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!

pomegranate


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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leek soup and a buckwheat pear tart

soup tart meal

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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clean out the fridge grain bowls

beets bowl

I make a grand attempt to meal plan. I buy all the groceries for the week on Monday stuffing them into my fridge feeling a real sense of accomplishment. Then come Tuesday my cravings take over and I want to order in Indian, then go out for ramen, and then “oh I’m not going to make this dish, I’ll make something else instead.” Suddenly its Sunday and I’ve lost the plot. Luckily one of the most satisfying things to me is going through the fridge and scrounging up all the last bits I’ve forgotten about and coming up with something delicious. A lot of times it’s in the form of a grain bowl. The sad beet I forgot in the veg drawer. The wilted kale because I always buy too much. Then I just go through the pantry and choose whatever grain and bean or lentil I have hiding out and I’m halfway there.

The beauty about these dishes is that the options are endless, there are no rules, anything works, whatever the season. AND they are healthy! Start with a grain, roast your veggies in a hot oven then choose whatever flavors go well with it. I always add some nuts or seeds, and some type of protein whether it’s cheese, beans or a poached egg.  Carrots with couscous…stir in harissa, preserved lemon, pine nuts, garbanzo beans and mint . Asparagus with quinoa… add pesto, marcona almonds parmesan and a poached egg. You get the idea. Here are a few dishes I’ve made recently. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to make your own. All of the recipes serve 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you are

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fish tacos in Todos Santos

todos santos feast

It is time for the yearly dose of sunshine to break up this gray winter and our trip to Mexico couldn’t have come soon enough for this lady.  We just returned from Todos Santos where we rented a hacienda with some close friends and the guacamole, margaritas, beans and fish tacos were on repeat the entire time. I’m still in a vitamin D induced haze and have not accepted the reality that I am home and wearing socks and a wool coat.

Todos Santos is a small town in Baja California Sur, about an hour north of Cabo. It is one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos,” a select group of towns whose cultural, historical and natural treasures have been deemed, well…magical. Founded in 1723, Todos Santos is an oasis in the desert and boomed from sugar cane production but in the 1950’s fell into ruins when the area experienced a severe drought. Water has returned and the area is now an agricultural center, producing some of the best poblanos, avocados, papaya and mangos.

Since the paving of hwy 19, which runs from La Paz to San Jose del Cabo, Todos Santos has also become a tourist destination and a center for art & culture.  It’s charming colonial town center has loads of galleries and shops full of local crafts and is also a host to multiple music, film and art festivals throughout the year.  The area is also big on eco-tourism, birding, sea turtle conservation, surfing….. It really is a pretty magical place.

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An Italian feast via California

feast finish

I love having dinner parties. To cook big meals for friends and gather around the table, eating, drinking and talking for hours. Having been in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years, we had made a community of friends who were truly more like family. Since starting over in Seattle, it has been difficult to meet people and make friends. Maybe it’s our age and the fact that we are busy with small children so are not necessarily whooping it up on the town all the time. In any case, I am increasingly craving those gatherings with people who I know and love so well. So when I convinced my best friend to drive up last minute from Portland for the night, I excitedly jumped into the kitchen. I’m feeling homesick so my inspiration for our meal was from my favorite restaurant in Oakland, Pizzaiolo, which I went to for the first time with this friend of mine.

Pizzaiolo is the epitome of a community building, farm to table California restaurant. Charlie Hallowell started his career at Chez Panisse and has a commitment to using and respecting only the best ingredients, the farmers who grow them and the customers who eat them. Everything is so simple yet always so interesting and delicious. They have the best pizza and bread in the bay (well next to Tartine)…..and the meatballs….those damn meatballs. I never got the recipe for them but I’ve managed to come up with something close. The salads here are my interpretation of ones I’ve had at Pizzaiolo and reflect the transition we’re seeing from winter to spring (first sign of asparagus guys!)  The bread is mine. Though I will not begin to try to explain how to make it here. It’s the recipe from Tartine for their basic country bread and it took me 2 years to perfect.

The dessert I came up with because rhubarb showed up at the market and I bought way too much because rhubarb means SPRING IS COMING, which also means WINTER IS ALMOST OVER. One of my favorite things ever is using bay leaf in creamy desserts and combining it with a tart fruit…bay leaf ice cream with white currents, bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranates. So I thought why not use bay in whipped cream to top a rhubarb shortcake. It was pretty much perfect and I woke up wishing I had some leftover for breakfast.

So here’s to 2016 and having more dinner parties. Besides, good cooks never lack friends, right?

feast veg

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seville orange marmalade (plus a bacon, marmalade sandwich)

I know citrus is the theme everywhere you look right now, but I seriously cannot get enough. Satsumas, Cara Caras, meyer lemons…..really my favorite thing about winter. So when I came across these Seville Oranges for the first time in I can’t even remember, I excitedly snatched up way too many.  We were out of marmalade anyway. I think one of the only things you can do with Seville oranges is make marmalade, right? They are super bitter and sour and have a thick tough rind which make it nearly impossible to peel. Not to mention they contain about 25 seeds per orange! BUT they are so beautifully aromatic and all of those other characteristics make for a mean marmalade. The good kind that that kicks you in the mouth jolting your tastebuds awake.

I’ve never actually made marmalade before so after reading dozens of recipes, I settled on this amalgamation of a few. The key is to save all those seeds because they give you the pectin that will ensure the marmalade sets properly.

I bought way too many oranges so ended up with a giant batch. I’m hoping our neighbors like marmalade. So I’ve scaled the recipe down here to a reasonable, worth your while yet not filling your fridge, amount. I also didn’t can mine because I’m storing it all in the fridge.

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charred romanesco salad

Anytime I see Romanesco at the market I can’t help myself to snatch up as many as I can. I just want to leave them in a bowl on my countertop to look at. They really are a piece of nature’s art. Technically an Italian broccoli variety, I think it’s closer in resemblance to cauliflower. It’s sweet and mild and has a dense texture that holds up to a variety of cooking methods. You can find them in the cold months of late fall and winter.

My favorite way to cook these beauties is roasting in a super hot oven until just tender and slightly charred. You can go as simple as a roasting them with a little chile flake, lemon and olive oil or braise it with some san marzano tomatoes, garlic and anchovies then toss with pasta. Here I’m using it as the base to a hearty salad. Though, if you throw in a hunk of crusty bread, this dish is really an entree. Plus it’s a great way to use up some of that ricotta you just made!

This recipe is inspired by a dish in Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, NOPI. I hope you enjoy!

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winter preserving

I recently took a soft cheese making class at The Pantry here in Seattle. Making cheese has been on my bucket list every year for about 15 years so I thought it was about time I’d get to it. This was a great introduction and gave me the confidence to do something with the gallons of milk I have in the fridge since my kids suddenly decided they “do not like” milk the day after we got our weekly delivery. Fine. They better like ricotta.

My local market also had a load of Meyer lemons calling out to me the other day and my stash of preserved lemons ran out about 6 months ago so perfect!

These are two staples I always have in my kitchen. Ricotta is so versatile…..sweet, savory, creamy….I eat it on toast, in gnocchi, pasta, salad, topped with honey & nuts for desert…. and preserved lemons add life to any dish….stews, fish, grains, salad dressings, roast veggies….as well as a little sunshine to these endless cold, wet, dark days. (Which this California girl only two winters in to the PNW really needs right about now). I’ll post some recipes using these lemons when they are finished. Believe me, once you get used to having that intense lemony goodness handy year round, it will be hard to live without them.

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fresh porcini pizza

My go to “I don’t know what to make for dinner” is always pizza. The kids love making their own which usually turns into a giant cheesy doughball mess but they have fun and always happily eat it. Pizza is so versatile so get inspired at the farmers market. ANYTHING can go on a pizza but I’m a big believer in less is more. Choose really fresh, great quality ingredients in simple combinations. One of my favorites is this buffalo mozzarella and fresh porcini mushroom with thyme, parsley, lemon & parmesan. Others are crushed San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and arugula, or spicy sausage & roasted rapini, or pancetta, potato & red onion….you get the idea.

I usually make my own crust with my sourdough starter but there are plenty of good recipes using active dry yeast (which I’m including here). Whole Foods or Trader Joes also sell pretty good fresh dough. A pizza stone is pretty much essential here and a pizza peel comes in very handy.

Enjoy!

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