Slow Cooker Gigante Beans with Tomatoes and Pancetta

stewy slow-cooker gigante beans

In a recent Dinner, A Love Story post, Jenny Rosenstrach captured my exact experience and thoughts regarding crockpot cooking. In sum, despite seeing the appeal, she has not had great success.

I have owned a crockpot for 10 years — received one as a wedding gift — and every winter, I break it out once, only to make something good but not great. Let’s just say no recipe this past decade has left me drinking the crockpot Kool Aid.

Part of the issue for me is that often the recipes don’t feel easier. If a recipe calls for browning meat in one pan, then finishing it in another, that means I have two pans to clean, not one. And I don’t understand the crockpot recipes that call for canned beans — isn’t that the beauty of canned beans? That the long, slow cooking has already been done for you? I own a cookbook dedicated to crockpot cooking, which includes a recipe for poached eggs, which, start to finish, take 45 minutes. Why?

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Canal House Chicken with Preserved Lemon

chicken in pan

Remember those preserved lemons we made last fall? Well, I think I’ve found my favorite use for them yet: this five-ingredient chicken, a recipe which arrived two weeks ago in my mailbox — my real, outdoor mailbox — on a 4×6-inch recipe card.

Shortly after the card, one of three, arrived, I secured it to my fridge, and I made the recipe, chicken thighs with lemon from Canal House, a day later. And then I made it the next day and the next. I should know by now not to be so confounded when simple meets spectacular, but one bite of these thighs left me puzzled: How can this be? How can salt, pepper and preserved lemon alone produce something so tasty? Why have I never used this method — 30 minutes skin side down, 10 minutes skin side up — to cook thighs? How can such a simple method create the crispiest skin, the juiciest meat?

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The Crispiest Oven Fries

crispy oven fries

Before I started paying attention to local food and to cooking with seasonal ingredients, I would have categorized potatoes as a winter vegetable, miraculously growing in the frozen solid earth, harvested by farmers through layers of snow.

I never would have guessed that a potato’s peak season in colder climates is actually midsummer through late fall, and that during these months, never do potatoes taste so good. Every summer, when the potatoes start arriving in our CSA, I am blown away by their flavor, by how they need nothing more than olive oil and salt, by how many potatoes we consume as a family each week. I’ve been on such a potato bender recently I’ve had to supplement our supply at the farmers’ market, and when I was there last, I asked the woman at the Barber’s Farm table why the summer potatoes were so good. She responded: “Because they’re fresh!”

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Cauliflower, Broccoli & Pepita Salad

tossed broccoli, cauliflower & sesame salad

I’ve heard that trying to please everyone, as a general life strategy, may at best lead to disappointment and, at worst, failure. Eek.

But what if, say, without even trying, you just happen to please everyone? Hmm.

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Gluten-Free Peasant Bread

gluten-free peasant bread

For the past year, the most frequent question asked on this blog is this: Can the peasant bread be made gluten-free?

Everyone knows someone — a friend, an uncle, a cousin — recently diagnosed with Celiac disease who has had to forget bread as he/she once knew it.

You might have this friend, this uncle, this cousin. I do. And you might want to treat him/her to a loaf of freshly baked bread but you don’t know where to begin. This is the position my mother found herself in a month ago while preparing for the arrival of her brother-in-law, who had recently adopted a gluten-free diet. Panicked by the thought of serving dinner without warm, fresh bread on the table, she called asking if I had ever successfully made the peasant bread gluten free. I answered as I have to everyone who has asked thus far: no, not yet.

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Toasted Muesli // Camping at Heart Lake, Lake Placid

bowl of muesli & Argyle Cheese Farmer Maple yogurt (amazing!)

If I were to look back on my life and find myself eating a bowl of muesli, it would most likely mean I was with my brother and sister at my dad’s house for the weekend. We would have found the box, the only cereal option, nestled with the Jaffa Cakes, the After Eights, and the Earl Grey tea in the kitchen cupboard, and it would likely be several months old, its powdery contents stale, any dried fruit petrified.

If we were in luck, there might be some milk in the fridge. If we were in more luck, that milk might be just a day or two past expiration. And if the stars were really aligning for us, we would avoid getting our fingers pinched in the mousetrap set in the silverware drawer while searching for a spoon. My English father is many things: a man of the kitchen he is not.

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Millet Muffins

millet muffin

Every time I visit Philadelphia, I have high hopes of hitting up all of my favorite spots: La Colombe for a cappucino, Cafe Lutecia for a croissant, Ding Ho for fresh rice noodles, Reading Terminal Market for a soft pretzel, Fork for brioche French toast and Metropolitan Bakery for a millet muffin.

But on a recent overnight visit I had time for neither a coffee nor a croissant, and I returned home craving all of my favorite carbs but most of all a brown-sugar, millet-studded muffin.

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Quinoa with Walnuts, Radishes & Spring Onions • How to Cook Quinoa Properly • Fair Trade Quinoa

quinoa salad

A few weeks ago I discovered that for all the years I have been cooking quinoa I have been doing it wrong. The quinoa I have made, as a result, while edible and receptive to countless seasonings and additions, has never kept my attention for very long — after the odd week-long-quinoa binge, I’d forget about it for months.

But after posting the radish entry a few weeks ago, I received a comment from a dear old friend who managed several of the Philadelphia farmers’ markets while I lived there. Joanna pointed me to a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for a quinoa salad with radishes, fava beans, avocado and a lemon vinaigrette she had recently made for some friends to rave reviews.

A quick google search led me to the recipe. While the ingredient list had me foaming at the mouth, it was the first few lines of the instructions that really struck me: Place the quinoa in a saucepan filled with plenty of boiling water and simmer for 9 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, rinse under cold water and leave to dry.

PLENTY of boiling water. Simmer for NINE minutes. RINSE under cold water. Is this news to you, too? Why has every package of quinoa instructed me to cook it as if it were rice — 1 part grain to 2 parts water — in a covered pot? And to cook it for at least 15 minutes but often for as long as 20? And after the cooking process, to let it rest off the heat under its steaming lid for an additional 5 to 10 minutes?

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Torta Caprese — Flourless Chocolate Almond Torte

chocolate almond torte

On Christmas Eve my mother served this torta caprese — a flourless, chocolate-almond torte originating from the Isle of Capri — for dessert. If this is any indication of how it was received, not a single person sitting at the table, nine in total, turned down seconds. Later that evening, Santa even helped himself to thirds.

I love this class of cakes, those that can stand on their own, that don’t beg for layers of buttercream, pools of crème pâtissière, glazes of chocolate ganache or even dollops of whipped cream. This one, like the orange-and-olive oil cake and the Chez Panisse almond torte, fits into this class.

Containing no flour and leavened only by whipped egg whites, this torte is at once light, rich and moist. Ground almonds give it a wonderful texture throughout, and a splash of Grand Marnier offers a hint of orange. Made with bittersweet chocolate, it is perfectly sweet, and when it bakes, that brownie-like, most-delicious, paper-thin crust forms on the top-most layer. It is every bit elegant the finale of a special occasion should be, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. I hope you find an occasion to celebrate it soon. [Read more…]

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, C4C Gluten-Free Flour, Kerrygold Butter

Lemon Thyme Shortbread

Have you ever spotted Kerrygold butter at your super market? Inexplicably in the cheese section? And wondered if it were any good?

Well, it is. My mother brought me some this weekend. She spoils me, still, at age 30. Along with the butter, she brought her favorites from the Greek market — a tin of olive oil, a branch of dried oregano, a block of manouri cheese; some pantry items she knows I hate spending money on — cheese cloth and parchment paper; and of course, some baked goods — Bakery Lane’s honey-whole wheat bread and toasted coconut-raspberry jam bars. Delicious. As my mother says, I felt like a bride.

But don’t be too jealous. No sooner had she unloaded the basket of goodies had she pulled out her travel file, spilling with newspaper clippings along with her latest neuroses.

“Just read the middle paragraph,” she insisted waving the clipping in my face, “about human skin cells and dander and dust mites and their feces. And about how much humans perspire every evening. And about…”

“Sure thing, mom.” I didn’t want to eat my breakfast anyway.

Yes, my friends, my mother is worried again. She’s worried about the ungrounded outlets in my bathroom; the dead, unfelled pine tree in our backyard; the dime-sized rash on my 6-month-old’s neck; and the copper can I store olive oil in — “What’s that lined with?” she asks every visit. These are worries I expect, however. Par for the course, really. But this latest concern — a personal hygiene affront veiled by a When to Clean the Sheets article — was a first. I’m starting to develop a complex.

I suppose some things never change. My mother worries about me, still, at age 30. Oh mama, you know I love you. And thank you for being such a good sport.

OK, on to some fun stuff:

1. As I mentioned, Kerrygold Butter, made from the milk of grass-fed cows in Ireland, is delicious. It’s definitely a splurge, best saved perhaps for spreading on good bread and topping with radish slices, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

2. C4C Flour. Several months ago, after watching Thomas Keller make polenta waffles and fried chicken on tv using his new C4C flour — a gluten-free mix that can be subbed one-for-one with all-purpose flour — I immediately ordered a bag. Beyond curiosity, I didn’t have a reason to buy this gluten-free flour, but I’m so happy I did. So far, and I’ve only made a couple of things (shortbread and waffles), I’m impressed. It’s pricey, certainly, but it’s a good product — worth it for the mere convenience of being able to use it in nearly any pastry, dessert or quick bread. But if you want to make your own mix, this recipe looks promising.

Side note: My mother recently tipped me off about a simple substitution when making our favorite brownie recipe gluten-free: She swaps the flour for almond flour. So simple. You’d never know the brownies were gluten free, and the almond adds a nice flavor, too. I suspect this works best when little flour is called for.

3. Lemon Shortbread. Melissa Clark’s shortbread continues to be one of my favorite foods on the planet. I find a reason, it seems, to make the rosemary variation at least once a month. Inspired by a visit to 2Amys, where a wedge of lemon shortbread stole the show (after the pizza of course), I had to make a batch. A few appropriate adjustments to Clark’s recipe produced a lemon shortbread to swoon over. This time, I also added lemon thyme from our CSA and used gluten-free flour. I can’t stop eating it.

Lemon Thyme Shortbread
Incidentally, the article my mother passed along, When to Clean the Sheets, is informative and entertaining, if you can get over the yuck factor. It’s perhaps best not read at mealtime.

newspaper clippings

lemon

kerrygold butter

When making shortbread, it’s important to not over pulse the dough. This is about what the mixture should look like:

cuisinart

c4c flour

c4c Flour

lemon zest & lemon thyme

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, Gluten-Free or Not
Yield: One 8- or 9-inch shortbread, about 16 pieces
Source: Melissa Clark of the NY Times

A few notes:

The thyme or lemon-thyme is purely optional. It’s a very subtle flavor, one I really like, but if you’re not into herbed sweets, just leave it out.

If you’re not a lemon fan, try the rosemary variation or any of the other suggested variations.

2 cups all-purpose flour or C4C gluten-free flour or your favorite gluten-free substitution for flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or thyme (optional — this flavor is very subtle)
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp. honey
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1. Heat oven to 325ºF. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, thyme, zest and salt. Add butter, honey and lemon juice, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.

2. Press dough into an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined for easy removal) 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. (Note: When I bake this in a 9-inch pan, it takes about 32 to 35 minutes minutes. And When I make it in my 8-inch pan, it takes about 35 to 37 minutes.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm. (Note: I have let the shortbread cool completely — cut it the next day in fact — and had no trouble cutting it up when cool.)