes in the book were developed by excellent writers I worked with during my long tenure as food editor for Bon Appetit magazine, so I feel comfortable saying the recipes in the book are really good.
I have written 5 cookbooks for Williams-Sonoma, and many recipes from my books are in this new compendium. Chuck Williams was my editor, and with my long history of working with Chuck, I was selected to represent Cooking at Home.
Looking through the book and identifying the recipes I created was fun, So I decided to revisit some of them. I came up with this Fig and Anise Quick Bread for my After Dinner
book. I designed the bread to serve with cheese. But on Saturday morning, we enjoyed it with softly scrambled eggs enhanced with fresh goat cheese and thyme. A fine way to start off the weekend.
I took my young friend Rebecca to Huckleberry Café in Santa Monica for brunch, and we couldn’t resist 2 items on the menu: the poached eggs smothered in a savory lentil and chard ragout, and fried eggs sitting atop quinoa tossed with market vegetables. Not wanting to waste a drop of the lentil stew, we spooned the last bits over the remaining quinoa, and the mixture was a winner. Rebecca, who is attending culinary school, was curious about what gave the lentil ragout its rich flavors, and we decided to try to recreate the recipe together.
I am a big fan of both quinoa and legumes as satisfying, gluten-free staples. Because of their complex tastes, intriguing textures, and superior nutritional values they make unexpected but excellent accompaniments to eggs. Quinoa creates a toothsome base for fried or poached eggs, and poached eggs nestled in legume stews have become a favorite Sunday breakfast.
Brightly colored and tangy, this relish will offer a refreshing counterpoint to the turkey and gravy at our Thanksgiving dinner. I always serve a sweet cooked cranberry sauce, and I will also be making my Cranberry Sauce with Grapefruit, Honey, and Ginger. However, with this new recipe I am thinking ahead to the turkey leftovers.
Before I adopted a gluten-free diet, I happily devoured turkey sandwiches for several days after the feast. This year, I intend to replace the sandwiches with tacos, and I figure this relish will stand in for salsa. My plan is to fill lightly toasted corn tortillas with avocado, leftover turkey either warmed in gravy or sautéed in olive oil, spoonfuls of this slightly spicy condiment, and a heap of sliced romaine hearts.
When thumbing through the Thanksgiving
cookbook I wrote for Williams-Sonoma in 1997 (link), I rediscovered my recipe for Cranberry Sauce with Grapefruit and Honey. We have a prolific grapefruit tree in the yard of our new home, and so my decision about how to flavor the cranberries this year was easy.
One of my all time favorite sweet ingredients shows up in this sparkling condiment too- crystalized ginger. The resulting dish is tangy from the grapefruit and cranberries, sweet from the honey, and slightly spicy from the ginger- a terrific compliment to roast turkey.
I was fascinated by polenta when I first tasted it at a rustic cabin restaurant in the Italian Alps. I ate forkful after forkful of the molten layering of cornmeal, mountain cheese, local sausage, and tomato sauce, trying to figure out how it was made. Soon after, polenta made its way into restaurants in the US, and during my long tenure as food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, I got to sample polenta in many different recipes.
But, I didn’t fully appreciate the versatility of polenta until I began experimenting with my newly imposed gluten-free diet. It was then that I realized polenta makes a great replacement for many wheat-based staples- bread, pasta, croutons, crostini, and even pizza crust. This discovery added new satisfaction to my meals.
The recipe here is my quick twist on traditional polenta, which can take up to 45 minutes of almost constant stirring to prepare. I was determined to find a way to make polenta effortlessly so I could enjoy it frequently. I played around until I came up with this creamy, microwave version. The key is using medium-grind cornmeal, rather than coarser ground polenta, which requires more than three times as long to cook.
One of the biggest challenges on Thanksgiving day is producing a silky, deeply flavored gravy amidst the chaos of final preparations- pulling the turkey and dressing out of the oven, mashing potatoes, putting the finishing touches on vegetable dishes, and garnishing the turkey platter. To avoid this chaos, I decided to create a make-ahead gravy with all the good tastes of the traditionally prepared sauce, and I am thrilled with the results
Both a cousin and a sister-in-law stick to gluten-free diets, so I added gluten-free constraints to the challenge of formulating the perfect gravy, but, the recipe is also great with more customary wheat flour too.
The crucial step to this sauce is cooking up a rich turkey stock at least 1 day before the feast. I purchase extra turkey necks, brown them in a Dutch oven, cover with water, and let the brew bubble for a few hours. Meanwhile I am blanching green beans, simmering the cranberry sauce, and cutting up carrot and celery sticks to use as dippers for the butternut squash hummus I will put out as a starter on Thanksgiving (look for that recipe tomorrow).
Here is an easy, gluten-free dinner for this busy season: seafood simmered in a spicy tomato sauce and then spooned over quick, creamy polenta. Although we appreciated it on a busy weeknight, it is festive enough for the night you decorate your tree or an impromptu holiday gathering.
The seafood and the polenta are endlessly variable and indispensable dishes I return to over and over again. I gave you the recipe for my microwave polenta
a few days ago. Today I’m offering the seafood formula. The last time I made this satisfying meal, tender bay scallops were on sale, and the vibrant sauce enhanced their sweetness. However, I have made the same recipe with chunks of Alaskan halibut, wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, shiny black mussels, large sea scallops, and briny calamari.
I find that almost anything is made even better with a big handful of fresh herbs. Thyme, rosemary, and sage grow in my garden year around, and any one of them is great here. When I use rosemary or sage, which are woodier than the other herbs, I add them earlier than the thyme and let them sauté with the onion. I also love this with marjoram, Italian parsley, or cilantro- any of these get added at the same juncture in the recipe as the thyme. The real point is to use what you have on hand, either in the fridge or growing. No need to buy an herb just for this dish.
I created this festive dessert for a holiday gathering with my gal pals (Steve’s name for the group of friends with whom I celebrate birthdays several times a year). Rather than making a disappointing imitation of a baked treat that relies on wheat flour, I prefer naturally gluten-free desserts, and this intense chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream and a sparkling cranberry and crystallized ginger compote was so pretty and indulgent, everyone wanted seconds.
The mousse relies on lots of bittersweet chocolate for its rich flavor. The better tasting the chocolate, the better the mousse. I used Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Dark Chocolate
. I melted it in water with only a little cream, not wanting cream to obscure the distinctiveness of the chocolate. The fluffy texture of the mousse comes from whipped egg whites rather than cream, again to preserve the nature of the chocolate. However, whipped organic cream sitting atop the mousse offers a luxurious contrast to the bitter chocolate, helping show off its unique taste with each spoonful.
It is easy to fit cooking this dessert into a busy holiday schedule. The cranberry embellishment will keep for days in the refrigerator, so you can make it whenever you can find 15 minutes. I stirred up the mousse the night before our party and mounded on the cream and cranberries in the morning. Three days after the lunch, the small amount leftover was every bit as good as on the first day, so I will most likely make it a few days ahead next time.
When I am not creating a specific recipe for a book, magazine article, or blog post at lunchtime, I want to eat something that takes only a few minutes to prepare and is as satisfying as a sandwich. Corn tortillas have become a favorite replacement for bread, especially as the base for quick tacos.
I discovered there are as many fillings for tacos as for sandwiches on a scouting trip to Oaxaca, Mexico for Bon Appetit magazine about 11 years ago. That was my first introduction to authentic Mexican food, and my cooking was changed forever as I fell in love with the zesty complex flavors of the moles, soups, fresh and dried chiles, and endless dishes made with corn tortillas. Little did I know then that corn tortillas would become a staple in my home when I segued to a gluten-free diet.
I was not going to give up pasta when I had to stop eating wheat, so I went on a search for a tasty, firm, nutritious, gluten-free product. Most gluten-free pastas are made from rice. The texture and flavor of rice-based noodles are great in Asian cooking, but they don’t work for me in Italian food—they don’t have enough body, easily overcook to a limp mess, and the flavor is wrong. In addition, it is now suggested we cut back on rice consumption, because of high arsenic levels in some rice products.
Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta
and Schar Gluten-Free Pasta
are two happy discoveries. They are both a semolina-like yellow from the corn in their formula, taste pleasantly nutty, and are resilient in texture if not overcooked. Ancient Harvest is organic and adds quinoa for rich flavor, high quality protein, iron, and B vitamins. Schar
incorporates pea protein and rice flour for a more complex taste and extra protein.
I love pasta carbonara
almost as much as the New Yorker writer and food enthusiast Calvin Trillin
does. While I don’t follow his suggestion to serve it for Thanksgiving dinner, I make it frequently, and in many guises. Inspired by the fresh asparagus and peas appearing now in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, I prepared the recipe here for lunch this past weekend. To compliment the spring vegetables, I added lemon zest and fresh basil to the egg, pancetta
, and Parmesan cheese sauce.
My new book, Weeknight Gluten Free, is filled with recipes for luscious, naturally gluten-free sauces. One of my favorites is a vibrant pistachio and basil salsa verde. Salsa verde is an uncooked, fragrant mixture of olive oil and fresh herbs that takes only a few minutes to prepare. There are Italian, French, Spanish, Argentinian, and German versions. I use a full flavored extra-virgin olive oil, a little minced shallot, and lots of aromatic herbs as the base for many variations.
For the recipe in the book, I add a big handful of toasted pistachios and spoon the sauce over creamy buratta
cheese and asparagus stalks. The idea for this dish came from my birthday dinner last year at Farmshop
, a rustic yet sophisticated restaurant in Santa Monica that serves perfectly cooked, creative, farmers’ market inspired food.
The sauce is way too yummy to use only in this specific pairing. Like all the sauces in the book, this one can be served on lots of different items. We have enjoyed it over grilled Alaskan salmon, roasted arctic char, and sautéed
chicken breasts. Carie
at Wheatfree Mom
tweeted that she served it over ricotta cheese, and I am eager to try this as an appetizer with crackers.
Pretty, indulgent, relatively healthy, and easy to craft, I made a tin full of these gluten-free confections for us to enjoy during valentines’ week. But, we realized our stash was dwindling yesterday, so we rushed to take the photo here before they were all gobbled up.
I subscribe to the recent wisdom that dark chocolate is beneficial to health, and never miss my 1-ounce daily dose. To transform the routine prescription into something distinctive for Valentines Day, I added nuts, dried fruit, and crystallized ginger to a base of intense, full-bodied bittersweet chocolate. Large walnuts halves, deep red dried tart cherries, and the sugar on the ginger make these delicacies festive and glittery. For a little more polish, I sometimes drizzle melted white chocolate over the top.
The rain this morning forced me to cancel a hike with friends, and so I baked cookies for them instead. I was eager to taste the organic, reduced sugar fruit spreads Crofter's had given me, and knew that thumbprint cookies, their indentations designed to be filled with jam or jelly, would be a yummy way to try the preserves.
These cookies are a variation on the first thing I learned to bake. I was 6 years old, my grandmother was visiting, and I begged her to make her brown sugar thumbprint cookies- our name for them was Grandmother Cookies. She showed me how to mix the simple dough by hand, roll spoonfuls of it into rounds, and stick my finger into each to form an indentation- all great fun for a kid’s first attempt at baking. I now form the dough in an electric mixer, but still call these delightful morsels Grandmother Cookies.
My friend Karen joined me for her first visit to the 4-month-old farmers’ market in Topanga Canyon on Friday. I introduced her to the growers, and encouraged her to select produce for the week by loading up my shopping cart with multihued bell peppers, shiny red lipstick peppers, broccoli rabe, shelled tender lima beans, tiny fingerling potatoes, huge Macarthur avocados, lemons and limes, dark purple cherry tomatoes, a salad mix loaded with baby herbs, and end of the summer peaches.
As we walked to our cars, Karen commented that I had bought a lot of vegetables for just two people. I did, and always do. I am so tempted by the just picked produce, I add more and more to my cart, as ideas for how to prepare my finds dance in my head, and our meals are more interesting, and healthier to boot.
Wild salmon is one of my favorite foods. I am not speaking about frozen or farmed salmon; I love the fresh, wild fish from Alaska. This fish emerges from its days in the cold, pristine waters pure in flavor and resilient in texture. Remarkably tasty, wild salmon doesn’t need much help from the cook; I sprinkle it with lemon zest and fragrant fennel and mustard seeds, and then grill it. Add a topping of quickly sautéed farmers’ market cherry tomatoes, and a sublime meal is ready in minutes.
On a visit to Juneau last spring, to learn more about Alaskan seafood, I discovered that grilling with alder wood adds the fragrance of the Alaskan woods to the fish, and perfumes the air as well. That is how salmon was cooked at the Taku Glacier Lodge
, a log cabin restaurant set at the edge of the wilderness, with a view of the Taku
Inlet and Taku
Glacier, a spectacular 45 minute helicopter flight from Juneau. When I got back to Los Angeles, I searched for alder wood chips and found them at Barbeques Galore
One cold, fall evening a white bean and kale soup was simmering on the stove, and I began to crave a good bread to go along with it. I decided to bake my first gluten-free loaf, using my favorite cornbread recipe as a template. Twenty minutes later, the aroma of homemade bread baking in the oven filled the kitchen, and in 10 minutes more we cut into the warm creation. It was so tender and satisfying; I have been making it ever since.
This whole grain, ever-so-slightly sweet loaf has become an essential item at my table. We enjoy it for breakfast with eggs, or with almond butter, peanut butter, or pure butter. It rounds out dinners featuring soups, stews, chili, and salads. It also makes a great snack, with or without almond butter or peanut butter, accompanied by crisp apple wedges.
When the cool wind started roaring around our new hilltop home last week, I got out a heavy saucepan, and stirred up a batch of herb-scented polenta to warm us up. The simmering potion took the chill off the house too.
I keep a package of Bob’s Red Mill medium grind cornmeal (available at many grocery stores) in the cupboard at all times; that along with other staples- a bit of onion, scallion or shallot, a handful of fresh herbs, and a little grated cheese, are all the ingredients needed to transform cornmeal into a creamy polenta.
There is one step in the preparation that requires attention- adding the grains of corn to the boiling liquid in such a way as to avoid clumps. The technique is simple: scoop up about ¼ cup of the cornmeal at a time, and sprinkle it from the measuring cup into the bubbling water, whisking all the time.
To avoid the crowds of holiday shoppers and to give personal gifts, I have started preparing goodies in my kitchen. Today I boiled up a batch of Maple-Nut Pralines. It took me only half an hour to turn out a large batch of confections, and my house smells like maple sugaring time in Vermont.
Pralines are a New Orleans-style candy fashioned from sugar, cream, and pecans. I put my own flavor stamp on these sweets by replacing the standard white sugar with pure maple syrup, stirring in walnuts in addition to pecans, and adding a pinch of nutmeg for a festive touch.
I plan to concoct more candies and bake cookies all during December, and will post some of the recipes on this blog. They will be treats I have thought up over the years and enjoy making again and again. These recipes, and many more, can also be found in Cooking at Home
. I am going to thumb through the book again, to select a cookie to make for the friends I will be visiting this weekend.
The cold, windy weekend weather drove me into the kitchen to bake something comforting. In less than 15 minutes I had mixed together a cornbread batter, and in 10 more minutes enticing aromas accompanied the welcome heat radiating from the oven. It was only minutes longer and a golden, crusty loaf was ready to serve with the maple-molasses butter I had whipped together.
The bread is sweetened with maple syrup and flavored with sage leaves. Whole grain cornmeal offers crunch, and buttermilk imparts tenderness. This recipe makes a reliable starting point, but I have fun changing it around. For a healthier version, I replace the butter with light olive oil or vegetable oil, and use whole wheat flour rather than all purpose. Sometimes I season it with rosemary instead of sage, or use honey as an alternative to maple syrup. I have added generous quantities of freshly ground black pepper, and folded in corn kernels.
I spent an entire day filming a video announcing the new Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking at Home
. This volume offers classic recipes, with modern flavor twists, and is packed with helpful cooking tips. It features over 1000 recipes, including many dishes from the 5 Williams-Sonoma books I have written.
The filming took place in my kitchen, and the crew of 7 people began arriving in the early morning. I am not capable of welcoming people into my home without serving good food, so I laid out a nourishing breakfast that I had designed during the week. Video preparations were demanding, leaving little time to devote to the meal; the breakfast was easy, partially homemade, and entirely delicious.
Heirloom beets are showing up in spectacular colors at the farmers’ markets- golden, red, deep purple, and candy cane stripe. Beets with firm, glossy leaves offer a bonus: delicious cooking greens.
Roasting the beet roots intensifies their earthy flavors. Cut off the tops and save them in a plastic bag to cook later. Cut the root tips off too. Then wrap the beets tightly in foil and bake in a hot oven (400°F, or at whatever temperature you are cooking something else) until tender when pierced with a small sharp knife. After the beets cool slightly, the skin will pull off easily. The cooked beets can be stored in the fridge for later use.
Romanesco Cauliflower: Found at Weiser Family Farms stands at many Los Angeles farmers’ markets. From the grocery store: Choose regular cauliflower.
I have been curious about this fantastical looking vegetable ever since I first noticed it at a street market in Rome, about 5 years ago. Now it is available in Los Angeles, but so far I have only seen it at farmers’ markets. Its wondrous shape, reminding me of a bouquet of tiny cones, is described mathematically as a fractal
, but I like to think of it as a natural art form. The flavor is more delicate than regular cauliflower, with slightly nutty nuances, and it has a more tender texture.
Roasted, this highly nutritious vegetable makes a satisfying side dish, or, as in the recipe below, can be the star of a pasta creation. Simply cut off the florets, starting at the base and working up towards the tip, and then toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in a hot oven until brown in spots, crispy on the outside yet yielding in the center.
Comforting mashed potatoes are accented with tender fish, formed into rounds, and then sautéed until golden and crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. I understand why fish cakes are a favorite way to use leftover cod in Nova Scotia. I was introduced to these marvelous treats on a trip to Halifax Canada earlier this fall, and ever since have been recreating them at home the evening after fish dinners.
I made them this week with salmon, but almost any fish would be good. To enhance the basic formula, I added a few spoonfuls of leftover basil and mint salsa verde and a few gratings of lemon peel. Dipped in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), and then cooked in just a little olive oil until a crunchy crust forms, these are most agreeable.
I’m happy to announce that my new cookbook, Weeknight Fresh and Fast, is now available. It can be found exclusively at Williams-Sonoma stores this month and February, and then in March it will also be in bookstores. It can be preordered on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, for March shipment.
The recipes are inspired by my weekly trips to farmers' markets, and reflect the way I cook at home: lots of fresh veggies, small amounts of olive oil, vivid flavor. Many of the recipes are for complete meals, or I offer suggestions for quick ways to round out the plate. I had great fun creating the food for the book, and we ate well during the months I worked on it.
As a preview, here is a recipe for a robust chicken braise. It makes a perfect dinner during the cold snap we are experiencing. I created the dish last winter, with produce I found at the Topanga farmers’ market. Of course, the squash and turnips are also available at every grocery store. I spooned the lusty chicken and vegetables over rice, and then enjoyed the leftovers on another night with crusty bread, to soak up the richly flavored juices.
Last weekend I went peach picking near Fresno, and returned home with cases of fragrant Elbertas
. These beauties taste like summer, the way peaches are meant to taste- sweet, floral, juicy. These are heirloom peaches, with an authentic old fashioned flavor.
Mas Masumoto, peach farmer and author of several books including the award winning Epitaph for a Peach
, dreamt up a peach tree adoption program
to share his fine crop with heirloom buffs. Folks who demonstrate their intent to treat his exquisite fruit with deference assume financial responsibility for the trees early in the year, Mas tends the orchard- strictly organically and with love, participants get to harvest the peaches when they are ripe.
For a super quick and tasty dinner, I mixed pasta with the eggplant, pepper, and tomato sauce leftover from a couple of nights before. Soft fresh goat cheese added creaminess, and to freshen it, a handful of fragrant herbs. We liked it every bit as much as the first meal, maybe even a little more.
Quinoa started appearing in the Bon Appetit test kitchen during my last year or two at the magazine. I could see it was gaining in popularity, but I just didn’t like it much. I preferred orzo, couscous, and bulgur wheat. That was before my childhood celiac disease resurfaced and I had to give up all wheat products.
I decided to try quinoa again as I started focusing on satisfying, naturally gluten-free foods for my new diet. At first I was happy depending on potatoes, polenta, and brown Jasmine and basmati
rice as staples, but I wanted more variety. I am happy I chose to play around with quinoa. Not only is it super nutritious
, I found an easy technique to make it super delicious too, and it is a featured ingredient in my new book, Weeknight Gluten Free
Tender, fresh lima beans are available right now at the McGrath Family Farms stand at several farmers’ markets. Because the beans are already removed from their pods, it takes only a few minutes to get them ready to use, and I am having fun fooling around with them. I have braised them with peppers, zucchini, and green beans; tossed them with spaghetti and fresh pesto; created a fresh succotash; and fashioned a hearty soup with the limas, fingerling potatoes, winter squash, and greens.
I discovered that the fresh limas develop a rich, earthy flavor and silky texture when simmered with sautéed shallot or onion and a few herbs until tender, and then left to cool in the salted liquid for at least 20 minutes. The first time I prepared the fresh limas, the process felt a little awkward, because I am accustomed to simply boiling frozen limas in water for about 15 minutes. Now I cook the limas when I get them home from the market, and store them in the refrigerator to use over the next few days.
When it finally grows cold enough for a blazing fire in the hearth, I crave roasted chestnuts. They are essential to my Thanksgiving feast, and this year they will star in the stuffing- a sourdough bread mixture that is studded with toasty, slightly sweet chestnuts, tart apples, and spicy sausage. I created this recipe for my Thanksgiving book, and it also appears in the new Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home.
Although chestnuts can be found in grocery stores and Italian markets, I ordered fresh Italian Marroni chestnuts, directly from Correia Farms
, a family chestnut orchard in the Sacramento valley. They will arrive on Monday, and I look forward to sampling them and reporting to you. They can be kept for several months in the refrigerator, and so we will be able to enjoy them throughout the holidays.
I am working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium as the food editor for their Seafood Watch website, and the first post I produced is up. Each month we introduce one sustainable seafood item, with information about why it is a good choice for the environment and tips for cooking it. This is brought to life with 2 recipes fashioned specifically for the website; I will create one, and one will be from a chef who is dedicated to sustainability.
This month we talk about arctic char, a delicate fish that tastes like a cross between salmon and trout. The photo here shows the recipe I devised: very easy to prepare Char with Fennel and Orange
. The fish fillets
and fennel and red onion wedges are seasoned with fennel seeds and orange zest and roasted in a hot oven. While they cook, balsamic vinegar and orange juice simmer until syrupy, for a quick, sprightly sauce to spoon over the fish.
Cool weather and rain in the forecast make this a perfect week to cook a pot of warming seafood chowder. This recipe, with its creamy broth, delicate cod, smoky bacon, and fresh kale, has rich flavors and is simple to make. I developed it for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website, to entice people to try Pacific Cod, a sustainable fish that is terrific in chowder and tacos, and is not expensive. Atlantic cod is greatly overfished, so Pacific cod is a tasty alternative.
Recently we invited friends for a Spring Equinox dinner. The idea was to go for a full moon hike, and then return to our house for a meal, however It rained that evening. The hike was off, but dinner was not. It was cold and windy, and the chowder was the perfect antidote.
When I was growing up, my mother served shrimp for special occasions. They were delightfully sweet and briny, resilient yet fabulously succulent. But years ago, these little sea creatures changed, the flavor disappeared, the texture became mushy, and they were available everywhere, including at inexpensive eateries. Except for giant Pacific and Canadian spot prawns presented at the best restaurants, shrimp were no longer special.
I had read and heard arguments against eating inexpensive shrimp- environmentally unsound farming and fishing methods are employed to produce this low cost product. It wasn’t until a visit to a fish farm in Southeast Asia that I truly grasped the situation. One look at fish swimming listlessly in fetid brown water, and I understood why I had stopped liking shrimp, and recognized the toll on the ecosystem.
During the summer, when I get home from my weekly visit to the farmers’ market, it always seems like I have purchased too many heirloom tomatoes. But every week we devour them all.
A few of my favorite preparations:
- a quick salad of large tomato wedges, sprinkled with salt and pepper, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and finished with a shower of fresh marjoram or basil
- to accompany grilled fish or chicken, sweet cherry tomatoes halved and sautéed with red onion and thyme
- for an intense cold soup, the ripest specimens pureed with extra-virgin olive oil, shallots, and breadcrumbs
- zesty panzanella salad made with chunks of extra juicy beauties tossed with cubes of grilled bread, olive oil, arugula and blue cheese
I am on a quest to serve healthy greens more frequently, and last week I was tempted by Chinese broccoli. Steve does not like the bitter flavor of most greens, and when he sees sliced chard or kale on the cutting board, he always asks why I would want to ruin dinner with something so unpleasant. However, broccoli rabe and its close relative Chinese broccoli are sweeter than most greens, and if I sneak them into soups, stews, and pasta dishes, Steve enjoys the meal.
This photo shows me creating the dish that convinced Steve greens can be tasty. It is a broccoli rabe and tofu stir-fry that is in my upcoming cookbook, Weeknight Fresh and Fast. Delicate broccoli rabe and creamy tofu are jazzed up with assertive Asian chile sauce and fragrant ginger, and then spooned over steaming, delicately scented brown jasmine rice.
Sunday was chilly and rainy; I was cold and wanted to warm up the house, and nothing cozies up a house better than a roasting chicken. Coincidentally, there was a big, chubby organic chicken in my fridge. I hadn’t been able to resist it at Trader Joe’s, especially for only $2.69 a pound. I used to recoil at the premium price of organic poultry, but my reaction changed once I cooked a Rosie chicken (certified organic, free range chicken from Petaluma Poultry- link), and tasted the difference a good upbringing makes. I moved on to organic chickens I found at the Calabasas and Santa Monica farmers markets, from Happy Farms (link). Organic birds have good old fashioned flavor, and I treat them as the celebration food roast chicken once was- perfect for a Sunday supper, plus a couple of bonus meals during the week.
I like to prepare Valentine’s Day dinner at home, far away from overcrowded restaurants. Because the meal is my celebration too, I want it to be easy, leaving me time to focus on my sweetie. This year I am going to cook the Roasted Salmon with Thyme Vinaigrette I created last year. I liked the dish so much; I included it in my new book, Weeknight Fresh and Fast. The vivid thyme sauce seasons the fish and dresses a salad of delicate baby greens too, making it 2 recipes in one. Add smashed Yukon gold potatoes (more about those in a minute), and the main course is complete.
On Sunday, I will pick up fresh (or thawed frozen) wild Alaskan king salmon at Santa Monica Seafood
or Whole Foods markets. Alaskan salmon has a subtle flavor, underscored by a wonderful richness. In addition to being a favorite of mine, it is raised and fished using sustainable practices
, and is healthful too- a win, win, win. I will make the vinaigrette for the fish and salad when I get home from shopping.
To start off the meal, I plan on sautéing sliced fresh Chanterelle mushrooms with shallots and a little of the thyme already on hand for the fish. I will mound the mixture on toasted pain rustic, and serve it with flutes of sparkling rosé, so we can nibble and chat while I finish the cooking. An even easier starter- a luscious soft cheese with crisp crackers.
Today is an exciting day for me. My new book Weeknight Gluten Free
is finally available at Williams-Sonoma stores. When my childhood celiac disease resurfaced, I was determined to eat as well as I always had. I continued to focus on healthful, fresh, farmers’ market inspired food as I learned to cook without wheat, barley, and rye. This book features my favorite recipes developed during a year of glorious experimenting in my kitchen, and I'm so happy to be able to share them with you.
Rather than offering disappointing versions of dishes that require wheat, I focus on food that is naturally gluten free. I didn’t get depressed about giving up crusty bread and semolina pasta, but instead came to truly appreciate the beauty of polenta, quinoa, and corn tortillas. The book highlights creative uses for gluten-free staples such as quinoa pilafs, creamy weeknight polenta, herbed egg crepes, socca (savory chickpea pancakes), legumes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. I also created a crusty skillet cornbread that takes only minutes to prepare and competes with artisan breads for satisfaction.
You’ll find recipes for food to eat every night of the week, including meatless entrees, sustainable seafood, poultry, and meat. There are dishes like braised Moroccan flavored chickpeas and carrots with yogurt topping; crisp socca with burrata, greens, and olive dressing; polenta topped with fried eggs, kale, and blistered tomatoes; fish tacos with broccoli slaw and lime crema; turkey cutlets with green olives and lemon on quinoa; and quick Vietnamese beef and noodle soup.
After cooking a feast for Thanksgiving, I couldn’t believe I needed to shop for food on Monday, but we were running out of a few staples. As I went through the store, gathering soy milk, yogurt, and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Hot Cereal
, I found myself drawn to the produce section, and I added a couple of bright red bell peppers, a sweet butternut squash, and some curly black kale to my cart before heading home.
I was craving vegetables, and relief from the rich holiday fare. As soon as I unloaded the groceries, I poured a little olive oil into a large pot and set it over medium heat, cut a big onion and one of the bell peppers into ½-inch cubes (faster than finely chopping), and got a cauldron of fragrant soup started.
I like to feast on domestic white truffles a couple of times during the holiday season. These gems may come in small nuggets, but are compellingly aromatic and are easy to find at several Los Angeles county farmers’ markets. For breakfast or brunch, I slice them over farmers’ market eggs softly scrambled with Parmesan cheese, shallots, and chives. For lunch or dinner, they top a simple risotto. The heat of the warm creamy scramble or rice releases the truffles’ mysteriously earthy aroma, transforming the simple dishes into luxurious holiday meals.
The truffles are sold at the Clearwater Farms’ table at three LA county farmers’ markets: Santa Monica
at Arizona and 3rd Street on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and Hollywood
on Sundays. (Please note, the Santa Monica market will be closed on New Year’s Day.) At $15 an ounce, they are much more reasonable than Italian white truffles. I find ½ ounce per serving makes a good once-a-year treat. When I get my treasures home, I seal them in a glass jar atop arborio
rice for the risotto, and with farmers’ market eggs for our breakfast. Both the eggs and the rice absorb the truffles' fragrance, adding depth of flavor to the final dish.