An Ottolenghi Feast

Lauren and I are both enamored with Yotam Ottolenghi. A chef that has revolutionized the way vegetables are cooked and presented. His recipes are inspired by his Middle Eastern heritage and incorporates many spices and ingredients found in that part of the world. He has become a prolific cookbook author since his first publication of Plenty in 2011. He has subsequently published a cookbook every year, Jerusalem in 2012, Ottolenghi in 2013 and this year Plenty More. Lauren and I recently went to a presentation that Chef Ottolenghi was giving promoting his new book and he talked about how his life has changed in the last five years. His namesake restaurants in London, Ottolenghi,which are in a couple of locations, is still popular and primarily run by his business partner, Sami Tamimi so that he can concentrate his efforts on creating and testing recipes. We got our Plenty More books signed by him and our picture taken with him. He was friendly, engaging and quite gracious furthering our good feelings about this groundbreaking chef.

OttolenghiAfter his presentation, Lauren had the idea of cooking a Ottolenghi meal for our families. So we chose multiple dishes from the first Plenty cookbook. Although Lauren had cooked several dishes from his books previously, it was the first time for me. I chose Mushroom Lasagna, primarily because I wanted to compare his recipe to the one I always use from Ina Garten. Ottolenghi’s recipe for this dish was much more prep work and had many more ingredients than Ina’s. Although very good, the consensus was that it was a little dry and not nearly as good as Ina’s recipe for Mushroom Lasagna.

lasagnaI also chose a dish called Tomato Party, which was a combination of cooked tomatoes, herbs, fresh uncooked tomatoes and two kinds of couscous. It was very good but had too much grain to tomatoes, so next time I cook this dish I will cut the grain ingredients by half.

tomatoLauren prepared an eggplant appetizer that required roasting the eggplant over an open flame and combining with tahini, lemon juice and garlic and sprinkling pomegranate seeds over the top.

eggplantand a vegetable dish poached in a wine, olive oil and lemon broth with a caper aioli

vegetablesand a fantastic salad of arugula, basil, goat cheese and fresh figs.

saladI also prepared a dessert of cherry clafouti with a recipe I got from the Ottolenghi cookbook.

clafoutiNot all the dishes were stellar but there were a couple that really stood out like the salad, tomato and couscous, the poached vegetables with caper aioli and the clafouti. The vegetable feast laid out on the table was truly beautiful and our families said they didn’t even really miss the meat. For Lauren and I it was a great way to celebrate a chef we really admire and cook several dishes that he created at once.

Halloween Cupcakes

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I had so much fun making these kooky cupcakes for Halloween. The recipes are based on Martha Stewart vanilla cupcake and buttercream recipes. Have fun!

4 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 1/4 t baking powder

1 1/4 t salt

2 1/4 sticks softened unsalted butter

2 1/4 cups sugar

6 large eggs

1 3/4 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with 24 paper liners.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Mix butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment until pale and fluffy, about 4  minutes. Mix in the eggs, one at a time until well blended. Mix in vanilla.

Mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk in 2 batches. Divide evenly into muffin tins using an ice cream scoop. Smooth tops. Bake until top springs back, about 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Note: this recipe also makes 5 dozen mini-cupcakes. These cupcakes freeze well. Decorate the ones you need and freeze the rest to pull out and decorate for your next occasion.

Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream:

3 sticks unsalted buttered, softened

4 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

1/2 t vanilla

Beat butter in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed with the paddle attachment for about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. After every 2 additions, beat on high for approximately 10 seconds. Add vanilla and beat until smooth. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 10 days. Bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth, about 10 minutes before using.

Note: this makes enough frosting for about 12 cupcakes but can be doubled to frost all 24.

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Spicy Pumpkin Loaves

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When Halloween gets close, it reminds me every year to make my favorite pumpkin bread. This is a recipe I have tweaked over many years to get just right. It’s moist and delicious with spice and sweetness that screams “FALL IS HERE!” I make many mini-loaves to share with friends and family and it’s a huge hit. It also freezes extremely well so it’s a perfect holiday baking treat.

6 eggs

4 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups canola oil

1 large can (29 oz) solid pack pumpkin

5 1/4 cups AP flour (I use King Arthur’s unbleached white whole wheat flour)

1 1/2 t salt

1 T each of baking soda, ground allspice and ground cinnamon

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

3/4 cup raisins (optional)

Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Add sugar, oil and pumpkin. Mix well. In another bowl, mix the flour, salt and spices using a whisk to get good distribution. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and stir until just blended. If using, stir in the nuts and raisins.

Grease and flour 12 mini-loaf pans (3 1/2 x 5”). You can instead spray the pans with Pam Baking Spray with Flour though you will get a slightly better result doing it the old fashioned way. Allow 1 cup of batter per pan. Note: if you eliminate the nuts and raisins like I do for my kids, you will end up with less batter. Bake in a 350 degree oven until a wooden pick comes out clean from the center, about 40 minutes. Cool on racks for 10 minutes and then remove from pan to cool on racks completely.

Wrap airtight in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for longer. To freeze, place plastic wrapped loaves in sealed bags for best results. Enjoy!

Crispy Pulled Pork

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Last week I was digging through my overflow freezer and came across a Pork Shoulder that was about 3 1/2 lbs. and I started doing some research for a recipe. When I was opening my e-mails that morning, I remembered a recipe I had seen from my Food 52 daily feed about the 10 Roasts to Cook Now. One of them was a Pork Shoulder. It was a Pulled Pork recipe consisting of a savory paste made with Fennel Seeds, Garlic, Maple Syrup, Pepper and some other ingredients, however it required an 18 hour cooking time. Oh well, I thought not something we will be eating tonight but tomorrow’s dinner would be set. I am so glad I decided to make this because it was fantastic. My kitchen was filled with great smells and we were rewarded with porky goodness that made me forget my notions of becoming a vegetarian. At 16 hours, the roast looked like a large charcoal briquet because the paste that had been slathered on it had dissolved and formed a thick bark all around and the roast was soft and wiggly. I was afraid that more time in the oven would only burn it, so I pulled it out. After shredding the meat with two forks, I served it on Potato Buns with coleslaw and my family said it was the best Pulled Pork they ever had. So with that kind of confirmation, I will definitely make this again. Porkilicious!!!

Crispy pork shoulder
(adapted from a Food 52 recipe)

Serves 4 to 6 to 8

6 to 8 pounds bone-in, skin on pork shoulder
3 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted, crushed
14 pieces garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cups maple syrup
2 teaspoons malt vinegar

After allowing the meat to come to room temperature, use a sharp knife to score the skin, making 1/2 inch stripes over entire surface.

Preheat oven to 450.

Toast fennel seeds in a skillet over medium heat, until fragrant (3 minutes); grind into a powder, set aside.

Place garlic and salt in empty mortar and grind together to make a paste. Slowly add olive oil, then sprinkle in cayenne, black pepper and toasted ground fennel.

Rub about 1/3 of the paste over the skinless side of the meat, then place skin side down on a roasting pan in lower third of oven. Cook for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile stir the syrup and vinegar into the remaining paste. Turn the oven down to 225.

Carefully flip the shoulder (use a clean towel), then use a rubber spatula to spread the remaining paste over the shoulder, pushing it into the scored skin.

Return to oven and cook for 16 hours or longer (you can put it in the oven at bedtime and leave it in until you serve it as an early dinner the next day, which is what I did.

I found that the skin was crispy and black at 16 hours but if yours isn’t, leave it in for up to 18 hours.

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Yeasted Pear Upside Down Cake

Our recent purchase of a little yellow house on one acre of land in Lone Pine, netted us with an Apple tree and a Pear tree. The last time I visited Lone Pine, I picked a bushel of ripe Pears and wondered what to do with them. Since Family Night was coming up, I decided to make a Yeasted Pear Upside Down Cake which is very similar to a Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It was a wonderful dessert for the beginning of fall, made in a cast iron skillet, not too gooey and not too sweet and perfect with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The recipe is from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison.

Yeasted Pear Upside Down Cake
THE FRUIT

4 ripe but firm pears

3 T. butter

2 T. light brown sugar

THE CAKE

1/4 cup sugar

1 envelope active, dry yeast

1/2 cup warm milk

1 egg plus 2 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. salt

2 cups plain flour

5 T. softened butter

1 tsp. ground cardamom

Peel pears, halve and core, and slice thinly.

Melt butter in 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Add pears and sugar. Cook over medium-high heat while turning fruit to brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Arrange pear slices so they form a single layer.
Make the cake batter. Stir in additional 1/4 to 1/2 cup flour to make soft dough. Kneed until smooth, and press into circle the same size as the skillet. Lay it over the fruit and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350. Bake cake until its smooth, domed top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Invert skillet over plate. Slowly remove pan. If any pears stick, remove them with a fork.

Serve warm with whipping cream.

Oven Roasted Kalua-Style Pig

As summer fades, here is a great outdoor style main dish to plan a barbecue around. Inspired by a Hawaiian luau and created by Hawaiian chef Sam Choy, it takes some time but not much effort.

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5 pound boneless pork shoulder/butt roast

2 1/2 T Hawaiian sea salt or coarse sea salt

3 frozen banana leaves, thawed (available in frozen section of Asian, Latin markets)

6 cups water

1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

barbecue sauce (homemade or store bought – I like Ina Garten’s, which I make ahead and freeze)

King’s Hawaiian rolls

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 1/4” deep slits about 1” apart all over pork roast. Rub 2 T sea salt all over pork. Unfold one banana leaf and place pork roast on top of it. Fold up leaf around pork, enclosing it completely. Repeat with remaining two banana leaves, one at a time. Tie with kitchen string to secure. Wrap roast in foil and place in roasting pan. Pour 4 cups of water into the pan.

Roast pork in the oven until very tender when pierced with a fork, about 5 hours. Unwrap pork and cool slightly. Shred pork and place in large bowl. Bring remaining 2 cups water and 2 t salt to boil in a small saucepan. Add liquid smoke. Pour over the pork and stir to blend. Let the pork stand for 10 minutes to allow the liquid to flavor the pork.

Build sandwiches with the shredded pork, Hawaiian rolls and barbecue sauce. Serve with your favorite barbecue sides and enjoy.

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Salad on a stick, served with ranch and blue cheese dressing on the side (kids love this!)

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Pioneer Woman’s Macaroni Salad (which is delicious). Also see my lighter version Macaroni Salad in the recipe archives. My favorite coleslaw with celery seeds (future post!)

Chocolate Beet Cake

I was intrigued when I saw a recipe on my weekly feed from Food 52 for Chocolate Cake with Beets which is a sophisticated version of Red Velvet Cake. It is a recipe from Nigel Slater who has written a couple of cookbooks featuring creative ways to use vegetables. I eat dark chocolate almost everyday and am convinced of its healthful properties. I also roast beets and use them in salads or just toss them with some fresh ginger for a quick side dish. So I made this cake following the rather fussy recipe to the letter and it is indeed a sophisticated, not overly sweet but very moist chocolate cake with a subtle undertone of earthy beets. I think this is the best chocolate cake I have ever made. I top it with vanilla creme frâiche and poppy seeds. You can vary the topping with whipped creme or chocolate ganache but I wouldn’t put a sweet frosting on it. This cake is a perfect ending to an elegant dinner party.  I have made it about 3 times now and each time I have gotten great compliments.

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Chocolate Cake w/ Beets

8 ounces fresh beets
7 ounces fine dark chocolate (70%)
1/4 cup hot espresso
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
5 eggs
Scant 1 cup superfine sugar
Crème frâiche mixed w/ vanilla and topped w/ poppy seeds, to serve

Lightly butter an 8-inch springform cake pan and line the base with a round of baking parchment. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, in boiling unsalted water. Depending on their size, they will be tender within 30 to 40 minutes. Young ones may take slightly less. Drain them, let them cool under running water, then peel them, slice off their stem and root, and process in a blender or food processor until a coarse purée.

Melt the chocolate, broken into small pieces, in a small bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Don’t stir.
When the chocolate looks almost melted, pour the hot espresso over it and stir once. Cut the butter into small pieces — the smaller the better — and add to the melted chocolate. Push the butter down under the surface of the chocolate with a spoon (as best you can) and leave to soften.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a large mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together.

Now, working quickly but gently, remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir in the egg yolks. Do this quickly, mixing firmly and evenly so the eggs blend into the mixture. Fold in the beets. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold in the sugar. Firmly but gently, fold the beaten egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture. A large metal spoon is what you want here; work in a deep, figure-eight movement but take care not to over-mix. Lastly, fold in the flour and cocoa.

Transfer quickly to the prepared cake pan and put in the oven, decreasing the heat immediately to 325 degrees F. Bake for 40 minutes. The rim of the cake will feel spongy, the inner part should still wobble a little when gently shaken. Test with a cake tester or toothpick too — if it is still gooey in the center, continue baking just until moist crumbs cling to the tester.

Set the cake aside to cool (it will sink a tad in the center), loosening it around the edges with a thin icing spatula after half an hour or so. It is not a good idea to remove the cake from its pan until it is completely cold. Serve in thick slices, with crème fraîche and poppy seeds

 

Cracker Thin Crust Pizza

I am always experimenting with making Pizza dough. My husband is a big fan of Roman style cracker thin dough while I like mine thin but toothsome more Neapolitan style. We built a Pizza Oven in our outdoor living space at our Beach house and love to invite people over for a day of Pizza and Beer. For Labor Day this year, I decided to try making Pizza in my home oven and found a recipe for cracker thin dough that did not require rising. Although it did use a little yeast, about half what I would normally use in a dough that I let rise, the emphasis was on how it was cooked. First off, the dough was rolled on a piece of parchment paper and put into the oven with the paper. The paper allows you to roll the dough very thin and although the paper burns and practically disintegrates while cooking, it is easy to slide the pizza into the oven and get it out. You cook the dough first for about 8 minutes in a hot 500 degree oven, with just a little olive oil and/or sauce, then add the cheese and other toppings and cook for about 2 minutes more. The result was a perfectly cooked Pizza that did not have a very flavorful crust in spite of my adding dry herbs to the dough. This recipe is good if you are in the mood for Pizza and don’t have the time to let the dough rise to develop its flavor profile.

cracker thin crust pizzaHomemade Thin Crust Pizza

makes TWO 12″ pizzas

Dough

3/4 cups (6 ounces) of water
1/2 teaspoon of active-dry yeast (if using instant yeast, you don’t need to dissolve it during the first step)
2 cups (10 ounces, by weight) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
optional: 1/2 tsp italian seasoning (or any dried herbs of your choice) – i like to work herbs into the dough, but it’s wonderful without the herbs, too – your choice!

Toppings

1/2 cup marinara sauce (1/4 cup per pizza), either homemade or store-bought
3 cups of cheese (1.5 cups per pizza) – i used a blend of mozzarella + asiago
1 thinly sliced tomato, about 6 slices on each pizza
12 basil leaves, chopped, divided between the two pizzas

Directions

Making the dough:
About 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. if you have a baking stone, put it on a rack in the lower-middle part of the oven before preheating.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, heat the water until it feels barely lukewarm when you test it with your finger (if the water is so hot that you can’t leave your finger in it, wait for it to cool down). add the yeast to the water + use a fork or whisk to stir it into the water. set this aside for a few minutes + allow the yeast to dissolve. it’s ok if the yeast doesn’t bubble, but it should be entirely dissolved.

Measure out the flour into a large mixing bowl. add the salt + dried italian seasoning/herbs (if using) + use your hand or a whisk to combine.

Make a well in the center of the flour + pour in the water-yeast mixture. use your fingers or a wooden spoon to combine everything together.

When it comes together into a cohesive ball, turn it out onto the counter along with any extra flour in the bowl that hasn’t yet gotten worked in.

Knead the dough until all the flour is incorporated + the dough is smooth/elastic to the touch–about five minutes. the dough should still feel moist + just slightly tacky. if it’s sticking to your hands + counter-top like bubble gum, work in more flour one tablespoon at a time until it’s smooth + silky.

Divide the dough in two.

Shaping the dough:
Tear off two pieces of parchment paper roughly 12-inches wide. work one piece of the dough in your hands + form it into a large disk. lay the disk of dough on the parchment paper.

Working from the middle of the dough outwards, use the heel of your hand to gently press the dough outward until it’s about 1/4 of an inch thick or less. you can also use a rolling pin for this part. we like to make free form pies, but if you’d like a circular pie, you can trace a large circle on the back of the parchment to use as a guide.

Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Note: The dough will stick to the parchment paper, making it easier for you to roll out. you’ll bake the pizza right on the parchment paper. as it cooks, the dough will release from the parchment, + you can slide the paper out before serving.

Topping + baking the dough:
Spoon ONLY the sauce into the center of each pizza + use the back of a spoon to spread it out to the edges.

Using a pizza peel or the backside of a baking sheet, slide your pizza (still on the parchment) onto the baking stone in the oven. if you don’t have a baking stone, just bake it right on the baking sheet.

Bake for about 5 minutes, then rotate the pizza 180-degrees (most ovens have ‘hot spots’ + your pizza will bake unevenly if it’s not rotated). bake for another 3 minutes, then sprinkle the cheese + any other toppings over the top. bake for another 2-3 minutes until the edges are golden brown and crispy. if you like your cheese browned slightly, broil for a minute or so.

Remove your pizza from oven + let it cool on a wire rack. at this point, you can slide the parchment paper out from under the pizza. repeat with second pizza.

Let both pizzas cool for about five minutes + serve.

 

Southwestern Grilled Chicken

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This chicken recipe has been in my summer repertoire for years. Tweaked from the original that was handed down from somewhere, it is universally loved. Easy but not ordinary, try this recipe on your grill before the summer fades.

2 medium tomatoes, quartered

2 cups chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

4 garlic cloves

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, packed

2/3 cup soy sauce

6 T olive oil

2 T fresh lime juice

1 1/2 t black pepper

10 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless (I get organic from Costco)

fresh cilantro, limes wedges for garnish

Place all ingredients except chicken in food processor. Process for about 30 seconds. Reserve about a cup of marinade. Place chicken and remaining marinade in container and refrigerate overnight, or at least 4 hours.

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Remove chicken from the marinade and grill over medium heat, basting and turning, until cooked through. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro or parsley. Serve with reserved marinade, tortillas, black beans, corn or other Southwestern-inspired ingredients. Also delicious the next day or at room temperature for picnics and the beach. Enjoy!

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Creamy Spaghetti Squash

 

Spaghetti-Squash

It was after having lunch with some former colleagues at Baco Mercat in downtown L.A., that I first had this dish. It was so delicious I became obsessed with recreating it at home. I tried to analyze what the ingredients were based on the description in their menu and then improvised by adding other things I thought would taste good.

My recipe is a three step process of making creamed corn and roasting a spaghetti squash then combining the two with a little cream and butter. This is a luxurious side dish or a substantial vegetarian entree.
Creamy Spaghetti Squash
Step 1

Creamed Corn
Adapted from a recipe from Alton Brown

Servings:  3 cups

Ingredients

1/2 onion, diced
1 diced jalapeño pepper
3 slices of bacon crumbled
1 tablespoon butter
2 pinches kosher salt
8 ears fresh corn
1 sprig fresh rosemary bruised
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh ground black pepper
Directions

In a saucepan over medium heat, sweat the onion and Jalapeno pepper in butter and salt until translucent.  Cook bacon and crumble and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, place a paper bowl in the middle of the bowl. Resting the cob on the bowl in a vertical position remove only the tops of the kernel with a knife, using long smooth downward strokes and rotating the cob as you go. After the cob has been stripped, use the dull backside of your knife to scrape any remaining pulp and milk off the cob.

Add the corn and pulp mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium high until the juice from the corn has tightened. Add the rosemary. Sprinkle the corn with the sugar and turmeric. Stir constantly for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the cornmeal onto the corn, using a whisk to combine well. Add the heavy cream and cook until the corn has softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add crumbled bacon.  Remove the rosemary. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Step Two

Roasted Spaghetti Squash

1 Medium Spaghetti Squash

Take a fork and poke holes in several places on the squash and place on a roasring pan in a 375 degree oven and bake for 1 hour until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork or knife and it easily comes out.

When the squash is done, cut off both ends and split it in half and scoop out the seeds. Then take a fork and rake it lengthwise across the flesh. It will shred into spaghetti like strands. Put them in a bowl. Add two tablespoons of butter and mix thoroughly.

Step Three

Combine the Creamed Corn and Spaghetti Squash and add enough Cream to make the mixture silky and luxurious. Top with a mixture of browned Hazelnuts and Bread Crumbs and shards of Parmesan Cheese.