…and it was like she never left.

In a more relaxed moment, I found myself scrolling through pictures and finding several that were part of a vision unfolding; scenes I’d meant to post and then got waylaid by frenetic holidays and activities that were heartfelt and fulfilling, yet left me a bit emotionally spent.
Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

With the new year, and clear(er) vision, I’ve created goals and aspirations, and been taking steps toward achieving them. All well and good, however it’s so important that I get lost in the process of Being at least for a small amount of time daily.
And the truth is that I haven’t dedicated time to my craft; writing about my experience, that spark that ignites when I have an idea and run with it. That bit of cleverness and openness; that flexibility that comes (truly) from an aversion to running back out into the cold for another stick of butter, fruit or cream.
That Delectable Poached Pear and Almond Tart

Poached Pear and Almond Tart

It’s time to get back on the proverbial horse. Writing, creating, sharing and remembering these experiences  are an essential aspect of my self-expression. It gives me great joy to make beautiful food and share it with friends and family.
Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

I’ve included a few visual samplings of things made recently that are worthy of a nod.
And so when overcome by the need for a bit of something sweet, I consulted past repertoire for this salted almond and honey pie. 
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Being a fan of tiny things, I thought I’d make tartlets, so as to enjoy and share more readily. I filled half of the tartlets with honey custard, and the remaining with homemade raspberry balsamic preserves; the latter lovingly gathered from my father’s garden this past summer.
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Recipes for pâte sucrée (aka: tart crust) abound on the internet, however I’ll include a simple recipe that I’ve been using reliably for some time. Feel free to let the imagination go wild with the fillings. These baked up nicely in a 375-degree oven in ~40 minutes.
Enjoy, and much love.
J
Pâte Sucrée
1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
ice water, as needed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor, or combine well in a large bowl.
Add butter and either process or use a pastry blender to cut into flour just until the mixture resembles fine peas.
Add egg yolk and pulse or mix until combined.
Add just enough water (no more than a tablespoon) to bring mixture to a somewhat cohesive mass; it should still be a bit crumbly.
Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours, or overnight.
Press into well-buttered tart pan(s) and fill as desired.
Bake filled tartlets until set, ~40 minutes

Obsessed with Autumn.

There’ve been countless good things coming out of my kitchen lately. Probably too many to mention, however I’m tempted to give it a go, if only for future inspiration. The past month I’ve been doing more living, experiencing, tasting, loving; and I haven’t felt much interest in writing about food.

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However, with a trove of inspiration swirling around in my head, I thought I’d share with you.
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I made this incredible pear and buttermilk upside-down cake that would knock your socks off:
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I followed David Leibovitz’ direction to tuck thin slivers of garlic and anchovies into a lamb shoulder, which was later roasted to perfection, and served it with a mixed root vegetable mash and possibly the best pan gravy I’ve ever had. I elevated it to the sublime with a preserved lemon, olive and parsley relish. I know I’ve done well when I find myself audibly moaning with satisfaction in the midst of my workday lunch. No apologies.
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And then there was this little gem of an idea found in Amy Pennington’s cookbook Urban Pantry. I could feel my eyes widening with anticipation at the apple quince butter, and was instantly inspired. I started calling around the local markets for quince, and made not one, but two batches, modestly adapted, richly spiced, and perfectly sweetened. I’d planned to follow with a persimmon-pear butter, however after two days of first degree burns from boiling fruit, I’ve given myself the week off.
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Moving on…
With several persimmon on hand and in need of some baking therapy, I set out to make this beauty:
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Having leftover buttermilk on hand, I added it to the cake, along with persimmon purée, and the resultant cake came out ultra moist. I also folded in preserved walnuts and chopped persimmon to give the cake a bit of texture. A straightforward swap for regular walnuts would be equally satisfying; however the preserved walnuts are reminiscent of candied fruit, their bittersweet flavor complements the cake well. Easily justified for breakfast with a bit of yogurt, not that one needs an excuse to eat cake.
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
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Persimmon and Walnut Cake
Note: I prefer the taste of hachiya persimmon over fuyu, as the fuyu tends to have a bit of a chalky, bitter aftertaste. Use ripe persimmon in this recipe; ones that have a bit of give when pressed. 
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Ingredients
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 c sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
3 eggs
3 persimmon (purée two of the persimmon; chop and set aside the remaining)
1 cup buttermilk, or plain yogurt
1/2 cup preserved walnuts, chopped, or 1/2 cup plain walnuts
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Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Butter a medium-sized bundt pan, or a regular 9×9 pan.
Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl; set aside.
In a stand mixer, combine butter and sugar. Cream until light, ~5 minutes. Add lemon zest.
Add eggs, one at a time, mix well.
Add pureed persimmon and combine.
Alternate addition of flour and buttermilk, adding one half of each at a time. Mix just until incorporated.
Fold in chopped persimmon and walnuts.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for ~40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool for ~5 minutes in pan, then invert and cool completely on cooling rack.
This cake will keep for 3-4 days at room temperature, however I don’t anticipate it’ll last that long.

Proofed.

Lest I forget, I love to cook, and it seems that lately I’ve chosen to stay in and dedicate more time to the therapeutic experience of my craft. It’s an art, and a practice, and I’m thankful when I am able to tap into that creative vein. It rarely disappoints.

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Right now, my home is filled with the heady, yeasted scent of freshly baked bread. It’s quite heavenly. I’d been wanting to make bread ever since the changing of seasons; there’s something really wholesome and nourishing about the craft of baking that attracts me. I’ve started to pay more attention to the precision of baking, I’m learning when I can get away with approximations, and when a bit more accuracy is required.
I’d had a somewhat successful attempt last week baking cinnamon bread, however my yeast was a bit past-date. Needless to say, my bread was a tad more dense than I would have preferred. The dough, however; rich with butter and eggs…I’ll definitely have to give it another go sometime.
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With yeasted bread in mind, I perused several cookbooks and was seduced by a recipe for fougasse, unsurprisingly from David Lobovitz’ My Paris Kitchen. It’s a lovely, leaf-shaped bread that relies on the basics of any good yeasted bread really; flour, salt, yeast, water, and lends itself to endless variations. In David’s version, he adds chocolate, hazelnut and dried sour cherries. It was the cherries that caught my attention and found me digging through the pantry to see if I still had a few cherries on hand. I usually pair cherries with almonds, and rather than venture out in search of hazelnuts, I modified the recipe to suit my taste. Cardamom was requisite, as it has been making an appearance in several dishes I’ve prepared lately, both savory and sweet.
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I’ve chosen not to rewrite the recipe with such modest adaptations. Rather, my intent is to demonstrate and to encourage one to not be limited by the dictates of a recipe in print, to give oneself permission to adapt, to be flexible and just…do it.
It’s kind of a recipe for life, really.
You’ll likely be able to find a recipe for the fougasse online, however I highly recommend picking up a copy of David’s book. It’s a trove of inspiration, visually appealing, peppered with personal experience, salted with wit and wry humor.
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
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Tossed.

I’m sharing this recipe partly for my own selfish ends, as I am not feeling super loquacious. I’d say it’s the change in seasons, which is perhaps a half-truth, however of late I’ve been balancing the need for some self-imposed downtime with the equally necessary and soulful need to Just. Show. Up.

For the latter, I’ve managed to keep (most) commitments and remain accountable in both my professional and personal life, as well as build in the requisite training runs that keep my brain happy.

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I like to think I am fairly skilled at feeding myself; I can put together something basic on the fly, however lately my creativity has been lacking. I spent the last two days sifting through two of my favorite cookbooks, looking for ways to incorporate fennel into my meals, as I seem to be drawn to it lately. I made a fennel, pear, ginger and lemon juice that was pretty amazing, however I was looking for something a bit more toothsome, and came across a recipe for saffron orange chicken and herb salad that intrigued me.
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I had an orange, partially zested, that was begging to be put to good use, and then picked up a couple of other things that I thought would fit nicely. The recipe involved cooking the orange, peel and all, along with a bit of honey and saffron for a length of time, then folding in the chicken and serving along with fresh slivered fennel and a bit of herbs and a lemon-garlic vinaigrette of sorts. I limit my flirtation with garlic whenever possible, so I decided to tailor the recipe a bit differently, to suit my taste, and my pantry. Given that I’d forgotten to grab some saffron, I cooked the orange with a pinch of fennel and coriander seeds. I had a bit of cilantro languishing in the back of my refrigerator, so I plucked the best greens and mixed them with some fresh mint leaves. The chicken I purchased cooked from the deli, so there was really little work to do. I added a bit of avocado and a drizzle of olive oil to give it a boost of healthy fats and needless today, it was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve had in some time.
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This is a dish that bears repeating, so I’ll share it with you, and keep it on file for those days I’m in need of a bit of kitchen inspiration. I’m going to try something a bit different here, by incorporating the method into the ingredient list. If you end up giving it a try, I’d love to know how the recipe worked for you.
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
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Fennel, Chicken and Avocado Salad with Spiced Orange Dressing
Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem recipe for Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad
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1 orange, cut into 8 slices
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
**Bring the above ingredients to boil in a small saucepan, then turn down to a slow simmer and allow to cook for ~1h, adding water if needed. You’ll want a few tablespoons of liquid with the oranges to keep from burning.
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While the orange is cooking, prepare the salad:
Thinly slice 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs (I used a mandolin) and set in a bowl. Massage the fennel briefly with ~1 tablespoon of olive oil, along with healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add ~8 oz of shredded, cooked chicken breast, a small handful (~1/4 cup each) of cilantro and mint to the bowl, leaving a few tablespoons of herbs aside for the final garnish. Slice 1/4 large or 1/2 small avocado and set aside with reserved herbs.
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Puree the orange with the juice of 1/2 lemon, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water if needed so that the end product is the consistency of a loose compote. Add ~1/2 of the compote to the salad bowl and toss to combine. Garnish with avocado and reserved herbs, and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Double Dipping.

Frequently I’ll start a conversation with my dear friend Lisa like “Hey, what should I do with this?”, to which she’ll barely glance upward as she rattles off a response. Last week’s question was answered with one word: clafoutis.
I’ve made many (well, a few) custards over the years, however I had not been acquainted with the velvety, not quite cake, yet not entirely custard concoction of French origin. An internet search yielded countless recipes, some containing shocking amounts of butter and eggs, others with lengthy ingredient lists, to more demure and simple recipes. Some called for flour, others did not. Several recipes recommend letting the batter rest overnight, which makes sense; the liquid absorbs some of the flour, improving the texture.
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I set it all aside for a bit and steeped some bay leaves in cream and milk.
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In My Paris Kitchen, David Lebovitz writes that “…we’ve become more and more dependent on recipes to tell us each and every detail, so we don’t have to think for ourselves. Or we’ve somehow become afraid to trust our own instincts”. I get that. I rarely follow a recipe verbatim, rather I use them as a template, a starting point. and then cook with instinct. It’s how I’ve learned what works, and what doesn’t.
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I imagined that blueberries would pair well with the nutmeg-like flavor of bay leaves, and I still had remnants from my last trip to the farm on hand, so I used them in my first go-round. Needless to say, it was a stunner and was enjoyed by many at a party the following night. I reluctantly deposited what remained in my dear friend’s kitchen and was already dreaming up another variation on the way home.
Blueberry and Peach Clafoutis

Blueberry and Peach Clafoutis

The next generation involved cornmeal intermingled with honey and lemon-verbena-scented custard. This batter held a coarser consistency, however once baked, the cornmeal coalesced into soft and spongy cream-soaked layer, reminiscent of graham crackers in milk. Extremely comforting. Tart blackberries complemented the wild honey and kept it bright and easy to justify eating pretty much any time of day.

Which is exactly what I did.

 

Honey Cornmeal and Lemon Verbena Clafoutis

Honey Cornmeal and Lemon Verbena Clafoutis

Enjoy, and much love.

J

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For Emily.

I’ve been remiss, again, with my posts. Life and long summer days have wrapped me in a tight cocoon and I’ve gone adrift; carried through sadness, sunshine, grief, laughter and bliss.
The loss of a loved one, followed by the loss of another have left great voids, and yet I’ve just come back from one of the best vacations in some time.
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Spending the past two weeks in the company of my teenage daughter, just she and I, has been surprisingly pleasant.
A bit of sand and surf in the mix can’t have hurt.
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In the weeks prior to our departure, I made use of summer’s finest. I set aside sweet aspirations and went straight for the savory: eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers, crafting them into an unctuous load of ratatouille, fat with flavor and richly satisfying.
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I don’t generally fare well with nightshades unless they are well-cooked. With ratatouille, the biggest investment is time; the peppers and tomatoes have ample opportunity to languish about at gentle simmer until their flavors mellow, sweeten and concentrate into jammy perfection. Into which gets folded a load of caramelized, roasted eggplant and zucchini. I use a recipe from Francis Lam as my template, following his method (nearly) verbatim, save a shortcut, here and there. I’ve been using it for years; as it’s probably the best ratatouille recipe I’ve found. Its yield is quite generous, encouraging me to divide in half and freeze some for later, however my leftovers were pulled from icy depths within about two weeks, as I found myself craving it daily.
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Ratatouille is incredibly versatile, I folded it into fluffy omelets, enjoyed it with quinoa, served it with toasted baguette, and alongside cold salmon during an impromptu picnic. I also recall serving gently warmed over salad with a bit of feta and chickpeas.
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This’ll likely eat up an afternoon, however the hands-on investment is pretty modest. Having the ingredients prepped and at the ready makes for a smooth experience.
The rest is merely waiting. And waiting. And…
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Enjoy, and Much Love,
J
Weapons-Grade Ratatouille by Francis Lam, with adaptations.
Note: this recipe yields approximately 1/2 gallon of ratatouille. I wouldn’t recommend halving it, as the effort alone is worth its yield. Ratatouille will keep well, refrigerated for ~5 days, or up to three months in the freezer.
Ingredients:
1 head garlic, minced
3 shallots, minced
1 large onion (about 12 ounces), minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 large red peppers, puréed
4 pounds of tomatoes, puréed
2 pounds of zucchini, cut into cubed
2 pounds of eggplant, cubed
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Additional 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
Method:
  1. Salt eggplant with ~1/2-1 tsp of salt, then set in a colander to drain. This will aid the eggplant in releasing some of its water content. Set aside and proceed with the following.
  2. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-low and add garlic, shallot and onion. I used a 4-quart wide-bottom Le Cruset enameled cast iron, which I knew would handle the volume. Season with salt and pepper; ~1/2 teaspoon each, or a nice healthy pinch.
  3. Once the aromatics are glossy and golden, add the red pepper puree and another pinch of salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to simmer for a good 30-45 minutes, until the volume is reduced by about half.
  4. Next, add the tomato puree and continue to simmer, giving a gentle stir every 20-30 minutes or so. The sauce will simmer for ~1.5 hours, during which time you’ll proceed with roasting the eggplant and zucchini
  5. Preheat oven to 450. Line two large baking sheets with parchment. Pat the eggplant dry, then toss both eggplant and zucchini with a generous amount of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  6. Roast until nicely-charred, about 40 minutes. This may require shifting pans about halfway through, and may require two stages due to the sheer quantity of veggies. However, this dish has nothing but time on its hands. Set roasted veg aside for later.
  7. Once the tomato base has reduced considerably, down to a mere quart, maximum, and the olive oil has become visible on the surface of the sauce, fold in the roasted vegetables. Give the mix a few more healthy gratings of pepper.
  8. Fold in basil and thyme. Taste again and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

In Need of a Redirect.

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Full disclosure: I love all things sugar. If I were to estimate the ratio of sugar to just about everything else I’ve been consuming lately, I could easily say that it’s about 2:1.
 Ice cream, gelato, chocolate, pie, cake, candy bars, crisp. Ice cream, pie, crisp.image
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Oh; was there a repeat there?
My cravings tend to swing like a pendulum toward the extreme; with sugary indulgences leaving me sleepy, hypoglycemic, and most importantly, craving more. I know enough about sugar and metabolism that when I eat sweets, and I don’t balance them out with a hefty dose of other savories, it leaves me wanting. I am intimately aware of my tendencies toward  emotional eating, stress; eating; nervous eating.
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Having attuned myself to interplay between body and mind, I am able to sense when something is off. That being said, the resultant feeling of being uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily result in changed behavior. Rather, it usually takes a knockdown before I am motivated to do something different.
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So, this week, in keeping with a healthy body-mind, I have set an intention to nourish myself with a bit of temporary restraint, so as to regain the balance which I know is inherently there.
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Am I planning to toss my gorgeous pie plates, cake moulds, bundt pans and French rolling pin?
Absolutely not.
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Rather, I choose to bring balance to the forefront, give presence to my meals, savor and cultivate community around the shared dining experience.
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I’ll leave that with a post of a recipe I made last week for an energy bar that’s loaded with good things: protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc and manganese. They also just happen to taste amazing; sweet, chewy and filling; they are the perfect pack along for a busy day and a great option to reach for when the urge to nosh strikes. These bars require a bit of oven time, which many not be of interest in the midst of a summer heat wave.
For a no-cook bar that’s equally satisfying, check out my recipe for Cherry Chocolate Energy Bars (AKA: The Mega).
Enjoy, and much love,
J
With unfailing kindness, Life presents what you need to learn.
[Charlotte Joko Beck]
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Cherry Tahini Bars
1 c oats
1 c shredded coconut
1 c dried cherries
1 c pumpkin seeds
1/2 c sesame seeds
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 c tahini
1/2 c honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit
Line an 8×8 glass baking dish with parchment, or grease with coconut oil or butter; set aside.
Combine salt with tahini and honey and warm over low-medium heat until just bubbly. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
Combine dry ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl; add tahini-honey mixture; stir until incorporated.
Using oiled hands, press evenly into pan.
Bake for ~20-25 minutes until golden brown and fragrant.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Cut into bars.
Bars will keep for ~5-7 days at room temperature when stored in an airtight container. Freeze for longer storage.