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.

Umami Bomb

Of course there is something amazing happening in my kitchen right now. 

Of course there is.
Rhubarb Fizz

Rhubarb Fizz

Cherry Tahini Bars

Cherry Tahini Bars

Last week found me perpetually craving this dish, which needless to say, I’ve made twice now. It’s that good. I know that I’m on to something when I’m left scraping every last morsel out of the bowl, producing audible moans of delight, and exclaiming to practically anyone who will listen that this is one of my most favorite meals, yet.
 
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I have a girlfriend who inspires me frequently with her culinary ingenuity, so when she was raving about a dinner she’d prepared, I had to co-opt it somewhat and make it my own. At my last visit, she’d acquainted me with fermented black garlic, which has a similar texture to that of roasted garlic, and a subdued flavor that is sweet and mild. I tend to use a light hand with garlic, as it can so quickly overwhelm. The fermented garlic, however, provides beautiful accent, contributing to a dish that draws on the trifecta of taste: sweet, salt and fat.
 
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It’s one of those meals that’s fairly easy to pull together, if you have a few basics on hand. I always have a jar of puréed ginger and tamari in my fridge; the rest can be modified to suit taste. You can use fish sauce, however I prefer anchovies; add one or two at the start of the sauté and they disintegrate, lending their flavor to the umami base. This is deepened with the addition of shitake mushrooms, tamari and a touch of seaweed. Sautéing endive tames the bitterness completely, and the red onion is pleasantly sweet. Chile and ginger add a bit of kick. 
 
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It all comes together with a bit of cooked rice, more or less to preference, and some shredded smoked trout. Smoked tofu could easily stand in for the trout, however this combination is simply magic.
 
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
 
Fried Rice with Shitake and Smoked Trout
 
Ingredients:
 
1-2 cups cooked rice, preferably cold
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 anchovy fillets
1 small red onion, halved and sliced ~1/4 in 
2 heads endive, sliced ~1/4-in thick along the diagonal
1 pint shitake mushrooms, sliced ~1/4 in
6 oz smoked trout, or tofu; roughly shredded
2 sheets toasted nori, torn into ~2-in pieces 
2 tbsp toasted coconut
 
For the sauce:
1 tbsp ginger paste, or 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp chili flakes 
 
Method:
In a large sauté pan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. 
Add anchovy fillets; Using spatula, press anchovy into pan; they should disintegrate in 1-2 minutes. 
Add red onion and sauté for ~4-5 minutes until translucent. 
Add endive and continue to sauté for 3-5 minutes, then add shitake and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Turn heat up to medium high and let char slightly while whisking together sauce ingredients. 
Lastly, add cold rice and sauce to pan; stir quickly to combine. Add another 1-2 tbsp of coconut oil if the mixture seems dry.
Remove from heat, then add shredded trout and nori. Adjust for seasoning and serve, garnished with chopped scallion, if desired.

Eating My Words.

90° in Seattle means minimal cooking, little adherence to a clock (save for those pesky responsibilities such as work, etc.), beaches, cooking as little as possible, immersing myself in the company of good friends, lazy afternoon naps, early morning runs, getting lost in a good book, Sunday brunches.
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Consummate Summer.
While I haven’t yet been able to reconnect with my passion for cooking, I have been flirting with it the tiniest bit, here and there. Fortunately I have dear friends who remind me that, while delicious, gelato is not best consumed breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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Here’s a few flavors I’ve made over the past week:
Mulberry-Thyme
Rhubarb and Lemon Verbena
Chocolate Peanut Butter (vegan, no less!)
Straight-Up Green Tea
And I think there’s a Cherry and Toasted Almond in the works…
I’ve made use of cast offs from other people’s gardens, like this fabulous basil-walnut pesto, which I folded into a summer salad with garbanzo beans farro, cucumber and mint.
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Then there was a post-coffee meander through the city that led me to a lesser-traveled street and a bunch of the juiciest blackberries, warm and sweet in the summer sun. I ate what I could, then gathered a pint or so, to which I introduced to a bit of lavender and blueberries and let them bubble and burst into a pretty fantastic pie.
There’s a hint of cardamom in the filling, which grounds it somewhat, because this truly is a ‘knock your sandals off’ kind of pie. I used bits of leftover dough, which I’d saved from a decorative galette I’d made a couple of weeks back. You could easily substitute a crumble, or top with another layer of crust, or simply leave it naked and blushing.
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it.
It just blooms
~Sensei Ogui
Lavender Black and Blue Pie
Ingredients:
Crust for 9-inch pie (for a great pastry and technique, click on the link, here)
Filling
4-5 c mixed berries
1/4 c brown sugar
1/3 c unbleached sugar
3 tbsp tapioca starch
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried candied lavender flowers, or 2-3 drops lavender essential oil
1/2 tsp cardamom, ground
1/4 tsp salt
**Demerara sugar, or other coarse sugar, for dusting
Method:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Fit crust into a 9-inch pie plate; let chill in the refrigerator for ~10-15 mins while preparing pie filling.
Combine berries with lavender and lemon juice in a bowl. Sift together remaining ingredients and toss with berries.
Fill crust and brush pastry with egg wash. Sprinkle with demerera and bake for ~15 minutes. Turn heat down to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes until golden and bubbling.
Cool completely on wire rack, then serve.