gougères with shallots, bacon & greens

gougeres-2-3I first discovered the magic that is Zuni Café after moving to Berkeley in 1998. Their cookbook, which came out a few years after that, has pretty much been open on my counter ever since. I always am drawn back to Judy Rodger’s food. She has an amazing talent at finding the perfect balance of flavors and textures while really honoring the seasonal ingredients. Like she says about her book, “Many recipes call for little active work and require only the skill and will to select excellent ingredients, perhaps the most useful culinary skill of all.” I couldn’t agree with that more.

One recipe in her book that I come back to over and over again is her New Years Eve Gougères.  It’s become my go-to dish for any special occasion. Basically a savory, cheese-studded cream puff pastry which here are stuffed with pickled onions, bacon and arugula. There being that perfect balance….rich buttery dough and nutty gruyère cheese balanced with the smoky salty bacon, the bright, sweet tang from the onions and the bitterness of the arugula. It’s perfection. I always add an option for vegetarians where I fry shallots until they are dark and crispy and pair it with frisée dressed in sherry vinegar and olive oil. The crunchy, earthy sweet shallots give that sort of umami element that the bacon has and the vinegary bitter greens balances it all out.

This dish guarantees to impress at your next gathering. You can make the batter ahead of time and then pop them in the oven while guests are arriving. They smell so good while they are baking and everyone will be in awe when you take them out.  Serve all of the ingredients in separate little bowls so your guests can split open the warm gougères and make their own little sandwiches. You will be deemed the fanciest person they know, trust me.gougeres-2


Zuni Café’s New Year’s Eve Gougères

makes 20-24 three-bite-sized gougères

  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4oz all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
  • 4 large eggs, cold
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2oz gruyère cheese, grated
  • 10-12 slices bacon cut into 1/2″ lardons
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 heaping cup arugula
  • 1 heaping cup frisée
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400º  In a 2-4 quart saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a simmer over medium heat. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture masses and detaches itself from the sides of the pan. reduce the heat to low and cook, beating constantly, until the batter is stiff and almost shiny, usually a few minutes. Transfer the dough to a standing mixer with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-low adding one egg at a time, beating thoroughly to completely incorporate each egg before adding another. The mixture will initially resist but will come together to form a sticky paste. Add the pepper and gruyere after the eggs are all incorporated.

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Pan fry the bacon until crispy and drain on paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil  in a small sauté pan and fry half of the sliced shallots until deep amber brown and crispy. Drain on a paper towel. In a small sauce pan, bring to a boil 1/4 cup water, the vinegar, sugar and peppercorns. Remove from heat and add the remaining sliced shallots, letting them soak for at least 30 minutes, then drain. Finally, dress the frisée with a splash of sherry or red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. Serve the gougères warm from the oven split through the middle and stuffed with any combination of fillings you’d like.

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bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate

pana-cotta-editsGrowing up in my family, we didn’t have a lot of holiday food traditions that I remember. Sure there was turkey on Thanksgiving, ham on Easter and corned beef on Saint Patricks Day but I always envied my fiends who’s families would spend an entire day making tamales for Christmas or a tableful of dozens of different types of Italian cookies. When I had kids I decided I wanted to make our own food traditions. So far they have just evolved from things my family can’t get enough of and enjoy making with me in the kitchen; ginger scones on Christmas morning, crab for Christmas dinner and gougères on New Year’s Eve. Then this dessert, which will start as a tradition this year and my children have deemed wobbly cream.

Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert and probably the easiest and most versatile thing to make. Unlike an egg custard that requires baking in an ice bath, panna cotta is set with gelatin. You can make it as creamy or light as you’d like by using either milk or cream. I haven’t tried it yet, but it would probably be delicious made with almond, cashew or hazelnut milk as well. Infuse any herb, spice or extract that you like and top with any fruit, jam, nut, syrup……the list could go on and on. In the summer I love infusing it with lemon verbena and then topping it with strawberries. In the fall I’ll top it with plum preserves and In the winter I use bay leaf and pomegranates whose flavors and aromas remind me so much of Christmastime.

I hope you try it and make it your own. Here’s to new holiday traditions!

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bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranate

serves 4

  • 1 1/2 cups half & half
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean split in half or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 3 T water
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Start by removing the seeds from the pomegranate. I usually do this by cutting it in half then putting it in a large bowl of water and breaking it into pieces with my hands, carefully removing the seeds. The pith and rind will float to the top of the water while the seeds will sink, so that when you are finished, you can just pour off all of the debris from the pomegranate with the water then you have the seeds at the bottom of the bowl. I’ve also recently seen this technique from Martha Stewart that seems crazy easy. When you are done, set the seeds aside.

 

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You can either serve the panna cotta in cups or you can un-mold them onto a plate. Keeping that in mind, choose 4 custard cups or small bowls or tea cups and rub the olive oil on the insides.

Heat half & half, cream, sugar, bay leaves and vanilla bean (if using) over medium heat in a small saucepan just until it starts to simmer, stirring to make sure sugar has melted. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, put the water in a large bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it and let it sit for 10 minutes. After the cream mixture has steeped for 30 minutes remove bay leaves and vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds and adding them back into the mixture. Reheat the mixture until it is hot then pour into the gelatin whisking to dissolve it.

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the prepared cups. Put them all into the fridge to chill at least 2 hours. Once it is set, you can either just top with the pomegranate seeds and eat it out of the cup or you can put a plate over the cup and flip it over to remove the panna cotta, then top with the seeds.

Enjoy!

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acorn squash pappardelle with leeks, oyster mushrooms & spicy breadcrumbs

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We recently bought a tiny cabin on an island bordering the San Juans and with it came two huge gardens full of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers. It has always been a dream of mine to have land to grow enough food to feed my family. There is nothing more fulfilling to me than to go outside with my kids, pick vegetables and immediately come inside to cook them. Plus my children eat way more raw veggies straight out of the ground than they do if I buy it from the store and serve it to them. The other day my daughter tore off a huge leaf of lacinato kale and proceeded to eat the whole thing. I wouldn’t even do that! Whatever the magic of the garden is to them, I’ll take it.

So now that I have this dream come true, it’s beginning to feel like a pretty daunting task. Mostly because this is a part time residence. How can I possibly keep up with it? But I WILL do this people! My first harvest was leeks, squashes, chard, kale, collard greens and parsley. Now what to do with all of this. I really love hearty pasta dishes in the fall. I could eat pasta ev-er-y day. I decided to roast all of the squash because it is really one of my favorite things and so versatile. I ended up using them in salads, enchiladas and risotto for the week. I had some roasted acorn squash leftover so I decided to puree it and use it to make pappardelle noodles to give them a nice sweetness. Tossed with sautéed oyster mushrooms, melted leeks from the garden and topped with spicy breadcrumbs, it ended up being my favorite meal of the week.

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acorn squash pappardelle with oyster mushrooms, leeks & spicy breadcrumbs

serves 4

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 2 leeks
  • 1lb oyster mushrooms
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • rosemary- four 3″ sprigs + 1T minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped fine
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400º. Cut the squash into quarters and remove the seeds. Lay skin side down on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or foil. Drizzle with 1T olive oil, salt & pepper and the rosemary sprigs. Roast in the oven until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Peel the skin off and put half of the squash in a food processor to puree. You should end up with about 1 cup. Reserve the other half of the squash for another use.

Cut the stem and dark green leaves off the leeks then cut in half lengthwise. Rinse under cold water to get any residual dirt that may be hiding in between the layers. Slice the leeks very thin. You should have about 2 cups worth. In a skillet, heat 2T olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for a minute until they just start to soften. Turn the heat down as low as it will go and cover with a piece of parchment paper then a lid. You want the leeks to steam and get super soft without getting too brown. Stir them up occasionally. It will take about 20-30 minutes for them to get super soft and a bit brown. Set aside.

Cut off the stems to the mushrooms and chop into large even sized pieces. Heat a large skillet with 1T olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms stirring occasionally until they release their liquids and start to brown. Then add the wine, a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes more, until most of the wine is absorbed into the mushrooms. There will still be a bit of juice in the pan which is great. You just want to make sure to cook off the alcohol in the wine. Add the leeks to the mushrooms and set aside off the heat.

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In a small skillet, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat and fry the breadcrumbs stirring often until golden brown and crunchy. Stir in minced rosemary, chile flakes and a pinch of salt and set aside.

For the pasta, put 2 1/4 cups of flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle of it. Add the squash puree and eggs into the well and with a fork, whisk the eggs into the puree gradually incorporating the flour until everything comes together to form a ball. Transfer the ball onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. You may need to add the remaining 1/4 cup flour gradually if it’s too sticky. Once the dough ball is smooth and elastic, set it aside covered with a kitchen towel for at least 20 minutes.

Once the dough has rested you can start running it through a pasta machine. I use an old fashioned hand cranked one but you can also use the kitchen aid attachment or even a rolling pin. I divide the dough into quarters and run it through the 5th setting on the pasta machine, dusting with flour as you go to prevent sticking. You want the sheets to be very thin but not too thin that it tears or is translucent. Think the thickness of a dime or 1/32″. Once all of the sheets are rolled out, cut them into 1″ thick noodles, tossing with more flour to prevent them from sticking together.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While you are waiting, heat up the skillet with the leeks and mushrooms over medium heat. Toss the noodles into the boiling water, cover and cook 1-2 minutes. Do not over cook or the noodles will get mushy. Drain the noodles reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water and immediately transfer the noodles to the skillet with the leeks & mushrooms. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and half of the reserved cooking liquid tossing to coat all of the noodles. If they seem too dry, add the rest of the cooking liquid and another tablespoon olive oil. Remove from heat and toss with the parsley and parmesan. Serve immediately topped with a handful of bread crumbs.

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charred tomato pasta

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I am one of those snobs that refuses to eat a tomato out of season. There is nothing more disappointing to me than a bland, water filled ball that you find in the winter grown in a green house or shipped from Chile. So the end of summer is especially sad for me because it means another 9 months without a perfect tomato. The season is officially over and I just harvested the last of my tomatoes that have ripened. I ended up with a load of green tomatoes that are on their way to the pickle jar which will be a whole other post. These ripe beauties on the other hand are going in the wood oven to roast away with garlic and rosemary for a super easy sauce.

I will use any excuse to fire up the oven before the inevitable cold, wet and gray sets in. The fire also gives a nice char that brings out the tomato’s sweetness and concentrates their flavor as well as leaving a perfect hint of smokiness. If you don’t have a wood burning oven you can absolutely do this inside. Just crank up your oven as hot as it will go. My kids favor the curly-q fusilli and I like the way it grabs ahold of the chunky sauce but any noodle will work here. Gnocchi would be delicious as well.

So, so long summer, you’ve been great. We will miss you. Now I must go stock up on canned San Marzanos to get me through the year.

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charred tomato pasta

serves 4

  • 2lbs ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • handful of basil torn into pieces
  • salt & red pepper flakes
  • parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven as hot as it goes. Cut tomatoes into 1″ chunks and put into a roasting dish. Toss with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, salt & pepper. Roast until tomatoes are charred and falling apart and the juices are starting to reduce to make a lovely sauce. About 30-45 minutes. stir a couple of times to get an even char on the tomatoes. Once it is to your liking, remove the rosemary sprigs and season to taste with salt & pepper flakes. Cook your pasta al dente and drain reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Toss, pasta, sauce, cooking water and basil all together with a big drizzle of olive oil. Top with a nice sprinkling of parmesan cheese and eat up!

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fig olive oil cake with orange and thyme

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I’ve never claimed to be good at baking, except for when I convinced a chef I once worked for to put me on pastry because I was tired of working late nights on the line. I still miss those quiet mornings by myself in the restaurant covered in flour making galettes, meringues, tarts and focaccia while listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Now days my extent of baking is limited to cookies for the kids, fruit galettes and olive oil cakes. I love dessert that’s not too sweet and can even can teeter on the savory side. Something that can be had for breakfast, afternoon tea or post dinner.

Olive oil cakes are crazy versatile and can incorporate lots of different fruits, citrus and herbs. I usually end up making one at every season with whatever fruit is at it’s best….plums & lemon verbena, oranges & rosemary, strawberries & basil and here with figs & thyme.  The one key is using high quality extra virgin olive oil. A nice fruity one. I know you paid a pretty penny for that bottle and this recipe calls for a hefty amount, but trust me, it’s worth it. That’s what’s giving the cake most of its flavor.

You can top the finished cake with fresh figs tossed with sugar & thyme, but here I lined the bottom of the pan with them to bake like an upside down cake. However you choose to do it, top it with either powdered sugar, whipped creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.


fig olive cake with orange & thyme

makes one 9″ cake

fig-cake

  • 12 figs
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • juice & zest from 1 medium orange

Preheat oven to 350º and coat a 9″ springform pan with the butter. Remove stems from figs and slice in half arranging them cut side down in the pan. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and set aside. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. Whisk together eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Whisk in olive oil, orange juice and zest then add the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth and most of the lumps are gone. Pour batter over figs and bake 35-45 minutes until golden brown, the sides are pulling away from the pan and a toothpick comes out pretty much clean when inserted into the middle of the cake. Set the cake out to cool on a rack before removing from pan.

Once cool enough to handle, remove sides of pan and place a large plate over the cake and flip over so the figs are facing up. Remove bottom of pan and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving (optional).

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pink peppercorn almond ice milk

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It is officially ice cream season in my house. Not that we don’t eat ice cream year round but any weather over 65º calls for an excuse for daily consumption of it. So I’ve dusted off the ice cream maker and started playing around with different recipes. I prefer an ice cream that’s not too creamy or overly sweet. I also try to incorporate a bitter or savory quality to make things more interesting.  Which a lot of the times is not welcomed by my brood of ice cream traditionalists.

There was a sorbet company in Oakland who closed their shop a few years back but had the most amazing pink peppercorn almond sorbet. It was refreshing and interesting and rich and nutty and sweet all at the same time. Thinking it may be nice to mix a little dairy free options into our ice cream diet I thought I’d try recreating the recipe.

I’m a big fan of ice milks. I love how refreshing yet satisfying they are so I decided to start there with the basis of the recipe. The base of this ice milk is going to be almond milk which I prefer to make myself. It’s ridiculously easy and well worth the effort. Plus, there aren’t a lot of commercial almond milks on the market that I’ve found compare to the incredibly creamy milky flavor you get from home made. Essentially you just soak almonds in water (from 1-2 days depending on how creamy you want it) then drain, blend with fresh water and strain out the almond meal. It only lasts in the fridge for a couple of days so you want to make only as much as you will use but I’m not bothered since the process only takes a few minutes. If you want to bypass this step, the one brand I have found that closely resembles home made is from The New Barn which you can find at Whole Foods.

The rest of the recipe is simple, a little sugar, a little vanilla and some pink peppercorns to give it a subtle spicy fruitiness. I really love pink peppercorns. They have a more delicate, well rounded heat than black peppercorns and a dried berry like flavor that make them so versatile. they are very fragile and their papery skins fall right off when gently crushed. I like to use the skins as a garnish to give added, color and a little crunch.

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gone clamming

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One of the things I immediately wanted to do when we moved to Seattle was start foraging  at the beach. It took nearly two years but I finally managed to wrangle the family together and get out there. It helped that it was mother’s day and I could do whatever I wanted and I wanted to dig for clams. My one request was that no one complain the entire trip, which lasted just until we got into the queue for the ferry. Oh well, it was a beautiful day and we were on our way to Whidbey Island.

I have never been clamming. My only experience was watching a video of Langdon Cook, award winning writer and instructor on wild foods and foraging. I knew what to bring and which beach to go to but that was about it. We arrived at Double Bluff beach at low tide  and to my surprise and relief the kids got right into it and we dug and dug and dug. My 5 year old found one beautiful cockle which she was so proud of and ended up becoming my mother’s day present. I found a huge sea snail and some eels but that was it. Then I realized off in the distance a group of people were digging at the cobbly area near the bluff. So I left the kids to swim with my husband and I set off to dig. After a half hour I ended up with a dozen or so native littlenecks but since the kids would soon be melting down I decided to pack up. Though I will definitely be back soon better prepared and able to leave with a full clam feast.

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Back home we fired up the wood oven and I roasted our little gems in some white wine with garlic, shallots and herbs along with some flatbread. Even though we only ended up with just a taste it was so worth it. The kids had a load of fun and any chance they can be in nature and learn where our food comes from makes me a happy mama.

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Swan Oyster Depot’s crab louie salad

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Whenever I go back home to visit San Francisco I try to sneak off to one of my favorite places for lunch, Swan Oyster Depot. I say sneak because this is a place I like going either by myself or with one friend, but more than that, you’ll be extending your already hour-long wait. The shop opens early, as it is an actual fish market, but when the bar opens up at 10:30 the queue immediately grows down the block for this 100 year-old 12 seat seafood heaven.

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The present location has been in operation since 1912 where it was owned by four Danish brothers who distributed seafood throughout San Francisco. In 1946 it was purchased by Sal Sancimino who operated it until 1970 when his children took it over. You’ll always see one, if not all, of the five brothers behind the counter and they always greet you like you are the most special person who has walked through the door all day. I belly up to the beautifully aged marble bar and chat with everyone behind the counter like we’ve known each other all our lives. For a lot of people, they have! There are still plenty of customers who’s family have been coming to Swan Oyster Depot for six generations. Just one of the many things that make this place so special….along with it’s authenticity and quality.

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leek soup and a buckwheat pear tart

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It’s a winter meets spring sort of vibe in Seattle right now. We are teased by the sun daily and the markets are showing hints of the coming season with loads of tulips and tender leeks. The days are getting longer and the blossoms are exploding which makes me so excited for warmer days to come but then I’m pulled back down to reality with the next downpour of rain. But hey, the rainbows sure have been epic!

Here is a meal that reflects this moment in the season; warming for the last days of winter yet introducing spring and reminding you of the amazing things it will have to offer. This quick and easy soup is full of flavor and texture; sweet leeks, silky white beans, earthy cauliflower, bright lemon zest and crunchy hazelnuts. For dessert, a rustic tart with the last of the pears which are begging to be eaten. I’ve added buckwheat to the dough for a bit of tenderness and a nice nutty flavor. Enjoy!

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