Normally, when I find myself at a coffee shop for breakfast, pastries such as double chocolate muffins do not tempt me. I usually go for the scone or the bagel or the deceivingly healthy-looking bran muffin. But these chocolate muffins somehow strike a nice balance: They are rich and chocolaty in flavor but light and airy in texture. They are perfectly sweet and oddly and unexpectedly minty tasting. I checked the cocoa powder to make sure I hadn’t used a mint-flavored variety (which I don’t think even exists) and I checked the chocolate chips for the same reason. I do have a theory, however. The chocolate chips traveled across the country in the same vessel as a bottle of peppermint extract. These two ingredients then lived together in complete darkness for three months. I think they may have bonded. (It’s crazy — the bottle of peppermint extract hasn’t even been opened.)
Also, I hate to sound like Ina Garten, but I did use a “good” brand of cocoa, courtesy of cousin Jay who brought me some Dagoba cocoa powder from a trade show he recently worked at. I’m not sure if a “good” cocoa powder makes the difference, but I don’t want to overlook it either.
These are so yummy. Enjoy!
Double Chocolate Muffins Yield = 12 to 14
1¾ C. all-purpose flour 1 C. sugar ½ C. unsweetened cocoa powder ¼ tsp. baking soda 2 tsp. baking powder ½ tsp. kosher salt 2 large eggs 1 C. milk ½ tsp. vanilla extract (or a ¼ tsp. peppermint extract) ½ C. butter, melted ½ C. mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place liners in muffin pan or coat pan with nonstick spray.
2. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, vanilla and butter until combined. Combine wet and dry ingredients until just blended. Fold in chocolate chips.
3. Spoon batter into liners and bake for 18 to 20 minutes.
4. Let cool briefly in pan, then transfer to cooling rack.
Now, before I begin five days in a row of muffin posts, I must first describe my latest discovery at Delaney’s Culinary Fresh, (you know, the fresh pasta I am obsessed with.) I’m not sure how long owner Jordan Stone has been selling cannelloni, but last Sunday, after spotting them at the farmers’ market, I couldn’t resist breaking my red pepper-linguini routine. And when these spinach- and ricotta-stuffed cigars emerged from the oven bubbling beneath a layer of crispy parmesan cheese, I wasn’t sorry I had.
DCF products make dinner preparations so simple: Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and lay the cannelloni on top. Spread a little more sauce on top of the cannelloni and place them in the oven. After 20 minutes, add a couple handfuls of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. A sprinkling of chopped parsley at the very end adds a nice, though uncritical, touch of freshness. Serve with bread and a little salad.
Unlike most filled pasta dishes, particularly the cheese-laden ready-made varieties, these cannelloni taste light — or as light as a cannelloni can taste. And the women at DCF have somehow accomplished this without sacrificing any flavor: From the thin, semolina dough to the subtly flavored spinach filling, these cannelloni are a real treat. Ben made a really good point, too, noting that “The cannelloni aren’t sloppy.” Filled pastas such as manicotti and lasagna — think school lunch line — so often are overly cheesy and watery and heavy. These are not.
Also, just a quick note on parsley. The trend these days, it seems, is to use Italian parsley — the flat leaf variety. I’ve gotten so used to using it, I forget to even consider curly parsley. The other day, however, I remembered some words of wisdom from my grandmother. Sometime last year, my grandmother started buying curly parsley again, preferring its flavor to Italian. And I think, (correct me if I’m wrong, Gramma), an episode of the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network inspired her to make the switch. In any case, the other day at Trader Joe’s, all that remained was a carton of the curly variety, and so, I bought it — it was delectable. Very flavorful. I used it all week, even in a recipe for cottage cheese muffins which I cannot wait to share with you. So, I guess all I’m saying is not to overlook curly parsley if you cannot find Italian.
And lastly, if you are interested, check out this article, “Linguini Lust,” in Orange Coast Magazine. The article is not on-line, so you’ll have to click on the image at left to read it. Though you may feel you’ve heard enough from me about Delaney’s Culinary Fresh, here you’ll get a little more insight into Stone’s background. She began her fresh pasta business by making compound-butters and selling them in front of her local grocery store. As a single mother, she spent many years working two jobs to support her three daughters — it’s quite an inspiring story.
Now, while a purchased tomato sauce will work just fine for these cannelloni, a homemade sauce can be prepared with little effort: Sauté an onion in a mixture of oil and butter over medium heat until translucent, about five to 10 minutes. Add a jar of peeled, crushed tomatoes such as San Marzano or Pomi brand. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer 20 minutes over low heat. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or oregano or any seasonings you like. Taste and add a pinch of sugar if necessary.
Sometimes I like to test my husband’s taste buds. Here’s an example. The other night, Ben was pacing around the kitchen after dinner looking for some more food. “Can I make you a bowl of cereal?” I asked. Sure, he said. So, I filled up a bowl with a mixture of Kashi Heart To Heart and Barbara’s Shredded Oats, sliced in a banana and poured in the milk … goat’s milk that is. I gave Ben the bowl then returned to the couch.
I could hardly contain myself. “Do you notice anything different?” I asked.
“Yeah. What am I eating?” Ben asked.
“Goat’s milk,” I said. “Do you like it?”
“I prefer cow’s milk,” he said. “In my cereal that is.” Ben is such a good sport.
Now, the reason I had goat’s milk on hand is because I had been craving Capogiro Gelato, particularly the rosemary-goat’s milk flavor. Since I haven’t found a gelato shop near me yet, I decided to make my own. I picked up a quart of goat’s milk at Henry’s Market one day and set to work. I followed a recipe I like for vanilla gelato in Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano cookbook. I steeped the rosemary for about 30 minutes, tempered the egg yolks, chilled the mixture and then froze it in my ice cream maker.
The result? The gelato had a very nice texture, and the flavor was, well, shall I say, unique? The rosemary was a little too powerful. I’ve written the recipe below with a much shorter steep time.
I don’t know how Capogiro does it, but one trait I love about their rosemary-goat’s milk gelato is its pure white color. Some of their gelatos are made with eggs, some are not, and they’ll tell you if you ask. I forget if their rosemary gelato contains eggs or not. Also, I have asked many times how gelato differs from ice cream, and I never seem to remember the answer, but this is what is coming to mind: Gelato is churned more slowly. Gelato is more intensely flavored. And, according to Mario Batali’s cookbook, gelato is lower in fat.
I should note, too, that the rosemary I used came from the Vegetable Shop at the Chino family farm in Rancho Santa Fe. I have heard so much about this stand from friends living in Del Mar, and over the weekend, I finally got to see it. I picked up the most beautiful produce: two bunches of mizuna; two bunches of Swiss chard; two bulbs of green garlic; and a pint of the strawberries pictured above and below, which lasted about five minutes in my apartment. They were so sweet! They sort of tasted like grapes. The man at the stand called them “French” strawberries. Yum.
Oh, and next week, stay tuned, I have five more muffin recipes to share with you. I’m seriously up to my eyeballs in muffins.
Rosemary-Goat’s Milk Gelato Adapted From Mario Batali’s recipe for vanilla gelato in Molto Italiano (Harper Collins, 2005) Yield = 1½ pints
2 cups goat’s milk ½ cup sugar one sprig rosemary kosher salt 7 egg yolks
1. In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk with ¼ cup of the sugar, the rosemary and a pinch of salt. Bring the mixture just to a boil, making sure the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat, remove the rosemary and discard.
2. Meanwhile whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until the mixture is pale yellow. Ladle some of the milk into the eggs whisking constantly. Repeat until half of the milk has been added to the eggs. Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. DO NOT BOIL. When the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, remove pan from heat and strain into a shallow vessel. Do not second-guess yourself: When the mixture thickens, it is done. (I returned mine to the heat and it curdled. Too stubborn to start over, I strained the mixture through a very-fine chinois. It seemed to work — the gelato did not taste eggy at all. Try to avoid having to do this, however.)
3. Place vessel in the refrigerator until cold.
4. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately or freeze until ready to serve. Once frozen, let sit at room temperature until ready to serve.
My mother has been telling me about this asparagus risotto for a little over a year now. She adapted the recipe from one printed in Gourmet last spring as well as from one in the New York Times submitted by Mark Bittman via Mario Batali. The recipe calls for puréeing about a pound of cooked asparagus and stirring it into the risotto in the last five minutes of cooking. The remaining pound or so of asparagus tips and stems are also added toward the end — the heat of the risotto slowly cooks them. The purée allows every bite of this risotto to burst with the taste of asparagus and the tips provide a nice crunch as well as additional flavor. Farro or barley are two healthier alternatives to the traditional Arborio rice, but many grains, as long as they are long-cooking grains, will work equally well.
This risotto is best eaten the day it is made mostly because the asparagus pieces deteriorate a little bit after a day or two. That said, Ben raved about this dish even two days later. On Friday, after being in the field for a week, Ben shoveled down two bowls, wiping his dish clean with a nice hunk of bread. Then he turned to me and said, “You should blog about this.” Sometimes he knows just what to say.
2 lbs. asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved 4 to 6 C. chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or low-sodium) 2 T. extra virgin olive oil 3 T. butter, room temperature ½ medium onion, diced very finely 1¼ C. semi-pearled farro* or arborio rice ½ C. dry white wine 1 heaping tsp. kosher salt ¾ C. grated Parmigiano Reggiano ½ C. toasted, coarsely crushed hazelnuts ¼ C. finely chopped parsley
*Purchase at Italian specialty shops (Hulled barley or Arborio rice can be substituted)
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks (not the tips) and cook until quite soft, at least five minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water or put in ice water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add ¼ cup water. Purée adding more water one tablespoon at a time if necessary. Set aside.
2. Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep skillet or pot over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Add farro and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add the salt. Add warmed stock, ½ cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.
4. After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. After 5 minutes, begin tasting the risotto. You want the grains to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in ½ cup asparagus purée. Remove skillet from heat, add cheese, hazelnuts, parsley and remaining butter, and stir briskly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.
I cook fava beans once a year. When I spot the first of the season at the market, I fill up a bag, take them home and set to work, peeling, blanching and then peeling again. I open Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables and weigh my options: purée them and stir them into risotto or eat them raw with prosciutto and Pecorino. I’m sorry, but anything that calls for two peelings is not going into my blender. And so, I eat the fava beans raw, tossed with olive oil and lemon juice and mixed with parmesan or Pecorino. And I don’t share them with anyone because the two pounds I peeled yields only enough for a small snack. But they are so good. Definitely worth the double peeling. At least once a year.
OK, so I’m being a little dramatic, but seriously, fava beans are a lot of work. I will cook them more than once this year, and I will share them, but I will cook them only at opportune times, like when I invite friends over who have small children with little fingers who will work swiftly.
With this salad, I like the Pecorino to be in big chunks. I’m a big fan of shaving cheese with a peeler or with a sharp knife, but with this salad I use a different technique: I stick the point of a large, sharp knife directly into the block of Pecorino and twist. It breaks into nice, flaky shards. Parley is a nice addition to this salad, but not critical. And a finely chopped shallot or red onion is also a nice touch.
Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad Serves 4
2 to 3 lbs. fresh fava beans, shelled kosher salt freshly ground black pepper 4 oz. Pecorino Romano extra-virgin olive oil 1 to 2 lemons finely chopped parsley
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the fava beans and cook for one minute. Drain, then plunge the beans into an ice bath and let cool. Drain again. Peel the beans and place into a mixing bowl.
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Break the Pecorino into big chunks and sprinkle them into the bowl.
3. Drizzle olive oil over the mixture and toss. Sprinkle with lemon juice to taste. Add the parsley, toss again, and serve.
So, I am happy to report that the American Tuna I recently smothered with cheese and wedged between two pieces of buttered bread tastes just as delectable when prepared in a healthy manner. These open-faced sandwiches, made with the same tarragon-tuna salad prepared for the tuna melt plus a couple tablespoons of capers, make a very tasty, light lunch or dinner. Toasted olive bread is an especially nice base.
Additionally, I must report my latest egg preparation: soft-boiled. Yum. The recipe I followed produced perfectly colored and textured soft-boiled eggs. I’m not sure I’m crazy about the method, however, which calls for submerging the eggs in cold water, which makes the eggs, as expected, cold. In any case, soft-boiled eggs atop asparagus, prosciutto and mascarpone-slathered toasts make another great open-faced sandwich.
Lastly, down below, you’ll see another batch of the whole-grain muffins I made several weeks ago. In this batch, mashed bananas and pecans have replaced the Fuji apples.
Asparagus Toasts with Mascarpone, Prosciutto & Soft-Boiled Eggs. To make these toasts, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Slice a loaf of french bread into four 1/2-inch thick pieces. Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and toast until golden. Meanwhile, place four eggs in a small saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Plunge the eggs into cold water. After three minutes, peel and slice the eggs. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch one bunch of asparagus for 30 seconds. Spread the toasts with a spoonful of mascarpone cheese. Top each with a slice of prosciutto, a few pieces of asparagus and the sliced eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.
Open-Face Tuna Salad Sandwiches Serves 4
1 loaf of olive bread extra-virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard juice of half a large lemon (about 1½ tablespoons) kosher salt freshly ground black pepper 1 6-ounce can American Tuna ¼ cup finely diced red onion ¼ cup chopped tarragon 2 tablespoons capers 1 tomato, thinly sliced 1 small bunch lettuce
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Slice the olive bread into four thin rounds. Place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: Whisk the mayonnaise with the mustard and lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Dressing will be thin. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary.
3. Place tuna in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion, tarragon and capers. Pour dressing over top and combine mixture gently with a fork. Set aside.
4. Assemble sandwiches: Line bread rounds with tomatoes. Top each with a small handful of lettuce. Top each with a mound of the tuna salad. Cut in half, if desired. Serve.
Hello. Over the weekend, I (OK, Ben) planted a garden. As Ben laid the bricks, tilled the soil and planted the seeds, I read him instructions from the e-book Cinder Block Gardens. The details of our experience can be read here, Feed The Soil, Not The Plants, but I’ve outlined the method below if you’re looking for a quick read:
Step 1. Marry someone strong who will do all the heavy lifting in the project.
If you are a novice gardener, consider these additional items:
• garden hose
• spray nozzle
• sink adapter if you don’t have an outside water source
• shovel and rake
• rebar stakes and sledgehammer if building on a slope
Costs to consider down the road:
• cages for plants such as tomatoes
• trellis for plants such as pole beans
Step 4. Find a flat space and follow instructions in the e-book for garden construction.
Step 5. Consult the “Vegetable Reference Guide” chapter to decide what and how much to plant. Buy seeds or starter plants from a local garden shop. Be sure to buy the tomato plants that come with the lady with the red foot. Plant accordingly.
Step 6: Watch your garden grow.
Step 7. Consider starting a compost pile. Purchase a compost container on-line or from your home-garden center, or construct one following Ms. Gillespie’s instructions. This is the one I have my eye on. It only costs $500.
Pictured above is garlic. I planted each of these cloves in its own cinder-block hole. Each one will grow into a full bulb.
I also planted two bunches of basil, two bunches of cilantro and one bunch of oregano. Each of these grows in its own cinder-block hole as well.
A few months ago, I mentioned I was looking forward to the day when Ben and I have room in our place to fit a freestanding freezer, (one large enough to fit a half or quarter steer.) Well, I’ve added something else I’m looking forward to getting as soon as space permits: chickens. I can’t believe I never thought about this before. And, as far as I can tell from this new cookbook I’ve been reading, chickens don’t seem like that much work. I guess I’ll find out.
So, this cookbook is called Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes. I’ve now tried several recipes from it including penne with asparagus, meyer lemon scones, and thin-crust pizza with brie, prosciutto and watercress. The penne was good, but way too cheesy — the recipe called for 15 ounces of ricotta and a half cup of parmesan cheese for one pound of pasta. The scones were good, too, but not as good as almond-buttermilk scones. The pizza, pictured above, however, was delectable. The dough recipe yields three eight-ounce balls and freezes well. Tonight, I thawed one of the balls at room temperature for three hours, as instructed, rolled it out and baked it topped with sautéed Swiss chard, Parmigianno Reggiano and smoked Gouda. I actually preferred this pizza to the one with brie and prosciutto. Call me crazy, but as I was eating the one topped with watercress, I kept thinking it needed something else, maybe a poached or fried egg on top.
Anyway, despite a few so-so recipes, I am still very happy to have stumbled across this book. Why? It inspired me to plant a garden. The author, Jeanne Kelley, an L.A. resident briefly describes a way of gardening — in raised beds made from plywood — that she says vegetables grow best in. I had just read an article in Acres U.S.A about a woman in Colorado doing the same sort of thing but with cinder blocks instead. I went to the Web site, The Living Farm, noted in the article and downloaded the author’s E-book called Cinder Block Gardens. It cost $19.95. Over the weekend, I went to Lowe’s and Plant Depot and purchased everything I needed for my garden. I still need to figure out what I want to grow, but the blocks have been laid, the soil mixed and the ground watered. I cannot wait to start planting.
Once I get some seedlings in the ground, I’ll post some pics. Seriously, if you have any desire to start a vegetable garden, check out this E-Book. You don’t need a perfect patch of land — we built ours on a slightly sloped, rock-hard area measuring about seven feet by four. The author, Lynn Gillespie, has painstakingly detailed the process — the book is worth every penny.
And, once I have the space, 10 or 20 years from now, I will consult the final chapter of Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes, which describes in detail how to raise backyard hens.
I think one reason why I preferred the Swiss chard pizza to the prosciutto is that I didn’t have enough Brie to cover the surface and make it really tasty. This emerged from the oven looking a little freaky.
Brie and Prosciutto Pizza with Watercress Adapted From Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes (Running Press, 2008) Yield = One 12-inch pizza
8 oz. Pizza Dough (recipe below) 8 oz. double-cream Brie (any type of Brie works fine, too) Cornmeal 3 to 4 thin slices prosciutto 2 cups watercress or arugula leaves 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 garlic clove, pressed pepper
1. Prepare the pizza dough as directed in the recipe.
2. Place the Brie in the freezer until it is firm but not solid, about 15 minutes. Trim off the rind and cut the Brie into ¼-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices on a waxed-paper-lined pan and refrigerate. (I didn’t do this. I think if you use the really good stuff, this step might be necessary, but for regular Brie, leaving it at room temperature should be fine.)
3. Position one rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat it to 400ºF. Sprinkle a large, heavy baking sheet baking sheet lightly with cornmeal (about one tablespoon).
4. Roll the pizza dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough to a prepared sheet. Distribute the Brie evenly on top of the dough. Bake the pizza until the Brie melts and the crust is golden brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board. Distribute the prosciutto evenly on top of the pizza.
5. Toss the watercress with the lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in a medium-sized bowl. Top the pizza with the watercress and season with pepper. Cut into wedges and serve.
Pizza Dough Adapted From Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes (Running Press, 2008) Yield = Three 8-oz. Balls Pizza Dough
1 cup lukewarm water 1½ teaspoons active dry yeast 2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour ½ cup white whole wheat flour (regular whole wheat flour works fine, too) 3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten 1½ teaspoons kosher salt ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Whisk the water and yeast together in a two-cup measuring cup and let stand for 5 minutes.
2. Combine the flours and salt in a food processor and pulse to blend. Whisk the olive oil into the yeast mixture. With the food processor running, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube and process until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute. (If the dough does not form a ball, add lukewarm water by the teaspoons until the dough comes together.)
3. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface for about one minute. Brush a large bowl with olive oil. Transfer the dough to a bowl and turn the dough to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let the dough stand until it doubles in volume, about 1½ hours.
4. Punch the dough down. Divide the dough into three even balls, about eight-ounces each. (Refrigerate up to two days or freeze for one month. Let refrigerated dough stand for one hour and frozen dough thaw four hours at room temperature before rolling.)
Same dough as pictured above, but topped with sautéed Swiss chard, Parmigiano Reggiano and smoked Gouda: