June 13, 2013

Marcella Hazan's Artichoke Lasagne

We both love artichokes, but for quite a long time we were intimidated by the prospect of actually cooking them. When I was a kid, my parents used to steam large artichokes that we would eat by plucking off each leaf, dipping it in lemon butter, and scraping off the good parts with our teeth, and discarding the rest. The best part was getting to the heart, where once you scraped of the choke you could just bite into artichoke deliciousness. 

While I always enjoyed those artichokes, Michael and I haven't felt that making them would be worth the effort for something that was just an appetizer. We wanted to eat a lot of artichoke, all together. Once we got baby artichokes, thinking that they would be easier to deal with, but they really weren't, and came out tasting quite bitter. Then we discovered this lasagne recipe from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Marcella explains quite clearly how to break down large artichokes to prep to steam them so that you get a good volume of usable artichoke. Then she has you mix the artichokes with béchamel and layer them with sheets of fresh pasta and parmesan. The resulting dish is an absolutely perfect vehicle for the artichokes. So simple - like a haiku. In fact, it has inspired me to write some artichoke haiku. 

Lovely artichokes!
Béchamel and fresh pasta
Make spring perfection.

Spiky artichokes!
I'm not afraid of your thorns.
I will eat you up.

March 25, 2013

Fava and Fresh Mozzarella Panini

Considering that we've been living in the East Bay for more than five years and in our current house for almost three, you'd think we'd have gotten used to the way the seasons work around here. Even so, we're still surprised every year when the cherry trees in our neighborhood start blooming in early to mid-February. It always feels like we just recently started grumbling about the end of summer, which also seems to catch us by surprise every year. I sometimes feel that Thanksgiving and the whole "holiday season" that follows are all some kind of trick to distract us with food and celebration so that we forgot to mourn the end of the wonderful warm weather and summer produce. It's not a bad trick, anyway, and it seems to have propelled us all the way through winter, so that here we are at the other end. We've started our annual asparagus binge (we ate it nearly every day last week), and spent all day Saturday working in our garden (before we came inside to eat asparagus - along with our poached chicken with tarragon cream sauce and a delicious blueberry crisp -  for dinner). 

So, here we are, emerging from a bit of a hibernation on our blog with a fresh, green sandwich filled with another harbinger* of spring - the fava bean. It took us a while to shell those two pounds of beans, and then remove their skins, but it was totally worth it. Make this lunch on a weekend when you have a bit of time. We put favas on the sandwiches in two forms: a purée with parmesan and olive oil, and just fresh and simple. We topped all that off with a bright, chopped salsa verde and fresh mozzarella. Happy spring!

December 22, 2012

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

One of my favorite parts about Friday night is the anticipation of Saturday morning, and our delicious, lazy weekend ritual. We sleep a little late, and somewhere a bit before nine I might slip out of bed, turn the oven to preheat, and pull something out of the freezer to defrost. Then back to bed until the oven beeps, at which point we get up and Michael takes care of the coffee and I take care of the food. We recently got a Chemex coffee maker (though "maker" doesn't seem like quite the most appropriate word, since it doesn't actually make the coffee, it just holds it while you do the work) and Michael has been getting his coffee making down to a science. And if it's a really good week, then I've already prepared a batch of something that can be easily frozen raw, then pulled out in two portions at a time to be baked fresh - like scones, cinnamon buns, slightly different cinnamon buns, or more recently, these buttermilk biscuits.

I'm really proud of these biscuits. I've been experimenting with various biscuit recipes for a while, trying to come up with a light, flaky, soft, tender, buttermilky mouthful of goodness that can easily be split in half and spread with apricot jam or honey. Peter Reinhart's recipe gave me the folding technique to get the flaky layers. I found that swapping out cake flour for some of the all-purpose flour made them all the more tender. I also decided against using round cookie-cutters, because in my opinion that's a criminal waste of biscuit dough. I cook them at a lower temperature than a lot of recipes suggest, not only because the higher temperature sets of our smoke alarms, which definitely kills the weekend morning mood, but also because I think they brown more evenly. And I made the preparation process simple enough (it all happens in the food processor and then on the counter) that you could even make them on Saturday morning in barely more time than it would take to make the coffee.

I highly recommend weighing the flour, if you have a scale - it will allow you to be much more precise. 

October 17, 2012

Momofuku Roasted Brussels Sprouts

We haven't had the chance to go to any of David Chang's Momofuku restaurants in New York, and we do not own the Momofuku cookbook, but we probably need to make both of those things happen sooner rather than later. We've made a couple of recipes from the cookbook and every one has been not just good, but excellent. I'm tempted to say mind-blowing. The first thing we made was Bo Ssam - how could one not want to make it when the New York Times article featuring the recipe was called The Bo Ssam Miracle? So you see, perhaps my mind-blowing adjective is not hyperbole. Miracle, mind-blowing - whatever you call it, these recipes are worth trying. I could go on and on about the Bo Ssam, but I won't, because I'm here tonight to tell you about the magic David Chang has worked with Brussels sprouts.

First, a few words on Brussels sprouts. I've been confused by the spelling for a while, so I have checked and confirmed - Brussels sprouts, with a capital B and an -s at the end. They are apparently named after the city in Belgium, because they have historically been popular there. They are a member of the brassica genus, which includes all kinds of good stuff, like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. They have a bad reputation, probably because when they're overcooked they get mushy and taste of sulfur - no wonder generations of kids revile them! If those kids could taste these sprouts the way David Chang prepares them, I think they would change their minds. This is a totally different take on this vegetable, with the combination of sweet, spicy, savory, and sour that much of Asian cuisine does so well. We added a few things to the recipe to make it into a main course rather than just a side. 

September 22, 2012

Cinnamon Sticky Rolls

Perhaps one of our favorite things about the weekend is the ability to have a leisurely breakfast at home. During the week, I like to sit at home for a bit and have a cup of tea and some granola, and Michael has a granola bar at work. On the weekends, though, we have a different ritual. Michael has become our in-house coffee expert, and recently we've been enjoying Sweet Maria's coffee brewed in our new Chemex coffeemaker. Whenever I have a chance (or an excuse, like some heavy cream or buttermilk sitting in the fridge that I just must use before it goes bad), I make us a weekend breakfast treat, like scones or biscuits, and put them in the freezer to be baked fresh in the morning. We've already posted our standard cinnamon bun recipe, but today we want to share with you a new variety - something that's a bit more like a sticky bun, because the filling turns  into gooey caramel that bubbles out of the sweet dough. 

This recipe came about because we had tried and loved Joy the Baker's Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread, but realized that it was impractical, since it clearly must be eaten fresh out of the oven, and the fact that it is also clearly far more than two people need was probably not going to stop us from eating the entire thing. So, we converted it into individual rolls which rise in muffin tins and then can be frozen and baked as needed.