Monday, November 27, 2006


Poached Pears

  Poached pears are the perfect autumnal dessert. They can be poached in red wine or sugar syrup and cognac, and they can be served with a dollop of creme fraiche, with gingerbread, and, as my angelheart Eric and I often prefer, on their own.

Quite often I turn to Tamasin Day-Lewis for inspiration. Her Simply the Best offers fine seasonal recipes highlighting produce and meat at its prime. I have yet to make her Sticky Gingerbread, which she suggests be served with her vanilla and orange blossom water Poached Pears. After making Assabih bi Loz (Almond Fingers) in September, I was worried about using orange blossom water again. My angelheart Eric had said, in his tactful way, that it tasted like soap, and I was not even being heavy-handed. To my delight, he was keen to see how it would work with the pears.

This makes enough for four if accompanied by the sticky gingerbread (I will make it soon!), and is filling for two if served as is. I fiddled with the recipe on account of what we had on hand, so in parentheses find Tamasin's suggestions. We used bartlett pears, which have a tropical aroma that pairs well with citrus.

Poached Pears
(from Tamasin Day-Lewis' Simply the Best)

2/3 pint (400ml) water
2 1/4oz (67g) granulated sugar (vanilla caster sugar)
2 slices of lemon peel (and 2 slices of orange peel)
1 vanilla pod and its scooped-out seeds
2/3 tablespoon orange blossom water
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled, stalks left in, lightly coated with lemon juice to prevent oxidation

1) Make the sugar syrup by boiling the water and sugar with the lemon peel, vanilla pod, and vanilla seeds. Boil until thick, but do not let it turn brown.
2) Add orange blossom water and the pears.
3) Cook at a gentle simmer until pears are just tender when pierced with a skewer - roughly 20-25 minutes.
4) Leave to cool before serving.

The pears hold up really well to the lemon peel and orange blossom water. In fact, the orange blossom recedes a little in the flavor on account of the vanilla, though its aroma lingers. The most exotic of scents filled the kitchen as the pears were being poached; the most delicate of lemon and vanilla aromas wafted throughout the apartment. I look forward to accompanying poached pears with Tamasin's Sticky Gingerbread on a much colder night. Posted by Picasa

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Saturday, November 25, 2006



Because this was going to be my last Thanksgiving in the U.S. for a while, I wanted to celebrate it twice. Well, I'm not sure that Thanksgiving is really a holiday for celebrating per se, but in the five years I've lived here, no one has given the traditional "let's be thankful for this, that and the other" speech, and no one appears to reflect on what one must be thankful for (the gas-guzzling? the waste in the landfills that we've created?). So, I'll just say here that I'm thankful for my experiences in the U.S. and the loved ones with whom I've been happy to share this period of time.

Mostly I'm just thankful for good food.

The first Thanksgiving meal was spent at our friend Suzanne's. It was especially glorious because our good friend, Ailene, celebrated with us (her husband has made the move out of state, and she is going to join him very soon), and Suzanne made turkey for the first time. She brined the 8 pound turkey for five hours before roasting it for a couple more hours. The baste consisted of butter, thyme, and lemon zest. Though there was no stuffing, the turkey's cavity was filled up with lemons and oranges, and they perfumed the succulent meat splendidly.

For my part, I made Roasted Root Vegetables with Honey, Balsamic Vinegar, and Fresh Goat Cheese and Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepitas and Dried Fig and Coffee Ice Cream.

For the vegetables, I wanted a twist on tradition. I have had a million variations of roasted vegetables - after all, I'm from New Zealand, a land where The Sunday Roast is an institution that harks back to New Zealand's colonial days. I wanted to make something with big flavours and lots of style. To accomplish both of these, I turned to my angelheart Eric's favorite celeb chef (and one of mine, too), Tyler Florence. His new cookery book, Tyler's Ultimate, builds on the theme of his Food Network show in which he creates contemporary twists on traditional fare (not always traditional in the American sense, either, for some of my favourite shows include his renditions of paella, lasagne, and English roast chicken).

Roasted Root Vegetables with Honey, Balsamic Vinegar, and Fresh Goat Cheese (from Tyler Florence's Tyler's Ultimate)

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into two-inch long pieces (5.5 cm)
2 medium beets, peeled and cut into sixths
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into sixths
2 fennel heads, outer leaves stripped and cut into quarters
3 shallots, unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 oz chilled fresh goat cheese

1) Preheat oven to 350 deg. f. (195 deg. c.).
2) Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet. Spread vegetables out in a single layer once done.
3) Roast vegetables for 25 minutes.
4) Whisk together honey and vinegar, then pour onto roast vegetables and toss them together.
5) Roast vegetables for 20 minutes, or until they are fork-tender and caramelized.
6) Top vegetables with pieces of goat cheese.

I had never had pumpkin pie before this Thanksgiving, and because I knew no one was going to make it, I wanted to take a risk and do it myself. Besides, if I failed, I was not concerned with not being invited to a Thanksgiving meal next year since I'd be back in New Zealand. Admittedly, I was very nervous. Who best to turn to other than the undisputed queen of the American lifestyle, Martha Stewart? The Martha Stewart Living, November 2006 magazine is really quite fabulous, and I was beaming when I came across her recipe. I don't know if most recipes call for the spices she does, but I was thrilled beforehand knowing the mellow depth they'd add, and I looked forward to making my own graham crust. As for the candied pepitas, I didn't even know what pepitas were, so I figured it was a good opportunity to find out. They are hulled pumpkin seeds - so now we all know.

Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pepitas
(From Martha Stewart Living, November 2006)

For the graham crust:
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup ground pepitas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1) Combine flours, pepitas, salt, and cinnamon (either with a whisk or in a food processor).
2) Add butter and sugar and proccess I did this in a bowl with my own hands, but you can do so with a food processor).
3) When dough comes together, put in a 9 or 10 inch single-crust metal pie plate (I actually put mine in my 10" fluted tart pan), and then freeze for 15 minutes.

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (or 1 small sugar pumpkin roasted cut-side down at 425 deg. f./220 deg. c. for 50-60 minutes)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of ground clove
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

1) Preheat oven to 350 deg. f. (180 deg. c.).
2) Bake crust (after it has been in the freeze for 15 minutes) until dry and golden brown - about 20 minutes - and then let cool completely.
3) Reduce oven temperature to 325 deg. f. (170 deg. c.).
4) Whisk pumpkin and eggs in a bowl.
5) In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, and spices.
6) Whisk dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture.
7) Whisk in evaporated milk.
8) Tap firmly on counter to release air bubbles and let stand for 20 minutes.
9) Pour filling into graham crust; tap to release air bubbles.
10) Bake until set, approximately 50 minutes.

For the candied pepitas:

6 oz (2 cups) pepitas
5 tablespoons sugar (the recipe actually calls for 6 tablespoons)
1 large egg white, beaten
pinch of coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
pinch of ground allspice
pinch of cayenne pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350 deg. f. (180 deg. c.).
2) Stir ingredients together in a bowl.
3) Spread mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
4) Bake until pepitas are golden and slightly puffed, approximately 10 minutes.
5) Season with salt.
6) Stir gently, leaving some clumps.
7) Let cool completely in a bowl before storing in an air-tight container for up to three days. Sprinkle a small handful over pumpkin pie and save the rest for snacking :-)

Of course, most people have cream on the side or on top of their pumpkin pie. I, of course, wanted something a little different. Tamasin Day-Lewis is very inspiring, and, like Nigella Lawson, has interesting dessert ideas. I was eager to make something from her latest book, Tamasin's Kitchen Classics,which is divided into the following sections: A Classic Start, the Main Course, Classic Cakes (interesting twists, such as Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble Cake and Upside-Down Pear and Spice Cake), A Classic Finish (desserts, such as Redcurrant Curd Ice Cream and Black Forest Trifle) and Basics (stocks and pastries). It is a gorgeous and hunger-inducing book - my latest "must have". Tamasin's Dried Fig and Hazelnut Ice Cream sounded like too much of a dream to pass up, especially since I had good organic dried figs on hand. I omitted the praline and substituted the vanilla base for one of coffee).

Dried Fig and Coffee Ice Cream
(Adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis' Tamasin's Kitchen Classics)

9 large, whole dried organic figs
3 tablespoons squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons cognac
1 cup whole milk, well chilled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons instant espresso or coffee
2 cups heavy (double) cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1) Chop the figs into small dice and soak them in the orange juice and cognac for 4-6 hours.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk to combine milk, sugar and espresso powder until sugar and powder are dissolved.
3) Stir in the cream and vanilla extract.
4) Put into ice cream maker with the liquid that the figs have not absorbed.
5) Once churned, fold figs pieces into the ice cream and freeze.

For the second Thanksgiving dinner, we ate at my angelheart's sister's with his mother, brother-in-law, and two-and-a-half-year-old nephew. On the menu were cornish game hens stuffed with bulgur wheat, raisins, and pine nuts (which you can read about here), sauteed spinach with garlic, and prosciutto-wrapped scallops and shrimp. Eric's sister's dessert didn't quite turn out, but she made Lemon Madelines during the day. It is a recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, and I'm tempted to make them in the future because they were simultaneously fluffy and substantial, and the combination of almond and lemon in heavenly.

As for leftovers, today I made soup out of the Roasted Root Vegetables by blending the vegetables with some hot chicken stock and seasoning, topped with croutons that were rubbed with garlic.

Happy Post-Thanksgiving everyone!

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Friday, November 24, 2006


Quince Tart (Deux)

  After my last attempt at making a quince tart, I wanted to follow up on my ideas to improve the tart before the quince season is over (of course this depends on your geographic location, but they are typically available in Southern California until the end of December, and we tend not to have them flown in from Turkey or Morocco as happens in Europe).

This time, I sliced the quince quite thin, leaving the seeds in, hoping that a jelly would form and that the flesh would turn a gorgeous dusky rose. On both counts, this didn't eventuate. Perhaps had I added lemon juice to the syrup, enough acid would have been introduced to activate the pectin in the quince, which may have then produced the thick, reddish sweetness of the quince I so badly wanted.

As for the tart base, I used the same recipe as the one for the Dapple Dandy Pluot Tart (my first food entry on this blog) because I wondered about the pairing of the nuttiness of the tart base and the tropical aroma of the quince. Though yummy, the nuttiness is overpowering, pushing the quince to the sideline a little.

Quince Tart
(The quince filling is of my own doing; the tart base recipe is adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!)

For the quince filling:
4 quince, peeled, sliced through the core and into eighths
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon rose water

For the tart base:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 dark brown sugar
1 1/2 sticks (169.5 g) cold unsalted butter (diced)

1) Put quince filling ingredients into a pot and let poach until quince are soft (about 25 minutes).
2) When soft, remove quince from pot and let cool.
3) In the meantime, make the tart base: Combine flour, walnuts, and sugar before adding butter. Once butter added, mix until crumbly (it is easier to do by hand than with a mixer).
4) Preheat oven to 400 deg. f. (200 deg. c.).
5) Press 4/5 of the tart base mixture into a 10" tart pan; it is easier if you press into the fluted sides first and work your way to the center.
6) When quince cool enough to handle, cut pips out, then arrange quince slices on the tart base in a concentric pattern.
7) Crumble remaining 1/5 of tart base over the quince.
8) Bake tart in the oven until golden, approximately 45 minutes.

Truthfully, I would not suggest you actually make this tart because it ended up being a lot of work - especially fishing the sliced quince out and then cutting out the pips before arranging the quince slices in a tart pan. And it didn't turn out to be gorgeously pink. And the walnut tart base is too overpowering. And...Keep your fingers crossed for Quince Tart (Trois). Posted by Picasa

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Braised Chicken with Saffron Onions and Couscous

I happened to come across Suzanne Goin's cookery book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table, in my search for understanding and using seasonal ingredients in my cooking. I was getting tired of going to the supermarket because everything looks the same all year long, and anything that is considered organic costs an arm and a leg. Now that I go to the Long Beach Farmers' Market, I am able to purchase organic, seasonal produce that costs me no more than regular supermarket shopping for fruit and vegetables. Most people who read this blog are probably very serious foodies who do this already, but I have to say it has made a marked difference in the kitchen. I get such a buzz from knowing that what I make in the week is dependent on what is best at the market, instead of counting on supermarket regulars that quite often make me feel despondent.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques is organized by season, and though each dish does not necessarily require something unusual or unique to the season (as this one does not), each dish certainly captures the mood of the season. The braised chicken is as red as Autumn leaves, and the saffron onions and couscous are of the gorgeous orange and yellows that mark glorious autumnal sunsets. This meal begs you to eat it, and it is enough for six, or the night we had it, it was enough for a greedy three!

Braised Chicken with Saffron Onions and Couscous
(From Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table)

For the braised chicken:

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
6 chicken legs with thighs attached
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, sliced
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
2 teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, sliced
1 cup fennel, sliced
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup sherry
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup cilantro (coriander)

1) Toast cumin seeds in a pan for a few mintues until fragrant and lightly browned.
2) Pound cumin seeds in a mortar.
3) Repeat steps 1) and 2) with the coriander seeds.
4) Place chicken in large bowl with garlic, thyme, parsley, chile, cumin, coriander, and paprika. Toss chicken and spices together to coat chicken well.
5) Cover chicken and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but it is best if left overnight.
6) Season chicken with salt and pepper.
7) Preheat oven to 325 deg. f. (170 deg. c.).
8) Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes.
9) Swirl in the olive oil and wait 1 minute.
10) Place chicken legs in saute pan skin side down and cook 8-10 minutes until golden brown and cripsy, occasionally swriling oil around the pan.
11) Turn chicken over, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes.
12) Arrange chicken in a braising dish in one layer.
13) Pour off some fat and return saute pan to medium heat.
14) Add onion, fennel, and bay leaves, which are to be cooked for 6-7 minutes, stirred often until caremelized.
15) Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon.
16) Add sherry vinegar, white wine, and sherry.
17) Turn up heat and reduce liquid to half.
18) Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.
19) Add cilantro and pour broth and vegetables over the chicken in the brasing dish, making sure the liquid does not entirely cover the chicken.
20) Cover the pan very tightly with plastic wrap and then aluminium foil.
21) Braise in oven for 1.5-2 hours.
22) To check for doneness, pierce chicken with a paring knife. Meat will give easily if done.
23) Turn oven up to 400 deg. f. (200 deg. c.), then transfer chicken to a baking sheet and return to oven to brown for 10 minutes.
24) Strain broth into saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with a ladle to fully extract the juices.

For the couscous:

2.5 cups couscous
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and black pepper

1) Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat.
2) Add couscous and cook 8-10 minutes until tender but still al dente.
3) Drain couscous, return it to the pot, and toss with butter, parsley, and a pinch of pepper. Taste for seasoning.

For the saffron onions:

1 teaspoon saffron threads
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cups onions, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Toast saffron threads in pan over medium heat until they are just dry and brittle.
2) Pound saffron with a pestle in a mortar to a fine powder.
3) Dab a tablespoons of butter in the powder, using butter to pick up the saffron.
4) Heat a large saute pan or Dutch oven over medium heat for 2 minutes.
5) Add olive oil, remaining butter, and saffron.
6) When butter foams, add onions, bay leaf, chile, thyme, 1.5 teaspoons salt, and some pepper, and cook for 8-10 minutes until the onions wilt.
7) Turn heat down low, and cook another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are sweet. Taste for seasoning.

As for the plating, the couscous forms the base, topped in the center with the saffron onions, onto which is placed the chicken. Ladle some of the juices over the chicken. The dish is nutty, spicy, sweet, fragrant...everything you could ever want on a cold Autumn's night.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Rustic Dinner: Coq au vin

Some nights are just perfect, and they can turn out that way with the least amount of effort. Such a night passed recently in our lovely Los Angeles home when our darling friend and poetess, Suzanne, came over for a rustic meal. Actually, it was mostly made rustic because of her contribution: onion and parsley bread - a recipe which I do not have, but she claims to have just thrown these key ingredients along with some garlic and standard white bread ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, butter, eggs, and milk) into a breadmaker. My angelheart Eric built on the classic coq au vin by incorporating star anise to give this quintessentially earthy dish a sweet lilt. Because we didn't have parsley (shock, horror!)for the bouqet garni (flavoring spices of fresh or dried herbs), Suzanne's bread both complemented and ameliorated the soul-warming goodness of the coq au vin.

Coq au vin

1 plump chicken, cut into 6 pieces
1/2 pound bacon, cut into thick cubes
12 small onions, peeled
2 sticks celery, chopped
12 baby carrots
butter for browning
2 tablespoons brandy
1 bottle good red wine (if you want to keep with tradition, use a Burgundian red)
1 cup chicken stock
bouquet garni (in our case: thyme, rosemary, basil, and tarragon)
2 star anise
3 tablespoons flour mixed with 2 tablespoons soft butter

1) In a dutch oven or large skillet, brown the chicken in some butter. Remove chicken from dutch oven once done.
2) Brown bacon and onions in butter.
3) Add celery and carrots until caramelized.
4) When bacon and onions are golden, return chicken to dutch oven, and liberally add salt and pepper.
5) Pour brandy over the chicken and let it cook off (you could flambe the chicken if you so wish, but my angelheart and I are too bollocky afraid of setting the kitchen on fire or burning ourselves that we have never been brave enough to attempt it).
6) Add the wine, chicken stock, bouquet garni, and star anise.
7) Cover the dutch oven and let simmer until chicken is tender (about 45 minutes).
8) Once chicken is tender, discard bouquet garni and put chicken into/on warm dishes.
9) Add flour and butter mixture to the sauce and stir it until it has dissolved and the sauce has thickened.
10) Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

This should make enough for six, but we were especially hungry on this chilly night that we had two pieces of chicken each. The bread was fluffy yet substantial, making for a delicious and edible utensil with which to soak up the incredibly rich flavors of the sauce. The star anise, paired with the tarragon, added a mellow sweetness to the rich dish, and it also worked well in tandem with the onion and parsley bread.

Next time I think we will replace some of the onions with fennel to add another layer of mild sweetness (incidentally, I love black licorice). Should you wish, add parsley to your bouqet garni and throw 12 or so small mushrooms into the dutch oven to brown with the onions (my angelheart kindly did not add mushrooms because of my aversion to them).

It was cold and howling a bit outside, and we ate by candlelight inside, further building on the notion that we were indeed spending a perfectly rustic evening (well, rustic for Carroll Park, Long Beach anyway!).


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