Herbed Farro and Cauliflower

019aAny holiday centered around preparing and consuming abundant amounts of food is right up my street. In the United States, this holiday is Thanksgiving, and in the UK it’s Christmas. I love to cook for my friends and loved ones, and I consider my job well done when, after the meal, the people I have fed flop and groan like sunning walruses.  I have my tried and true methods (brined and convection-roasted turkey, always) and my favorite recipes (cornbread, apricot, and chestnut stuffing, and—I’m not ashamed to admit it—the Karo corn syrup pecan pie). Lately, however, my circle is expanding to include more non-meat eaters. Three years ago I was responsible for the vegan main at a Christmas dinner in London and this year, for the first time, more than half of our Thanksgiving table is vegetarian. I hate the thought of the vegetarian at a table of meat eaters feeling like an afterthought. The ‘you can eat the side dishes, that’s enough food, right?’ approach is both depressing and insulting. And mains intended to imitate the meat everyone else is eating (i.e., the dreaded Tofurky) are just plain depressing. So, over the next month (and especially over the next week), I hope to make and blog a number of tasty vegetarian dishes, hopefully to supply inspiration for your Thanksgiving (and Christmas) table. Continue reading

Advertisements

Chicken Liver, Pear, and Cognac Mousse

Pear

I knew today that summer was almost at an end when I saw the first new crop pears at the grocery store. It astonishes me how rapidly this one has sped past. I love autumn, but I’m not ready for it to be cold and for the days to get shorter. I have loved this summer’s late sunsets and balmy, languid twilights, which, in the Northwest, stretch on for hours. But today it finally felt like time to post this recipe, which I have kept in my back pocket for several months now. This is an old-school chicken liver mousse á la Julia Child. Far easier than a paté, this type of mousse can literally be whipped up in under twenty minutes, not including the time it needs to set (at least four hours in the fridge). It’s great when you’re cooking for a party and don’t want to fuss at the last minute. Continue reading

Pan-Seared Octopus with Delicata Squash, Chickpeas, and Saffron

DSC_0278aMany people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results. Continue reading

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

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

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

Caramelized Onion, Apple, and Beetroot Tart

DSC_0350aI had never heard the term “the hungry months” until I came to London. Going to farmers markets in February and March, however, it takes on resonance. There are bins of tubers, alliums, parsnips, beets, last fall’s apples, and not much else. If you want to do truly locavore eating in the chilly North, these foods are your staple ingredients. But they are cheap! And, actually, wonderfully versatile. For example, the under-regarded onion is marvellously adaptable. Last week, I bought a lot of monstrous firm yellow onions thinking I’d use them for onion jam. From that initial premise sprang this tart, in which the onion jam is modified into a gently sweet onion and apple compote, topped with beetroots that have first been slow roasted, and served on crispy puff pastry with pinenuts and rosemary. The end result doesn’t taste like winter food at all; it tastes sunny and Mediterranean, like something you’d enjoy on a terrace with a glass of crisp white wine. Continue reading

Lamb, Mint, and Almond Meatballs with Saffron-Almond Sauce

Life in the new flat is not all wine and roses. Since my move in early October, I’ve been contending with the Never-Ending Kitchen Remodel. You know, that delightful pastiche featuring those charming rascals, the Slapdash Contractors, with supporting roles played by the Goddamn Shitty Appliances. The first time I attempted to use the oven I turned on the timer rather than the heat, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. It ticked loudly tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick until I worked out how to get the heat on and blew all the fuses in the kitchen. Sarf-East cockney contractor Del-boy came round an hour or two later and put the oven on its own fuse. Once the oven was reconnected the timer started ticking again tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Del-boy scratched his head, muttered something about not being boffered, and skulked off. Saturday I brought home beef bones to roast for stock, at which point I learned the oven doesn’t actually work, as in doesn’t get hot. I stomped around crankily and may have whined a bit about wanting to roast things. Lovely Flatmate called the truculent nameless Polish contractor, who looked in the oven and said, “I can’t fix. You need specialist.”

So, still no oven. The timer works though. There it is now, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Continue reading

Roasted Beets with Homemade Ricotta, Crispy Bacon, and Basil

I’ve been fascinated lately with the idea of making everything – including those ingredients we are accustomed to buying ready-made from the shops in convenient plastic tubs – from scratch. In this respect, of course, I’m about 30 years behind Alice Waters and 15 years behind most of Brooklyn. Also, although I’d like to try making my own goat cheese, for example, the unfortunate truth is that when all is said and done I’d probably prefer a nice Rocamadour or something equally French and delicious. Ricotta, however, is another story. It’s possible to find really good fresh ricotta in a supermarket, but more often than not good ricotta is the only thing you can’t find – everything else is laden with stabilizers and sugars and mystery additives. Also, everyone says making ricotta is really easy. What I’ve learned is that (1) making ricotta is easy, and (2) it really does taste better. Much, much better. Continue reading

Gougères

Okay world, first I have to apologise. I’m really bad at holidays. I forget birthdays. I buy Christmas cards only to discover them in my drawer, untouched, in February. Most of the time I don’t even buy them. I’m okay at Thanksgiving, but that’s mainly because it doesn’t involve quite the same type of advance planning as The Big Winter Holidays. So I’m afraid that I am not going to be your ready source for attractively iced and sprinkled holiday cookies, nor will I be telling you how to make your terrine look like a Christmas tree. (Or a dreidel.)

I do, however, love to throw parties, particularly parties involving lots and lots of food. And alcohol. Continue reading