Category Archives: Fast

This meal can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

The Moroccan Salmon Sandwich

There is a diner (the upscale yuppie variety) near my house called Skillet, which serves a extraordinarily good hamburger. I am somewhat of a devotee of the hamburger. (And I don’t mind much if it’s the posh kind or the fast food kind – if by fast food you mean Dick’s)  Anyway, at Skillet they have this condiment called bacon jam. It’s as heartstoppingly wonderful as it sounds. Of course bacon jam is heartstopping in every sense of the word. So much so, that having eaten at Skillet several times in the course of a few weeks, I felt I had to explore other parts of the menu. After carefully looking it over, and with a flicker of regret as I passed over the burger (bacon jam, arugula, creamy blue cheese), I ordered the Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich, which had condiments that sounded intriguing too: harissa aioli and crisp fried preserved lemons.

The salmon sandwich handily beat the hamburger – the epic Skillet hamburger with bacon jam. No kidding. Harissa aioli and fried preserved lemons beat bacon jam?! Yes they did. It’s true. Sharp bittersweet tang, then more sweet, and smoky too, the tangled crunch – oh just a little bit more – What?! How can it be all eaten up already?! I had to figure out a way to make this sandwich at home because ordering two would be embarrassing.

Guess what? It was easy. There are a couple of ways to get there too. This could be a project kind of sandwich, with toasting, grinding and soaking the spices for the harissa and the ras el hanout yourself or you can just buy them ready-made at a grocery store. Moroccan food has become ubiquitous in cities and I see these condiments all over the place. That being said I would not deny myself the pleasure of the scent of freshly roasted cumin, or the sinus clearing burn of roasted dried chili de arbol. (Please try making these condiments just once!) However, I do understand that this is just a sandwich. A fifteen minute proposition if you don’t make all the condiments yourself.

Removing the pin bones with needle nose pliers

Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich – serves 4 generously

  • 1 1/3 lbs sockeye salmon filet
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanout (see recipe below)
  • spray olive or canola oil
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise (I like the Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/4 c. harissa (or to taste – see recipe below)
  • 1 medium sized preserved lemon, sliced thin, seeds removed and dried off with a paper towel (I prefer Le Moulins Mahjoub brand for their firm skin. It makes it a lot easier to slice. I bought them at the grocery store)
  • Canola or peanut oil
  • 1/4 c. rice flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 handfuls of arugula, rinsed and dried
  • 4 brioche buns or soft potato rolls
  1. Using needle nosed pliers (I have some reserved for the kitchen in a drawer) remove the pinbones from the salmon. If you run the tip of your finger lengthwise down the fatter side of the salmon, you will find the bones poking upwards.
  2. Heat the grill or the grill pan, to medium.
  3. Spray the salmon on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle the ras el hanout evenly over the top of the fleshy side. It will tend to clump in spots but you can even it out with a stiff brush or even your fingers.
  4. Place the salmon flesh side down over medium heat on your grill and set the timer for 8 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat about 1/4″ of canola or peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat.
  6. While the oil is heating, combine the rice flour and the cornstarch with a pinch of salt on a small plate. Lightly coat the sliced preserved lemon in the dry ingredients and set aside.
  7. Test the oil by dropping a little piece of bread into it. It should brown quickly and evenly. It it burns right away, it is too hot and you’ll have to begin again.
  8. Carefully, so you don’t splash yourself, lay the lemon slices in the hot oil. They should take a minute or two per side to become golden brown.
  9. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
  10. Whisk the harissa into the mayonnaise with a fork.
  11. The salmon should be ready to flip now.
  12. Flip the salmon over and set a timer for two minutes. Allowing the salmon to cook thoroughly on the flesh side should make flipping it over a breeze. It simply does not stick to the grate if you grill it this way and you get beautiful grill marks.
  13. Bring the salmon inside and cut it into 4 generous pieces.
  14. Spread both sides of the brioche or potato rolls with the harissa mayonnaise. Lay the salmon, then the arugula, then the preserved lemons  and top with the other half of the roll.
Ras El Hanout – makes about 1/4 cup
This recipe comes from Fine Cooking. It is so easy to throw together if you, like me, have loads of spices in your cupboard.
  • 2 Tbs. sweet paprika (preferably Hungarian)
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a fork.
Harissa – makes about 1/2 cup
This recipe comes from Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I have only made wonderful food from this book.
  • 6 dried chile de arbol, ribs and seeds removed – this is much easier to do when they are dried
  • 2 San Marzano tomatoes, canned
  • 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 medium cloves of garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper – several grindings
  • 1 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Heat a medium sized heavy sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add the chilies to the pan and dry toast them until they have little black spots and they smell wonderful. Depending on the heat of your stove this could happen in seconds or take up to a couple of minutes – so don’t walk away! When they are done, set aside in a heat proof bowl and cover with very hot water. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Setting the heat to medium, toast the cumin seeds. Seeing as the pan is already quite hot, this will take less than 30 seconds under your watchful eye. When they smell fabulous, take them off the stove and grind them in your mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, crush them with the edge of the bottom of a wine bottle on a cutting board, or in a clean coffee grinder.
  3. In the same pan, cook the tomatoes over medium heat until darkened and somewhat thicker. Set aside.
  4. Drain the chiles and put them in a food processor or blender with the garlic, tomatoes, paprika, cumin, cayenne, vinegar, salt and pepper. Puree until combined. You will have to scrape down the container with a spatula frequently; this doesn’t make a lot of harissa. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and blend until smooth.

To give you some idea how of delicious and universally pleasing the Moroccan Salmon Sandwich is, I will tell you that my picky five year old demolished his and ate half of a second and Martin and I ate ours and split a third. There was nothing left for Siri and Alistair and they had to be consoled with ice cream sundaes, which were clearly running a distant second to the sandwich. Alistair even ate just bread with the sauce and arugula because we’d run out of the salmon. Ok. I confess that the fried preserved lemon was a tough sell. My daughter managed to pick hers off even though I trickily shoved it underneath the tangle of arugula leaves. Siri is nobody’s fool and saw through my ruse immediately. The boys blithely polished the whole thing off, lemons and all.

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Rarified poached egg on toast

If you were walking down Federal Avenue last Friday, and you happened to look up through the windows of my dining room, you would have seen a solitary woman at the table, eating lunch a tad more ceremoniously than one might usually when eating alone at home. That was me. It was a cold bright sunny day and I was taking this lunch seriously, some might say with intent, on a proper plate with a linen napkin. (Often my lunch is peanut butter and bitter marmalade on whole wheat toast, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter.) Mary Alice, who is beyond generous, brought over half a dozen, warm, very fresh eggs from Gumbo and Kebab, her chickens. Finally, I could recreate the poached eggs on toast with roast asparagus, satiny folds of prosciutto, and truffle butter I had last spring at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, on another sunny, much warmer, day in California.

In preparation for the eggs, I spent just a few minutes adding truffle oil and sea salt to softened french butter. Mashing it in, then tasting. Too much oil? Too much salt? When is it delicious enough? Oh, the sacrifices I make! Spending the morning making and tasting truffle butter indeed! If you remember lunch from the Girl and the Fig, you probably remember the truffle butter. You only need a tablespoon. It is easy to make and the oil is pretty easy to come by. Roast asparagus takes one minute of prep, four minutes in the oven. No problem there. The bread and even sometimes Prosciutto di Parma you can buy at the supermarket.

What aren’t so easy to come by, unless you have your own chickens, are fresh eggs. I hate to say it, but to enjoy this lunch, you have to have a very fresh egg. Even though the sandwich (somehow this really doesn’t feel like the right word!) is very simple, it is one of my top ten meals. I feel very lucky. Everyone should have a friend like Mary Alice.

Poached Egg on Toast with Prosciutto, Asparagus and Truffle Butter

  • 1 slice excellent bread with some whole wheat and a little rye if possible, a scant 1/2″ thick
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 very fresh egg
  • 1 slice prosciutto di Parma
  • 4 asparagus spears, rinsed, woody ends snapped off
  • 1 tbsp french butter, or cultured butter, at room temperature with a few drops of truffle oil and a small pinch of kosher sea salt mashed in, to taste
  • several pinches of kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  a skillet and a little metal pan you can put under the broiler.

Perfect poached eggs

  1. Set the broiler to high. Raise the oven shelf to the top rail.
  2. Heat up the skillet for a few minutes over medium high heat.
  3. Add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. When the butter stops foaming, add the bread. Let it sizzle but don’t let it burn. It should be deeply golden and crisp before you flip it over. Toast both sides. Place the toast on a nice plate.
  4. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the toast.
  5. Wipe out the skillet and fill it with water. Heat the water over high heat until it simmers. Add a tsp of salt. When the water is simmering crack the egg into the water. You may need to lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. If you have never poached a very fresh egg before, you’ll be amazed to see how the white holds together in a perfect oval! Now I know why the eggs I typically poach look so sloppy. Cook until the white is firm, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the yolk harden. That’s your sauce.
  6. Just as soon as you crack the egg into the water, toss the asparagus on the metal broiler pan with 1 tbsp of olive and a big pinch of kosher sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the asparagus under the broiler for 2 minutes, then turn them over, they should be crisp and a little brown. Set them back under the broiler for 2 more minutes. When they are browned but before they become floppy and overdone, remove from the oven. Take them off the pan and put them right on top of the prosciutto. You don’t want them to continue to cook on the hot metal pan.
  7. Remove the egg from the boiling water with a slotted spoon if you have one, and carefully lay it on top of the asparagus. Dab the heaping tbsp of truffle butter on the side of the plate.
  8. Sit somewhere quiet and hopefully tidied up, with a large clean linen napkin and a glass of mineral water. Eat your lunch peacefully, without rushing.

After the asparagus and prosciutto and most of the toast and egg were gone, I found myself chasing tiny crisp crumbs around the plate with my knife, carefully scooping them up against the blade and then dipping the tip into the truffle butter. Some of the large grains of sea salt caught in the buttery crumbs adding mineral crunch and tang.  Then of course there were the traces of molten yolk that got scooped up too. I licked the end of knife. That was such an excellent lunch.

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Snowed In – Red Lentil Soup

Sometimes this magical thing happens in my kitchen, where I have all of the ingredients, even some that are fairly obscure, and I can make something really delicious on the spur of the moment.  I love it when that happens.

Since Plenty, what I’ve been in the mood for is vegetables, and this blog I follow, Dana Treat, has tons of ideas for seasonal delicious vegetable food. (Notice that I didn’t say vegetarian? I really am not a vegetarian.) Still, maybe because of the holiday gluttony, vegetarian, even vegan food is what I crave. So I was very happy to discover this soup last week. It’s one I’ve eyed and abandoned in the Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for years. For some reason, I think because Ms. Madison described the soup as “thin”, it didn’t sound so delicious. Then I saw the photograph on Dana Treat, and I was turned. This is a fabulous soup. Also, it is very easy to make, which proved to be very handy when I was housebound with four kids for three days last week.

So often jilted by the weatherman predicting snow, I refused to believe what the weather reports were saying. Surprise, surprise! Wednesday morning we were totally snowed in, a rare thing in Seattle. I couldn’t get the car out of the driveway. I was afraid to even try. I was kind of desperate to come up with a dinner for four hungry kids using only what I had in the cupboard. Scanning the recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Lime; was it possible I had what I needed?! I peered into my pantry.

Wow. I had two cups of red lentils! I had basmati rice! Turmeric and cumin – I always have those! When I found some only barely wilted cilantro in the crisper and a couple of limes, there were clearly beautiful possibilities for dinner. (Although I feel I must mention that my brave and kind friend Mary Alice went out into the cold to bring us a gallon of milk, orange juice and—because I’m shameless—some fresh spinach for this soup! She trekked through the snow and ice with a backpack and Yaktrax (so cool!) on her boots for us!) Technically I suppose we could have skipped the spinach, but when you’re snowed in you get anxious for something green.

As always, and even though there is rice, I think this is lovely with homemade croutons. Only five extra minutes!

Red Lentil Soup 

from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

  • 2 cups split red lentils
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • salt
  •  1 large onion, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 bunch of chopped cilantro
  • juice of three limes
  • 1 bunch of spinach sliced crosswise in ribbons
  • 1 cup cooked basmati rice
  • full fat Greek yogurt for garnish
  1. Put the lentils, turmeric, 1 tbsp of butter, and 1 tbsp sea salt with 2 1/2 quarts of water in a 7 qt. heavy sauce pan or dutch oven. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The lentils should be very soft and nearly falling apart.
  2. Using an immersion blender, pureé until very smooth.
  3. While the soup simmers, in a large heavy sauté pan, cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of butter, with the cumin and the mustard seeds, over low heat. When the onions are very soft, after about 15 minutes, add the cilantro and cook for one more minute.
  4. Add the onion mixture to the soup and the juice of two limes. Taste to see if you would like more lime juice. This soup tastes very good a little sour.
  5. When it is time to serve the soup, take 1 tbsp of butter and melt in a wide skillet over medium heat. When it foams add the spinach and sprinkle with pinch of seasalt. Cook until it is just wilted and divide among the soup bowls. (I skipped the spinach for my son, he hates it. The soup was still very good)
  6. Add a generous spoonful of warm rice to each bowl. Ladle soup over the spinach and rice.
  7. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt.

Croutons

While the soup is simmering and the onions are sweating in butter, you could make the croutons. They are not required but I totally love them with this soup. I happened to have a very stale ciabatta on the counter during the snow week and I hacked off slices all week long. I put croutons under poached eggs, with cheese and salami and with this soup. It really doesn’t matter if the bread is very stale. The croutons should be glossy with butter and olive oil and so crisp they shatter as you bite down.

I would cook the croutons first, and then wilt the spinach, in the same pan.

  • 4-6 slices from a loaf of stale artisan bread, about 1/3″ thick
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Heat the butter and oil over medium high heat.
  2. Sauté sliced bread until golden, then flip. 1-2 minutes per side.

There is something about this soup, or maybe there are a few things. First of all, the color is ravishing, a pure saturated yellow, flecked with bright green cilantro. The scent of melting onions and the toasted aroma of mustard seeds were the perfect antidote to a cold wintery night. And then of course there was the cool, creamy, yogurt, in counterpoint to the richly flavored soup. We all loved it.

Snowed in

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The (failed) Salad Redux

The holidays are over. It is raining listlessly. Through the window in my office I can see the looming black shape of the evergreen in the yard, the grey stick mass of the leafless maple tree and the leaden cocoon of the winter sky. In the living room, the Christmas tree is strung with a series of dusty, white, spider webs connecting the Santa Claus at the top to the light on the ceiling. Tree limbs droop with the weight of the ornaments and there are more and more needles on the carpet. (I’m taking the tree down tomorrow, I swear!) Outside, it is not particularly cold and certainly not warm, but it is soggy. Thick new moss grows on everything, greenly blanketing paths and the steps – even tree branches. What an excellent time of year to play around in the kitchen!

It was about this time last year that I wrote about grapefruit in salad. The winter weather must drive me to anything at all reminiscent of sunlight. Anyway, I made this salad over the holidays again and again and sent the recipe around to anyone who asked for it. (It’s a reworked and vastly improved version of the failed salad) I must have eaten it twenty times in the last month and I’m still not sick of it!

The candied walnuts were very last minute. There were none left at the grocery store (probably because I started a run on them!) so I had to find a recipe. I made the walnuts for the first time this Christmas Eve. Crisp, spicy and so one-more-handful-ish, I made a batch minutes before leaving for my aunt’s house: a sweet little extra Christmas gift. How perfectly handy –  to have a recipe like that.

The Salad

for 4-6 people

  • 2 bunches of watercress
  • a wedge of blue Castello or Cambozola, cold – to make cutting easier
  • a handful of candied walnuts (see recipe below)
  • 2 pink grapefruits or 3-4 blood oranges
  • 1 tbsp currants
  • 1 shallot – thinly sliced into rings
  • 2 tbsp Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Combine 1 tbsp hot water and red vinegar in a very small bowl with 1 tbsp currants.
  2. In another very small bowl, toss champagne vinegar with the sliced shallot.
  3. Wash and dry the leaves of watercress and mound on a large platter.
  4. Cut the Blue Castello into small pieces, removing any rind, and strew over leaves.
  5. With a very sharp knife cut the top and bottom off the grapefruit. Cut off all the rind and pith. Over a medium sized bowl, carefully slice between the membranes to remove the fruit in sections, catching any juice and the fruit in the bowl.
  6. Arrange the sectioned grapefruit over the salad.
  7. Toss the walnuts over the top.
  8. Lift the shallots out of the vinegar carefully, reserving the vinegar for the dressing. Pulling the rings apart, scatter the shallots over the salad.
  9. Drain the currants, and toss over the salad.
  10. Add 1-2 tbsp grapefruit juice to the  small bowl with the champagne vinegar. Whisk in olive oil, 1/2 tsp sea salt, and a few grindings black pepper.  Dress the salad – you may not need all the dressing.
Candied Walnuts
(can be quadrupled!)
  • 1 cup large walnut pieces (mostly halves)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher sea salt
  • several grindings of pepper
  • an optional pinch of cayenne (I liked it; my kids, not so much)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Lightly spray a rimmed cookie sheet with vegetable oil.
  4. Spread the coated nuts over the cookie sheet.
  5. Toast for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and cool stirring every few minutes so they don’t stick too badly to the pan.
You might think you’re mad at me when you see how the maple syrup and sugar seem welded to the cookie sheet. Don’t worry. Pour a cup or two of very hot or boiling water over it and in a few minutes it will wash right off.
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Heat: Linguine with clams

“It’s about the sauce, not the little snot of meat in the shell” Mario told me later. “Nobody is interested in the little snot of meat!” Heat, by Bill Buford

I can’t believe I’ve never written about this.

A couple of years ago I read this book Heat by a guy who was a fiction editor at the New Yorker.  He took time off from his life as an editor and took an unpaid position in the kitchen at Babbo, an Italian restaurant in New York. The book details what he learned and how it completely changed the trajectory of his life. Anybody who knows me well could tell you that I really loved this book. As in reading it six times in one year – the kind of love which probably would more accurately be described as obsession. There’s a particular passage where the author describes making linguine with clam sauce, “begin by roasting small pinches of garlic and chili flakes and medium pinches of the onion and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil” and so on, and I could just about taste it while reading. I imagined the rich smoky scent of the pancetta. The briny, winey, butter swirling around silky noodles. Splayed grey clam shells and bright green parsley strewn over the top. Linguine with clam sauce might seem pedestrian – some version is served at every mediocre Italian restaurant – but Mr. Buford’s prose was so compelling, I had to try it.

For some crazy reason that had to do with having trouble finding the right page in the book when I wanted to shop for ingredients (I know this is a lame excuse but the book has no index!) and being fearful about major dinner revolt caused by serving clams to my kids who fear all shellfish except crab and shrimp, I never actually did try this recipe. Until today. Somehow after the excesses of Thanksgiving, linguine with clams seems festive and at the same time, a little bit reductive, at least in terms of technique and ingredients. It doesn’t take all day to put it together. It doesn’t require even a single glug of heavy whipping cream. And Mr. Buford’s description captured my imagination. I envisioned excellent baguette for mopping up the juices, a Verdicchio to drink and a lightly dressed fennel and cucumber salad. I thought this might be the perfect post Thanksgiving meal.

Babbo Linguine with clams, Mr. Buford points out, was “no longer linguine exactly; it had changed color and texture and become something else. I tasted it again…in this strand of linguine: an ocean pungency.” It was, deliciously, just that. And a welcome respite from leftover turkey and mashed potatoes as well.

Linguine with clams – serves 4

I had to conflate Mr. Buford’s method with some more practical aspects from Marcella Hazan’s recipe for Linguine with clams in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. For instance, “a big handful of clams”? What’s that? Ms. Hazan writes you’ll need 4 or 5 littleneck clams per person – sounds like a big handful to me.

  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp chili flakes – this will barely be hot. If you’re not serving kids, bump it up a little.
  • 3 tbsp minced red onion
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped pancetta
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 splashes white wine (1/2-3/4 cup?)
  • 1 lb linguine fino
  • 24 littleneck or other small clams
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • splash of green olive oil to finish
  1. Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt the water until it tastes as salty as sea water.
  2. Put a very large heavy bottomed sauté pan (not non-stick!) on a burner and set the heat to medium. Allow the pan to heat up for 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, then garlic, chili flakes, onion and pancetta, all at once. Stir until softened. Do not scorch. About 2 or 3 minutes.
  3. Spoon off any olive oil and add the butter. As it melts, swirl, and then add the wine. Let it bubble for 20 or 30 seconds and turn off the heat.
  4. When the water has hit a rolling boil, add the linguine. Stir until all the strands are separated and submerged and the water has returned to a full boil.
  5. Dump all the clams into the sauté pan, turn up the heat and clamp a lid on the top. The clams will be done in about 6 or 7 minutes. By this time the pasta will be nearly done.
  6. When the pasta is almost done, set the clams on high heat.
  7. Do not drain the pasta in a colander in the sink! The starchy pasta water clinging to the linguine is a key component of the sauce. Make sure the pasta pot is right next to the sauté pan. With big tongs, reach into the boiling water and drag the drippy wet pasta into the pan of clams – taking a few passes so you get most of the pasta out of the pot. Simmer the pasta and clams for 30 seconds.
  8. Dress lightly with the green olive oil and strew parsley over the top.
  9. Serve immediately in warm pasta bowls.

I bet you’ll love Heat, if you haven’t read it yet, although probably not as obsessively as I did. (Even I can see that was a little weird!) If you want to make this using Mr. Buford’s excellent notes, the text describing how starts on page 130 in the hardcover edition, two thirds of the way into chapter 12 for those of you who have the paperback.

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Pie Crust – just make your own

The simple pleasure of making your own pie crust should not be underestimated

Until this morning, you might have said my approach to pie crust was a little fraught. I fussed and worried, wildly flip-flopping allegiances from the practical and traditional Joy of Cooking to the fantastically overwrought Cook’s Illustrated. (Although I have to say, the Cook’s vodka pie crust recipe is pretty impressive. I love the science of the alcohol as a replacement for water. Such brilliant and subversive fun!) I could never settle on MY piecrust though, and shouldn’t one be able to have a single recipe to use every time? One of the best things my mom makes is piecrust and if you watched her make one, you’d never guess how perfect it is. She uses no gimmicky trick in making her all butter crust. And it is perfectly flakey. My mother credits the lemon juice but I say she handles the dough in a way that I just haven’t been able to figure out. Anyway, after my experience last week,  I think I’m onto something.

I was thinking about piecrust with regard to quiche because my kids are suddenly obsessed by quiche, less for its gustatory pleasures than literary. (My kids read the Bone graphic novel series so they’re wildly into quiche right now.) I reached into the bookshelf for Mastering the Art of French Cooking – who would know better than Ms. Child about the best quiche method? Suddenly, I knew I was on a mission and actually it wasn’t quiche that was calling to me but crust. After a recent bad experience (confession alert!) with a frozen Trader Joe’s pie crust I was determined to just do it myself, and speedily without over-thinking. I was going to try the Julia method! (Just to put this craziness into context – this is minutes before I had to leave for the school bus!) I started rummaging around for the ingredients like a madwoman, yelling to the kids to “Get your coats and lunch boxes and wait by the front door with the dog! I’ll just be a few minutes!”

Weirdly, there was no fussing around. Even though Julia Child has a reputation for being complicated, her pâte brisée recipe turned out to be the pie crust I was looking for. In just 15 minutes, far less time than it takes to defrost a frozen pie crust, you can easily make one from scratch. You probably won’t even have to go to the grocery store.

Ms. Child does not use any wacky ingredients (i.e. vodka). What she details is a technique that was new to me. Fraisage. Nobody ever talked about fraisage in any of the other recipes. Combine the technique with a trusty food processor and all of a sudden a once dreaded pie crust is a thing to whip up in a few stolen moments before the school bus arrives. The dough turned out silky, pliable and it was a breeze to roll out. The baked crust was refined and flaky, unlike my previous crust work which, although flaky, had a sort of homely brutishness, stemming from a fear of over-handling the dough. If you are fearful, you’ll never fully amalgamate the butter with the flour and the pockets of butter embedded in the dough will be enormous, causing shrinkage and a blobbish crimped edge. With Ms Child’s method, the fat is perfectly united with the flour, creating those little melty steam pockets to make perfect flakiness. In addition, this dough will not shrink disturbingly.

Fraisage sounds like a complicated technique you’d have to apprentice yourself to a patissier in France to learn, but it’s not. I figured it out in fifteen minutes between throwing the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher and running the kids out to the bus stop, so obviously you’ll be able to. Unless you are a deeply inexperienced baker I would think you will not need a dry run for this recipe. Please make your own pie crust. We need to preserve our cooking culture! Pie bakers unite! Just say “No!” to vile, palm oil sullied, industrial crusts!

Pâte Brisée – for one double crust pie

  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes. (I cut them, put them on a plate and put them in the freezer until I’m ready)
  • 1/2 cup + 4 tbsp ice water) and perhaps a little more

Blending dry ingredients

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of your food processor and pulse a few times to fully combine.

Butter - in 1/2" cubes

Distribute the butter over the flour evenly

Add the butter, distributing it evenly over the flour mixture. Pulse 4 or 5 times. Now you have to be very quick. With the machine on, add a half cup of water all at once. Then quickly turn it off. Pulse 5-7 more times.

Curd-like crumbles show the dough is done with the food processor

The dough should look like dry curds, if not, add small amounts of ice water (by the tablespoon, no more), to the dough, pulsing carefully. When it looks like the photo above, on to fraisage!

Just before fraisage

Lightly flour an area on your counter where you can manipulate the dough. You’ll need a clear clean 18″ square area. Place the dough on the counter.

Pushing the dough away with the heel of my hand

Using the heel of your hand (your palm will be too warm and start to melt the butter) quickly press down and away from you, small amounts of the dough, smearing it out about 6 inches. This smearing is the fraisage.

Using a dough scraper or a stiff spatula, pull all the dough together and knead it (not too much) into a smooth-ish round ball.

Dough divided in equal halves

Divide it into two equal halves, dust lightly with flour, flatten into disks and wrap with plastic.

Ready to rest

Now the dough has to rest. Do not imagine that you can just skip this part. (Which is what I used to do.) Put it in the freezer for an hour or the refrigerator for at least two hours or up to 3 days. It can be frozen for weeks and defrosted in the refrigerator. If it is too hard to roll out, bash it hard with your rolling pin. You can then knead it quickly into a flat disk, ready to roll out.

Lightly flour the dough and roll it out into a circle, firmly but gently, always rolling away from you. Periodically, you might want to run a thin flexible knife or offset spatula underneath to ensure the dough hasn’t stuck to the counter.

Roll the dough until 1/8″ thick. Using your rolling pin to support it, carefully drape the dough over the pie pan.

Repeat with the other circle.

Fill with apples, berries or whatever your heart desires. (In case you are wondering what I’m doing, it’s apple. Send a note to comments if you need directions for fillings! I am always happy to help.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. When my pie is finished, late morning on Thanksgiving, I will definitely post a picture!

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Roasted Mess

It will come as a surprise to no one, I’m guessing, that I love a good story about making dinner. A perfect recipe, a revolting mistake, something surprisingly easy yet creative – I like them all, but my very favorite stories involve some measure of wacky desperation.

When I was in college, I had this hilarious roommate who would tell us a story about her father’s favorite dinner, something referred to in their family as “Stewpot”. (The mere mention of the word would make her eyes roll and me crack up.) Her mother, who was a photographer and who really didn’t like to cook much, kept a big covered casserole in the freezer and every evening she’d scrape the leftovers into the pot. On Sunday night the whole thing got pushed in the oven and half an hour later: voila! Stewpot, a steaming mystery mess. Always different and yet somehow always the same. The astonishing part is that my roommate’s dad was a true gourmet, passionate and really knowledgeable about food.  He introduced me to bread pudding with creme anglaise at their country club – a revelation! (What can I say?! It was 1991). He planned my roommate’s lavish wedding feast with great attention to every detail. He knew his way around elaborate French menus and could order wines from around the world with aplomb. And yet he still craved Stewpot on Sunday night. I have to wonder though, did her mother ever have a big pile of leftover spaghetti bolognese to mix in? Or the blackened end piece of a grilled salmon? Hopefully any leftover kung pao chicken was left out, that would be too crazy. If it were only meat and potatoes maybe Stewpot would actually be okay.

When I was in my early twenties and had first moved to San Francisco, my friend Sarah’s mother tried out a recipe on us. If she’d actually followed the recipe, a  heap of roast vegetables and Italian sausage would have been served with waffles and maple syrup for breakfast. Sarah’s mother served it with scrambled eggs which was delicious and made a lot more sense to me. Years later, I recreated the burnt edged tangle of roast fennel, peppers, potatoes and Italian sausages. Instead of serving it for breakfast, we eat it for dinner. I imagine that between the name I coined for it: “Roasted Mess” and the picture above, this will not be the most popular recipe I’ve written about. It does look pretty messy and not enticing like the lovingly photographed, artfully arranged pictures on most food blogs. It’s a little Stewpot-y looking. Could that be the last contents of the crisper and the meat drawer hacked up and tossed thoughtlessly into a roasting pan?!!

Fear not. I haven’t lost my mind. I know it’s not the prettiest thing I’ve written about. Aside from requiring no special cooking techniques or equipment and very little in the way of time, Roasted Mess is delicious. I love the crisp, salty, slightly burnt edges, the sweetly velvet peppers, the floral fennel, the caramel-crisp onions. I love how you just throw it together and push it in the oven. The potatoes practically become french fries if you don’t overcrowd the pan. (Don’t!) And don’t be tempted to use a glass roasting dish like Pyrex. It won’t work. Nothing will brown properly on glass. Use a steel or aluminum sheet pan for this recipe.

Roasted Mess – serves 4

  • 1 bulb fennel, cored and sliced into 1/4″ wedges
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ wedges
  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/4″ wedges
  • 1 red pepper, cored and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 4 fennel spiced Italian sausages cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp fennel seed, crushed
  • 3/4 tsp kosher sea salt, several grindings black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (I really don’t see this as optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a large bowl, or directly on a large rimmed cookie sheet, toss  the vegetables with  the olive oil, crushed fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Spread over the pan in one layer, do not crowd. Place in the oven.
  3. After 20 minutes, turn the vegetables.
  4. After 15 more minutes add the sausages and raise the oven temperature to 375.
  5. Roast another 25 minutes or until toasted and caramelized. A few little burnt bits are highly desirable – I eat those in the kitchen on my own.
  6. Scrape everything onto a large platter and scatter with parsley.
p.s. Leftovers are excellent in a fritatta with a little goat cheese.
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White Fall Salad with a green variation: Fennel, Apple, White Cheddar and Hazelnut

White Fall Salad

I really hate to write about food that requires any sort of special equipment to be successful. I haven’t written up my favorite honey-saffron ice cream recipe or about the crazy pasta shapes I love or anything that might require a tool that falls into the realm of food geekiness. (That would include, for example, my ice cream maker and the pasta attachment on the KitchenAid.) A mandoline slicer falls into a category of esoteric kitchen equipment that most people don’t have much use for. Few people feel they need to julienne or shave things wafer-thin. So initially I was a little reluctant to write about this fennel salad.

But here is fall, misty and damp. Leaves are on the brink of yellow. The air is beginning to cool and local apples are appearing in the market, crisp and sweet-tart. Rubenesque end-of-summer heirloom tomatoes are a thing of the past. (I was getting a little sick of them anyway!) Now we’ll have a heap of paper thin fennel threaded with slivers of apple, shavings of sharp cheese and studded with toasted hazelnuts, all dressed tartly in cider vinaigrette. If you are serving the salad with something beige or brown like roast chicken, you may want to add a handful or two of arugula which looks gorgeous and is also intriguingly bitter against the floral fennel and the sweet apple. This is a salad for fall. If you don’t have a mandoline, you’d better sharpen your best chef’s knife, take a deep breath and get ready to slice.

White Fall Salad: Fennel, Apple, White Cheddar and Hazelnut

serves 4

  • 1 apple – I like pink lady but honeycrisp is also very good, in matchstick julienne
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored and sliced as thinly as you can manage
  • about 1/3 cup sharp white cheddar, shaved into very thin slices with a cheese slicer (or a vegetable peeler!)
  • a handful of hazelnuts, toasted for a few minutes in a skillet over medium heat (please don’t burn them)
  • optional: a handful or 2 of arugula leaves
Toss all ingredients together with your hands on a large white platter.
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • a few grindings pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Whisk all ingredients together with a fork until emulsified. Drizzle over salad and gently toss.

White Salad with Arugula

If you are interested in owning a mandoline slicer, I have heard that this Japanese version is very good and a great buy. There is something very satisfying about slicing so precisely and efficiently, but that just might be a combination of the food geek and architect in me.

Heap of shaved fennel and mandoline

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Summer swan song: my final peach dessert of 2011

After this one last dessert recipe, I promise to get back to notes on dinner.

If you always wanted to make a fancy looking French-y style tart but were afraid to, this would be the perfect place to start.

I’m not too sure what’s going to happen when peach season is over. I will be bereft and unable to write about anything, probably. Until it is utterly and officially gone though, I will be making this gorgeous peach tart. You should too. I don’t think I’m overstating it if I say it’s shockingly easy. You mix the crust with a fork – there’s no butter to rub into the flour! Then push the dough into a tart pan with your fingertips – there’s no pastry to roll out carefully and trim! Ms. Amanda Hesser over at Food 52 doesn’t peel her peaches but I have this nifty soft fruit peeler and we are having a little fling so I’m always looking for excuses to use it. It looks like this:

Soft fruit peeler

You have to decide what works for you but I do like a peeled peach. Or a nectarine. This tart would possibly be very nice with plums. Or peaches scattered with raspberries…You can and should play with this recipe – it’s fun.

Last week I substituted brown sugar for the white in the mix on top, and some oatmeal for the flour. Next time I might scatter a few sliced almonds on top  – they would complement the almond extract in the crust nicely. But you can leave the recipe alone if you want. It’s quite perfect as written. I was afraid the topping would be too sugar-y. I worried I would take a dim view of the olive oil crust – that it would be oily and too pungent. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Celebrate the end of the first week of school, or the last sunny weekend of the summer (or my birthday!) by making this tart. You’d better hurry up. Peach season won’t last forever.

And do whip some cream softly to serve with it, please.

Check out the gorgeous crisp crust

You can find the recipe here, at Food 52.

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Peach Crisp…for dinner?

Just a thought. Because it’s August and you won’t get peaches like these for a whole year. Plus, your kid will never forget it – peach crisp for dinner is the kind of thing that could make for intensely fond memories of being a child. A hot lazy day, after some kind of summer camp involving…canoes? This sweet dinner in the back yard. Maybe in a hammock. Barefoot. A shallow bowl, warm peach juices mingling with the runny edges of slightly melted vanilla ice cream. Under the thick green summer canopy of a backyard tree, the sound of sprinklers. Ok, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but you can see where I’m headed. I would definitely go for it. Peach crisp and a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dinner. And a glass of milk, you know, to make it healthy.

All you have to do is peel the peaches, slice them, toss them with small amounts of sugar, lemon juice and a little cornstarch, rub together the oatmeal topping and bake. There are no worrisome techniques to master (see pate sucrée), no finicky chilling of pastry, no sieving of custard. There is no need for fancy or hard to come by flavorings. No trip to the liquor store. Just fresh peaches and everything else is in the pantry.

Normally I only post a recipe once a week or so but it seems like this is sort of urgent. A peach emergency! Peach season will be over in a week or two!

Peach Crisp

  • 6-8 peaches (or 6 peaches and a small basket of raspberries for the most sublime thing ever)
  • 4 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 lb cold butter
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 3/4 c/ oatmeal
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Peel, pit and slice the peaches. I cut each peach into 12 pieces. Rinse raspberries, if using.
  3. In a medium bowl toss the peaches with the 4 tbsp sugar, cornstarch and lemon. Set aside.
  4. Cut the butter into 8 pieces and put into a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor.
  5. Add the brown sugar, flour, oatmeal, cinnamon and salt. Toss with the butter.
  6. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers. The way to do this is to pinch a piece of flour coated butter and rub it between your fingers, pushing it through the dry ingredients until the mixture has a crumbly consistency and there are no more large pieces of butter. If you are using a a food processor, pulse until the largest piece of butter is the size of a pea. (not a tender tiny, one of the bigger kind)
  7. Put the fruit into a medium oval baking dish or an 8 x 8 pan. Pour 1/2 the crisp topping over the fruit, reserving the rest for a future crisp. It will keep in a sealed container for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. Pat the topping gently over the fruit.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the juices are bubbling around the edges of the pan.

And just because I say you should make this for dinner, please don’t let that stop you from making it for dessert. Truthfully, that’s what I usually do! Now I have to go set up my hammock. 

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