Skip to content

Archive for

lemon cardamom soufflé

Before I launch into my usual ramblings, I want to take some time to thank everyone who responded on my blog or via email to my Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times last week. As a writer (a title I’m slowly working up the courage to claim for myself) I’ve always felt that no experience is wasted—moments of discomfort or hilarity or tenderness tend to crop up wherever you go. Your job is merely to record with honesty and a bit of panache, and the more I read good writing the more I realize that the things that are true to you are often true to human experience. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about opening myself to the stigma that comes with moving back home, and the piece did provoke a number of spirited retorts on the comments page. But the generous and encouraging messages I received from people of both my generation and my parents’ left me grateful not only for the family I am privileged to live with, but for the comforting knowledge that like-minded friends are to be found around the world.

Everything I learned about throwing a good dinner party I learned from my parents. My sister and I would secretly gripe about my mother’s admonishments to “serve the guests a drink” or my father’s absolute refusal to have anything plastic on the table, but now that I’m older I see the merits of scooping hummus out of its container into a white china bowl. The washing-up into which I was conscripted at the end of the meal felt insurmountable at 10:30 p.m., but it wasn’t long before I equated the soapy water with the pleasure of culinary success, the guests’ laughter echoing from the dining room as my mother and I did the dishes while assembling the dessert.

Making the final course was my first foray into the cooking side of our dinner parties, and I was determined to make my mark. No surprise then that I hadn’t yet learned the foremost truth of dinner party desserts: the simplest are the most impressive. Woefully under the impression that fussy is fabulous, I held up our annual New Year’s feast trying to dislodge miniature chocolate lava cakes from individual rubber molds, bursting into tears when one after the other broke into a pool of gooey chocolate on the cutting board. I took the lesson to heart, and now my dessert repertoire includes a five-ingredient fruit crumble, a delicious no-custard ice cream, and this beautiful recipe for lemon soufflé.

Lemon Cardamom Soufflé

Lemon desserts are very popular with my family, and this soufflé has it all: a fluffy light meringue that tops a velvety lemon curd (feel free to adjust the amount of lemon zest and juice for your preferred level of citrusy zing). The bottom will be quite liquidy when just cooked, but never fear–it will thicken up as the soufflé cools.

2/3 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

zest of 3 lemons

1/3 cup cold water

2 cups milk

4 eggs

2 Tbsp. melted butter

juice of 3 lemons

1 vanilla bean

1/2 tsp. cardamom, freshly ground

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar and lemon zest. Stir in the water and milk. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks until thick, then add to the flour mixture with the melted butter and lemon juice. Slice open the vanilla bean and scrape into the batter, then add freshly ground cardamom.

Beat the whites until they are just firm enough to hold a peak, then fold gently into soufflé batter until combined. Pour batter into a large ceramic dish (circular or rectangular), then stand dish in a pan filled with an inch or so of hot water. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until top is puffed and golden and bottom is still custardy and gooey. Serve warm.

grilled fennel flatbread with olives and sultanas

When it comes to cooking, simplicity seems to translate roughly to time is of the essence.  Each food magazine has its “meals in 30 minutes” section, and frankly, there are nights (specifically nights involving a glass of wine, the couch, and saved episodes of Downton Abbey) when egg on toast can be transcendent. One of the key aspects of my college education was developing an entire repertoire of meals that were quick, simple and cheap, from arugula tossed with balsamic and brown rice to peanut butter and fig jam Paninis.

Funnily enough, it was also in college that I discovered the joy of cooking. With my limited budget I quickly found it most rewarding to cook an elaborate meal for six, then guiltily store it in the back of the communal fridge (away from prying eyes and forks) to eat for six meals running. Friday nights I would arrive home from my eight-hour internship and one-hour Trader Joe’s expedition just in time to wish my housemates well on their way out for the night. For the next delicious hours I had the place entirely to myself, and it was then and there that I discovered the pleasures of the unhurried meal.

The things I made were simple—there were no emulsions, no expensive cuts of meat, no kitchen tools fancier than the celebrated Panini press. It was a college kitchen, after all, and in New York to boot: small, grimy, and cheaply installed. After unpacking my groceries I did a thorough clean of the counters and sink, dumping plates in the dishwasher and sweeping up the crumbs that kept the mice our loyal companions. I laid out all of my ingredients and happily set to work with my knife, chopping along to the tinny speakers of my laptop and trying not to splatter the screen with lemon juice.

Surrendering to the sheer time it took for beans to soften or meatballs to simmer became the most comforting experience of my week. Chopping carrots and turnips was methodical and reassuring; peeling butternut squash was a practice in patience. I developed an affectionate reliance on simple recipes with multiple stages, like a warm potatoes gribiche flecked with roasted broccoli and hardboiled egg, or a fragrant African curry with spices packaged for separate additions over the course of two hours.

This flatbread recipe (an instant favorite I’ve made three times this week) is wonderful in its simplicity, easy to prepare but perfect for leisurely cooking. I mix the dough at some point in the afternoon, then make the spread and topping after turning out the dough for a second rise and heating the oven. It’s an old saying, the one about the journey and the destination, but I somehow keep discovering it anew.

Grilled Fennel Flatbread with Olives and Sultanas

The dough for this recipe is adapted from Jim Lahey’s wonderful book My Bread, which has been out on the kitchen counter from the day I got it. I love the aroma of fennel and the salty-sweet combination of olives, feta, and golden raisins, but this dough is a true blank canvas–experiment away!

For the dough:

1 3/4 cup bread flour (I have also been successful with a mix of white and whole wheat)

1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. sugar

2/3 cups water

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and then mix in water with your hands to form a moist dough (add a bit more water or flour if dough is too dry or sticky). Cover and let sit at room temp for 2 hours (longer is alright too).

For the second rise, loosely shape dough into a ball (it will have increased in size) and set on a well-floured plate. Cover with a damp towel and let sit at least half an hour.

For the topping:

2/3 cup Kalamata olives

1 small handful fresh thyme

olive oil

2/3 cup Sultana raisins (golden raisins)

2 medium fennel bulbs

red pepper flakes

juice of 1 lemon

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 large cube feta cheese, crumbled

honey, for drizzling

To make the olive spread, add the first three ingredients to a blender with 1/3 cup of the sultanas and pulse until roughly blended. Set aside. Slice the fennel into thin slivers and toss with red pepper flakes, lemon juice, half the parmesan, the other 1/3 cup sultanas and a glug of olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Spread out the dough on a well-oiled cookie sheet by stretching it first the full length of the pan and then the width, gently nudging it outwards until the whole sheet is covered. Cover the dough evenly with the olive spread, then arrange the sliced fennel mixture on top. Sprinkle with the crumbled feta and other half parmesan and drizzle with honey, then bake at 500 degrees until crust is crispy and toppings are browned, about 15-20 minutes.

kale slaw with avocado and almonds

The battle with our raccoons rages on.

I call them “our raccoons” because while I rarely see them staging their attacks, I know their faces from the grainy images my grandparents captured a few months ago with a borrowed night vision camera. There they sat on the back porch, happily munching pellets of dog food after dipping them to soften in Bella the Great Dane’s water bowl. Their most recent offense hit closer to home: having discovered our vegetable garden, they quickly made their mark with paw prints trampling through the onions and mounds of freshly dug earth burying the baby chard I planted just last week. Complaining of their furry wiles to friends from the East Coast, I quickly discovered that my relationship with raccoons was analogous to theirs with deer: one girl’s cuddly critter is another girl’s nemesis.

I’d been warned about their cleverness, but our resident bandits are far craftier than I imagined. The most memorable transgression took place years ago, when my parents purchased a dozen goldfish for a shallow stone pond in the garden. Our vision of a serene little ecosystem complete with lilies was thwarted a few mornings after, when we discovered all the fish had mysteriously disappeared. Not to be deterred, my grandfather constructed a preventative mesh covering, screwing it into the sides of the pond just beneath the water to protect our fish from prying paws. I’d like to end the story there, but several mornings later we surveyed the wreckage of our new system, the mesh skillfully pushed to the bottom of the pond in an attempt to squeeze the fish through. A few days later the lilies were gone.

Since I left the farm in December I haven’t been the most consistent gardener, but I like to consider myself a stalwart defender of the kale. Up to now all this has entailed is rubbing aphids off leaves and harvesting responsibly, but should it be called for I’ll be out there in the dead of night, clanging my pots at raccoons on the rampage and hoping for that one elusive victory.

Kale Slaw with Avocado and Almonds

1 bunch kale (Toscano kale or the young, tender leaves of almost any variety work best)

half a green cabbage

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. mustard

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

olive oil

1 avocado

handful roasted almonds, roughly chopped

Stack the kale leaves in a tight bunch and slice into thin shreds, starting with the tops. Slice the half cabbage into shreds and toss bit by bit with the kale, adding until the amounts of kale and cabbage are roughly equal.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust to your preference, adding more honey for sweetness or more mustard for increased zing. Add oil bit by bit as you whisk until the dressing thickens. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.

Pit and cut the avocado into quarters, then slice into small pieces and toss with the salad (the avocado should blend with the dressing, making the slaw creamy). Top salad with chopped almonds and serve.

flat-roasted chicken with caramelized oranges and truffled polenta with parmesan

I don’t use the word feast lightly.

My family has always been a feasting one, and if images of Arthurian banquets pop to mind you’re not terribly off the mark. Reunions are planned with no thought for where cousins will sleep or what outings will be had, but everyone knows precisely what and who will be cooking each night for months in advance. Christmas Eve is marked by a giant, flaming pudding (soaked in brandy and ignited with a match); “Birthday Eves” are occasions for multiple courses and—alas no more—once featured homemade cakes fashioned into corrals for model horses or voluminous skirts for Barbie. It’s no surprise that the most-requested Christmas carol in our home is “Good King Wenceslas,” which features the good king’s spirited declaration, Bring me flesh and bring me wine!

Wine is all-important when it comes to the family feast. Bottles are purchased with care and hoarded with zeal until the appropriate occasion, which is, if not Saturday dinner, then certainly Sunday supper. The wine is swirled, inhaled, tasted, exclaimed over and discussed, each step partaken of with great earnestness and animation. “There are no great wines, only great bottles of wine,” my grandfather likes to say, hinting that a golden evening of fellowship infuses the chosen bottle with an added glow. That being said, I have had some truly wonderful wines in my life, and last night’s was memorable indeed.

The evening began, as it often does, in the early afternoon. I had selected the 2009 Cilla’s Blend from local winery Cimarone (a Syrah and Bordeaux blend from their Three Creek Vineyard estate collection) and planned a menu to match. Now, at 2 p.m., I was out in the garden picking kale and fresh herbs, which I rinsed and laid to dry before pulling a chicken from the fridge to prepare for flat-roasting.

Studying wine pairings recently I was interested to read that when it comes to Syrah, it’s often not so much the type of food you choose as how you prepare it. Grilled foods (preferably with a bit of char) pair particularly well, and strong herb flavors like rosemary and thyme play up complimentary flavor elements in the wine. Texture is also important, and grains like polenta make for friendly sides.

When I put our meal on the table at 8 p.m. (never fear—I took my time but the cooking could easily have been done start-to-finish in two hours) it was greeted with enthusiasm by family and wine-loving friends. We poured the blend and savored it with each dish: flat-roasted chicken with caramelized, charred oranges, creamy polenta with parmesan and a hint of truffle, kale and cabbage salad tossed with lemon and avocado and a platter of crispy grilled turnips and broccoli. We sighed deeply over the delicious complexity and peppery finish of the wine, which our friend Ken declared was like a “balanced portfolio.”

“It doesn’t just have one strong note,” he mused as I reached again for the bottle, “It’s like a major 7th chord.”

Flat-Roasted Chicken with Caramelized Oranges and Truffled Polenta with Parmesan

This wonderfully simple and delicious recipe for flat-roasted chicken is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke. The truffle-infused oil I used for the polenta was from La Tourangelle and relatively inexpensive, and a pinch of truffle salt would likely do the trick as well. The chicken and polenta went well with a creamy kale slaw and simple grilled turnips and broccoli.

For the chicken:

1 whole chicken

1 large handful fresh rosemary sprigs, plus 1 Tbsp. rosemary, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, minced

1 Tbsp. fresh sage, minced

1 orange, sliced into rounds

olive oil

salt & pepper

Rinse the chicken and remove the innards. Pat dry and lay the bird on a cutting board with the breasts facing down, then use large kitchen shears (or powerful scissors) to remove the backbone, cutting along one side and then the other. Spread the chicken out until it is lying completely flat, cutting the collarbone if necessary. Rub the bird with olive oil, salt, and pepper and lay breasts-up on top of rosemary sprigs, then rub the breasts, thighs, and legs with the chopped rosemary, thyme, and sage. Arrange the orange slices on top of the bird, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator, discard plastic, and slide into heated oven, roasting until juices run clear (about one hour, or until your meat thermometer registers 160 degrees). If orange slices start to burn you can cover the chicken loosely with foil, but some char on the fruit is good. Remove from oven, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

For the polenta:

1 1/2 cups course-ground polenta

6 cups water

olive oil

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp. truffle-infused oil

salt & pepper

In a medium saucepan, salt the water and bring to a boil. Add the polenta and a glug of olive oil and whisk quickly and thoroughly to prevent lumps, then turn the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered until the polenta is cooked to your liking, 10-20 minutes. Turn heat to low and stir in the butter until melted, then add the parmesan a bit at a time, whisking after each addition. Add the teaspoon of truffle oil and taste: the truffle flavor should add depth, but not be too obvious or overpowering. Season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat and keep warm until serving.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 164 other followers

%d bloggers like this: