Deep Fried Artichokes (Carciofi alla Giudia)

DSC_0833aExactly four years ago, I drove down Route 1 in California from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Of course I vividly remember the spectacular coastline of Big Sur, I remember an elephant seal sanctuary near Hearst Castle (male elephant seals make a colossal racket when they’re fighting for territory), and I remember a creepy motel in Carmel. But, oddly, one of my clearest memories is the fried artichokes sold at farmstands along the roadside. Warm, salty, comfortingly greasy in a paper sack and undoubtedly bad for you, deep-fried artichokes will forever make me think of California.

My romance with fried artichokes began the first time I ate carciofi alla giudia (literally, artichokes in the Jewish style), which are fried artichokes sold in Kosher restaurants in the old Jewish quarter of Rome. Roman-style fried artichokes are made differently and more simply than the fried artichokes I ate in California. There is no batter. Purists won’t even flour their artichokes, although I do because I think it adds texture and helps bind the seasoning to the artichokes. Continue reading

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Roasted Strawberry Cheesecake Muffins

DSC_0876bLate spring in the Pacific Northwest has been unusually warm and sunny this year. In the last weeks of May, early strawberries start appearing at farmers markets, and by June, on sunny Saturdays, I find it near impossible to resist the siren call of U-Pick strawberries. For two Saturdays running now, I’ve driven to Carnation, where my favorite U-Pick farms grow strawberries and raspberries. A paradisical verdant valley fringed by jagged snow-tipped green-black mountains, Carnation feels almost ridiculously pastoral, an urban dweller’s fantasy of country living just 40 minutes outside of Seattle. I would have gone strawberry picking simply because Carnation is so darned pretty, but it turns out that Harvold Berry Farm grows the serious strawberry aficionado’s strawberry, Shuksan strawberries. Continue reading

Rhubarb Lime Vanilla Bean Sorbet

DSC_0810aI rediscovered my passion for obsession with making ice cream when I co-hosted a dinner party with my lovely and talented friend Nicola last month. Nicola is the owner and founder of http://www.souschef.co.uk, a specialty food export company that sells hard-to-find cheffy ingredients and equipment to home cooks. (Sorry American friends, Sous Chef only ships to the EU for now.) Nicola had a surfeit of pistachio paste (what a wonderful thing to have too much of!) so we decided to make Orangette’s chocolate tart with salted pistachio ice cream for dessert. I took charge of the ice cream and I did not stint with the pistachio paste. The result was wonderful. (Nicola has since blogged a recipe for salted pistachio ice cream using the very same pistachio paste.) Ice creams and sorbets are a fun challenge for home cooks, involving in equal measure the palate and food science. Flavor is key, of course, and limited only by your imagination, but mouth feel is of equal importance. Continue reading

Kohlrabi, Radish, and Golden Beet Slaw with Pickling Spices

DSC_0789aThe second installment in the “how to use my CSA box vegetables” series is one of my favorite salads. I like to say that it’s a ‘cheat’: it’s a fresh vegetable slaw made with a tart dressing and pickling spices, and the result is that it tricks your brain (or at least my brain) into thinking “pickle.” It is crisp and light and bracingly flavorful. It’s a wonderful summer slaw, and a good alternative to traditional creamy cole slaws.  Continue reading

Swiss Chard Spanakopita

DSC_0771aIt’s that time in late Spring when most well-intentioned locavores start to feel a little worn out. This condition, known to some as “CSA fatigue,” arises after about the fifth consecutive week that you’ve gone to the Farmers Market to find that each stall carries iterations of the same greens. Mustard greens, kale, more kale, chard, radishes. If you’re lucky, maybe the odd bunch of asparagus. You’ve eaten salads with every meal, it feels like. You’ve never been so ‘regular’ in your life. You’ve started to think longingly and guiltily about tomatoes – luscious, sweet tomatoes – no doubt flown in hundreds of miles and so verboten. In god’s name, how many different things can you do with Swiss chard? Continue reading

Shawarma Soldier

Two years ago, I ate the kebab to end all kebabs. My always-hungry friend Z was visiting. I had an appointment to get my hair cut on Church Street, near Marylebone. I told him he could come along, poke around the antique sellers, and get a kebab from Lahore restaurant across the street, which sets up a kebab stall on market days. An hour into my appointment Z turned up with the most gorgeous lamb shish roll. The lamb was succulent, tender, and medium-rare with a hint of char, and complemented by crunchy salad, the homemade roti wrap was warm with that perfect chewy bite to it, and the sauces – one a garlicky yogurt sauce, and one a hot sauce – struck just the right balance of salty, savory, tangy, and spicy. The kebab plunged us into a fevered discussion of why there are no proper kebab shops in Seattle and spawned my quest to try all the delicious kebab rolls in London. Continue reading

Spicy Cocktail Nuts

DSC_0673bAlthough nothing can substitute for a well-crafted cocktail, I have an abiding affection for good bar food. I have been known to drag friends to Mark’s Bar at Hix (where the drinks are undeniably excellent) simply because I craved the salty-fatty-crispy-hot pork crackling with Bramley apple sauce that you can get for a mere £3.95, which perfectly complements the sharp gin drinks I gravitate towards. (The freebie marmite sticks are another story – I still loathe marmite, after over three years in England.) Lately, when I host cocktail parties, I like to make my own bar snacks. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to dump a bag of potato chips (sorry, Brits – crisps) in a bowl, particularly if you’re hosting a large group, but if you have the time, it is so much more fun (and impressive!) to offer BESPOKE SNACKS tailored specifically to the drinks on offer. At a recent dinner party at which I served mostly Mexican dishes, I started the evening with margaritas, home-made Mexican pickles, and these spiced cocktail nuts.  Continue reading

Mussels with Wild Garlic, Grape Tomatoes, and Guanciale

DSC_0653aI do not fully understand the synergistic relationship between shellfish and pork products, but I do not question it. Clams are delicious with smoky bacon, and at Spanish restaurant Pizarro, I ate seared scallops, each of which was topped with a translucent sliver of Iberico pork lardo – pure cured fat – which softened and clung lasciviously to the scallop. It was seriously one of the most pervy things I have ever put in my mouth. Guanciale is unsmoked cured pork jowl. The fat in guanciale, of which guanciale is mostly comprised, is more delicate and tender than belly fat. Guanciale is the key ingredient in classic Carbonara sauces (until you have tried Carbonara with guanciale, you have not truly experienced Carbonara) and it is a remarkably fortuitous item to have in your fridge when you’re casting about for a new way to prepare mussels. Continue reading

Beef Tagine with Apples, Sesame, and Raisins

DSC_0540.aJPGI love summer food; love the shift from stovetop to grill and outdoor eating, the fresh vegetables, and the salads, berries, and summer fruit. But with the advent of warm weather, I have to set aside BRAISING, which is my favorite way to prepare meat. Braising, in which (usually) meat is (usually) first browned and then cooked slow and low in liquid, is the best way to cook cheap cuts of meat (unless you plan to barbecue them – more about barbecue and a fabulous weekend competing with friends at the British Barbecue Society’s Grassroots Shake and Sauce – and winning the prize for Best Newcomers! – in another post). But in hot weather, the thought of turning your kitchen into a sauna courtesy of a six-hour braise is only slightly less appealing than the thought of eating the stew that results. Moroccans, however, have mastered the hot-weather braise. I’m speaking, of course, of the tagine. Continue reading

Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs

The concept at Kitchen Table is straightforward: 19 diners sit at a U-shaped bar encircling an immaculate kitchen and watch their 12-course tasting menu being prepared and plated by chef James Knappett and a small team of sous-chefs. I suppose it’s logical that the television-viewing public’s seemingly-unquenchable enthusiasm for behind-the-scenes perspectives on fine dining would eventually lead to actual tableaux vivants. Well, if food is theatre, then Kitchen Table is French art-house cinema: edgy, stylish, and very, very sexy. Continue reading