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My lovely aunt has given me the most wonderful gift – the gift of Persian style rice. I don’t think I’ll ever make it any other way.

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As you can see, the rice is really not the highlight of the rice. Does that make sense? It’s early. Directly from my South-African by location, Persian by marriage, Southern Californian by birth auntie. Didn’t I say I have a multicultural family?

Chelo

basmati or long-grain rice – about 3 cups
2 or 3 potatoes peeled and sliced about ¼ inch thick
Butter / oil
salt

Wash rice two or three times (fill the bowl of rice with water, gently move the rice around with your hand to release the starch and drain) and soak in water for 3-4 hours, then drain the water.  Pour water in a large non-stick pan until it is half-full and bring it to a boil. Add rice and a spoonful of salt and continue boiling until rice slightly softens.  Pour rice into a large strainer and wash it with slightly warm water.

Melt a few spoonfuls of butter and cooking oil into the pan.  Place the potato slices in the bottom of the pan and then add the rice taking care not to pack it too tightly.  The rice should be in a bit of a cone shape in the pot.  Add a couple knobs of butter to the top of the rice and then about a ¼ cup water.  Cover the pan and cook over low heat for about an hour.  A delicious crispy layer of rice and potato (called ta-dig) will form at the bottom of the pan.

 Now, instead of fighting over the ta-dig with my cousins, it’s all mine!  Bwah-ha-ha!

Thanks, MP.

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A Martha Moment

Oh, Martha. It’s just so easy, isn’t it?
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I’ve had this cookbook for EVER, and have only made a handful of dishes – really challenging things like pancakes and mashed potatoes. I’ve thumbed through it quite a few times, thought, and there’s one page in particular that’s caught my attention.

With a newly painted and organized kitchen, it was time. Bring it, Martha.

Martha Stewart’s Fancy-Pants Chicken Potpie slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Favorite Comfort Food

1 three-to-four pound chicken
4 cups Chicken Stock (or, ahem, water. Let the adaptations begin)
1 large yellow onion, split in half
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 rib celery, cut into thirds
1 cup plus 5 Tbsp flour
2-1/4 tsp salt
15 Tbsp butter
2 large egg yolks
9 ounces red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
12 pearl onions, peeled and cut lengthwise if large (or, ahem, one large white onion, cut into pearl onion sizes)
1 medium leek, white and light-green parts only, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and washed
2 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
6 ounces button mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp heavy cream

Whew. I mean, the ingredient list alone is enough to put a girl off of this recipe for a couple of years. I’m exhausted. Time to soldier on – don’t let her beat you!

I decided to make this recipe into a bunch of individual potpies instead of one big deal – that way I still have a bunch in the freezer to enjoy on those don’t-feel-like-cooking days. Much nicer than frozen pizza.

First, combine the chicken, stock, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, 3 thyme sprigs and celery in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for one hour.

While that’s cooking, you can prepare the flaky, wonderful, thyme-specked crust. Combine 1 cup flour, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 Tbsp thyme leaves in a food processor. Add 10 Tbsp chilled butter cut into small pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. While the processor is running, add 3 Tbsp ice water and 1 egg yolk and process until the dough holds together. Turn onto plastic wrap, flatten into a circle and wrap up = refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Drain the chicken and reserve the stock. Remove the skin and pick the chicken clean. Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Strain the stock and set aside 2 cups. Put the rest in the freezer so that next time you take on a Martha recipe, you’ll have fancy homemade stock on hand.

Melt 5 Tbsp butter in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the potatoes and onions and cook until the potatoes begin to turn golden. Add the leeks, carrots and mushrooms, and cook 4-5 minutes more. Add 5 Tbsp flour and stir 1 minute. Stir in the 2 cups stock and milk and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken, parsley, 2 Tbsp thyme leaves, lemon zest, 2 tsp salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Transfer into either a large casserole dish or, if you’re like me, single-serving ramekins.

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Check out that crease – you can see straight through to the food-porny mashed potatoes recipe!

Heat your oven to 375°. Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick, then chill 15 minutes. Mix together the remaining egg yolk and heavy cream to make an egg wash. Working quickly, place the dough on top of the chicken mixture, and tuck extra dough around the edges. Cut slits on top to allow steam to escape. Brush the tops with egg wash, and place on a baking sheet. Bake 35-40 minutes until crust is golden.

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Aw, damn. These are decadent, and so cute! I immediately gave half of them away, just because I was so proud of these little beauties, and the rest are waiting for me in the freezer. I might have a little Martha in me after all.

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So, how’re things?  What’s that?  Where in the hell have I been?  Uh…

Well, it began with THE LAWN. I’m pleased to report that, aside from a little edging and compost-adding, the garden has grown. As soon as it’s pretty enough to post, it’ll be here in all its glory. My seedlings are still doing really well (thanks, Ikea!), so I can’t wait to put them in the ground now that things have warmed up around here.

Then the project-monster expanded his reach. He crept inside the house, approached the kitchen, and knew he’d found his prey. In reality, Chris gave me the lovely Valentine’s Day present of re-vamping my kitchen – new paint, new grout, new shelves, new butcher block table, new everything. I was tickled pink at the idea and so pleased to see the results, but in between I got a little cranky and impatient. It’s tough to take a girl out of her favorite room for a week and a half!

Anyway, it’s almost all done and beautifully shiny and bright. I’ll be making up for lost time in the days to come!

Before the turmoil, I had been reading Julia Child’s My Life In France, inspired by a book club on The Kitchn. Although I don’t have half the patience or ambition of this amazing woman, I was inspired to get a little French up in this biz.  Enter the soufflé.

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Dude!  Souffles aren’t that hard – I had no idea! 

Provencal Goat Cheese and Herb Soufflé (adapted from Epicurious)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 cup crumbled chilled soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet)
1/2 cup (packed) grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 ounces)
8 large egg whites

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Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Generously butter one 10-cup soufflé dish or six 1 1/4-cup soufflé dishes (I used six individual soufflé cups and had overflow, so I filled the above dish also.  This makes a lot – invite friends)!  Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and minced garlic. Cook without browning until mixture begins to bubble, whisking constantly, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in whole milk, then white wine. Cook until smooth, thick and beginning to boil, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix egg yolks and salt in small bowl. Add egg yolk mixture all at once to sauce; whisk quickly to blend. Mix in 1 tablespoon basil, 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 teaspoon rosemary. Fold in cold goat cheese and Gruyère cheese (cheeses do not need to melt).

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm souffl
 base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites. Transfer soufflé mixture to prepared dish. Sprinkle with ground black pepper.

Place soufflé in oven; reduce heat to 375°F. Bake soufflé until puffed, golden and gently set in center, about 35 minutes for large soufflé (or 25 minutes for small soufflés). Using oven mitts, transfer soufflé to platter and serve immediately.  And they mean immediately.  I snapped some pictures before the sagging happened, and it happened so quickly! 

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Oh yeah – a rimmed baking sheet is helpful.  Forgot to mention that.  Add some nasturtium-studded salad, and you’ve got a beautiful meal that even Julia would be proud to serve – Bon Appetit!

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Unbound

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Most of my meals fall into one of two categories.  First, there are the  straight from the cookbook recipes.  I’ll make a few tweaks and substitutions here and there, but the frame is borrowed from the book.  The other category is the plain boring food I make myself, sans recipe (see: noodles, buttered).  Even when I’m in the mood to experiment, I will go to the web to find some similar recipes to flesh out some general guidelines.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Every once in a while though, I’ll step outside of my comfort zone and develop something totally on my own.  I’m not going to lie – sometimes it’s frightful, but today things came out well.  I’ve dirtied a few dishes with this one, but I found it worth the extra washing.  Try it out…

Caramelized Onions and Brussels Sprouts over Lentils and Brown Rice

Geez.  That’s a long title.  How about this instead…

Tasty Town, USA

1 lb brussels sprouts, halved or quartered, depending on size
olive oil
salt

1 large onion, sliced
3 cups water
a heaping 1/2 cup lentils (I used a green/yellow mix from Trader Joe’s)
a heaping 1/2 cup long-grain brown rice
salt and pepper

First, toss the sprouts with olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and roast them at 425° for about 15 minutes or until golden and softened.  I’ve tried all ways of eating these, and I can’t get away from the roast.  So delicious.  If you want to save a dish, you can try cooking them along with the onions (below).

Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, cover and cook until softened, stirring occasionally.  Remove the cover, increase the heat, and continue to cook until the onions are a deep yellow, stirring more frequently.

Boil the water in a medium saucepan.  Add the lentils and cook about 20 minutes, until almost tender.  Add the rice, salt and pepper.  Check the water – you may have to add a little more.  Cover and set a timer for 5 minutes later so you can check the water level.  You’ll cook this mixture 15 minutes or so, until the rice is done and the water is absorbed, so keep setting the timer and peeking in.

Pile the rice and lentil mixture into a serving dish and top with the lovely golden veggies.  Those of you who shy away from brussels sprouts because of bitterness have no reason to fear – they become almost sweet with this treatment.

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This dish is another that lends itself to tweaking – next time, I’ll probably add some Indian spices, jazz it up with some red pepper flakes, or try a different grain.   How will you make it?

Special thanks to Vivian for the salt and pepper hugs…

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Beanoa

Man, was I pleased with myself over this title. Try saying it out loud – you might not be able to stop.

These days, I work a few normal days and a few late days per week. On those days when I start work at noon, I have time to putz, patter and laze around the house and garden, and time to build myself a lovely lunch before heading off to the gym before work. Of course, when I get home at night it feels like midnight and I pass out cold, but it’s worth it.

Today’s healthful fresh veggie meal was a simple mixture of beans, greens and quinoa. The beans were Flor de Junio, the greens were turnip tops straight from the garden, and the quinoa was their perfect accompaniment.

I didn’t soak the beans the night before (see passing out cold, above), so I covered them with water and brough them to a boil. I then turned off the heat and let them sit, covered while I finished the rest of my prep. I sauteed a mirepoix of carrots, celery, onion and garlic in olive oil and steamed the quinoa with some salt, garlic and mixed Indian spices (I had a small tupperware that was begging to be used – a homemade ground blend of toasted cumin seed, cardamom seed, coriander seed from the garden, turmeric and pepper). Yeah. Smokiness and depth. Yum.

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When I had delayed as long as possible, I started the beans and added the veggies. They took a little longer than usual to cook because of the no-soak method, but it allowed me to stick around while my neighbor’s banana muffins came out of the oven – score! When the bean texture seemed just right, I pulled them off the heat, added some salt and a frozen chipotle pepper in adobo, and mixed the whole shebang together. After taking this pic, I had another idea and ran out to the garden and pulled a few turnips. A quick rinse and sautee later and this dish came together.

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Introducing…beanoa!

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I got some lovely presents for Christmas this year – the aforementioned cookbook, a beautiful necklace from my aunt and uncle, the movie Bubble Boy (I haven’t seen it yet, and my aunt thought that was unacceptable) – the list goes on. Chris gifted me with a lovely evening out – a cooking class at the new Cafe One Three in Hillcrest. It’s located in the former Indulgence Bakery space on Park Avenue, right next to Henry’s (where we stopped beforehand for a gummi worm fix – ha!). It’s a lovely little neighborhood place, and its layout with a large open kitchen lends itself to this kind of event. I had brought my camera, but due to the small group, I felt a little strange about taking pictures. I should have, because they’ve found a way to recreate that thing that makes us gather in the kitchen during a dinner party. We arrived to a beautifully set bar that overlooks the prep area. There’s something about nibbling and sipping while anticipating the dish that’s coming next, and this class was exactly that.  We were greeted with olive tapenade, pepper-rolled goat cheese, and a glass of well-matched wine.
The class, titled “Try It Healthy: Resolution Support”, was taught by Deborah Shubert. She’s a feisty broad, in the best sense of the term. She got right to it, and started preparing our first dish, a Chopped Vegetable Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette. From that lovely opener, we moved on to Grilled Lemon-Dijon Chicken Paillards and Indian Spiced Tomatoes and Greens, each accompanied by a carefully selected glass of wine and the most lovely garlic-studded crusty bread.
The staff (Deborah was flanked by the cafe’s manager and sous-chef) was lovely and very attentive – you can sense that they all are passionate about food, and just couldn’t help but participate and offer suggestions. It was fun to see them admiring one another’s skills – no trace of competition, just an honest shared passion.
We finished the meal with an interesting dessert, Roasted Grapes and Cherries topped with Greek-style Yogurt and Toasted Pistachios – I wouldn’t have picked this one off a menu, but after such a decadent evening, it hit the spot in such an interesting way. Speaking of decadence, I don’t know that this health-themed class was the best use of their talents as, like most chefs, they couldn’t help but throwing in a spoonful of butter here and there, or offering another swig of walnut oil to top your dessert. We didn’t mind – Chris chose the class purely because it was the first one offered this year, so we weren’t as interested in healthy options as we were in having a lovely evening out. Cafe One Three delivered.
Anyway, after all this blabbering – highly recommended, y’all. Great idea for a girl’s night out, a gift for a food-loving friend, or for a romantic evening. Everyone loves the kitchen.

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I’m a little obsessed with my two Chrismas cookbook treats – the first is one I bought myself – Dorie Greenspan’s Baking.  I need to put it away.  Seriously.  I’ve made far too many baked goods, and my pants are getting a little too tight for my tastes.  The title to this post also refers to my midsection at this point.  But damn, the chewy chunky blondies?  Yeah man.

My lovely and wonderful sister gifted me another beautiful one, the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.  It’s not the book you pick up when you’re looking for a quick and easy supper recipe, because many of the dishes are time and/or labor intensive.  It’s perfect for a special treat, though.  Everything sounds amazing, and it’s fun to leaf through, imagining.  I’ve made two dishes so far – their famous roasted chicken and a bean dish that was to die for.  The chicken was an amazing discovery, because using a few of their small tricks, you can turn out a deliciously tender and moist chicken.  It’s all about salting the chicken heavily and early, using a small bird and roasting it at a very high temperature.  I’ll never roast a chicken the same way again – it was delicious.

To go with the chicken, I took on another recipe from this book – Fagioli all’Uccelletto.  Y’all know my obsession with the beans, and the herb section of the garden has been thriving lately, so this was a natural choice.  You should start this a day early (just like the chicken), to cook the beans and let them sit overnight to become more tender and creamy.  I used Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stallard beans, and they plumped up to become the most creamy, delectable beans I’ve ever tasted.

Fagiolo all’Uccelletto

1/2 cup diced ripe red or gold tomato or chopped drained canned tomatoes
1/2 cup diced onions
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns – if you’re not interested in the occasional
spicy bite, you can grind them
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
a leafy sprig of fresh sage
a leafy branch of fresh thyme
a small sprig of fresh rosemary
a sprig of fresh flat-leaf parsley (sprig, sprig, sprig)
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1-2 ounces cleaned wild mushrooms, chopped
2 1/2 cups cooked beans with their cooking liquid, cooked a day or two in advance

Warm about half the olive oil in a 3-quart saute pan or a 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, stir and cook until translucent.  Add the peppercorns.  Smash up the herbs a bit to release their flavor, then toss in with the onions.  Stir in the garlic and mushrooms.  Raise the heat slightly, stir and cook until the onions at the edges of the pan are just “threatening to color” (don’t you love that phrase?).

Reduce the heat to low and add the rest of the olive oil and the beans, with most of their cooking liquid.  Add the tomatoes.  The beans should be just covered – add a little more liquid if they aren’t.  Bring to a bare simmer and cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste.

Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, uncovered.  If the beans seem shy on sauce, or if the sauce seems pasty, add more liquid.

About 10 minutes before serving, reheat the beans, stirring gently once or twice over low heat, being careful not to boil.  Take out the herb stems and remove any stubborn leaves into the sauce.

My neighbor brought over some rice, so we had it with the beans, but I had the leftovers the next night on their own, with some steamed veggies, and it was just as delicious.  Pleasingly, pleasantly plump. Thanks, Jen!

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