Sunday, February 27, 2011

Traditional blackberry cobbler recipe

  • Pin It
I only need three words to describe this traditional southern blackberry cobbler:
  1. Easy
  2. Decadent
  3. Delicious
Thanks to Nathalie Dupree, doyenne of American southern cooking, for sharing this recipe with her Facebook friends (of which I am lucky to be one). When you read the recipe, you'll understand why "decadent" is one of three words, despite the fact that this is a fruit-based dessert. Hint: Decadent = BUTTER.

Traditional blackberry cobbler
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • 1 cup self-rising flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 1/2 tsp baking powder)
  • 1 cup milk
Toss the blackberries with the sugar in a large bowl. Let sit 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the butter in an 8-inch square baking dish and stick the dish in the oven. While the butter melts, whisk together the flour and milk in another bowl, plus any juice that's come out of the berries.

When the butter is melted and bubbling, remove the pan from the oven. Pour the flour mixture over the butter - do not stir. Pour the sugared berries on top of the batter, again without stirring. Return the pan to the oven and bake 30-40 minutes, until the cobbler is bubbling and the juices threaten to escape the pan at any moment. If you're thinking ahead and you hate cleaning your oven as much as I do, put a piece of foil on the rack under the cobbler, just in case the juices succeed.

Cool 15 minutes in the pan before serving. Whipped cream is always welcome on top of blackberry cobbler.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pear almond yogurt cake

  • Pin It
I am a woman of simple cakes. I spent a month in 2010 focused on cake decorating (in preparation for Kelly Ripa's Cake-Off for a Cause, where I rolled fondant with 14 other food bloggers and Buddy "The Cake Boss" Valastro), but despite private lessons and lots of practice on my own, I never really got the cake decorating bug. Truthfully, I prefer my cakes plain, even a little ugly.

This pear cake with ground almonds is a perfect example of the kind of cake I love. It's based on a traditional French yogurt cake, which I've made with lots of variations (lime yogurt cake, chocolate yogurt cake, almond pomegranate yogurt cake, limoncello cake). Grated pears keep the cake moist, and ground almonds add both flavor and texture. It takes 10 minutes to put together, 45 minutes or so in the oven, half an hour to cool enough to cut. Will it win any beauty contests? No. But when I've got a hot cup of tea and a slice of this pear almond cake for breakfast, I'm not looking.

Pear almond cake with yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (low-fat is fine)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 large pear, peeled, cored and grated
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds or almond meal
  • 3 Tbsp coarse raw sugar crystals
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a round 9-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, oil, granulated sugar and almond extract. Add the grated pears and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the ground almonds, making sure to break up any clumps.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and blend with a large spoon or spatula just until everything is incorporated. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the raw sugar. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then turn the cake out onto the rack to finish cooling.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chinese New Year with Chef Kelly

  • Pin It
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a small women's networking event at the Los Angeles home of Linda Press. Linda, who owns a boutique public relations agency, invited her friend Chef Kelly to make a Chinese New Year celebration lunch for the group and show us how to make a few of the dishes. I hope you enjoy these images from the day. For recipes, see Chef Kelly's blog.

The day's menu

Chef Kelly heating up her portable burner on the patio

Linda's beautiful table decorations - all in red

Marinated gobo, a Japanese root vegetable
Pan-fried Korean rice cakes with a spicy dipping sauce
Ground elk meat for the elk dumplings - Linda's husband Philip brought home the elk from a hunting trip
Wringing out tofu to add to the ground elk meat

Elk dumplings, ready for the steamer

Stir-fried vegetables, including baby bok choy (my favorite!)
A beautiful Chinese New Year's lunch

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

99 Ranch Market soup with snow pea shoots and garlic chives

  • Pin It
Yesterday, when I posted my new take on pasta primavera, my good friend Greg from Sippity Sup told me I had spring fever. He's right. I've got green on the brain. Lucky for me spring comes early in southern California and sticks around a good long time.

This weekend, while the kids were visiting their grandparents, Michael and I spent a whole day...doing errands. Not what you thought I was going to say, huh? Hey, I'm old and tired. I'd been sick all week. A day of errands took all the energy I had. Also, we like doing errands together. We've spent many a date night driving from bookstore to grocery store to hardware store. It's unexpectedly intimate.

Our Saturday included:
  • the tailor, who had altered the first suit I've owned in 15 years; 
  • brunch at Grub in Hollywood, home of the best tuna melt in Los Angeles; 
  • a rug warehouse in the valley, where we looked for something to cover the new hardwood in our hallway; 
  • Ikea, where I got a $20 desk for my work-at-home days (and we ate Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce); 
  • and dinner at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia, where it took me a few tries to get the hang of sucking the liquid out of their famous soup dumplings. Sorry, shirt.
While we were in the valley, we slipped into 99 Ranch Market, one of my favorite grocery experiences ever. If you like Asian food at all, this is the place you want to be. I headed right for the produce section and picked up a huge bunch of garlic chives and a fat bag of snow pea shoots. These thin sprouts - the actual young plants, cut before the fruit sets - are a sure sign of spring. They arrived home after six hours in the trunk a little wilted but otherwise happy.

Normally you find snow pea shoots in Chinese restaurants, stir-fried in a delicate sauce with garlic, ginger, chicken broth and maybe a little sesame oil. Instead, I made soup. I simmered the snow pea sprouts and the garlic chives in chicken broth, pureed and strained the mixture, and floated drops of sesame oil on top. The bright green broth tasted like hot water spiked with green peas, fresh and clear and clean. Emery, my 12-year-old, had three bowls and insisted I put some in his lunchbox tomorrow. He says it will be good cold. Who am I to argue?

99 Ranch Market soup with snow pea shoots and garlic chives
  • 1 large bunch garlic chives, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 pound snow pea shoots, washed and roughly chopped
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil (or hot chili sesame oil, if you prefer)
Put the vegetables and chicken broth in a large pot over medium heat. Simmer about 10 minutes, until the vegetables have softened but are still bright green - do not overcook them or you'll lose that fresh, clean flavor. Puree the soup with a hand-held immersion blender. I was not able to get it completely smooth, so I pushed the soup through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the fibrous parts.

Add the soy sauce - you may need a little more, depending on how salty your broth was. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and drizzle each bowl with the sesame oil. Serve very hot. 

The amazing tuna melt at Grub in Hollywood

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another take on pasta primavera: Spaghetti with dandelion greens and green garlic

  • Pin It
Remember pasta primavera? Ordinary cut-up vegetables in a goopy cream sauce, as served in every Italian restaurant in which I ate growing up on Long Island? I am here today to tell you that I reject that version of pasta primavera and have decided to reinvent it. This is the true pasta of spring.

My pasta primavera recipe uses one of the most emblematic Italian ingredients of spring: dandelion greens. Italians are famous foragers. Remember the scene in Under the Tuscan Sun (a great foodie book, by the way) where the author discovers a bent-over nonna picking weeds on her property, just as she'd done every spring for decades? You can do this, too. Just let your lawn alone for a while and you'll likely find some of these:

Resist the urge to pull them out. Do not pour chemicals on them. Let them grow and prosper. And then pick the leaves and put them in pasta.

My pasta primavera recipe also includes green garlic, an ingredient whose appearance elicits cheers and actual jumping up and down. You'll find it at farmers' markets, gourmet grocery stores, and possibly Asian markets in the early spring. Green garlic looks like a very large green onion - in fact, it's the young version of the garlic plant, before the bulb matures and swells. Its flavor is milder than bulb garlic, and you use the whole thing, including the greens. If you can't find green garlic, use regular garlic, but do look for the young green garlic at this time of year. Many people use it in soup, but we prefer green garlic pizza.

Pasta with weeds and sprouts - my husband was quite skeptical. But chopped and sauteed with pancetta, tossed with steaming spaghetti, and topped with freshly grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, my pasta primavera won him over.

P.S. I think I'm in trouble. Emery, my 12-year-old son, just looked over my shoulder and said "Hey, when did you make that?" Um...on Sunday morning, when you were visiting your grandparents, darling. Note to self: Buy more dandelion greens.

Pasta primavera with green garlic and dandelion greens
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti
  • 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 large bunch dandelion greens, washed and chopped
  • 2 stalks green garlic, washed carefully (it can be gritty) and chopped
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain immediately.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta or bacon and cook 2-3 minutes, until the fat starts to render and the edges of the bits of meat start to brown. Add the onion and saute another 1 minutes, just until the onion starts to soften.

Now add the dandelion greens and the green garlic, stir, and cover the skillet briefly to let the greens wilt. Dandelion greens are hardier than spinach but more delicate than kale; you won't need to cook them too long. By the time you've drained the pasta, the greens should be ready.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta and the dandelion mixture. Add the grated cheese and olive oil and toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cream of celery soup recipe, and how to get kids to eat vegetables

  • Pin It
Despite my best efforts, there has been a lot of junk food in my kids' lives lately. I've got a new job, so I'm cooking less. More meals in restaurants always seems to equal fewer vegetables and more fried stuff. You know how it goes. Sometimes you just need to find a way for your family to detox.

Soup is the one thing my kids will rarely turn down. Even Hot Dog Boy loves his soup, and always the ones that surprise me: "beta carotene" soup, leftover lettuce soup, artichoke soup, and now this cream of celery soup. Of course, Hot Dog Boy loves his celery, so maybe I shouldn't have been too surprised this time.

For parents trying to figure out how to get kids to eat vegetables, soup is a winner. Here are a few soup-for-kids tips that have worked for me:
  • A handful of croutons makes any bowl of soup more fun. If not croutons, try french fried onions (yes, the ones in the can), crumbled Triscuits, or even popcorn. Just float something they can chase around with their spoons.
  • Pureeing soup bypasses the picky eater's "What's that? What's THAT?" with each spoonful. Buy an immersion blender immediately, if you don't have one.
  • Don't serve the soup too hot. Or serve it hot and let the kids add their own ice cubes. Melting ice is quite distracting.
  • For a change, serve the soup in a coffee cup or a pretty tea cup, and let them drink it instead of eating it. With a straw, even.
  • Keep a few secrets. If you don't want to tell them which vegetables are included, call it "Orange Soup" and let them guess. How many orange vegetables can they name?
By the way, this soup uses only five ingredients, contains no dairy, and tastes exactly like the Campbell's cream of celery soup I remember from my childhood. Only, you know, better.

Cream of celery soup
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, washed and diced
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup cooked white rice (or 1/4 cup raw white rice)
  • salt to taste
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and saute the onion until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the celery, chicken stock and rice. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer the soup about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft. If using raw rice, make it about 30 minutes.

Puree the soup with a hand-held immersion blender and season to taste. Serve hot with lots of croutons.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lime yogurt cake

  • Pin It
One of the first food blogs I ever read was Chocolate & Zucchini, written by the charming Clotilde Dusoulier, a food lover in Paris who writes about all sorts of interesting French ingredients and recipes. Some of Clotilde's recipes strike me as off the beaten path - strawberry basil pesto? - but I am a sucker for traditional French family recipes.

I have made the gateau au yaourt (yogurt cake) from Chocolate & Zucchini no less than three dozen times. Clotilde describes it as one of the first cakes French children learn to bake, because its proportions are very simple and it requires nothing more than a mixing bowl and wooden spoon. That's precisely why I like it, too: It comes together in about five minutes, and for very little effort you get a sweet, moist, gentle cake flavored with vanilla that melts in your mouth and keeps well for a few days on the counter.

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, and this cake takes on additional flavors very well. A little grated lime zest in the batter, plus a tangy lime glaze on top, and the French nursery tea-time cake is sophisticated enough for dessert.

Lime yogurt cake
adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (low-fat is fine)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest and juice of 2 limes
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup powdered confectioner's sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a round 9-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, oil, sugar, vanilla and lime zest. In a smaller bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (Note that sifting is not strictly necessary, but I always do it because I once made a cake without sifting and bit into several large lumps of baking soda. Yuck to the millionth power.)

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and blend with a large spoon or spatula just until everything is incorporated. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, mix the lime juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl until smooth. When the cake comes out of the oven, poke some holes in the top with the toothpick, then pour the glaze over the cake. Serve straight from the pan when it has cooled to lukewarm.

If you prefer to serve the cake on a nice plate instead of out of the baking pan, take it out of the oven, wait 5 minutes, turn it out onto a rack, and glaze the cake on the rack. When the glaze sets and the cake is cool, move the cake to your serving plate with a large spatula (or two).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Apple bread with oatmeal

  • Pin It
My internal calendar must be a little off, because it's nearly spring and I'm only now getting the urge to bake with apples. The urge for apple bread might have been triggered by my recent business trip to suburban Minneapolis, where the snowbanks lining the path between the two buildings where I had meetings reached my waist. Snow equals winter equals apples. Yes, that must have been how it started.

I collect the cheap little recipe pamphlets you find in national park gift shops, at museum stores, and in the dollar bins at garage sales and church fundraisers. Most of the recipes are terrible, but every now and then you find a gem. I've got one booklet called Apple Sampler which I think I got at a general store in Vermont more than 20 years ago. That's where I got this apple oatmeal bread recipe, which I like very much.

The bread is sweet from the apples, but not too sweet. The oatmeal makes the bread chewy. The apples keep it moist. You can taste the butter, but it's not greasy. I ate it toasted with peanut butter on top. I put slices in the kids' lunchboxes two days in a row. It feels more like breakfast than dessert, but if I were the type to take tea in the afternoon, I can see this apple bread fitting in quite nicely.

Apple bread with oatmeal
adapted from Apple Sampler: A Collection of Fresh Apple Recipes by Jan Siegrist
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 4 large apples, coarsely shredded
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the brown sugar and oats.

In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and melted butter. Add the egg mixture to the oat mixture and stir just to combine. Add the shredded apples and stir again to combine.

Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan and bake 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and cool completely on the rack.