A Card, and 3 Simple Ways to Begin Your Valentine’s Day Dinner

Parmigiano Love

So often, for me at least, the best part of a dinner out happens shortly after I am seated, when the server sets down a warm roll with a pat of soft butter sprinkled with sea salt or a basket of freshly baked focaccia and a little dish filled with olive oil swirled with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. It’s these simple details that, when done well, distinguish the meal from one prepared at home, when such delights are often absent and when relishing every morsel is not always the order of the hour.

With that in mind, I have a few very simple ideas for beginning a Valentine’s Day dinner at home. If you thrive at arranging delicious things on plates, ideas 1 and 2 are for you. If you like to fuss a little bit more, idea number 3 might interest you more.

But before we get to the food, let’s discuss cards. You have to begin Valentine’s Day with a card, right? I’ve added four Valentine’s Day cards to the print shop, including the above pictured one, Parmigiano Love. Each Valentine’s Day card costs $3 and can be shipped to you for the price of a stamp (45 cents). [Read more…]

Homemade Breadcrumbs & Infinite Ways to Use Them

pasta with toasted bread crumbs, anchovies, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and basil

Homemade breadcrumbs slipped into our dinner regimen slowly, appearing on our salads to start, the kale caesars in particular, quietly replacing croutons altogether. But shortly after their introduction, perhaps encouraged by their warm reception, they made haste, and soon began garnishing our pastas, mingling with our roasted vegetables, delicately topping our fish fillets. These days they’ve gotten completely brazen, sometimes accompanying every item on the plate. I don’t know when this trend will fizzle, but I’m liking it very much at the moment.

The inspiration to start whizzing my stale bread in the food processor, storing the crumbs in the freezer, and toasting them in a skillet with olive oil at the dinner hour, came from two sources: a great chef interview on the kitchn in early November and the editor’s letter in this month’s bon appètit, which offered tips on how to be a better cook from seven renowned chefs around the world including Mario Batali who admits that “there’s almost nothing [he] wouldn’t put homemade breadcrumbs on.” I’m starting to share this sentiment. These crunchy, salted, olive-oil toasted bits are truly addictive. [Read more…]

Paul Steindler’s Cabbage Soup and A Peasant Bread Follow-Up

cabbage soup

When I’m home in CT visiting my parents, my favorite pastime is poking around the two basement refrigerators, the home of all sorts of treats my mother has been preparing — soups, spanakopita, Grand Marnier chocolate truffles — and stocking up on — smoked mussels, white anchovies, enough cheeses to feed the neighborhood — for weeks. It’s a little gourmet paradise inside those boxes, and it’s impossible not to sneak a peak (and a truffle) with every trip down to the basement.

The only hard part about being home for the holidays is refraining from eating all day long. From the first bite of homemade cinnamon oatmeal bread in the morning to the last bite of flourless chocolate-almond torte in the evening, my stomach barely gets a rest. There is goodness at every turn, and none so much (if you ask me) as at lunch, which hasn’t changed (during the holidays at least) in about a decade: a bowl of soup, a square of spanakopita and a slice or two of homemade bread. On this most recent visit, we feasted on Vermont cheddar cheese soup — my favorite — and rosemary butternut squash bisque with slices of toasted buttered rye bread on the side. It was heaven.

Five days of this soup-and-bread routine made me miss it dearly upon returning home to my all-but-bare refrigerator. But when a large head of cabbage and a few carrots sitting in my vegetable drawer caught my eye, my spirits lifted. With the exception of fresh dill, I had everything on hand to make another favorite soup of my mother’s, one she has been making since the early 80’s: Paul Steindler’s cabbage soup with caraway seeds, a recipe Craig Claiborne wrote about many years ago in The New York Times Magazine and eventually published in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. Loaded with vegetables — carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage — a little bacon and a touch of cream, this is definitely a hearty soup, best served on a cold winter day with crusty bread and nothing more. For me, it’s the dill and caraway seeds that make it unlike any other I have tasted, the caraway seeds in particular imparting a lovely yet subtle flavor. [Read more…]

Gingerbread Biscotti And A Few Favorite Holiday Recipes

gingerbread biscotti in jar

Biscotti lovers seem to fall into two camps: those who view dipping as essential and those who view dipping as optional. As you can see from the photo above, I fall into the dipping-is-optional camp. I like my biscotti with a chewy center (a texture achieved by butter, which dipping-biscotti recipes generally do not call for) and a crisp crust, and I like them on the larger, meatier size — I want to eat one (not ten) and feel satisfied.

While I am partial to classic almond biscotti, these gingerbread biscotti are a treat this time of year. This recipe is just a variation of my favorite recipe with molasses replacing some of the sugar and the addition of traditional gingerbread spices: ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. With coffee or tea, a latte or hot cocoa, this dunking-is-optional treat will put anyone in the holiday spirit. [Read more…]

Orange-and-Ricotta Pound Cake & A Few Gift Ideas

orange-ricotta loaf

As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit. [Read more…]

My Mother’s Peasant Bread: The Best Easiest Bread You Will Ever Make

peasant bread

When I tell you that, if forced, I had to pick one and only one recipe to share with you that this — my mother’s peasant bread — would be it, I am serious. I would almost in fact be OK ending the blog after this very post, retiring altogether from the wonderful world of food blogging, resting assured that you all had this knowledge at hand. This bread might just change your life.

The reason I say this is simple. I whole-heartedly believe that if you know how to make bread you can throw one hell of a dinner party. And the reason for this is because people go insane over homemade bread. Not once have I served this bread to company without being asked, “Did you really make this?” And questioned: “You mean with a bread machine?” But always praised: “Is there anything more special than homemade bread?”

And upon tasting homemade bread, people act as if you’re some sort of culinary magician. I would even go so far as to say that with homemade bread on the table along with a few nice cheeses and a really good salad, the main course almost becomes superfluous. If you nail it, fantastic. If you don’t, you have more than enough treats to keep people happy all night long.

So what, you probably are wondering, makes this bread so special when there are so many wonderful bread recipes out there? Again, the answer is simple. For one, it’s a no-knead bread. I know, I know. There are two wildly popular no-knead bread recipes out there. But this is a no-knead bread that can be started at 4:00pm and turned out onto the dinner table at 7:00pm. It bakes in well-buttered pyrex bowls — there is no pre-heating of the baking vessels in this recipe — and it emerges golden and crisp without any steam pans or water spritzes. It is not artisan bread, and it’s not trying to be. It is peasant bread, spongy and moist with a most-delectable buttery crust.

Genuinely, I would be proud to serve this bread at a dinner party attended by Jim Leahy, Mark Bittman, Peter Reinhart, Chad Robertson, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. It is a bread I hope you will all give a go, too, and then proudly serve at your next dinner party to guests who might ask where you’ve stashed away your bread machine. And when this happens, I hope you will all just smile and say, “Don’t be silly. This is just a simple peasant bread. Easy as pie. I’ll show you how to make it some day.” [Read more…]

Pizza with Lemon, Smoked Mozzarella & Basil

pizza with lemon, smoked mozzarella & basil

As much as I love lemons, the thought of placing them atop pizza never would have crossed my mind. Squeezing a wedge of lemon over a slice of white clam pizza — that’s natural; biting into whole slices of lemon, rind and seeds included — that takes some convincing.

But the story and photo of Kesté’s Pizza Sorrentina, a Neapolitan pizza topped with lemon slices, basil and smoked mozzarella, in the WSJ a few weekends ago sent me racing off to the store to find smoked mozzarella. Story goes that this pie was invented in Naples by a great pizza maestro’s daughter who created it for her lemon-adoring mother.

Never would I have imagined this group of ingredients to work so well together, but they do. And it makes sense. Lemon cuts the smokiness of the mozzarella; basil, even after seven minutes in the oven, adds a touch of freshness. The bites with lemon slices are big — tart and tangy and refreshing all at the same time; the bites without beg for one. But the beauty of the pizza lies in the balance: it would be a shame to overdo the lemon, to be flinging pieces aside rather than longing for more.

For lemon lovers, of course, this pie is a winner; but skeptics beware: it’s beguiling enough to win you over, too. [Read more…]

Baked French Toast

Tartine Bread's baked French toast

Hi there. With it being the weekend and all, I won’t keep you. I just thought, in case you hadn’t decided on breakfast yet, that you might be interested in this baked French toast, a dish I find nearly impossible not to make at least once a weekend. The recipe comes from Tartine Bread, the book that introduced me to eggplant involtini and kale caesar salad, and like those two, this one’s a good one.

While I love this French toast above all for its texture — caramelized on the outside, not soggy on the inside — what distinguishes it from any other French toast I’ve had, baked or otherwise, is the presence of lemon zest, a most-unexpected and delicious flavor in a traditionally cinnamon-spiked dish.

There are a few keys to finding success with this French toast: [Read more…]

A Sprouted Kitchen Feast

The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook

I couldn’t make a decision. And my attempts to organize my thoughts — adhering cute page flags to particularly tempting recipes — proved futile. In the midst of this frenzied state of drooling and tabbing, drooling and tabbing, my mother arrived at my doorstep with a bucket of feta (that’s normal, right?), a branch of oregano, and a dozen figs. And at once, my vision for our dinner became clear.

As my mother unloaded her basket of goodies into my pantry and fridge, I waved pages of The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in front of her. Over every image we ooheh and ahhed; over every title we yummed and mmmmed. My mother soon understood my predicament: everything — from the roasted wild cod with meyer lemon and caper relish to the roasted tomato soup with cheesy toasts to the mushroom and brown rice veggie burgers — looked and sounded incredibly enticing.

But thanks to the ingredients my mother had just delivered, the decision was easy: dinner would be mediterranean baked feta with olives and roasted plum tartines with ricotta, substituting figs for the plums and my mother’s peasant bread for the wheat baguette — I never pass on my mother’s peasant bread. And having just read that Sara, the book’s author, encourages readers to “use the recipes as a starting point and to omit or add ingredients according to preferences,” I felt OK making a few changes. Figs seemed a suitable stand-in for plums, and Sara in fact recommends pears or persimmons in the fall. Yum.

We soon set to work mixing dough, slicing onions, halving tomatoes, making ricotta, mincing garlic and chopping parsley. And before we knew it, we had the makings of a beautiful spread, as colorful as Hugh’s (Sara’s husband) photos, as promising as Sara’s recipes.

The book, while not a small-plate cookbook, offers lots of wonderful ideas in this category. As I flipped through the pages, the recurring thought was: This would be fun for a party. And it makes sense as one of Sara’s goals for the book is to “share recipes that are simple enough to make after work but interesting enough to serve at a dinner party.” She certainly has achieved this. We have now eaten the baked feta with a hunk of bread twice this week for dinner — it is so good — and I have never been so eager to invite some friends over for dinner to show them my new tricks. The fig tartines, which disappeared in record time, lit up the table.

Beautifully photographed, thoughtfully written, the book is sure to inspire whoever comes across it. The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook is now available for purchase.

Preparing the baked feta:
olive topping, oregano, feta

feta, ready for the oven

baked feta with olives and tomatoes

Preparing the roasted fig tartines:
honey roasted figs

roasted fig bruschetta with ricotta and basil

Bucket of feta:
bucket of feta

Mom’s bread:
making my mom's bread

mom's bread

Recipes:

Roasted Plum (or fig) Tartines
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: I’ve supplied the recipe here just as it is written in the book so that you can take a look and make your own adjustments accordingly. As I noted above, I used figs in place of the plums, but roasted them exactly the same — with honey and salt for about 20 minutes. Also, I made homemade ricotta, which is so easy and delicious, and omitted the parmesan and chopped chives (was feeling a little lazy). Finally, I used fresh basil in place of the microgreens.

6 ripe plums
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons honey, warmed
1 1/3 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1 whole grain baguette
1 cup microgreens for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Cut the plums into quarters (if using figs, cut them in half) and remove the pits. Gently toss the plum pieces with a pinch of salt and the warm honey. Spread them on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up. Bake until the edges are crisped and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

3. While the plums are baking, in a bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmesan, chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Turn the oven up to 500ºF. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Place the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and bake the bread just until toasty, 4 to 5 minutes. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly on both halves and return to the oven just until warmed through, another 1 to 2 minutes. Evenly distribute the roasted plums on top of the cheese. Finish with a few grinds of pepper and garnish with the greens. Cut each baguette half into slices on the diagonal. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mediterranean Baked Feta
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: Once you make this once, you’ll never need a recipe again. The quantity of the olive salad is dependent on how much feta you choose to warm up. I baked my block (as opposed to grilled) and served it with warm bread. Heaven.

1 (8- to 10-ounce) block of feta
1 cup assorted baby tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Kalmata olives, pitted (I didn’t…lazy) and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Crackers, pita chips, or crostini, for dipping

1. Heat your grill to medium-high or preheat the oven to 400ºF. Set the block of feta in the middle of a piece of foil for grilling or in a small ovenproof baking dish twice the size of your block of cheese for baking.

2. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, olives, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, olive oil and a few grinds of pepper.

3. Pile the tomato mixture on top of the feta. For grilling, fold up the edges of the foil so that it will hold in any liquid as it cooks; put it straight on a grill; heat for 15 minutes to warm it through. For baking, put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. It will not melt, just get warm and soften.

4. Remove from the grill or oven and serve the dip hot with the crackers, pita chips, or crostini.

Honey Almond Butter
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: This almond butter is SO good. If I wasn’t afraid that I might burn out my Cuisinart’s motor, I would start making this for gifts immediately. I used maple syrup in place of the honey because I am obsessed with this particular Justin’s Nut Butter, but now that I know how to make it, there’s no going back.

2 cups raw almonds
1 teaspoon oil, such as almond, unrefined peanut or extra-virgin coconut (I used coconut and more than a teaspoon)
sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (I omitted)
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

1. Place the almonds in a food processor or Vitamix and process for about 1 minute. Add the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the cinnamon. Continue to process for another 8 to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the food processor or Vitamix as needed. You will see a change in consistency from crumbs, to big clumps, to a large ball. Finally, as the oil is released from the almonds, the mixture will smooth itself out. If you want it even smoother, add a bit more oil.

2. When it is as smooth as you’d like it, stir in the honey or maple syrup. Add more salt to taste and transfer to a glass jar. It will keep covered in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. (I kept mine at room temperature. It disappeared in three days.)

maple almond butter

Maple almond butter spread on no-knead oatmeal toasting bread:
no-knead oatmeal bread with maple almond butter

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines, sort of

piadines topped with kale caesar and grilled chicken

On May 25th, I pressed the “on” button on my food processor. I haven’t turned it off since. It’s just been going going going, churning out bowlfuls of the kitchn’s magical one-ingredient ice cream, batches of Bittman’s one-minute mayonnaise, and mason jars full of Darcy’s pesto.

The latest addition to the food processor’s regimen is caesar dressing, made in the same fashion as the Bittman mayonnaise, through the teeny hole of the food pusher insert. It works like a charm, and I’ve discovered that if I give the processor bowl a quick little rinsey rinse immediately after I’m finished using it, it’s as if I never dirtied it. Umpteen parts? No big deal. Back onto its base it goes; onto the next job it moves.

Anyway, I’m planning a dinner party and thought it might be fun to make little flatbreads — “piadines” I saw them called in a Michael Chiarello cookbook — piled high with caesar salad — boring, I know, but perhaps made interesting by kale — tossed with sliced grilled chicken breasts — boring, I know, but safe. I love this kind of thing, when bread and vegetable and meat are all wrapped up in one casual, fun, summery, light dish.

As you can see, I gave this idea a little test run, and while I still think it has potential, my piadines need a little bit of work. They puffed way up in the oven, almost like pita bread, making them better suited for falafel or chicken souvlaki. I’m looking for something thin thin, as my grandmother would say, and not too crisp but a little less imposing than what I made here. Despite the shape of the bread, however, the combo was delicious, and fortunately, I still have some time to experiment. In the meantime I might just run a few more things by you.

One last thing. If you’re looking for a rustic, summery dessert for one of your own get togethers, here’s something that might interest you: Stone Fruit Galettes with Homemade Frangipane. Make one dough (in the food processor), a batch of frangipane (also in the food processor), and assemble three tarts each perhaps with a different stone fruit. Plum is my favorite this year. Get the recipe over at Lifestyle Mirror:

stone fruit; peach galette

piadine topped with kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Lahey no-knead pizza dough, risen

piadine dough balls

piadines ready for the oven

piadines in the oven

just-baked piadines

deflated piadines

uncooked chicken breasts seasoned with basil, salt and pepper

grilled chicken breasts

grilled chicken breasts

sliced grilled chicken breast

kale

kale caesar with grilled chicken

kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines:
Serves: As many as you like

Notes: As I mentioned above, my piadines are not quite there. They were delicious, just not flat. I used the Lahey No Knead Pizza Dough, which I adore, and which I think might work if I handle the dough a little more aggressively — next time I might even use a rolling pin to remove as many air pockets as possible.

What’s great about something like this for a party is that nearly everything can be prepared ahead of time: kale washed, cheese grated, dressing made, chicken grilled (though it is nice when the chicken is freshly grilled). And with everything prepped, the salad can be assembled in seconds while the flatbreads are baking.

components:

Jim Lahey No Knead Pizza dough or your favorite pizza/flatbread/piadine dough portioned into 3-oz balls
kale, washed and torn into salad-sized pieces
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
caesar dressing (recipe below)
grilled chicken breasts (recipe for two below), sliced

to assemble:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Stretch or roll dough balls into 5-inch rounds. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly golden.

2. Meanwhile, place kale in a salad bowl with grated parmigiano and sliced grilled chicken breast. Toss with dressing to taste. Taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly.

3. Remove flatbreads from oven. Place one on each plate. Pile high with salad.

Food Processor Caesar Dressing:
Yield = 1.25 cups

3 cloves garlic
3 anchovies
pinch kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

*Lemon juice is obviously more traditional, but white balsamic has a nice flavor, and using vinegar is also easier than juicing lemons… forgive my laziness.

1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the anchovies, garlic and salt until finely puréed. Add the yolk and quarter cup of white balsamic. Pulse until blended. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. (Your food processor should have a teeny hole in the food pusher insert in the top). When an emulsion forms you can add it a little faster. (Again, the little hole makes this unnecessary.)

Grilled Chicken Breasts
Yield = 2 breasts; serves 4 when sliced for a salad

2 chicken breasts
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh herb of choice — I like basil
olive oil

1. Preheat the grill to high. Season chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper. Toss with the fresh herb. Rub lightly with oil. Grill for 2 to 2.5 minutes a side if breasts are smallish. Let rest for five minutes before slicing.