Category Archives: Food

LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES AND FRUIT SAUCE

Our local farmers market is moving into high season. The market is just a couple of paths in a high school parking lot lined with a couple of dozen or so stalls. It is modest compared with the vibrant green market in New York City’s Union Square or the wondrous carnival at the Ferry Building in San Francisco; it pales next to the huge market in nearby Torrance. But visiting the various stalls and merchants has become a Sunday ritual for our family.  By this time of season, green peas are gone, and asparagus is just hanging on as the weather gets warmer. Sweet cherries have given their last gasp. Plump ears of corn are on limited display. Tomatoes have made a tentative appearance; it’s still too early for the big, juicy specimens of late summer. Right now, the stars of the market are berries of all sorts and stone fruit of every variety.

This last week, the family met at the market in search of ingredients for our Sunday meal – all, that is, except the recent high school graduate who has taken to sleeping late and enjoying the days of summer before she heads off to college. The plan was for her mother to find some fruit for a fruit sauce so that on our return the graduate would arise and prepare pancakes for all of the exhausted shoppers. That plan served a secondary purpose: a crash course in basic cooking skills before the fledging leaves the nest. Everything worked as planned, and we enjoyed a delicious late breakfast. In fact, I liked them so much that I made my own batch a few days later and topped the pancakes with maple syrup that Peter and René had brought to us a gift from their recent trip to Montreal.

RECIPES

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • juice of 1 lemon, strained + zest from the lemon

Method

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Separate the eggs and set aside the whites.
  3. In a larger bowl, beat together the egg yolks, ricotta, buttermilk, butter, lemon juice, and zest.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquids, making sure they are well combined but taking care not to over-beat
  5. Whip the reserved egg whites to form stiff peaks. Then by thirds, gently fold them into the batter mixture.
  6. Let the batter rest for about 15 minutes while you heat a griddle over medium heat.
  7. Pour ½ cup of batter onto the griddle for individual pancakes. Do not crowd, and work in batches. Turn the pancakes when bubbles have formed on the surface and the edges are golden brown. When both sides are browned to your liking, serve immediately or transfer to a warm oven until all the pancakes have been prepared.

Fruit Sauce

Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (strawberries would also work)
  • Or, you can make it 2 cups of your favorite fruit

Method

  1. In a small sauce pan combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the corn starch is completely dispersed. Place the pan over medium-low heat and, stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Add the fruit and cook until the mixture has thickened and the fruit has begun to release its juices, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat and serve over the ricotta pancakes.

 

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SHAMELESS COMMERCE

Our family has heard some exciting news from the Bay Area. Sarah and Evan have been working on a cookbook for well over a year. The process has included selecting recipes, testing them exhaustively, food styling sessions and long photo shoots along with extended conferences with editors. The book is due to be released on September 4. Amazon has it available for pre-order at $29.68. Of course, we have not seen the finished product or even the galleys. But we have heard all about the challenges, delays, deadlines, and disagreements that all go into the crafting of a book. Both Sarah and Evan have learned that book writing is a lot different from cooking. For them it is not as much fun.

The book features some of the foods that come out of the kitchens at Rich Table and RT Rotisserie, but it also includes comfort foods and accompanying family stories from childhood. Proud dad that I am, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy,

Here’s a look at the cover:

 

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SUNDAY FAMILY DINNER

Since our move to Los Angeles, Sunday dinner with the family has become a tradition that we all enjoy and do all we can to avoid missing. The dinner was originally Carol’s suggestion, and her rules were very simple: We would rotate between our house and her house. The host was responsible for the main meal and the visitor was responsible for an appetizer with drinks along with dessert.  The rules were modified when, as is our wont in this competitive family, the appetizers grew ever-more complex and caloric. They were tasty, but it became clear that our bathroom scales could not sustain the weekly onslaught to our “diets”. Thus, the appetizers were downsized to crudités or nuts. Even with this revision, there is plenty to eat, and the food is always thoughtfully planned, cooked and anticipated. Every week, my grandson begins to ask around Tuesday or Wednesday what’s planned for Sunday. The pressure is definitely on.

Even though the food is always excellent, for me – and I think for others – the highlight of the evening is the conversation. Everyone brings us up to date on their activities and news of the past week. Then we review activities of the week ahead so that schedules don’t conflict and duties are assigned. What follows is a lively, free-ranging conversation in which everyone contributes. We steer clear of politics, not because of differences but because we’re mostly politicked-out by the weekend. New movies and music are popular topics, especially with the teenagers. Current events and community activities are also included in the discussions. This last Sunday was a little melancholy. We were still enjoying the excitement of high school graduation and the anticipation of the next chapter in a young life. But the euphoria was tempered by the realization that our granddaughter would not be part of the conversation in a couple of months. She would be clear across the country, engaged with new challenges and new friends. Perhaps that made the conversation this last Sunday even livelier than usual. Still, we’ll have the rest of the summer to enjoy our granddaughter before she is off.

Carol made a delicious meal: roasted pork, glazed carrots from a recipe by Ina Garten, a savory rice pilaf, and a salad that included watercress, fresh cherries, and strawberries all from the farmers market that morning. It was my turn for dessert. Cherries are just about finished for the season, so I thought of Black Forest cake, but some of the family doesn’t like cake. Stone fruits are just beginning to reach their peak at the farmers market; there were apricots, peaches, many varieties of plums, pluots, and nectarines – no lack of choices for a juicy pie. Everyone likes pie, so the basic choice was made. Looking for ideas, I turned to the beautiful cookbook, Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, written by the two sisters, Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, who left successful New York City careers to start their famous pie shop in Brooklyn, now with at least three outlets in the city. The sisters hail from Hecla, South Dakota (population 227) just down the road from Frederick (population 199) where my mother grew up. That makes their terrific pie recipes (and images) more neighborly and not so “big city”. I chose their version of nectarine and blueberry pie. I found both the nectarines and blueberries at one of our family’s favorite stands at the farmers market. I made a few changes in the recipe (of course) but this is essentially the recipe from Emily and Melissa.

RECIPE

Nectarine and Blueberry Pie

Ingredients

  • 3 cups sliced nectarines (about 3-4 fruit)
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • juice from ½ lemon, strained
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • two rounds of pie pastry for a nine-inch pie (I used prepared pie crust from the frozen food section of the grocery store)
  • 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water and pinch of salt for egg wash
  • turbinado sugar

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and bitters. Mix gently and set aside while you prepare the pie crust.
  2. Roll the pastry dough if necessary to fill a 9-inch pie pan. Arrange one of the rounds in the pan and chill for 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Then add the fruit mixture to the chilled pie shell.
  3. Top the filling with the remaining pastry round or you may cut the round into strips to make a lattice top. Crimp the edges of the pie and, if you are using the whole round, cut several vents near the center.
  4. Using a pastry brush,, paint the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes
  5. In the meantime, arrange the racks in the oven so that one is at the lowest level and one is in the middle of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack and preheat the oven to 425°F.
  6. Place the pie in the middle of the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 375°F, transfer the pie and the baking sheet to the middle rack, and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  7. When the pie is golden brown, remove from the oven, transfer the baked pie to a cooking rack, and cool completely.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature. Add a scoop of ice cream if you wish.

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DILLED FAVA BEANS IN SOUR CREAM

Things just seem to come together at the farmers market. Vegetables and fruits that complement one another seem to ripen together. Maybe not, but there are combinations that work, like strawberries and rhubarb or squash and corn. Another great combination is dill and favas. They both peak in the spring and trail off in the summer. A while back at my favorite market stall I found some beautiful fronds of dill tied up in bundles along with a big bin of favas ready to be scooped up. I was mindful of the effort that lay ahead of me, but the  earthy taste of fresh green favas compensates for the work involved to prepare them. Although favas can be used in many ways once they are shelled, a simple preparation highlights their flavor. Nothing could be easier than this way to serve fava beans.

RECIPE

Dilled Fava Beans in Sour Cream

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds (about) unshelled fresh fava beans
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill fronds
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Shell the beans by pressing the seam of the pod between your fingers and popping the beans into a container.
  2. Blanch the beans by adding them to a large pot of boiling salted water. Return to the boil after adding the beans and boil for one minute. Drain and chill immediately in ice water.
  3. With your thumbnail, pop the thick bean coating open and squeeze out the bean to a waiting container.
  4. When you have finished shelling all of the beans, combine them with chopped dill, sour cream and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

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BANANAS FOSTER CREAM PIE

Family Sunday dinner was off this week because Carol, her husband, and their daughter had an important school event. Susan and I spent the evening with our grandson, so I decided to fix one of his favorite meals, shrimp and grits. That Southern classic clearly needed a traditional Southern dessert to go with it. I thought about banana pudding ringed with vanilla wafers. What Southern cafeteria or Southern school lunchroom doesn’t have their own version? That led me to cream pie – in particular, banana cream pie – and as I was free-associating, bananas Foster. I know that shrimp and grits is very much part of the Low Country of South Carolina and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina while bananas Foster is quintessential New Orleans and Brennan’s. Cream pie is more or less middle ground and definitely Southern, but traditional banana cream pie dressed up a bit with the flavors of bananas Foster might be tasty. This is my spin.

The topping is Swiss meringue, but you could top it with whipped cream. You could even set it ablaze with some added heated brandy like a baked Alaska. Then you would wind up with an even more authentic bananas Foster.

RECIPE

Bananas Foster Cream Pie

Filling

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons banana liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 9-inch baked pie shell in a pie pan
  • 2 bananas

Method

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to combine evenly. Gradually whisk in milk to form a smooth mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks until they are completely incorporated.
  2. Place the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir for several minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cinnamon, banana liqueur and rum.
  4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the bananas.
  5. Peel the bananas and cut into ¼-inch slices, spreading the slices across the bottom of the baked pie shell.
  6. Pour the cooled filling over the banana slices. Chill the pie while you prepare meringue.

Meringue

Ingredients

  • 5 egg whites
  • 8 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a bowl that can be set over – not in – a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath and beat with an electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  2. Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Spread the meringue over the pie being careful to completely cover the filling.
  3. Place the pie with topping under a preheated broiler for only a moment or two until the meringue is lightly browned. At this point it is very easy to burn unless you are paying constant attention.
  4. Remove the pie from under the broiler. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

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FEIJOADA

This is not the real thing, so Brazilians who might be reading this should not comment that it is missing an ingredient that made their mother’s version the best that ever was or that the recipe has an ingredient that makes the dish NOT feijoada.  Traditional recipes often call for unpeeled pork tongue, snouts, ears, and tail. This recipe has none of those.  The two essentials are black beans and meat. This recipe has both. If you serve this dish, you should be aware that the only thing you will want to do after the meal is to take a nap. Be warned. Feijoada is usually described as the national dish of Brazil. The first time I ever had it was over 40 years ago. One of several international colleagues served it at his home as part of sharing among us at the end of long work weeks. Over time we enjoyed cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Greece, Australia, Turkey, India, and Pakistan – and of course, the United States –  so it was an excellent culinary world tour.

I have been thinking of making feijoada for our Sunday family meal for some time, but it seemed like a lot of effort. Now, the inspiration is the coming together of a number of things. First, Sarah has engaged a lovely young woman from Brazil to help with the children so that Sarah can focus more on the restaurants and on a cookbook that will be published soon. Second, Bia, the young woman, brought a gift with her, The Brazilian Kitchen by Leticia Moreinos Schwarz (Kyle Books). Finally, I was up for cooking Sunday dinner.

The cookbook is so beautiful that I bought my own copy. The author is from Brazil but an American culinary school graduate and professional chef. Her recipes are simplified and often modernized versions of traditional dishes. Instructions are clear, and the images are mouth-watering. Like me, you may have a hard time finding Brazilian ingredients in your local grocery store. Of course, these days you can order them online. The most basic and hardest-to-find ingredients are sweet and sour manioc starch and manioc flour. To add to the confusion, in the USA sweet manioc starch is often called tapioca flour. You can substitute one for another, but then – as I found out – the results won’t be the same.

To go with the feijoada I made hearts of palm salad and pão de queijo, a delicious Brazilian cheese bread that we first enjoyed in an eclectic restaurant in Redondo Beach. This is where I ran into trouble. Schwarz’s recipe for the bread called for both sweet and sour manioc starch. All I could find at the store was tapioca flour. The resulting batter was so sticky it stuck to everything and was impossible to shape into balls, but after some extended time in the refrigerator before baking, the results were still excellent.

Here’s the recipe for my version of feijoada. Many recipes call for carne seca, akin to jerky but not so tough. As a substitute, I used fresh beef seasoned with dry meat rub and dried in a warm oven for several hours. I also used the slightly spicy Portuguese sausage, linguiça. As an aside, many beans contain phytohemaglutinin which can cause nausea, vomiting, and even blood problems. The toxin is inactivated by cooking at boiling temperatures. Red kidney beans are said to have the highest content, cannellini beans next, and others down the line. Black beans have lower levels.  It has been reported that very slow, low-temperature cooking, like sous vide or a slow cooker set on low, fails to raise temperatures sufficiently to inactivate the toxin, so if you are concerned, you should cook the beans in a pot at a good boil. In any event, be prepared for a hearty meal and the need for a long nap.

RECIPES

Feijoada

Ingredients

  • 1 pound black beans
  • 1 pound beef cut for stir-fry
  • dry meat rub (your favorite)
  • 4 slices smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • beef stock
  • 1 pound linguiça, cut into ¾-inch slices
  • 1 pound pork stew meat
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 cups cooked rice
  • parsley, chopped finely
  • 2 oranges, peeled and cut crosswise into ¼ inch rounds
  • farofa (recipe follows)
  • cooked collard greens

Method

  1. Soak the beans overnight with enough water to cover them at least two inches deep.
  2. Spread the pieces of beef in a single layer on a foil-lined baking pan, sprinkle with dry meat rub, and heat in warm (170°F) oven for at least 8 hours to dry out, turning occasionally.
  3. In a large, heavy bottomed pot, cook the bacon pieces over medium-low heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon has started to crisp. Stir in the onion and cover the pot for 5 minutes to sweat the onions. Add the celery, bay leaves, and garlic. Then add the beans with their soaking liquid, and enough beef stock to cover the beans. Bring to a low boil and cook until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Add additional beef stock as needed.
  4. Add the dried beef, linguiça, and pork. Continue to simmer until the meats are cooked through, about one hour. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange a mound of hot, cooked rice in the middle of a large serving bowl or platter and top with parsley. Surround the rice with the feijoada. Arrange sliced oranges around the feijoada. Serve immediately. Pass the farofa separately, to be sprinkled on top of the feijoada if desired. Serve with collard greens that have been braised, covered, with additional bacon and water for 30 minutes or until the collards are wilted and cooked through. Drain excess water from the collards.

Farofa

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Stir in 1 cup of tapioca flour. Stirring frequently to avoid burning, cook the mixture until the flour turns a golden brown. Remove from the heat. Serve with a spoon so that it can be sprinkled over the feijoada.

 

 

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EIGHTY HAS ITS PERKS

After the train ride from hell, we joined all of our family in San Francisco. It was several days of celebration: a couple of kids’ birthdays, one family had their Seder while others dyed Easter eggs. Little did I know of the celebration of celebrations. I was instructed to be sure to wear the sport coat that Susan had insisted on packing. All of the family showed up, the children prepared for a day of play and the adults dressed up – unusual for a family gathering. The mystery deepened when a long white limousine pulled up in front of the house. The kids were left behind with the oldest teenager and a sitter in charge. The adults piled into the limo and headed through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was told we were celebrating my upcoming birthday, but nothing more. The conversation turned to family activities and reminiscences as we maneuvered the weekend traffic in Marin and San Rafael out onto the green expanses of the Delta farms and marshes. It became evident that we were heading to Napa when the flatlands gave way to rolling hills and rows of close-trimmed grapevines.

Enjoying the ride

Finally, we pulled up to a gray stone building that was immediately recognizable as The French Laundry, the legendary restaurant that all of the family knew had been on my must-do list for many years. This was their surprise to commemorate my eightieth birthday.

Arrival

We were greeted by a young man who had known Sarah and Evan since their days in New York where he had worked at Per Se. He and a young woman dressed in black led us on a brief tour of the gleaming kitchen filled with at least two dozen cooks in whites, each stationed at a specialized work space creating one or another beautiful dish. The woman in black then led us through the chilly wine cellar of 13,000 bottles into an elegant room that would be our home for the next four hours of eating. She pushed back a glass door and next a louvered screen to open the room to the outdoors and a beautiful garden scene. Then the performance began. The first act was a ritual sabrage performed by a tall man dressed in formal attire and carrying a shiny sword. With one whack of the sword, he lopped off the cork and bottle neck, losing nary a drop of champagne that he then poured into our waiting flutes after stabbing the sword into the lawn in front of us.

Then the food began.

The meal was filled with French Laundry classics. First were coronets: black-sesame-studded tuiles shaped into cones filled with crème fraiche and salmon tartare. Whimsical, beautiful, and tasty at the same time. Each coronet came in a little silver stand that was centered on the huge blue Limoges service plate. They outshone the accompanying “Ritz crackers”, tiny little cheesy biscuits, in visual drama but not necessarily in flavor. Both offerings were delicious.

Next came a small white bowl that nestled two perfect white asparagus tips and a dark disc of Perigord black truffle, Holland White Asparagus “Vichyssoise”. It was a little sad to see the composition disappear beneath a small lake of creamy soup, but the flavor made up for the visual loss.

Then came what is arguably the restaurant’s most famous dish: “Oysters and Pearls.”

Hen Egg Custard with ragout of Perigord truffles served in an egg shell with a laser-sharp rim and topped by a chive imprisoned between two impossibly thin, matched potato wafers

Éleveges Perigord Moulard Duck Foie Gras “Torchon” served with wine-poached sour apple, wild sorrel, and fennel “gastrique”

Sautéed Fillet of Mediterranean Turbot served with cream braised La Rotte potatoes, buttered brioche and black winter truffle emulsion. The fish and truffle emulsion were a perfect flavor combination.

Alaska King Crab “À La Plancha”  served with bantam hen egg “gnocchi”, winter radishes, garden celery and “Consommé Madrilène”. The fragrant, flavorful broth tied everything together.

“Bread and Butter” was a perfectly formed  rosette “Parker House Roll” with a center of roasted paprika and served with a  quenelle of Diane St Clair’s Animal Farm butter.

Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit satsuma “Suprêmes”, served with glazed garden turnips and arrowleaf spinach

Herb Roasted Elysian Fields Farm Lamb with pea shoot “Pakora”, slow-roasted Nantes carrots, and Spanish caper-brown butter jus

“Gougère” Andanta Dairy “Etude” and Australian black winter truffle “Fondue”.

Tropical Fruit Ambrosia young coconut puree, lime scented golden pineapple, Matcha “Genoise” and Cherimoya sherbet

“Gâteau Pear and Caramel” caramel mouse with pear compote and “Pain de Gênes”

“Mignardises” – handcrafted chocolates and truffles of many flavors and beautiful coatings

To be sure, it was a most amazing meal. But the best part was to be surrounded by family and to share remembrances and stories that had already been retold many times and to laugh with one another. It was a wonderful way to mark eighty years of being on this earth, and this post is one way for me to thank all of my children and their loving spouses.

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