Our six-months probationary period is up, and I think we now qualify as Angelinos. We drive, relatively terror-free, on the 405 and think nothing of an hour+ cross-town odyssey for a 15 minute appointment. The very best part of our transplant has been getting more involved with our children and their families. As part of that, the Sunday dinner has become a firmly entrenched tradition that we all anticipate each week.
I have written a number of times about our family dinner. The guidelines are fairly straightforward: the venue alternates between our home and Carol’s family home; whoever hosts is responsible for the main dish and sides; the other is responsible for appetizer and dessert; both bring a bottle of wine that is interesting; cleanup is sort of a joint effort except that the home team winds up finishing the dishes. These guidelines have remained intact except that the appetizer has been dropped from the menu. That is because even without it, there is a lot of food. Everyone is on a diet, and I have gained 10 pounds since moving to Los Angeles. Of course, this dish is not responsible for all of my weight gain, but it certainly helped push us to dropping the appetizer rule.
The recipe is an adaptation of one from Melissa Clark of New York Times fame by way of Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift in their cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends. If you choose to make it, I guarantee that there will be gasps of amazement when you bring the finished torte to the table. Then there will be complete quiet as folks sit around wolfing down the whole thing. At the same time, it is easier to make than you might think. I know that Carol saves it for special occasions. You might want to do that, too.
Four-Cheese-Stuffed Phyllo Torte
- 2 cups feta cheese, drained, dried, and crumbled
- 1½ cups cottage cheese, drained
- 1½ cups Asiago cheese
- 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 2/3 cup chopped fresh dill fronds
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- juice of ½ lemon
- zest from ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- salt to taste
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed according to instructions on the carton
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
- In a large bowl, prepare the filling by combining the four cheeses, onion, dill, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. Stir in the eggs, and set aside.
- Unfold the stack of phyllo leaves on a work surface covered with plastic wrap. Cover the stack with another layer of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Keep unused sheets of dough from drying out while you work with individual sheets.
- Brush the inside of a 12-inch Bundt pan with some of the melted butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo across the pan, pushing it down against the sides of the pan and breaking a hole around the center tube of the pan. Repeat in a crisscross fashion with additional sheets of phyllo until the inside of the pan is completely covered with many layers of the dough.
- Fill the lined Bundt pan with the cheese filling, folding the free ends of the phyllo sheets over the filling and pressing it together gently. With a sharp knife, pierce the assembled torte all the way through to the bottom of the pan in many places – 2 or 3 dozen. Pour the remaining melted butter over the torte.
- Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 75 minutes or until the torte is browned and puffy.
- Cool in the pan for 1 to 2 hours.
- When ready to serve, unmold the tart by flipping it onto an inverted plate. Remove the baking pan, garnish the torte as you please, and serve. Pass honey to be drizzled over individual slices as desired.
Four-Cheese-Stuffed Phyllo Torte
It was Carol’s turn to create the main menu for our weekly family dinner. (Soon I hope to share some of her recipes.) She always comes up with an array of interesting dishes that go well together. Did I mention she is a good cook IMHO? This past Sunday she made some delicious toasted walnuts with rosemary, sea salt, and brown sugar for the happy hour. The walnuts were impossible to resist. Then she served a salad of tomatoes, shaved fennel and green beans, all from the farmers market. The main dish was grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto. Corn on the cob and muffins made with zucchini from the farmers market rounded out the menu. As usual, my assignment was dessert.
This time of year it is so easy to build a meal with offerings from the farmers market, and I followed the theme. Peaches and other stone fruit are at the height of their season along with berries of all sorts. This past Saturday we went to the Torrance Market, one of the largest in the Los Angeles area, instead of our smaller local event. The choices available were astounding. One of the biggest stalls specializes in stone fruit, so I could choose yellow peaches, white peaches, yellow nectarines, white nectarines, pluots, plums, all with several varieties of each. Remembering a classic recipe from the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I went with white peaches that, from the samples available, were much sweeter than the yellow varieties. I had to go to the berry booth to find plump and fresh raspberries.
The recipe for pêches cardinal is deceptively simple: poach the peaches in a heavy syrup; make a sauce with the raspberries; cover the peaches with the sauce; serve. Of course, you can embellish the dish with ice cream, whipped cream, toasted nuts and/or whatever appeals to you. However, the devil is in the details, as they say. The peaches should be poached in a single layer with their skins intact. The raspberries should be forced through a sieve to form a puree without the seeds. If you don’t take that somewhat tedious step, the seeds will haunt you in the finished dish, even if you use a Vitamix to make the final sauce. And all of that is worth the effort, because the sauce becomes velvety. Warn your guests that the peaches still have their pits. Even though the preparation is easy, the result is both elegant and delicious.
Fresh white peaches
Peaches, skins on, poaching in vanilla-flavored syrup
Poached peaches ready to be chilled
The finished dish
Poached Peaches and Raspberry Sauce: Pêches Cardinal
- 6 cups water
- 2¼ cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 6 fresh, ripe, unblemished peaches
- 2 pints raspberries, 18 raspberries set aside for garnish
- ¾ cups sugar
- 6 mint sprigs for garnish
- sweetened whipped cream for garnish
- chopped toasted walnuts for garnish
- vanilla ice cream (optional)
- In a large saucepan that will hold the peaches in a single layer, combine the water, sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a simmer, stirring to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the peaches, and return to the simmer. Turning the peaches occasionally, simmer them for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool for 20 minutes. Drain the peaches on a rack, and peel while still warm. Arrange the peaches in a deep serving dish, and chill in the refrigerator.
- Force the raspberries through a sieve to remove the seeds. You should wind up with about 1 cup of raspberry puree. Combine the puree with sugar. Blend in a Vitamix or conventional blender on a high setting for 3 minutes. The mixture should thicken and turn a beautiful pink color. Chill.
- When both the peaches and raspberry sauce are well chilled, spoon the sauce over the peaches, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- When you are ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and garnish with the reserved raspberries, mint sprigs, whipped cream, and walnuts. Serve in bowls along with a scoop of ice cream, if desired.
There is an abundance of mangos around here lately. One of the local grocery stores has even used them as a come-on deal. They give you a “free” box of mangos (actually 9) if you spend a certain amount for other groceries. I like mangos as well as the next person, but figuring out what to do with nine becomes a challenge. I think the best way to enjoy them is fresh and with nothing added. That makes a perfect breakfast. Then there are mango ice cream and mango smoothies along with refreshing mango lassi. There are fruit salad and mango pie. Mango salsa is also popular and would fit in with our family Sunday dinner, but I thought it needed some additional ingredients.
Because it’s also the beginning of the season for fresh corn at the local farmers market, roasted corn would make a good second ingredient. Then, corn just seems to call out for beans and chiles. Since there are folks in our family averse to chiles, I used sweet peppers instead, but the kick of jalapeño would be an excellent addition. This salsa wound up being a side dish for this week’s family dinner of Southern fried chicken, fingerling potatoes, biscuits, and gravy. An odd combination, I know, but there were no complaints, and the plates were clean.
Roasted Corn-Black Bean-Mango Salsa
- 2 ears fresh corn, shucked and silk removed
- 14.5 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 each red, orange and yellow sweet snacking peppers, seeded and sliced crosswise into rings
- 2 ripe mangos, peeled, seeded, and diced
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (substitute parsley if you’re one of the many who don’t like cilantro)
- ½ medium red onion, diced (optional if you don’t like onion)
- juice of ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon chili powder (optional and to taste)
- salt and pepper
- 4 ounces cotija cheese (Substitute feta if you can’t find cotija)
- Place the ears of corn in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Turn frequently and lightly brown kernels on all sides of the ears of corn. When they are roasted to your liking, remove the ears of corn, cool, and in a large bowl, cut the kernels off the cobs with a sharp knife. Break the kernels apart with your fingers if necessary.
- Gently fold in the beans, peppers, mangos, cilantro, and onion.
- Stir in the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning with chili powder, salt, and pepper.
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Remove from the refrigerator, gently stir in crumbled cotija cheese, and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.
Our Sunday family dinner triggered by Sarah’s barley tabbouleh turned into a festive Mediterranean-influenced evening. Carol brought an elegant tray of vegetables and a delicious spread of butternut squash and tahini. She had used a recipe from the beautiful cookbook, Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2012).
I had thought about making pita bread, but instead I found some at the market. Home made will have to wait. The main attraction was a lamb and chick pea tagine. The purists will insist that it is not a real tagine: I browned the lamb; I used chicken stock; I used big chunks of onion so they could be picked out by the onion deniers; I braised it in the oven for hours; and I used a heavy pot instead of a classic tagine. In spite of all of that, the lamb was fork tender with Moroccan smells and tastes; served with couscous it was a big hit with everyone.
Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. Many of them are herbs and spices that you probably already have in your pantry. You can easily find the others at the grocery store. Or you can just leave out one or two. Probably nobody but one of the purists will notice.
Lamb and Chick Pea Tagine
- 1 cup dry chick peas
- 3 pounds lamb shoulder steaks, bone and heavy fat removed and cut in 1 inch cubes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¾ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
- zest and juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 large white onion, peeled and root trimmed but intact, cut into 8 wedges
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into obliques
- ½ cup dried apricots cut into 1 inch squares
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon corn starch stirred into 1 tablespoon water to make a slurry
- In a saucepan, cover the chick peas with at least 2 inches of extra water and let stand overnight. Drain and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the lamb, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, paprika, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, garlic powder, coriander, and salt. Mix until the lamb is completely coated. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate over night, stirring occasionally.
- In the morning, place the chick peas and marinated lamb in a heavy oven-proof pot. Add the chicken broth and bring to the boil over a medium-high flame. Stir in the garlic, ginger root, lemon juice and zest, tomato paste, and honey. Cover and transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 200°F. Braise for at least 6 hours, stirring occasionally.
- About 3 hours before you plan to serve the tagine, add the onion, carrots, and dried apricots.
- When you are ready to serve, correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer the meat and vegetables to a large serving platter. Place the cooking pot with the cooking liquid over a high flame and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch slurry and stir until thickened. Serve in a gravy boat alongside the tagine.
The first time I ever ate tabbouleh was nearly 50 years ago at a backyard potluck for our laboratory work group. The offerings included several varieties of potato salad, lots of baked beans, and delicious barbecued chicken. But the standout – and by far the most exotic – was some refreshing tabbouleh brought by our secretary who came from a large Lebanese family. I could have eaten the whole bowl, and I am sure that I made a pig of myself. Since then, our family has made tabbouleh many times, and often for potluck dinners. We keep a bag of bulgur in the refrigerator so that we can make tabbouleh whenever the craving hits. I have never thought of using anything but bulgur – until I tasted some tabbouleh from Sarah’s refrigerator during our recent visit. She had substituted barley, and it was delicious. I gave it a try for our latest Sunday family dinner. It wound up becoming the inspiration for a Mediterranean-themed evening. The downside of tabbouleh is that it involves a lot of chopping and dicing. The upside is that once the chopping and dicing are done, it only takes a few minutes to assemble. I like tabbouleh with a distinctly lemon taste, so I used the juice of 2 lemons. If that’s too much for you, cut back to one lemon.
- ½ cup pearled barley
- 2 cups salted water
- olive oil
- 2 large bunches parsley
- 1 bunch mint
- 3 large Roma tomatoes
- 2 small Persian cucumbers
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- juice of 2 lemons
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Stir the barley into boiling salted water and cook at a low boil for 45 minutes or until soft with a little crunch. Drain, rinse, and toss with olive oil to prevent the grains from sticking together. Set aside.
- Wash and shake dry the parsley. Trim the leaves of stems. You should have about 6 cups of unpacked parsley leaves. Chop finely or pulse several times with a Vita-Mix set on “3”. Set aside.
- Wash the mint and remove the leaves. You should have about 1 cup of unpacked mint leaves. Chop finely or pulse several times with a Vita-Mix set on “3”. Set aside.
- Blanch, peel, and seed the tomatoes. Cut into ¼ inch dice. Set aside.
- Dice the cucumbers into ¼ inch pieces. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked barley, chopped parsley, chopped mint, tomatoes, cucumbers and minced garlic. Stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour. Serve.
A dish of tabbouleh
A while back, I wrote about sweet cherry season and a request for cherries jubilee. I wound up making a cherry galette instead, with the promise that if there were cherries still around I would make cherries jubilee for the next Sunday family dinner. Cherries are still around at the market, so here’s cherries jubilee, flames and all. It is said that the dish was invented by the famous chef, Escoffier, for a dinner celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. That was in the era when flames at tableside were considered very fancy. Inventions of the time included Crepes Suzette and Baked (or Bombe) Alaska.
The next rush of flambéing was in the middle of the twentieth century with its epicenter in New York City and the restaurants favored by “cafe society”. Steak Diane made its appearance then, as did Bananas Foster (invented in New Orleans), After that, fashion moved on and the popularity of tableside service, especially with leaping flames, virtually disappeared. I am not certain, but I think there may be a resurgence of interest; at least in our family there has been a recurring request.
There are many recipes for cherries jubilee on the internet, and there are lots of variations: most call for fresh cherries, but you can make cherries jubilee with canned cherries, ready-made cherry pie filling or even cherry Jello. The best version that I could find, and the one that seemed most likely to be true to the original was that recorded by Ethan Becker in his revision of The Joy of Cooking. I used that recipe as a template with my own revisions. The result turned out to be a celebratory conclusion to our last family dinner. The good news is that no one was burned, and the smoke alarms did not go off. As an aside, to be fool-proof, you should heat the brandy before you try to light it, but be gentle with the heating to avoid burning yourself.
- 4 cups ripe sweet cherries
- ¼ cup Kirsch
- ¾ cup turbinado sugar
- juice of 1 lemon, strained
- ¼ cup brandy
- Wash and pit the cherries. In a large bowl, combine them with the Kirsch, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours, gently stirring occasionally.
- When you are ready to serve, transfer the Kirsch-soaked cherries to a chafing dish or large flat-bottomed pan along with the sugar and lemon juice. Over medium-low heat, heat the mixture until the cherries release their juices and the sugar is dissolved. Continue to simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened.
- In the meantime, heat the brandy in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not boil. Light the heated brandy by tilting the pan slightly over the flame or with a long match or fireplace lighter. Pour the flaming brandy over the cherries and allow the flames to extinguish themselves. After the flames have died down, stir the mixture gently.
- Serve immediately over individual bowls of vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.
Pitted cherries soaking in Kirsch
Cooking down the sauce before the flame
RT Rotisserie has been chugging along since its opening, refining the menu, adjusting staffing patterns, getting the delivery system worked out, and tinkering with other details related to opening a new restaurant. One issue that they have faced from the beginning is what to do with roasted chicken left at the end of the day. Planning supplies is one of the most difficult challenges that a restaurant, especially a new one, faces. Of course, you don’t want to run out while a customer is waiting for his or her order, and you don’t want to have so much leftover that it gets tossed out. If rotisserie chicken is your thing, the solution is to turn roasted chicken into chicken soup. Whole roasted chicken makes a delicious takeout, and roasted chicken on a Dutch crunch roll with a choice of sauces is what many customers are after. Unfortunately, chicken soup gets second billing. That’s too bad, because as far as I’m concerned, RT Rotisserie chicken soup should get star treatment. It is unlike any other chicken soup that I have ever eaten. It has a robust, earthy flavor, and it is filled with chicken and what I judge to be farro. As well, the broth is brimming with unusual vegetables and a blend of herbal flavors. It should be obvious that RT Rotisserie is not going to reveal their recipe, so I have tried to reconstruct the soup. Let me hasten to note that this is not the original version – and it is nowhere as good as the original. Still, it is a pretty good chicken soup in its own right. Since I don’t have a brass and enamel French Rotisol rotisserie in my kitchen, I had to do some substituting. I fried the chicken with barbecue dry rub and then finished it off in chicken stock. That gave the stock a roasted flavor that mimicked the real thing. You could use more or less farro, or you could substitute wheat berries or barley. There are lots of other substitutions that you can make the soup your own. As for me, I will have to be satisfied with my version until my next trip to San Francisco.
Fried chicken thighs
Baby bok choy
Black and white sesame
Black and white
RT Rotisserie-Style Chicken Soup with Farro
- 4 chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons salt
- dry poultry rub
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock
- 1 cup dried farro
- 3 baby bok choy
- 1 cup chopped mint leaves
- 1 cup chopped basil leaves
- 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 cup chopped parsley leaves
- 5 scallions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the chicken thighs in a sealable container, cover with buttermilk, and add salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally. Remove the chicken thighs from the buttermilk mixture, pat dry, and coat generously with dry poultry rub. Place in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Fry the chicken thighs over medium heat in a heavy pan with canola, turning occasionally until browned on both sides. In the mean time, bring the chicken stock to the boil in a heavy soup pot. Transfer the chicken thighs to the boiling liquid and cool at the simmer for 15 minutes or until the thighs are cooked through. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate to cool. Remove skin and bones from the thighs, cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Return the chicken stock to the boil. Stir in the farro and cook at the simmer for 20 minutes or until the grain is soft.
- Cut the bok choy in half crosswise then in fourths lengthwise. Add to the broth and return to the boil. Stir in the mint, basil. cilantro, parsley, scallions, and white and black sesame seeds. Return to the boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the bok choy is tender. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve while still hot.
- Undoubtedly you could skip the buttermilk brining, the dry rub, and the overnight drying, but I think that contributes to the rich flavor of the soup.
- Our family uses a dry poultry rub for barbecuing chicken. We have had the recipe for years, but there are many dry rubs commercially available, and probably your family has its own favorite.
- Farro is a grain that has been enjoyed in Italy for centuries. It has become increasingly popular in the United States, especially in restaurants. Farro usually refers to emmer wheat, a relative of our usual wheat, but it may also refer to other grains. You should be able to find it in a large, well-stocked grocery store, but if you can’t you can easily substitute wheat berries or pearled barley. For that matter, you could substitute rice or pasta. The amount is up to you.
- One way to tell when the soup is cooked is to look at the white sesame. It will tend to float on the surface until it is cooked. That’s a good sign that the soup is ready.