September 29, 2010

ladies who dine

This month... aaah, this month we explored Italy, another absolute favorite of mine, a cuisine whose rich history & wonderful regional variations have always captured my imagination & my taste buds. I must admit I was a bit nervous attempting a new recipe, since one of our lovely dining compatriots is Italian, & a fantastic cook. Her family holds an annual meatball contest, evidence that they take their food seriously. How fantastic is it that her wife has won the top prize for her meatballs a few years in a row now? Obviously, she has found the right partner!

We had a heavenly dinner in their quintessential New England home, a gorgeous & stylish antique cape with many original details, set in what couldn't be called other than a magical piece of land surrounded by old stone walls. Perfectly tender ricotta gnocchi in a roasted tomato & corn sauce, insalata caprese, baked butternut squash & polenta with toasted pine nuts & parmesan, artichoke heart, caper, green olive & fresh garlic pesto, eggplant caponata, ricotta fritters with genoa salami, & award winning meatballs marinara were passed around the long wooden table & thoroughly enjoyed. I think none of us wanted to leave. Oh, & I do believe the cannolis came out alright...

adapted from a few recipes, all reportedly passed down through generations by beloved Sicilian Grandmothers

3 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 cups unbleached white flour
4 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp unprocessed cocoa powder (optional, though I highly recommend it)
3/4 cup marsala wine
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 egg white, beaten
cannoli molds

2 cups well drained sheep's milk ricotta
you can use cow's milk ricotta for a lighter tasting filling, but if you'd like a more authentic, rich flavor, & have trouble finding the sheep's milk variety, use a 1:1 ratio of cow's milk ricotta & goat cheese (chevre)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Shaved bittersweet chocolate, or ground toasted pistachio nuts

canola or vegetable oil for frying

prepare the shells
Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon & cocoa powder. Add the marsala a Tbsp at a time until well incorporated. Be careful not to over-blend the dough; gentle handling ensure a flaky, light texture. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap & let rest in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8" thick. Cut the dough into 4" circles with a cookie cutter, or the rim of a drinking glass. Roll the circle with one or two strokes in one direction to make an oval, & place the cannoli mold length-wise across the dough. Fold one side of the dough over the mold, then the other, sealing the edges together with a little bit of egg white.

Deep fry the cannolis in 2" of oil until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel, & gently twist the mold to remove it when they are slightly cooled.
A word of caution: when removing the cannoli shells from the oil, remember that they are hollow & you must carefully tip out the hot oil that is inside before removing them!

prepare the filling
Combine the ricotta (& chevre, if using) & vanilla. Add the powdered sugar gradually, tasting often & adjusting the sweetness to your taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

assemble the cannolis
When the shells have drained & cooled & you are ready to serve them, pipe the filling into the center, & dip the ends in the chocolate or crushed nuts. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

September 28, 2010

rustic goodness

Our apple CSA arrives weekly, meaning we have been eating a lot of apples out of hand, & coming up with new ways to cook & enjoy them. So far we have savored Sansas, Honey Crisps & Galas, & look forward to this week's Pinovas.

I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "rustic" attached to a recipe, my ears perk up & I imagine a hearty, stick-to-the-ribs dish that isn't fussy, but big on flavor & personality. I made this apple tart with some of the Galas we had left from last week, the succulent locally grown ginger we picked up at the farmer's market over the weekend, & some dates I had left over from a cheese plate, & decided it deserved the "rustic" moniker. Happy Autumn!

rustic gingered apple, date & nut tart

1 cup whole wheat flour
4 Tbsp chilled sweet cream butter
1/4 cup toasted walnuts & toasted almonds, ground finely
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten

8 large apples, peeled, cored & sliced thinly
2 Tbsp freshly ground ginger (I suggest young ginger, which is juicier & has a more fruity taste)
dash fresh lemon juice
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup raw sugar
2 Tbsp raw honey
1/4 cup dried dates, pitted & cut into strips
dash cinnamon

prepare the crust
cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the ground nuts & cinnamon. Add the eggs, & mix until a dough is formed. Gather the dough into a ball, & place in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface until you have a circle 1/8" thick, then use it to line an 8" tart tin. Prick the pastry, line it with parchment paper & baking beans, & bake at 400ºF for about 10 minutes.

prepare the filling
toss the apples with the sugar, ground ginger & lemon juice. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over low heat, then add the honey. Stir the butter & honey mixture into the apple mixture, being sure to coat all of the apples well.

assemble the tart
line the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell with the dates, then layer the apple mixture on top. Arrange the top layer of the apples, if it pleases you. Sprinkle with cinnamon & bake at 400ºF for about 30 minutes, until apples are soft & the crust edges are browned. Serve with vanilla ice cream, or fresh whipped cream.

September 27, 2010

farm to market

Fall came like someone flipped a switch this year, the leaves turning & falling almost simultaneously, the hot & humid weather swapped for brisk days & even cooler nights. Everything was a little early this year; pumpkins have already made an appearance, & the market stalls overflowed with autumn bounty. The hot summer weather that crisped our grass made for some incredibly delicious peppers, & we've been stocking up on many different varieties including Hungarian hot wax, poblano, chili, nardellos (fabulous grilled simply with olive oil & salt & pepper) & marconis, & enjoying them throughout the ensuing weeks. We even found some tender & flavorful locally grown young ginger, which is fantastic grated on just about anything.

Autumn is my favorite time of the year, but I can't help but feel a little wistful that it's already here, signaling that the farmer's market will soon close up shop & we will have to wait until next year for fresh, local produce. We are so very lucky to have an abundance of farmers & food artisans in our area, & people who appreciate & support good, local food, from those who grow it to those who prepare it.

We make a habit of freezing freshly picked berries & home grown pesto, & I have made jams & conserves in years past, but I am eager to try my hand at canning next year. Until then, I feel as though we are living like gluttonous bears, happily gorging ourselves in preparation for the long, barren winter.

September 24, 2010

a swiftly tilting canvas

Serena Malyon created these stunning 3-dimensional manipulations of Van Gogh paintings by using the saturation, contrast & blur filters in Photoshop to achieve a "tilt-shift" effect (traditionally created by adjusting the depth of field while shooting with a specialized camera lens), without any additional artwork added to the images. Kind of brings those childhood dreams of being able to step into a painting to life.

from here via here

September 23, 2010

September 20, 2010

challah good

While living in San Francisco, my husband would woo me with a delicious brunch while we lazed about the morning & read the Sunday paper. His challah french toast won a big place in my heart, as well as my stomach. Somewhere along the way we began going out for brunch more, & our at-home repertoire went the way of fritattas & omelets. 

I was very excited this past weekend the mixing bowls & nutmeg grater appeared out of the cupboards, & the heady aroma of french toast filled the house. He's still got it.

challah french toast
a husbandly treat

challah bread, sliced  about 1 inch thick
4 eggs
splash milk
1 tsp. cinnamon
freshly ground nutmeg to taste

Lightly beat the eggs. Add a splash of milk, cinnamon & nutmeg, mixing well.

Heat a Tbsp. of light oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When a drop of water splashed on the skillet sizzles & disappears, dip slices of bread in the egg mixture one at a time, covering each piece well, & place on skillet. Cook each side until golden brown, & serve immediately with fresh butter & maple syrup.

September 17, 2010

ask forgiveness

An achingly lulling song to welcome the dusk...

i've seen it all from ask forgiveness
Bonnie Prince Billy/Björk/Lars Von Trier

September 16, 2010

animal totems



Tithi Kutchamuch's amazing work has certainly captured my imagination.

Her Companion Parrot & Secret Friend series are so very lyrical & touching, without a touch of preciousness.

from her website:

My dog died a month before I got back to my parent home.
I would love to bring her everywhere with me if I could.

Simple jewellery as a part of home that you can bring with, keep them save and take them home.

Her exquisite craftsmanship & uncommon imagination, combined with her thoughtful & ingenious approach to design make for such unique & distinctive pieces. Check out her website for  a slew of inventive & inspiring projects. Truly wonderful. I'm gushing.

September 15, 2010


I have always been inclined to do a big autumn cleaning when the brisk weather rolls in & the days get shorter, getting ready for months of hunkering down at home. Stews & soups start sounding good again, & knitting looks very appealing in that projects set aside at the end of spring suddenly re-capture my imagination.

This serene bedroom feels like a breath of fresh air to me: the whitewashed walls bisected by a wooden beam; the rough pallet bed platform; the earthy linen greys, blues, browns & dusky greens; the raw elements paired with the more refined lines of the chair & small group of tables; all creating a cozy cocoon for mornings of sipping coffee & reading in bed... or afternoons, for that matter!

Create this soothing sanctuary with a milk paint wash on the walls, raw linens tinted with natural, plant-based dyes, a re-purposed shipping crate as a bed platform, the thoughtful & elegant design of a NAP chair by Fritz Hansen, & a lovely rewired vintage lamp, & sleep soundly...

from here

September 13, 2010

plum day

One of my favorite flavor combinations is plum & walnut; I can polish off (& have on many an occasion) a 750g tub of Liberté yogurt in that very flavour combination & still feel like I could have just a little bit more. So when Scott Farm sent us home with a 1/2 peck of the sweetest deep purple jewels, a walnut & plum galette appeared as a vision in my head... & then happily in my belly!

Rustic Walnut & Plum Galette
a mash-up of a few different recipes
1 1/4 cups + 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, plus some for rolling
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup + 3 tbsp + 1/2 tsp sugar, plus some turbinado for dusting
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4-6 Tbsp ice water
1/4 cup whole walnuts, toasted
5 to 6 firm plums, halved, pitted, & sliced thinly
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
Prepare the crust
In a large bowl, stir together 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 tsp sugar, & salt.  Add the butter & cut in with a pastry cutter until mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time & stir with a wooden spoon until dough is crumbly, but holds together when squeezed.  Be careful not overmix! Shape dough into a disk, then wrap it in plastic wrap & refrigerate it for at least 1 hour.

Prepare the walnut meal
Grind the toasted walnuts, then stir together with 3 Tbsp sugar, & 2 Tbsp of flour.  Set aside.
Prepare the plums
In a large bowl, toss the plums with the lemon juice, then toss with 1/4 cup sugar & 1 Tbsp flour.  Add more sugar if it appeals to you & set aside.

Prepare the galette
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 14 inch round, about a 1/4 of inch thick.  Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet & spread the walnut mixture over dough, leaving a two-inch border.  Arrange the plums on top of the walnut mixture.  Fold & pleat edge of dough over fruit.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Brush crust with egg wash & sprinkle galette with a couple Tbsp. of turbinado sugar.

Bake at 350º until crust is golden & underside is cooked through, about 60 minutes.

September 10, 2010

this is beautiful

The mesmerizing Ouleya Mint Amartichitt , singing at an outdoor gathering in Mauritania, with horses!

Thanks again, John, my source for all good things musical.
photos from here

September 8, 2010

cooking weather

Last week we were such wretched creatures while waiting out the heatwave that we did not cook much, if at all. The turn in weather has made us re-enter the kitchen with renewed vigor. Last night's dinner of a leek tart, & mixed greens with roasted beets, chevre & a maple balsamic vinaigrette helped us take care of some of the vegetables that had been patiently waiting in the refrigerator & garden. The edges of the tart got wonderfully carmelized & set off the creamy filling nicely.

Leek & Thyme Tart
adapted from The Greatest Vegetarian Cookbook by Nicola Graimes

for the filling
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 leeks, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground mace or nutmeg
sea salt & freshly ground pepper

for the crust
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp cold butter
6 Tbsp milk

prepare the filling
Heat the butter & oil in a medium-size frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the leeks & cook for 10-12 minutes until soft & golden. Season with thyme, salt & pepper. Remove from heat & let cool.
Beat the egg & yogurt together, stir in the  salt & cayenne. Set aside in cool place.

prepare the crust
Sift the flour, baking powder & salt into a bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the milk & stir in lightly with a wooden spoon to make a dough.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface & knead lightly.
Pat out the dough into a 9-inch round. Transfer to a 9-in springform pan.

assemble the tart
Cover the dough with an even layer of the prepared leeks. Pour in the yogurt mixture & spread evenly over the leeks. Sprinkle the top with freshly ground mace.

Bake for 30minutes at 425º F until golden brown. 
Leave the tart to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Slip a knife between the tart & the pan to loosen, then unmould on to a plate.

Balsamic & Maple Vinaigrette
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 large garlic clove, crushed
freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the ingredients together well in a bowl.  Transfer to a bottle or jar, & let marinate on the counter for about 1 hour. Shake well before using.
Delicious drizzled over roasted beets & goat cheese.

September 7, 2010

a most satisfying weekend

We had originally planned to go out of town, but staying at home over the long weekend proved to be a brilliant move, indeed. We did miles of hiking, watched a few Agnés Varda documentaries in the pleasantly brisk evenings (what a welcome change from the soupy nights of just last week!) with a glass of wine in hand, saw some friends play music, dove in to some creative pursuits, & cooked & ate to our hearts' content. By the end of the weekend we felt very rested, & as though we had some accomplishments under our belts.

One of our favorite summers'-end meals is a simple potato & green bean dish from the coast of Bretagne. Both hearty & light tasting, the mellow & buttery potato along with fresh crisp beans allowed us to really appreciate the pungency of our home-grown parsley, which, like the basil, grew madly in the hot & humid weather.

Fritattas are a staple in our house, & traditional Sunday morning fare if we don't go to one of our favorite brunch spots in a nearby town. A tomato, parsley, red onion, garlic & boursin rendition hit the spot, & was made entirely with produce from our garden or local farms.

And seeing as summer is quickly slipping past, cooking out felt like a must, it being a holiday weekend & the weather being so incredibly fair. We made another favorite, grilled vegetable kabobs (fondly referred to as "sticks" in our household, this iteration with soy "beef") with a garlic, ginger & toasted sesame marinade.

Cheers - enjoy the last bits of summer!

Garlic, Ginger & Toasted Sesame Marinade

Each time I make this marinade, it is slightly different as I don't measure anything, so the proportions vary. So far I have not been disappointed with the outcome, so don't be afraid to experiment & find your own perfect balance of flavors.

olive or canola oil
rice wine vinegar
toasted sesame oil
soy sauce
crushed fresh garlic
grated fresh ginger
chili paste, or a finely diced hot pepper of your choice
pinch of sugar
sesame seeds, if you fancy

Green Beans from the Brittany Coast
from From a Breton Garden by Josephine Araldo

1 1/2 pounds string beans, cut in 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 pound very small new potatoes, peeled (I never peel mine, & am pleased with the results)
1 small bunch scallions or 2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt (I use French sea salt for a crunchy counterpoint) & freshly ground pepper

Blanch the vegetables in boiling salted water, first the green beans until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes, then the potatoes until they can be pierced easily with a fork. Drain the vegetables when they are cooked and reserve.

While the vegetables blanch, sauté the shallots & garlic in the butter until limp. Add the blanched vegetables to the shallot/garlic mixture. Stir to coat with butter, adding to taste. Toss in the parsley and season with salt & pepper. Serve very hot.