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Tuesday
May152012

BRAISED LEEKS + MUSCOVADO LENTILS

We visited a couple restaurants in Los Angeles on Sunday to celebrate my birthday. I rarely have particular plans of what I'd like to do to celebrate, but I know specifically where and what I'd like to eat. May will be a month full of events. There will be a number of birthdays, mothers day, wedding season for Hugh, a new niece coming any day now and all sorts of things in between. Cooking, amidst all the going out to eat and desserts these days bring, seems less intriguing but it's also the place I get recharged. I like being alone in the kitchen, no music, watching ingredients come together and trying something new. Some of that inspiration comes from visiting fun restaurants, so birthday months always leave me full of ideas.

Both Gjelina and Tasting Kitchen are places we've visited before, but I love the ambiance at both. Most restaurant menus these days seem to give you a pretty extensive list of what is in each dish, boasting the name of the farm that it's produce is from or which variety of this, that or the other the food item is. I care about those details when I'm picking out food to cook at home, but while browsing the Tasting Kitchen's menu, so minimal and vague, I realized how that simplicity spoke a confidence in their dishes - that they didn't need to romanticize them to the guests. In typical LA fashion you can't change or substitute anything, so what is the point in knowing every ingredient anyway? So we got two appetizers: braised leeks + burrata and broccolini + lentils... so unassuming. Both great, but my favorite part were the lentils that had a caramelized sweetness to them and bits of crunchy breadcrumbs. Sweet lentils! A new preparation to me, but Hugh would barely share with me so I was determined to recreate a portion I could savor all to myself. Leeks are naturally sweet, and the braising gives them a silkiness that melts along side the lentils. Such a simple preparation for such a glorious texture. Below is a recipe that mimicks a combination of those appetizers. It would make an excellent light lunch, a side dish for a number of proteins, or a tasty bed for poached or fried eggs.

BRAISED LEEKS + MUSCOVADO LENTILS // Serves 2

Inspired by the Tasting Kitchen, Venice Beach with some tips on leek braising from Vegetarian Times

If you're skeptical of the sweetness, start with less muscovado and work up to a point you like it. A light brown sugar will work as well. If cooking these for more people, I would guess you could double or triple the amount of leeks and bake them in a 9x13 pan covered with foil. However, you will likely need less liquid than a direct multiplication. Eyeball it, you want the liquid just more than halfway up the side of the leeks. If you give this a try, let me know how it turns out.

 

3 large leeks, dark green parts removed

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup low sodium vegetable broth

2 tsp. agave or honey

pinch of salt + pepper

 

// lentils//

2/3 cup black or green lentils, rinsed

1/2 T. unsalted butter

1 tsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. muscovado sugar (or light brown sugar)

2 tsp. rice vinegar

 

1/4 cup fresh toasted breadcrumbs (great tips here)

3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Trim the dark green parts from the top of the leeks, and just enough off the bottom to leave the ends it tact (this holds them together). Halve them lengthwise and remove any dirt.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add the leeks, cut side down and cook about 3 minutes until browned. Drizzle the tsp. of olive oil on top, flip them over and cook another two minutes. Add the broth, agave and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Turn the heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover and cook for about 25 minutes until they are buttery soft.

While the leeks are cooking, start your lentils. Put the lentils, about 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt in a pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook until the lentils are cooked through, adding a bit more water if needed, and cook off any excess water in the end. If the leeks are done by this point, just take them off the heat and leave them covered, they're fine.

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add the lentils, sprinkle in the muscovado, rice vinegar, pinch of salt and pepper and saute to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Plate the leeks with the lentils on top and garnish with breadcrumbs and parsley. Enjoy warm.

 

Thursday
May032012

SIMPLE ARTICHOKES + GARLIC AIOLI

Simple things done well. That is what I want in this season of spring produce. The sweetest strawberries, perfectly roasted asparagus, and fresh artichokes with leaves tightly snuggled together. All they needed was a simple steam with herbs and lemon and a delicately flavored aioli to drag the tender heart through after all the leaves have piled up, teeth marks down the center. I get caught up in the effort of being different with cooking and forget that it's the simple things that usually bring the most attention to good quality ingredients. 

I enjoy pouring over food magazines, reading some recipes that I may not ever make just because I am curious about technique and want to learn. I have a binder full of pages I've ripped out of recipes I want to try, very few which I've actually gotten to. I kept a page from the recent Bon Appetit with a header claiming "The Creamiest Aioli by Suzanne Goin" and along with the photo "World's Greatest Mayo." We can agree those are pretty bold claims alongside the name of a well-know and talented chef, so while I don't consider myself a frequent aioli maker, I needed to know if this bold, black type face was really the truth.  

In short, I loved it. It would really be delicious on a number of vegetables. I hesitate to validate the claim that it's the "best," as I've made aioli about three times, but it's pretty darn good. I may have strayed slightly from the recipe, but that's to be expected - it's a keeper.

STEAMED ARTICHOKES + GARLIC AIOLI // Serves 2

Aioli adapted from Suzanne Goin in Bon Appetit

The original recipe suggests 1/4 c grapeseed oil and 1/4 c olive oil. While I am sure that makes for a more mild taste, I didn't have grapeseed, and found my adjustment below to be just fine. My addition of a spicy dijon and heavy hand with the citrus trumped any chance the olive oil had in taking over the flavor. Suzanne suggests to serve this on some poached salmon and that sounds incredible, maybe topped with a bunch of green herbs. 

I've had one bad go at homemade aioli and learned it's important to use a fresh, good quality egg. Anything less just doesn't get quite as creamy. If your mixture is greasy instead of fluffy, it is called "breaking." To fix it, start with a clean bowl, a new yolk and slowly drizzle in the broken aioli to the new bowl. 

1 large egg yolk

1 garlic clove, super finely minced

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

pinch of cayenne

fresh lemon juice (about 2-3 Tbsp. or to taste)

1-2 tsp. dijon mustard

fresh black pepper

--

2 artichokes

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

half a lemon

dried herbs of choice

Settle a large mixing bowl in the nest of a damp dishtowel to steady the bowl. Whisk the egg yolk, garlic, salt and 2 tsp. water in a metal bowl to blend well. It will start to get a bit foamy. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil, about a teaspoon at a time, until the sauce is thickened and emulsified. Whisk in the cayenne, lemon juice, dijon, and few pinches of pepper. Taste and alter as you prefer. Cover and keep the aioli in the fridge. 

Prepare the artichokes. Cut off most of the stem and prune away the bottom leaves. I like to snip the pokey edges off the leaves and chop off the upper quarter of the artichoke, this is optional. I like how it looks but it's by no means crucial. 

In a large pot, bring the broth to a gentle simmer. Squeeze in the lemon and toss it in the broth. Add a few generous pinches of some dried herbs, basil, herbs de provence, thyme etc. If I have white wine open, I'll put a splash in the broth as well. Put the artichokes in, stem up, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until a leaf easily pulls away from the stem. Time will vary by size of the artichoke. Serve warm with the aioli on the side.  

Tuesday
Apr242012

SHITAKE MUSHROOM + LENTIL ASIAN TACOS

I know. The title already has you confused and curious about what on earth I was thinking when I shoved all this stuff into a corn tortilla. I'm going mexican-asian fusion without apology. I fell in to a baking habit recently and realized I hadn't really been experimenting with any savory foods. The only way to shake a tunnel visioned baking habit is to get crazy with produce and legumes. For now, at least. 

In defense of the asian taco, you could very well use any type of tortilla. I find the white corn tortillas to be slightly more mild tasting, so you could try that if you prefer to calm down the corn flavor, but I have seen small whole wheat ones at well stocked health food stores. Yes, there are a number of ingredients going on here, but I think you'll find most to be pantry staples. If anything, just make the sauce. We've made a few batches recently and it's just nice to have a jar in the fridge when you need a bit of extra flavor on a rice bowl or some steamed greens etc.

SHITAKE MUSHROOM + LENTIL ASIAN TACOS // Serves 2 (about 6 tacos)

As I always say, let this recipe serve as more of a base than a set of rules. If you don't like mushrooms, triple the amount of lentils, or try tofu or Hugh also suggested some steak if you're into that sort of thing ;) Shitakes are not a beginner mushroom, I find them very "mushroomy", so use any type you like really. The same things can be put in rice paper for a great spring roll too.

// miso herb sauce //

3 garlic cloves

2 Tbsp. white or yellow miso

1 Tbsp. honey

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

pinch of red pepper flakes

3 Tbsp. orange juice

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 packed cups basil leaves

1 packed cup cilantro

3 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

 

 

1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil, divided

half of a yellow onion, diced

6 oz. shitake mushrooms (halve any large ones)

3/4 cup cooked lentils (I used de puy)

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

sea salt + pepper

 

small tortillas

1-2 super ripe avocados

3/4 cup fresh grated carrots

micro greens, for garnish

For the sauce, pulse the garlic cloves through the rice vinegar in a food processor to blend. Once mixed, add in the herbs and give a few more pulses to chop. You want it slightly textured. With the motor going, drizzle in the oil. Taste and adjust as you prefer. Cover and set aside.

Heat 1/2 Tbsp. of the coconut oil in a large saute pan. Add the diced onion and saute until just translucent. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and just leave them to heat up and start to release moisture*. Once they have reduced in size, about 4 minutes, add the remaining coconut oil and saute to mix. Add the lentils and another pinch of salt and pepper and saute to warm through. Lastly, add the vinegar and stir to scrape up any brown bits in the pan.

For the assembly line of the tacos, heat the tortillas over a stove flame until a bit charred. Smash about a quarter of an avocado down the center. Top it with a few pinches of grated carrots, a portion of the mushroom mixture, a generous dose of the sauce (don't be shy, it's all the gusto here) and top with the micro greens. Enjoy warm.

* So, I read this hint about mushrooms that you don't immediately cook them in a bunch of fat. If you cook them in just a teeny bit and some salt, they release a lot of their own water and concentrate the flavor and THEN you add some fat (oil, butter or what not) and it finishes off the flavor and texture instead. Maybe this is not news to you nor explained scientifically, but I'm into it.

Monday
Apr092012

ROASTED STRAWBERRY COCONUT MILK ICE CREAM

I've never been labeled the creative one. Thoughtful, intentional, sarcastic, sensitive, yes, but not creative. I got good grades in school because I am motivated and try hard, but not because I fall someplace just shy of genius or anything. My sister has always been gorgeous - tall and thin, blonde hair and light eyes - both beautiful and creative. She gets her artfulness from my mom, the one who has always made us homemade cards and crafted murals on our bedroom walls while we went through numerous adolescent phases. At one point my sister had a jungle themed room and I had an enthusiastic "surfer girl" phase, so alas my mom painted a hibiscus print across my wall. I'm attracted to this creativity, my mom and sister are two of my favorite people, so it makes sense that I fell in love with someone quite innovative himself. These "creatives" as they are so trendfully called, are constantly seeking more creativity. My sister wants more striking clothing designs, my mom, a better landscaped backyard and Hugh, cutting edge pictures. They are proud of their work, but never quite as dazzled as I am. I use my family as examples because I know them well, but whether you write, photograph, cook, draw, dance or such as, I'd guess you also struggle with your expectations being set just above what you deliver. Even as the rest of us are dazzled by you.

We've been in the final stages of the book editing process over here (more specifically Hugh, numerous hours editing photos, I just provide a continuous flow of snacks). I browse the pages and realize that me, the non creative one, is doing something quite creative actually. I fell into cooking partly because of a love of produce and wellness, but also because it was the skill that no one in my circle had marked their own. It was my niche, no threat of competition or following the footsteps of a culinary genius grandma like I hear frequently of others. I do chase my own expectation, wanting something even greater of myself, a recipe that is the "greatest xyz anyone and everyone has ever had!" But when I take the people pleaser out of this art form, the seeker of affirmation and the desire to do well, it is transparent that I am sharing a creativity that is genuinely running through my veins. I desperately want to inspire people to eat well and fill their bellies with an excess of vegetables but to also enjoy good treats, of course. So while we're about to send this book to print, where the changes and second guessing will be out of my hands, I'm finding rest that regardless of where the creativity meter falls on this project, we have constructed a tool that speaks of community, good food and inspiration. Hugh, my creative one, you've exceeded my expectation in the work you've done and I am so anxious to share this with people.

ROASTED STRAWBERRY COCONUT MILK ICE CREAM // Makes about 1 quart

Adapted from Hungry Girl Por Vida

Few notes. First off, be sure to use full fat coconut milk, the light stuff will turn out too icey. I halved most of my strawberries, but after a few spoonfuls of the ice cream, I wish I had either quartered them, or mashed them up a bit with a fork before I added them to the machine. The chunks were a bit large and disrupted my pure ice cream enjoyment with big frozen cubes of fruit. If you end up with more strawberries than you use in the ice cream, they are delicious on a piece of toasted bread over a hearty swipe of fresh goat's cheese. In fact, that combination is maybe a reason to make more than you'll need anyway. 

2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 tsp. natural cane sugar

-

2 egg yolks

1/3 cup natural cane sugar

3 Tbsp. maple sugar (or just more natural cane sugar if that's what you have)

1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

-

2 oz. dark chocolate, optional

Preheat the oven to 300'.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Pile the berries in the middle, sprinkle with the 2 tsp. of cane sugar, pinch of sea salt and toss gently to coat. Spread in an even layer and bake on the middle rack for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the berries in there to cool slowly. They need to be completely cool before adding to the ice cream machine. This step can be done in advance. 

Set a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water, but do not let the bowl touch the water. Add the egg yolks and both sugars and stir to warm. As the sugar melts, it will become smooth and shiny. If these two need a bit of help melting, just add a spoonful of the coconut milk to get things moving along. Stir the mixture for about 5 minutes. Add the can of coconut milk and whisk everything to combine. As everything warms, it will get smoother. The custard will start to thicken just a bit. Stir in the vanilla, turn off the heat, strain through a fine strainer to remove any eggs bits and transfer the bowl to the fridge to cool completely. 

Add the coconut custard to your ice cream maker and churn according to instructions. Meanwhile, if using, melt the chocolate in a double boiler (glass bowl over simmering water). At about 75% finished, add in a cup of the cooled, roasted strawberries and let it continue. In the last minute, slowly drizzle in the (not super hot) chocolate if you wants some chocolate chards or chunks in the ice cream. 

Transfer to a container and freeze until firm.

Tuesday
Apr032012

GARNET PILAF

I had planned the menu for Easter in my head before we even started making plans. I wanted to have a brunch in my parents backyard with a smoked salmon frittata, a spring pea and greens salad, a pastry with strawberries and some sort of grain salad, this one here would have been great.

As it is, one thing leads to another and it turns out we'll be driving out to the desert to visit one of my grandmas. Traffic. Heat. Eating at The Sizzler (I'm not kidding, it's one of the only options out there and Grandma Gladys uses the oven for storage space so you know she's not cooking). So I made the grain salad for a dinner with friends the other night and it was so simple and so pretty I had to share. There are three cooking vessles used, which for some dismisses this dish from the "simple" category, but grains are hands off cooking, so I think it classifies as such. I keep all the sweet potato nuggets on top for presentation sake, covered in a blanket of fresh chopped chives, but mixing eveything together works just fine.

I hope you have lovely weekend plans with family and friends and a table full of good food.

In other news, our "tech guy" (Hugh) has the email subscription up and running again, so if you're still trying to get updates, fingers crossed this attempt proves successful for all of you! Thanks for your patience.

GARNET PILAF // Serves 4-6

1/2 cup brown rice

3 sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 Tbsp. smoked paprika, divided

sea salt + pepper

1 small yellow onion, diced

1/2 cup red quinoa, rinsed

1 cup water or broth of choice

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

sprinkle of red chili flakes, if you like some heat

1 bunch fresh chives, chopped (about 1/3 cup)

Preheat the oven to 425'.

Rinse and cook the brown rice according to instructions. This takes the longest, so start the rice first.

Wash and dice the sweet potatoes into 1'' cubes. Pile them on a large, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 Tbsp. of the smoked paprika and a few pinches of sea salt. Toss everything together with your hands to coat and spread them all out in a single layer. Sprinkle a few grinds of pepper.

Roast on the middle rack for 23-25 minutes until the edges are browned and crisp.

In a pot, add a drizzle of olive oil and saute the diced onion until just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa, a pinch of sea salt, 1 cup water or broth of choice and bring it to a boil. Turn it down to a simmer, cover and cook for about 15-17 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat, fluff with a fork and cover it for another few minutes to finish.

When both the rice and quinoa are cooked, put them both in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with the remaining Tbsp. of olive oil, remaining 1/2 Tbsp. smoked paprika, red wine vinegar, chili flakes if using and toss everything together to mix. Taste for salt and pepper. Top it with the cubes of sweet potatoes and a ton of fresh chives and serve.

*It may not all be piping on at the point of serving and that is ok. I found it tasted best just a tad warmer than room temp.