The Best Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese with comte, thyme & shallots

Grilled cheese, like pancakes, has always troubled me in the kitchen. Without fail, the bread burns before the cheese melts. Various techniques employed over the years have improved the final product slightly, but not so much as to leave me satisfied. So when I read the r.s.v.p. section of the September Bon Appetit, which supplied a recipe for a gruyère grilled cheese from L.A.’s Lucques, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for crisping country white bread slices in a skillet on one side before topping them with cheese and sautéed shallots. The open-faced halves finish cooking in the oven before being pressed together into a traditional sandwich.

It almost pains me that such a simple technique produces such a brilliant result: perfectly golden bread flanking perfectly melty cheese. Why could I have not figured this technique out on my own? Like 10 years ago? Such a find would have prevented years of shame and embarrassment and the inevitable self-questioning after every failed grilled cheese attempt: Who doesn’t know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich? Continue reading

Eggplant Caviar on Grilled Bread

eggplant caviar

Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.

In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.

With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting. Continue reading

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

Julia Child Notecards + Farro Salad with Roasted Corn, Red peppers & Red Onions

I think every woman should have a blowtorch.

Most of you know that Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday this August 15th. For months, chefs, restaurants, bloggers and many others across the country have been paying tribute to her life and legacy. I joined in on the fun over at PBS, adding a tribute inspired by a favorite Julia Child quote: No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.

In recent weeks, I have found myself consumed by all things Julia. I’ve been referencing Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom more than ever, watching The French Chef (via Amazon and Roku) every night after dinner, and reading My Life in France before bed. All of the celebrations these past few months have inspired the creation of the above- and below-pictured notecards, too, featuring classic Julia Child quotes, ones that never fail to make me chuckle, and I hope you, too.

The cards are printed on luxe (190 gsm), natural white eco paper, and if you would like to order a set, they are available for purchase here. Of course I’d like to give a couple of boxes away, too. Just leave a comment if you’re interested.

Julia Child, on her show, The French Chef

Julia Child notecards (vertically oriented)

Julia Child notecards (horizontally oriented)

If you're afraid of butter, use cream.

No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.

The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.

Fat gives things flavor.

Everything in moderation...including moderation.

Life itself is the proper binge.

In cooking, you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

And now for a recipe, a non-Julia-Child-inspired-but-delicious-none-the-less recipe. Since discovering semi-pearled farro several months ago, it, in some sort of salad variation, has become a weekly staple. This is the latest, a combination of roasted corn, fresh-squeezed lime juice, cilantro, minced chili peppers and diced peppers and onions. If you strategize by chopping the vegetables and herbs while the corn is roasting and the farro is simmering, this salad can come together in just about 20 minutes. It yields a lot, thanks to all of the add-ins, and tastes better with each passing day.

summer farro salad

ingredients for summer farro salad

corn, ready to be roasted

roasted corn, red pepper, red onion and cilantro

Farro Salad with Roasted Corn, Red Pepper & Red Onion
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish

2 ears of corn, kernels removed
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
2 red peppers, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 cup of semi-pearled farro*
cilantro, a lot (or as much as you like)
1 hot chili pepper, such as Thai bird or jalapeno, minced
fresh-squeezed lime juice or white balsamic vinegar (I used a combination — about 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar)
Tabasco (optional)

*Roland semi-pearled farro is particularly nice but any type of farro or grain — wheat berry, barley, etc. — will work nicely. You might be able to find semi-pearled farro at your local supermarket, but if not, you can order it here. Of course, whole farro will work just as well.

1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Place a pot of water on to boil. Toss corn kernels with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste on a sheet pan. Place in the oven. Roast for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the corn is just beginning to char.

2. Meanwhile, add farro to pot of boiling water. Add a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook for about 15 minutes — taste a few kernels after 15 minutes. For me it takes just a minute more than 15.

3. Drain the farro, and add to a large bowl. Season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Drizzle olive oil over the farro while it’s still warm. I haven’t been measuring, but if you’re looking for some guidance, start with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Squeeze lime juice and/or white balsamic over top — again, you don’t have to measure, but if you like to, start with about 1 tablespoon each of lime juice and vinegar (or two tablespoons of either lime juice or vinegar) and adjust after everything has all been mixed together.

4. Add the roasted corn, diced red pepper, red onion, cilantro and chili pepper to the bowl. Toss with a large spoon. Taste. If it’s a little dry, add more oil and/or lime juice and white balsamic. If it needs a little more seasoning, add more salt. I add about 10 large dashes of Tabasco for taste more than for heat — the chili pepper adds enough heat — but this seasoning is optional.

roasted corn, onion, red pepper & farro salad

Fries with Lemon Salt & Rosemary

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

Lemon sugar revolutionized baking for me. Lemon salt promises to do the same for everything else. Though my use of this flavored salt extends to this single recipe — “straw potatoes” seasoned with lemon salt (thanks to April Bloomfield) and fried with rosemary (thanks to Jamie Oliver) — the possibilities are endless. Salt might just become lemon salt from here on out.

I know deep frying can be intimidating — vats of hot oil are never fun — and somewhat wasteful — even small-batch frying requires a fair amount of oil — and smelly — your kitchen (house?) inevitably will smell of fast-food — but sometimes these sorts of annoyances are worth the trouble. This is one such case. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

julienned potatoes

lemon zest & salt

mortar & pestle with sea salt and lemon zest

potatoes, rosemary, lemon salt

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

fries with lemon salt & rosemary

A few notes:

• This recipe requires a mandoline — the fine shape of the julienned potato allows them to fry up first time around (as opposed to thick-cut fries, which require a double fry) — and calls for deep frying.
• When deep frying, be very careful. Use a pot with high sides to be safe, and make sure the oil is not filled as far as half-way up the sides — two or three inches should do.
• Fry in small batches: If you add too many potatoes to the hot oil, the oil will bubble over the side of the pan and creep along your stove top, creating a huge mess and posing a serious danger to you and anyone crawling around your floor. Too many potatoes at one time, too, will bring the temperature of the oil down, which will cause the potatoes to take longer to cook also making them soggy in the process.

April Bloomfield’s Rosemary Straw Potatoes with Lemon Salt
Source: Cooking with Jamie

for the lemon salt:
zest of one lemon
4 tablespoons sea salt (I used 3)

sunflower oil (I used a mix of canola and vegetable oil)
1 3/4 lb. potatoes, peeled and julienned* (I used Yukon Gold, and I didn’t peel)
a few sprigs of rosemary

* The potatoes can be julienned in advance — about an hour or so — before they start turning slightly brown. A little brown is OK, but too much brown is probably not a good idea. Storing the potatoes in water will prevent browning, but you also must dry the potatoes very well before you start frying, which is kind of a pain.

1. Make the lemon salt: In a mortar and pestle, bash together the lemon zest and salt until salt is flavored, colored, and fine. Place in a dish. Use whatever you need right away or allow it to dry out for a couple of hours before storing it. (I made my lemon salt a day in advance and stored it in the mortar wrapped in plastic wrap.)

2. Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil in a sturdy, high-sided pan; bring to deep-frying temperature (350°F; to avoid oil catching fire, be sure to maintain its temperature at 350°F). Jamie’s tip: place a potato in the cold oil before you turn the burner on. When the potato rises to the top of the oil and begins to turn golden brown, the oil is ready. Remove the potato piece and start frying in small batches.

3. Pat the julienne strips dry with some paper towels to remove any excess starch. Making sure you’ve got a slotted spoon or spider (which is like a flat colander with a handle) and a big pile of paper towels to one side (I did not use paper towels, but instead transfered the finished fries to a large aluminum bowl, which allows for easy tossing), carefully place some of your potatoes into the pan of oil (don’t overcrowd it) for a couple of minutes (1 to 2) until golden brown and crisp. Cook potatoes in batches until they are all used up. Add the rosemary for the last 30 seconds. (Note: It’s hard to judge when the last 30 seconds will be, but the rosemary can be in the oil for as few as 10 seconds. I basically added the rosemary in at the last few seconds of each batch). Remove the potatoes and rosemary to the paper towels (or a large bowl) to soak up any excess oil; dust with your lemon salt. Serve immediately, perhaps alongside a blue cheese burger as they are at the Spotted Pig.

Acrobatic Granola Bars

limber granola bar

At batch 25, I discovered what I wanted a granola bar to be able to do for me: a backbend. No, no — it’s not just that I’m overcome with Olympic spirit and am counting the seconds till I see tumblers spinning across my tv. Well, that too, but it’s mostly that I’ve realized that a granola bar that can hold a backbend without falling apart has just the chew I like.

Over the past few months, many experimentations with various recipes have led to the below formula, which yields a chewy, not-too-sweet bar that can be stored at room temperature in ziplock bags (in contrast to some bars, which require refrigeration to maintain their shape.) During this granola bar-making journey, I’ve gathered elements from many recipes along the way but from three in particular: Sara’s granola bars on Food52 inspired the use of almond butter, which doesn’t dominate in flavor the way peanut butter does; the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe inspired the base mixture of oats, coconut, and sliced almonds in nearly the same ratio as her granola recipe, which is my favorite; and an All Recipes’ recipe inspired the ratio of the “glue” that binds the bars together.

These bars are nearly perfect for me, but that’s not to say they’ll be perfect for you. The “best” granola bar is kind of a personal thing, and if you care to start experimenting, I have one little tip that might help you out: commit to a base mixture and make a big batch of it. As soon as I resolved that oats, almonds and coconut would be my base, I mixed up a big batch and stored it in a ziplock bag. With this base on hand, whipping up new variations of the bars became effortless.

One final note: I am loath to admit that the “glue” in these bars contains corn syrup. Obviously you don’t have to use it if you are opposed. The corn syrup can be replaced with honey, which I can promise will produce just as delicious a granola bar. I just can’t promise it will produce any backbends. It’s your call.

cut granola bars

granola bar mix with blueberries and cashews

almond butter

baking pan

ready for the oven

cut granola bars

cut granola bars

oats, coconut and almonds

Note: I have supplied a “recipe” for a big batch of the granola bar mix, which I have been keeping on hand to facilitate easy experimentation. I use two cups of the mix per batch of granola bars, but if you don’t feel like making a big bag of mix, I have provided the smaller quantities that comprise the two cups in the recipe below.

Chewy Granola Bars
yield = 18 per batch; granola bar mix yields 4 batches

Granola Bar Mix:

4 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups sweetened coconut

1. Combine all in a bowl. Place in a ziplock bag until ready to make the granola bars. (As noted above, this bag will yield 4 batches of granola bars.)

Granola Bars

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons brown sugar (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup almond butter or peanut butter (I prefer almond butter. PB definitely dominates.)
1/4 cup corn syrup (or honey, just know that the honey might not provide as chewy a texture as you might like)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups of the above mix (or use 1 cup of rolled oats + 1/2 cup slivered almonds + 1/2 cup sweetened coconut)
3 tablespoons wheat germ (toasted or untoasted)
3/4 or 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use 1 teaspoon, but if you are sensitive to salt, perhaps start with 3/4)
1/2 cup chopped cashews* (I used toasted and unsalted)
1/4 cup dried fruit**

* Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios — pick your favorite
** In the photos, I used dried blueberries, which I thought I was going to love, but which I found to be a little too overpowering. I prefer dried cranberries and raisins, but imagine cherries, apricots, dates and figs would work nicely, too.

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lay a piece of parchment paper over a 9×9-inch baking pan so that it will cover the bottom as well as the sides of the pan. Press the paper into the pan to line it. (If you can secure the parchment paper to the pan with clips, it will help when you are spreading the batter into the pan.)

2. Melt the butter (if you haven’t already), then add it to a small mixing bowl along with the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and vanilla.

3. In a large mixing bowl, add the granola bar mix (or the noted smaller quantities of oats, almonds and coconut) along with the wheat germ, salt, cashews and dried fruit. Toss with your hands to combine. UPDATE: I just made a batch this morning (7-17-2012), and this time I pulsed all of these dried ingredients (cashews and dried cranberries included) in the food processor. I like the texture of the baked bar when the ingredients have been pulsed briefly. It’s your call. You lose a bit of the chunky texture, so if you like that, maybe try one batch with the dry ingredients pulsed and another batch with them not pulsed. Also, you don’t want to purée the ingredients so that they start clumping together. The nuts and dried berries should still be in coarse pieces. (See photo below.)

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until nicely combined. Spread into prepared pan and flatten. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. (The longer you bake it, the firmer the final bar will be. It might take a batch or two for you to realize what texture you prefer.) Remove from oven and let cool on rack for 25 minutes. Pull up on the parchment paper and remove the block from the pan. Lay it on a cutting board and cut the bar into pieces. Let cool completely before storing.

Update 7-17-12: In the batch I made this morning, I pulsed the ingredients briefly in the food processor. I like the texture of the baked bar when the ingredients have been pulsed briefly and will be doing this from here on out.
pulsed granola mix

granola mix

cut granola bars

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
olympic granola bar

The Bran Muffin To End All Bran Muffins

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Many of you already know of this bran muffin, a Nancy Silverton creation served at the widely adored La Brea Bakery. Made with toasted wheat bran, freshly grated orange zest, and simmered and puréed raisins, it is one of the most delicious muffins — bran or otherwise — out there. This is a true bran muffin, not a brown muffin under the guise of bran muffin. Despite being nearly one hundred percent whole grain in makeup, it is perfectly sweet and super moist. This is a muffin you feel almost OK about eating by the half dozen and one you feel truly OK about packing into lunch bags and taking on road trips.

Is it a little fussy? Toasted bran, grated zest, plumped and puréed raisins? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that the bran muffin to end all bran muffins deserves to be so. I think you’ll agree.

orange and raisins

puréeing simmered raisins

batter

scooping batter into the pan

scooping batter

Nancy Silverton’s Bran Muffins
Adapted very slightly from Nancy Silverton via More Than Burnt Toast and David Lebovitz
From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery

Notes: Because I don’t love the texture of raisins in baked goods, I puréed all of them in step 3 versus saving a half cup to fold in at the end. If you like the texture of raisins, however, by all means, save a 1/2 cup to be folded in at the end.

2 cups (125g) wheat bran
1 1/2 cups (190g total) dark raisins
1 1/2 cups (370ml total) water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt (I used buttermilk)
zest of one orange
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter or oil or use these free-standing paper liners, which are fun and pretty.

2. Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.

3. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup of the raisins with 1/2 cup of the water. (Note: I simmered all of the raisins (1.5 cups) at once with 3/4 cups water, then added the remaining 3/4 cup water to the batter (step 4) afterwards.) Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed (I simmered for 10 minutes and all of the water was not absorbed, but I figured it was OK, and it was). Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.

4. In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup water if you have simmered all of the raisins with 3/4 cup water), then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.

5. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.

6. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift (or not) directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup raisins (if you haven’t puréed all of them already).

7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.

8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.

Nancy Silverton's bran muffins

Summer Squash Spaghetti

zucchini spaghetti

Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.

I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.

While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.

While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.

The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.

I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

benriner turning slicer

sliced zucchini

zucchini & summer squash

Love my Benriner mandoline:
benriner mandoline

ingredients

adding the parsley & basil

Zucchini Spaghetti
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s The Tra Vigne Cookbook
Serves 2 to 3

Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.

1/2 lb. spaghetti
kosher salt
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).

2. Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)

3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.

Have a nice weekend.
graham & ella

Tipo 00 Flour — Worth Paying For Shipping

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

A series of fortuitous events in the past few months have led to a number of wonderful discoveries: an ingredient — Tipo 00 flour; a technique — minimal handling of dough; and a reward — the best pizza I have ever made at home.

Let’s start from the beginning. Five trips in three weeks to 2Amys Pizzeria in NW Washington DC (over an hour drive from my house) convinced me it was finally time to get my hands on some Tipo 00 flour, a soft-grain flour requisite in the production of D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, an ingredient I’ve been thinking about for five years now.

I hate to admit it and in retrospect it pains me, but a $7.25 shipping charge has been the sole barrier between me and Tipo 00 flour for about a year now. Am I wrong to expect everything to ship for free and arrive the next day? (I know, so bratty! Sorry.) Anyway, to soften the blow, I ordered 10 bags, which made the total price per bag $4.22, a nominal fee especially when each bag yields six pizzas.

About the time that my flour arrived, I received a text message from a friend who had been experimenting with the Jim Lahey pizza dough. The message read: “Help!” While she had been having great success flavor-wise with the Lahey recipe, her pies were less than picturesque. (Click on the link…it will make you chuckle. I love you, Bates.)

I had to come to my friend’s rescue. She had requested video guidance, which I was certain was out there and which I was determined to find for her. My quest for her, however, may have proven to help me equally as well. A video and a note published on Serious Eats made me realize that for all these years that I have been making homemade pizza, I have been majorly overhandling my dough, at least for the sort of pizza I strive to make.

The note from Lahey read as follows:

    While I’m not picky about the flour — either bread flour or all-purpose is fine — what does concern me is how the dough is handled. Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough.

Having just spent $42 on 10 bags of flour, I sort of wished Lahey felt more strongly about the type of flour he used, but ultimately I agree that the handling of the dough is more important than the type of flour used. As soon as I began really paying attention to how I shaped my pizza rounds — gently/minimally — I noticed a difference in the finished product. The air pockets pervading the unbaked round (video/photo below) really affect the flavor and texture of the baked pizza.

I’ve made the Lahey dough many times now, and it is always delicious, regardless if I use bread flour or Tipo 00 flour. I do feel strongly, however, that the Tipo 00 flour produces a superior product, especially in texture. The unbaked dough is softer, more delicate and easier to shape — it doesn’t resist the shaping as much as the dough made with bread flour. The crust of the baked pizza, too, is a bit more tender, and the outer edge has a bit more chew.

Again, regardless of the flour, with the Lahey method, I’ve finally been able to achieve that quintessensial Neopolitan ballooned and blistered outer edge. I think I’m ready for my wood-burning oven. Santa, I hope you’re reading.

Finally, Readers, as you might imagine, I have a few extra bags of Tipo 00 flour on hand. Since you won’t be able to find this product without paying for shipping, I’d love to share my remaining bags with a few of you. Leave a comment if you’re interested. Just tell me you’re favorite thing to eat or you’re most valued kitchen tool (one of mine is commercial-grade plastic wrap, see below) or what’s next on your to-make list. Thanks so much for reading.

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese pizza

2Amys Pizzeria serves D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, which means they follow the strict requirements outlined by the Italian government for producing authentic Neapolitan pizza. The guidelines cover all the bases: the oven (wood-burning); the shaping (by hand); the final size (no larger than 11 inches); the ingredients (dough must be made with tipo 00 flour, fresh yeast, water and salt and the toppings extend to Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and dried oregano).

2Amys Menu

If you’re looking for more information on Tipo 00 flour, this link on Forno Bravo is helpful.
Antimo Caputo tipo 00 flour

dough rising

Jim Lahey dough, ready to be divided

dough, divided

dough balls

I know it is terribly ungreen of me, but one thing I cannot live without is heavy duty plastic wrap. Nothing makes me want to tear my hair out more than a box of super market cling wrap. If you’re OK with having a hideously large shape sitting out in your kitchen for all to see, this product might just change your life.

commercial grade plastic wrap and dough balls

I made this video for my friend, Bates, who was struggling with shaping her dough. I advise watching the one on Serious Eats first. My main goal with this video was to capture the air pockets that pervade the dough when it is handled minimally — the presence of these air pockets make a difference in the final product.

dough with tape measure

pizza, just out of the oven

fig jam, caramelized onions & blue cheese pizza

Fig Jam, Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Pizza with Jim Lahey Dough
Pizza Dough Source: Bon Appetit vis Jim Lahey’s book: My Pizza.

Note: If you buy Tipo 00 flour, this recipe comes together in seconds — each bag conveniently weighs 1000g, which is what the recipe calls for.

For this pizza you’ll need:

caramelized onions
fig jam, thinned out with a little bit of water for easy spreading
blue cheese, any type you like
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Jim Lahey Pizza Dough (recipe below)

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

1. Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

3. Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for about an hour or two before shaping.

4. To Make the Pizzas: During the last hour of dough’s resting, preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°–550°. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″–12″ disk handling it as minimally as possible. Arrange dough disk on parchment-lined baking sheet; top minimally with desired toppings: to make this pizza, first spoon some of the thinned out fig jam over top, then top with caramelized onions, the blue cheese, and finally the Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.

Shots from our lunch at 2Amys a few weeks ago:
Green tomato, ramp, Grana & egg pizza:
green tomato, ramp, Grana & egg pizza at 2Amys

The margherita pizza at 2Amys is just about the ideal — pizza, food, meal, everything. It is so unbelievably delicious.
margherita pizza at 2Amys

Norcia pizza:
Norcia pizza at 2Amys

Falafel with Lima Bean Salad

falafel, just fried

When you live in a land where your best options for ethnic food reside in the hot-food buffet line at Wegmans, you have to take matters into your own hands. Several days ago, after finding myself pedalling to Christos’ falafel cart in a daydream, I hopped off my bike, pulled out my “bean” file, and thumbed to a Bittman recipe I’ve been meaning to make for five years now:
For the Best Falafel, Do it All Yourself.

And so I did. And now I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. Especially when, as it turns out, there is nothing tricky about making falafel.

A few notes: 1. Plan ahead — dried chickpeas or fava beans have to soak for 24 hours. 2. A food processor (or a good blender) is essential. 3. Deep frying is required, but don’t be scared — falafel, as Bittman says, “is perfect for novice deep-fryers.” If you’re at all wary, watch Bittman’s falafel-making video — it gave me just the boost of confidence I needed before game-time.

Falafel is delicious. Also, filling. You won’t miss the meat. With some pita or naan (store-bought naan is quite delicious these days), a few chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and some sort of spicy sauce (recipe below), you have a meal. I made a lima bean salad but any green or chopped vegetable salad would complement the falafel nicely.

A note on this lima bean salad: Last fall, I received an incredible package in the mail. It was filled with Rancho Gordo beans. I ate those beans for months and then ordered some more, including some large white limas, the foundation for one of my favorite dishes at Amada, a fava and lima bean salad, served warm swimming in olive oil aside toasted bread. It is delicious. Elements from the Amada salad — roasted red peppers, sliced red onion, fresh fava beans (or frozen edamame in a pinch) — have inspired the lima bean salad featured here.

A note on Rancho Gordo beans: I’ve made this salad several times now and must say that while Rancho Gordo beans (or any heirloom beans) are not essential, they do make a mighty tasty salad. My dear friend’s mother, Ruth, a bean connoisseur, said it best: “I like beans when they’ve cooked enough to start creating their own sauce rather than clinking around together in the water.” We had been discussing beans over email and analyzing the differences between heirloom beans and standard super market beans. For Ruth, the biggest difference comes down to texture: the RG beans are able to maintain their integrity — their skin provides just a bit of resistance before giving into the tooth — while still creating a creamy sauce. I couldn’t agree more.

One final note: Sike. So many notes here! No more notes. I promise.

bite of falafel

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

falafel mix

Apparently in Egypt, falafel is more often made with fava beans than with chickpeas.
fava beans

falafel ingredients

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel, with lima bean salad

roasted red peppers, red onions, scallions

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

Homemade Falafel
Source: Mark Bittman and the New York Times
Watch Bittman prepare the recipe here.

1¾ cup dried chickpeas or fava beans (I used favas)
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
Scant teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used espelette, so crushed chili flakes will work, too)
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro (I used a mix of both and probably triple the amount)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying

*I was feeling ambitious and toasted the cumin and coriander seeds before grinding them. Just a thought if you feel like taking the extra step.

For serving:
pita bread or naan bread (I used Wegman’s brand naan — delicious)
chopped tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce (optional, especially if you’re serving a salad on the side)
spicy dipping sauce (recipe below) or Sriracha

1. Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep the beans submerged.

2. Drain beans well (reserve soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until minced but not puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. (Note: I did add the 2 tablespoons of soaking water, but I might not have needed to had I been more patient. Try to be patient and scrape down the sides of the machine several times before adding the liquid. You might not need it.) Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste. (Note: I didn’t adjust the seasoning at all.)

3. Put oil in a large, deep saucepan to a depth of at least 2 inches; more is better. The narrower the saucepan the less oil you need, but the more oil you use the more patties you can cook at a time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350ºF (a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately). Note: My deep-fry thermometer (mind you, probably the least reliable kitchen gadget I own) read 300ºF when the falafel sizzled immediately signaling the oil was ready for action.

4. Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into balls or small patties. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, turning as necessary; total cooking time will be less than 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. (Note: As Bittman notes in the video, the whole process will take less than 10 minutes — that means frying all of the falafel takes less than 10 minutes. I found that each individual ball cooked in about 1 minute total, and I felt comfortable cooking no more than five at a time.)

Lima Bean Salad
Serves 4

1 cup dried lima beans or any dried bean you like — you need about 2 cups cooked beans
kosher salt
roasted red peppers, cut into strips (about a cup)
red onion, thinly sliced (about a 1/2 cup)
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 cup cooked shelled edamame or cooked fresh fava beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1. Cook lima beans: I did not soak my beans. I followed the “quick-soak” method on the bag, which called for boiling the beans for two minutes, then letting them sit for an hour. Then I simmered the beans until they were tender, about 40 minutes, and then let them cool completely in their cooking liquid. Once I turned the burner off, I added a big pinch of kosher salt.

2. When the beans are cooled, make the salad: Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Season with a large pinch of kosher salt. Add the roasted red peppers, red onion, scallions and edamame to the bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and toss. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary with more salt, oil, vinegar, or pepper if desired.

Roasted Red Pepper – Yogurt – Sriracha Sauce

This is just a super simple sauce you can whip up to your liking. Finely chop 2 (or more) roasted red peppers (to yield about 1/4 cup) and place in a bowl. Add in a few heaping spoonfuls of Greek yogurt (about 1/4 cup as well). Season with kosher salt. Splash with Sriracha or the hot sauce of your liking. Stir to combine. A food processor or blender will produce a smooth sauce, but then you have to clean them. Your call.

roasted red pepper, Sriracha & Greek yogurt sauce