Basil Oil

Sometimes a simple, everyday ingredient can use a fresh makeover. (Can't we all now and then?) The simple infusion of basil and olive oil makes crusty bread with goat cheese all the more special. Use this oil for salad dressings, pasta dishes, or any other place you can think of to drizzle it. I think I might become obsessed with fresh herb oils - oregano, rosemary...I'm already plotting my next concoction.

                   1 1/4 cups olive oil
                   1 cup basil leaves
                   2 cups basil leaves, extra, blanched and drained
                   1/4 olive oil, extra

Place the 1 cup of basil and the 1 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat and cook until the oil is just warm, about 5 minutes. Set aside for 15 minutes and strain.

Pulse the extra basil and olive oil in a mini food processor to form a paste. Stir the paste through the basil oil.

Will keep for about a week in the fridge.


Vanilla Petits Pots de Crème

Either you like custard desserts, or you don't. I do. Very much so. Especially when they're in pretty, little bowls and simple to make. Now that I have learned just how easy it is to make pots de crème, I fear I may be in trouble. I mean I can easily see myself whipping these up on a total whim...frequently. In fact, I'll now confess that I've made them three times in the last week (gasp!). The first go was the whole "trial and error, I'm figuring these out" routine. The second time they were pretty damn good, and I served them after dinner to a dear friend who loved them and insisted on bringing two home - one for her daughter and another for her mom. And the third time was for entertaining again a couple of nights later and I nailed them. I'm very excited to branch out of my vanilla comfort zone and try different essences, although truth be told - these are so lovely precisely because of their simplicity. 
                    2 eggs and 1 egg white
                    2 cups whole milk
                    1/3 cup sugar
                    1 vanilla bean

Preheat the oven to 320. 

Set four to six ramekins (depending on the size) in a large baking dish.

Bring the milk and vanilla bean to a boil in a heavy saucepan and then remove from the heat. Allow to infuse, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Beat the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar in a medium bowl. Then add the hot milk slowly while continuing to beat.

Fill the baking dish with hot water so that the ramekins are halfway immersed. Pour the milk mixture into the ramekins and skim any foam from the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean and the middle of the creams is still moving a bit. Let cool, and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Makes 4-6 petits pots de crème.

From La Tartine Gourmande.


Orecchiette with Lemon and Spring Vegetables (and a Pea Hunt)

I really, really wanted to make this pasta, as evidenced by the fact that James and I went to THREE markets to find the sugar snap peas this morning. It was one of those silly and exasperating things in life. When the second store didn't have them, I almost threw in the towel. I mean two stores, neither of which had a very common ingredient that they always carry? Hmph. Maybe it wasn't meant to be. But upon further thought, I felt like the universe was asking me, "So Shawn, just how far are you willing to go to get those little peas of yours?", and the idea of heading home defeated was horrible. So I persevered and found my peas. And I am soooo glad I did. This pasta lunch was delicious. Not only was it the perfect way to enjoy some homemade ricotta I made a few days ago, it was also a lesson in not giving up too soon on something you have your mind set on. I know - a bit deep for the middle of a Monday afternoon, but hey...like a lot of things in life, this pasta was worth the effort.

                    14 oz. orecchiette pasta
                    1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed
                    1/2 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed
                    juice of 1 lemon
                    1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
                    3 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (to make you own click here)
                    1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
                    sea salt and cracked black pepper

Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Cook the beans and peas in a saucepan of simmering water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and add to the pasta. Add the lemon juice and zest, oil, ricotta, parsley, salt, and pepper and toss well to combine. 

Makes 2 large or 4 small servings. 


Adapted from Donna Hay.


Cucumber and Radish Salad with Dill

We're enjoying a sunny, warm weekend and springtime has made me feel like lightening things up. This salad is so crisp and refreshing, not to mention beautiful. I've never been big on radishes, but lately they speak my language. Or maybe I'm learning theirs? All of a sudden. Just like that. Radishes, I get you now and I'm so sorry for ignoring you for all of these years. Please accept my offer of friendship.

I have to say, these ingredients worked really well together. For some reason, the dill brings to mind the joy of eating outdoors. It's probably due to all of those times I've eaten potato salad outside on a hot day over the course of my life. In any case, eating this salad reminded me that I really like dill. In fact, I love it. And the lemons. Oh, the lemons. I just can't get enough of lemons at the moment. This recipe calls for feta, and I completely forgot to include it. Shocking, I know. I'll try it next time, but it was so good just like this. I tend to put cheese on anything and everything, so it's probably good for me to leave it out once in a while. As well, I was out of white wine vinegar, so I substituted a seasoned rice vinegar and it worked nicely.

                  1-2 cucumbers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
                  2-3 large radishes, thinly sliced
                  zest and juice of 1 lemon
                  2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
                  1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill, plus more sprigs, torn, for garnish
                  coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
                  1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

Put the cucumber, radish, and lemon zest in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, and dill in another medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream until emulsified.

Add vinaigrette to cucumber mixture; toss well. Garnish with dill. The salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 hour.

Makes 2 large or 4 small servings.

Adapted from Martha Stewart.


Almond and Lavender Financiers

Spring is finally here and I am reveling in the explosion of blooms all around me. The wildflowers are particularly more vibrant this year after lots of intermittent rain and sunshine. The colorful petals are so enticing that I want to eat them - although I know most wouldn't taste very good. But I'm that kind of a girl. The kind that would eat flowers all the time if I could. When I was young I loved rose and violet flavored hard candies. A lassi with rose or orange blossom water might be one of my favorite things in the world. So last Monday I couldn't resist picking up some dried lavender in the bulk tea section at Henry's. I didn't know where it would end up, but I knew it was time to eat some flowers and ring in this spectacular season.

Financiers are tea cakes made with brown butter (beurre noisette), sugar, nuts, and egg whites. They have a wonderful bouncy, springy texture - no pun intended! If you've never made brown butter, I urge you to try. It imparts a very unique flavor that is rich and nutty - essential to the taste of the traditional financier. If you're not convinced (or just don't want to deal with making it), then you can substitute melted butter. I say that while making a funny face, crunching up my nose and squinting one eye. But I won't judge. Promise.

I infused the butter with lavender and the result was a very subtle essence. Not overpowering...just right. Raspberries are the more common choice, but I had strawberries in the fridge and thought they might be a better match for the lavender. If you want to experiment with another nut, I'll bet hazelnuts would be delicious.

          1/2 cup unsalted butter (or 1/3 cup melted butter if you're not making the beurre noisette)
          1 tablespoon dried lavender
          1/2 cup ground almonds
          1 cup powdered sugar
          1/4 cup flour
          4 egg whites
          a dash of salt
          2 strawberries, very thinly sliced

To make the beurre noisette, melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Once it begins to boil, turn the heat down to low, and continue to cook. All the solids will separate from the liquid. Cook until the butter has reached a deep golden brown color. Remove from the heat and add the lavender. Allow the butter to infuse for 5-7 minutes, and strain. Once strained, you should have about 1/3 cup of the liquid left. Let cool.

Preheat the oven to 375 and position a rack in the center. Lightly grease the inside of 12 small muffin tins.

In a medium bowl, combine the almonds, sugar, flour, salt and egg whites. Mix on low speed until the ingredients have combined. Then add the brown butter and beat on medium speed until the batter is smooth.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. The tops will be soft and sponge-like. Let cool on a wire rack before enjoying.

Makes 12 financiers.


Garlic Mushrooms with Heirloom Tomatoes and Mozzarella

A fantastic new twist on an old standby. I have always loved (and at certain times in my life almost lived off of) Caprese salads. Sauteing mushrooms in olive oil with minced garlic just took this old favorite to a new level. This lunch took me less than ten minutes to throw together and I didn't want it to end as I carefully assembled the last perfect bite with my fork. The warm and flavorful mushrooms made this light meal a bit more filling, and tearing the mozzarella instead of slicing it added a wonderful texture. If you like Caprese and you like mushrooms - you're in for a treat.

                    small handful of Shiitake mushrooms
                    1 garlic clove, minced
                    1/2 cup torn fresh mozzarella pieces
                    1/2 cup halved heirloom cherry tomatoes
                    5-6 fresh basil leaves
                    1-2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon for drizzling
                    1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
                    salt and pepper

Heat the 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and saute several minutes, then turn and saute another couple of minutes until they are golden brown.

Arrange mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes on a plate, and top with the mushrooms. Emulsify the teaspoon of balsamic with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and drizzle over the salad.

Makes 1 serving.       


Earl Grey and Orange Scones

Remember those scones I mentioned earlier in the week? Well, I couldn't shake the thought of them, so yesterday afternoon I made them happen. Something you may not know about me: I love scones. Love, love, love them. I think I might even prefer them over (gasp!) cookies, and definitely over muffins. I love that they're not too sweet and that they don't try to be pretty and perfect. Scones hang out on the rustic side of the baking spectrum, perfectly happy being who they are with no false pretenses, yet they surprise you with an unexpected and understated sophistication. I've been wanting to bake with tea for some time, so I came up with the idea of pairing Earl Grey with orange. Delicious. The combination of yogurt and cream in these makes for a perfect moist on the inside/crisp on the outside texture combination. I'm glad the recipe only makes six and Dan happens to love scones, too.

                    2 cups white whole wheat all purpose flour 
                    1/3 cup sugar plus a little for sprinkling
                    1 teaspoon salt 
                    1 teaspoon baking powder 
                    1 teaspoon baking soda  
                    2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest 
                    2 teaspoons ground Earl Grey tea leaves 
                    4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled 
                    1/2 cup nonfat yogurt 
                    1/2 cup heavy cream

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F.

Mix the first five (all the dry) ingredients into a medium bowl. Add the orange zest and the tea leaves, and combine well. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the mix. Then pulse in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Whisk the yogurt and cream together in a small bowl. Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for several minutes, folding and flattening it several times. Pat the dough into an 8x4" rectangle, about 3/4" to 1" thick. Using a pasty cutter or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 6 equal triangles and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Place the scones on the baking sheet and bake on the center rack for 18-20 minutes. When finished, the scones will be golden brown.  Let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
Makes 6 scones.


Curried Yellow Split Pea and Carrot Soup with Mint Yogurt

My favorite part of this perfectly light yet satisfying lunch was the mint yogurt. I know, I know. Some of you might be tiring of my incessant "minting", thinking to yourselves "there she goes again with the mint." Well, here's the thing. Mint and I are very close. However, I recognize that my affinity for this refreshingly bright and versatile little herb is not shared by all (or even most for that matter), so I promise to limit the frequency of mint-related recipes, insofar as I am able. And, in the case of this very tasty soup, you can omit the mint altogether if you'd prefer and go with another herb of your choice, or simply do plain yogurt, or even abort the yogurt portion completely. I won't be offended and would love to hear about any modifications or substitutions you make to any of the recipes you see here. May your visits here serve as a source of inspiration. Maybe inspiration to use mint more? Just kidding.

For the soup:
                    1 cup yellow split peas
                    1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 medium onion, chopped
                    2 garlic cloves, chopped
                    1 teaspoon curry powder
                    1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
                    2 carrots, peeled
                    1 teaspoon kosher salt
                    salt and pepper

For the topping:
                    1/2 cup plain yogurt
                    3 tablespoons chopped mint 

Cover the peas with enough hot water to cover by 1 inch in a large bowl. Let stand for 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, curry, and turmeric and stir for 1 minute. Drain the peas and add them to the saucepan with 4 cups of water, the carrots, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the peas are very tender, about an hour.

Puree the soup in a blender (in batches if necessary) until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir the yogurt and mint together in a small bowl. Serve the soup with a spoonful of yogurt over the top.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from Jeanne Kelley, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes.    


Lemon Curd

Call me old-fashioned, but there are few things that sound better to me around 2:30 in the afternoon than black tea and a little nibble. If I could, everyday near that hour, I would serve myself a nice, warm cup and perhaps enjoy little cucumber sandwiches, or scones with clotted cream and lemon curd, on tiny beautiful plates while gazing at fresh flowers and listening to relaxing classical music. Then I might even go down for a light snooze. However, because I'm not an English countryside castle or palace-dweller in the late 19th century, I am quite content waking up and making lemon curd to enjoy a bit later in the day while James takes his second nap.

The weather warmed up considerably last weekend and the lemons were practically serenading me every time I opened the refrigerator door. So, this week I made fresh, delightfully creamy and smooth lemon curd from organic, unwaxed lemons. Making this very simple spread was easier than I thought, AND gave me an opportunity to use my candy thermometer, which feels special in and of itself. I didn't have time to make the fresh scones I fantasized about for 15 seconds, and opted for a quick fix instead. Strawberries. They were the perfect vehicle - possibly too much tarty fruitiness for some of you, but I loved it and the whole experience felt that much more like summer. Since we live 5 miles from the strawberry capital (Carlsbad, CA), they are readily available...certainly not anywhere near their best, but still good. Other ways to enjoy: spoon over basic Scottish shortbread biscuits, spread over toast, pour into your favorite tart shell (easy recipe here), or enjoy alone with a dollop of fresh unsweetened whipped cream.

                  4 organic, unwaxed lemons
                  1/2 cup lemon juice
                  2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
                  1 stick butter cut into four pieces
                  3/4 cup sugar
                  2 eggs

Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a heat-safe bowl and add butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, all the while whisking, until thickened and smooth. When a candy thermometer reads 160°F., (about 5 minutes), remove curd from heat and strain through using a fine sieve strainer into a bowl. Use a spoon or rubber spatula to squeeze out as much as you can. If you plan on using a jar (this recipe makes enough for two small to medium jars), pour immediately and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Lemon curd also freezes well, so if you don't think you'll use it all, save some for later!

Makes 1-1/2 cups.


Upland Cress Salad with Roasted Beets, Valencia Orange, and Chevre

I am guessing there's a good chance you may have never made a salad with Upland cress. This is because when I did a basic recipe search on this lesser known and quite beautiful green, it yielded virtually no results. Well, maybe a few, but honestly... they were nothing to speak of. Because the cress has a lively flavor full of spice and pepper, the sweetness of the orange seemed like a nice way to bring some balance to the dish. I roasted some beets, whisked up an orange vinaigrette, and fell in love. The weather has warmed up a bit (temporarily at least), and I'm so excited to reinvent myself saladwise. I think I've hit a wall in terms of my standard: greens, cherry tomatoes, avocado, various nut and/or cheese with a basic vinaigrette. Although that simple salad has served me well, it's time to get creative and celebrate the range of flavors in season right now. Upland cress has inspired me while carving itself out a new little piece of my heart.

                    1 bunch Upland cress
                    1 large or 2 smaller Valencia oranges, peel and white pith removed, sliced, then quartered
                    2 medium beets, roasted, sliced, then chopped to your liking
                    1/4 cup chevre
                    orange vinaigrette

First prepare the beets by poking them several times with a fork, wrapping them in foil, and roasting in the oven at 425 for about an hour or until the hardness resembles a baked potato. While the beets are roasting, wash and clean the greens well, and trim stems to your liking (I trimmed off the bottom third). Gently toss the cress with the oranges, beets and vinaigrette. Top with the chevre.

For the Orange Vinaigrette:
                    6 tablespoons olive oil
                    2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
                    1 tablespoon orange juice
                    a couple of grinds of pepper
                    a couple of grinds of salt

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl.

Makes two large or four small servings.


Baked Eggs with Two Kales

What you see here, is yet another way for me to get my weekend eggs on. Baked eggs might be my new favorite breakfast food. Like with omelettes or frittatas, the options are limitless with this very tasty and easy dish. The egg's versatility never ceases to amaze me. And the horror of now knowing that I've missed out on the delight of baked eggs for so many years. Well, I don't even know what to say. Thank God it's behind me now.

What you see here, are several layers - the first: toasted whole grain triangles, the second: green and red kale leaves, and the third: three eggs cracked into little "nests" between the leaves. Any number of greens could be substituted here. Spinach, escarole, chard. Whatever sounds good to you (or whatever you happen to have picked up at the market) will most likely work. I chose to use individual stoneware plates, but you could also do family style in a bigger baking dish instead. Either way, these are great because they all come out at the same time, and you don't have to worry about someone's eggs (yours) sitting on the counter while you finish cooking someone else's.

                    1 tablespoon olive oil
                    1 small clove garlic, minced
                    1/2 bunch red kale, washed, stemmed, and torn into leaves
                    1/2 bunch green kale, washed, stemmed, and torn into leaves
                    salt and freshly ground black pepper
                    1-2 slices whole grain bread, cut into small triangles
                    butter for greasing the plate(s) and buttering the bread
                    6 large eggs
                    2 tablespoons cup creme fraiche (or heavy whipping cream)
                    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and when it shimmers, add the garlic. Cook the garlic until fragrant and golden, about 3 minutes, then add the green kale (which will take a bit longer to wilt than the red). Reduce the heat to medium, add a pinch of salt and a few turns of freshly ground pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Then add the red kale, and continue to cook and stir until the leaves are just wilted. Transfer the kale to a bowl to cool (it does not need to cool completely before you proceed, but you don't want it so hot it will start cooking the eggs before they get into the oven).

Toast the triangles in a toaster oven (or the slices before cutting if you're using a toaster) and butter them as they are done.

Lightly butter two oven-safe plates or a baking dish large enough to hold the toasted triangles in one layer. Arrange them on the bottom of the dish(es) and evenly scatter the wilted kale over the top, making rough little nests to hold the eggs in place. Crack the eggs into the kale nests and season them with salt and pepper. Drizzle a tablespoon creme fraiche or whipping cream  (or two if using one dish)
over the dishes. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and set on the lowest shelf of the oven. Cook until the whites are just set but the yolks are still runny, about 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

Adapted from Marc Meyer and Peter Meehan, Brunch: 100 Recipes from Five Points Restaurant.            


Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Roasted Pepper Tartlets in Poppy Seed Shells

I've been somewhat reticent about posting these all week, because sadly, I did not taste them. Dan and I made them last Friday night for the photography workshop I took on Saturday that I wrote about a couple of days ago. Yes. We drove with these babies on the freeway for many miles. I had the ricotta and the eggplant and pepper fillings in separate containers in a cooler and assembled the tartlets in the car. While it was raining. Thank you very much.

What I can attest to is that the fillings were really delicious. I've already written about the eggplant and pepper one, and have been enjoying it on crackers all week. Now here's the thing. We made four. Three in metal tart molds, and one in a creme brulee ramekin. The recipe called for rolling the dough to 1/4" thick, but Dan thought that was too much and I trust him completely. He happens to be a very skilled roller. So he rolled it out to 1/8" for the three, and 1/4" for the fourth tart. The fourth tart was assembled at home and left in the fridge and the other three went to Woodland Hills with us. It broke my heart to throw the three tarts away, but with a cheese filling - it had to be done. They had behaved as beautiful and mannerly subjects for the workshop and had made me proud. When I tried the fourth tart from the fridge, my heart sank as I winced through a mouth full of dough. Dan was right. 1/4" was WAY too thick. The poppy seeds and thickness of the dough overwhelmed the other flavors and the result was complete and total disappointment. But I have to wonder how the 1/8" would have tasted.

In any case, reticence is not my strong point, and these were so gorgeous, that I had to post them. If you decide to make them, do let me know what you think. And as a side note, the ricotta filling was so good. For something a little different, it would be great as a substitute for just about any recipe that calls for ricotta - lasagna, ravioli, etc.

                    6 tablespoons poppy seeds
                    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
                    1/2 teaspoon salt
                    6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
                    1 egg
                    2 teaspoons cold water
                    1 recipe Ricotta Filling and dip
                    1 recipe Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Sweet Roasted Peppers

Preheat the oven to 350. Put the 4-inch tartlet pans on a baking sheet. Combine the poppy seeds, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse bread crumbs; this can also be done by pulsing ingredients in a food processor. Stir in the egg and cold water. Put the dough onto a lighlty floured work surface, knead it a couple of times, then form it into a flat disc.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Roll one piece of the dough out with a rolling pin to about 1/8" thick. Cut the dough to fit 2 of the tartlet pans. Gently press the dough into each pan and trim the pastry flush  with the pans to create a neat appearance. Roll the other half of the dough and line the remaining tartlet pans. Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake until light brown, 12-15 minutes. Put the tartlets on a cooling rack and let cool before removing the baked crusts from each pan.

Put each tartlet shell on an individual serving plate. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the Ricotta Filling into the center of each shell. Top with 1/3 cup of Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Sweet Roasted Peppers, mounding it slightly. Garnish with balsamic julienned roasted peppers. Serve the tartlets at room temperature, or, if desired, carefully place them on a baking sheet for warming. Heat in a 350 oven for 10 minutes.

For the Ricotta Filling:

                    1 cup part-skin Ricotta cheese
                    2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
                    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
                    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsely
                    2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
                    1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
                    1 tablespoon whole milk
Put all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well to combine.

For the Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Sweet Roasted Peppers:

                    1 lb. eggplant
                    1/4 cup chili oil
                    1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil
                    1/2 tsp. ground cumin
                    1 medium red bell pepper
                    1 medium yellow bell pepper
                    1 small clove garlic
                    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat the grill to medium. Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch-thick slices and put the slices on a baking sheet. Stir the chili oil and the 1/4 cup olive oil together in a small bowl. Lightly brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the oil mixture and dust with a little ground cumin and salt.

Place the eggplant and peppers on the grill. Roast the eggplant until soft and well marked by the grill, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the grill to cool. Roast the peppers until black on all sides, 10-12 minutes. Remove from the grill and let cool. Peel the black skin off the peppers and then stem, derib, and take out the seeds. Put the eggplant slices, the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, half of each of the roasted peppers, garlic, and a little salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chunky, 5-10 seconds. Remove from the bowl and season with more salt if desired.

Cut the remaining roasted peppers into julienne strips and toss with the balsamic vinegar. Garnish the eggplant mixture with the julienned balsamic peppers. Store in the refrigerator covered for up to one week.

Makes four tartlets.

Adapted from Mary Cech, Savory Baking.


Three-Bite Gouda and Cherry Muffins

Not sure why I have a penchant for small versions of things these days. I think it must have started with James's sweet little baby food jars, followed by Gaby's mini frittatas I posted a couple of days ago. Incidentally, I met Gaby the following day, as well as Cary of Delicious Days, another favorite, at a food photography workshop given by the fabulous Helen of Tartelette! I'm feeling inspired and all warm and smiley from spending an afternoon with these very gifted women.

So back to the muffins. Because I didn't want a bunch of these full-size muffins lying around the kitchen all day, I decided to half the recipe and make them little. I guess I feel better about having several when they're smaller. I love falling for my own half-brained rationalism. And they were so good, that several I did indeed have! I'm anxious to experiment with different cheeses and dried fruits. I adapted the recipe from Mary Cech's Savory Baking, one of my favorite books at the moment. She calls for Sharp Cheddar, which I didn't have. But there was Gouda! Cheddar would probably make for more flavor, but alas, sometimes you have to work with what you've got.

                   1/2 cup dried cherries
                   1 cup all-purpose flour
                   1 cup grated Gouda cheese
                   1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
                   1/2 tablespoon baking powder
                   1/2 teaspoon salt
                   1/2 cup whole milk
                   1 egg
                   1/8 cup canola or vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter and lightly flour the inside of 8 small muffin cups. Put the cherries in a small bowl and pour enough hot water over them to cover the tops. Set aside for 10 minutes; then drain.

Put the flour, cheese, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and gently stir just to blend the ingredients. Whisk the cherries, milk, eggs and oil together in a small bowl. Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixture and stir together just until a soft, wet dough forms.

Spoon the dough evenly into each muffin cup. Bake until the tops are lightly browned and spring back when gently touched in the center, about 18-20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

When the muffins are cool, turn the pan upside down and tap the corner of the pan on the countertop to release each muffin. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or refrigerate for 4-5 days. Warm the muffins by splitting them in half and putting them under a broiler or in a toaster oven until lightly browned.

Makes 8 small muffins.

Adapted from Mary Cech, Savory Baking.


Homemade Ricotta

I MADE CHEESE. Who knew that the act of separating curds from whey could elicit such a flurry of emotions: joy, pride, satisfaction....disbelief. Although I have been reading for some time about the simplicity of ricotta making, I hadn't gotten around to trying it because I don't keep milk in the house. Dan and I do the soy and almond milk thing. But after buying ricotta for a recipe recently, I realized that it's quite senseless to go out and buy ricotta when I want it, and not milk to make the ricotta that I want. So I bought the ricotta, and I picked up the milk, too. To give it a whirl. And....success! Now here's the thing. This really isn't all that much to be proud of. I mean a mouse could do it. Well, okay...a very tall mouse with opposable thumbs and access to some cheesecloth, whole milk, a lemon and a heat source. 

It's really that easy. After reading several recipes from my favorite food sites, I decided on going the simple lemon route. There are basically two ways to make ricotta - heating whole milk with lemon juice, and heating heating whole milk with buttermilk. After the milk curdles, you turn off the heat and watch the show. (Applause!)
                    2 quarts whole milk
                    1 teaspoon salt
                    3 tbsp. lemon juice

Line a wide mesh colander with some cheesecloth folded into at least four layers and place it in the sink.

Bring the milk and salt to a simmer over high heat in a medium heavy saucepan. Stir a few times while the milk is heating to keep it from scorching. Once the milk simmers, add the lemon juice. The mixture will curdle immediately. Turn off the heat, and let sit for several minutes. You will see that the curds will have separated from the whey, forming a thick layer over the top of the liquid. Then pour into the strainer. The whey will quickly run through. Let cool for a bit, then form the cheesecloth into a ball and hang from the kitchen faucet. You might really want to squeeze it. Don't. Let it drain for about an hour, then refrigerate. The ricotta will keep in the fridge for several days and can also be frozen. 


Makes about a cup and a half.

Chili-Grilled Eggplant and Roasted Peppers Dip

This spicy and smoky dip is beautiful on it's own, or as a filling if you want to get creative with what to wrap around it. I came across it while making some Poppy Seed Tartlets that call for it served over a ricotta mixture...and though the tartlets left a bit to be desired, this was the silver lining that made it all worth the effort.

I must warn, however, that it is ill-advised to jump the gun on this if you're not feeling up to brushing, grilling, roasting, peeling, seeding, processing, and slicing. Seriously. The eggplant slices get brushed before grilling, the peppers are roasted and then peeled. It's not exactly quick and easy. This dip is a labor of love. And it gives back.

                    1 lb. eggplant
                    1/4 cup chili oil
                    1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil
                    1/2 tsp. ground cumin
                    1 medium red bell pepper
                    1 medium yellow bell pepper
                    1 small clove garlic
                    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat the grill to medium. Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch-thick slices and put the slices on a baking sheet. Stir the chili oil and the 1/4 cup olive oil together in a small bowl. Lightly brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the oil mixture and dust with a little ground cumin and salt.

Place the eggplant and peppers on the grill. Roast the eggplant until soft and well marked by the grill, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the grill to cool. Roast the peppers until black on all sides, 10-12 minutes. Remove from the grill and let cool. Peel the black skin off the peppers and then stem, derib, and take out the seeds. Put the eggplant slices, the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, half of each of the roasted peppers, garlic, and a little salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chunky, 5-10 seconds. Remove from the bowl and season with more salt if desired.

Cut the remaining roasted peppers into julienne strips and toss with the balsamic vinegar. Garnish the eggplant mixture with the julienned balsamic peppers. Store in the refrigerator covered for up to one week.

From Mary Cech, Savory Baking.


Teensy Weensy Vegetable Frittatas with Parmesan

How delightful are these little guys? I mean, really. Aren't they just oozing with charm? I had to gasp for air upon spotting them over at What's Gaby Cooking. Frittatas baked in a muffin tin. How brilliant! These inspire me to...have a picnic at the beach (or on the grass in our yard), host a beautiful brunch, and/or keep some in the fridge for a quick and easy breakfast a la "grab 'n go". Not only are they perfectly dreamy, they're quite practical as well. Making these clever gems was as easy as dicing up some veggies and beating some eggs. Bonus: they're perfect for those vegetables in the fridge that would love to be able to say they did something with their lives. Just throw in whatever you've got. I can't wait to make some with chiles serranos and cheddar cheese, two ingredients I'm never without.

                    1 red bell pepper, diced
                    1 yellow bell pepper, diced
                    1 zucchini, diced
                    1 small onion, diced
                    2 tablespoons olive oil
                    1 cup Parmesan cheese
                    10 eggs
                    2 tbsp chives
                    salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large 10 inch skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Saute the diced zucchini, onion and red and yellow bell peppers for about 5 minutes until they are slightly soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sauteed vegetables to individual muffin molds.

In another bowl, whisk together 8 eggs and season with salt and pepper and add the chopped chives. Fill the remaining area in the muffin tin with the egg and stir the ingredients together.  Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the eggs are completely set. Serve warm or cold. 

Makes twelve miniature frittatas.

From Gaby Dalkin, What's Gaby Cooking.

Three Cheers for Sentimentality

While this may not be the most useful post, it is sure to be one of my favorites because I am an excessively sentimental person...and this is James's first jar of homemade baby food. I thought it far too cute to not be shared. Especially with you mamas and mamas-to-be! 

Pureed Cauliflower

                    1 cup cauliflower
                    2 cups water

Wash the cauliflower thoroughly. Discard the stem and leaves and chop the florets into small pieces.

Put into a steamer basket. Bring to a boil and steam until tender, about 20 minutes.

Place into a food processor or blender and puree for 30 seconds. Add water as necessary to acheive desired consistency.

From Shana Priwer and Cynthia Phillips, The Everything Cooking for Baby and Toddler Book.


Leek and Asiago Tart


Leeks. Asiago. Puff pastry. (Sigh).  Lately I've had an itch to bake, and I must say that I enjoy savory baked goods equally as much as sweet ones. If presented with the choice of a warm, fresh scone (of any kind) and a quiche or savory tart (of any kind)...I might just die of indecision. Really. After a few moments I might break a sweat, panic, wonder what in the world I'm going to do, fear regretting my decision, and then spend the rest of the day wondering if I ought to have chosen the other one. But I digress....

There was no indecision here. The leeks at the market spoke to me, and I knew what I had to do: buy puff pastry! I had never worked with it before, and am excited to make my own someday. However, this recipe called for pre-made so I swallowed my pride and headed to the terrible and dreaded land of frozen foods. Until I get a little more familiar with this pastry dough business, I have accepted it and am thinking of it as an interim surrendering of sorts. 

The tart was fantastic. In lieu of Parmesan, I substituted Asiago and omitted the olives and brie from the original recipe. This is a great way to celebrate that underutilized allium - the leek!

                    2-3 large leeks, white and pale-green parts only
                    1 tablespoon unsalted butter
                    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
                    Coarse salt
                    1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
                    1 box (14 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
                    1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
                    1/4 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
Cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces; halve each piece lengthwise, then cut into 3/8-inch-thick strips  Rinse well, and drain; set aside.

Melt butter with oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add leeks and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender but not browned, about 15 minutes. Stir in thyme. Leeks can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 day; bring to room temperature before assembling tart.

Cut or roll out pastry to a 6-by-14-inch rectangle; place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (reserve remaining pastry for another use). Score a 3/4-inch border. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with Asiago. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375. Bake pastry until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and press center area with a metal spatula. Arrange leeks end to end in rows within border of pastry. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 10 minutes. If bottom is soft, bake 3 to 5 minutes more.

Remove tart from oven and using an offset spatula, slide tart onto a wire rack; let cool slightly. Cut into pieces; serve warm or at room temperature (tart can stand at room temperature up to 1 hour).

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Adapted from Marta Stewart Living, April 2007.


Sunday Morning Soft-Boiled Egg Breakfast

Yesterday's breakfast was incredibly lovely and tasty. A simple, old fashioned favorite: soft-boiled eggs with toast and fruit. Eating eggs out of the shell like this never ceases to feel like a novel treat for me. The experience is reminiscent of growing up with my dad's coddled eggs. I remember them being such an odd and unusual affair. I'd love to find some beautiful porcelain cups with lids like the ones he used. Oh, egg. You really are impossibly wonderful.

For the perfect soft-boiled egg, I have found that a boiling-water start is best (as opposed to cold water start, which I prefer for hard-boiling). Boil the water, then reduce to a simmer and gently place the eggs in. Start timing here. 4 minutes for large eggs, 4 1/2 for extra large. If the eggs are fresh out of the refrigerator, leave them in an additional minute. Use a knife to crack off the top third of the shell. Season with salt and pepper and spoon your worries away.