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This morning I woke up, got my favorite market basket, (it’s from Ghana via the At Home Store, and I just love it! It fits so much produce and has a great leather-bound handle)….

….and headed out the door to meet my dad. I got to the farmers market and began my stroll down the aisle, I like to see who has what before I make my purchases. I saw my dad at the other end of the park and so I wandered over.

On my way down the row of vendors I spotted something amazing, something I never expected to find at the farmers market in Iowa. I rushed to get my dad, uttered a single word to him and we both made a bee-line right back to the booth. On the table lie big, sweet, green artichokes! Yes, artichokes! In my excitement I asked “did you make these?!” (I couldn’t even create a coherent question, silly me.) Well, of course she didn’t make them but she did grow them and they are beautiful! My dad and I bought several and walked away.

After collecting a few more goodies–carrots, radishes, cilantro, and onions–I went back to the artichokes and snatched them all up, I just couldn’t resist. Who in their right mind could. On my car ride home, the smell of artichokes filled the air, so sweet and fresh.

It has been two hours now and my hands still smell of them. I plan to devour them tomorrow for lunch, steamed. Melted butter optional. Followed by a glass of water, it might sound odd but next time you have an artichoke follow it up with some water.

We recently had another great cooking class at the store. Our friend and great teacher, Steve Boss taught us how to make pizza dough and pizza sauce as well as tricks for getting the best results. We also played around with lots of different topping ideas.

Steve spreads his “little bit longer sauce” over a partially baked crust…

Steve squeezing roasted garlic on a pizza crust…

Here is a pizza margherita (minus the fresh basil) hot out of the oven! The crust was nice and crispy, slightly charred underneath.

Boss Style Pizza:

makes 6, 10″ crusts

1 c. semolina flour

1 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. farro flour

1/2 packet of yeast (3.5 grams)

a big pinch of salt

1 1/2 c. warm water, between 120-130*F

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the water and using your hands or a polish dough whisk mix the dough until it gathers into a ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 7-10 minutes.

Lightly oil a clean mixing bowl and place the ball of dough in it. Cover with a cloth at let it rise in a warm location for 1-2 hours.

When Steve is making pizza for a large group, he likes to pre bake the crusts. This is how he does it…

Divide the dough into six pieces and roll out on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Bake in a 450*F oven for 1-2 minutes, until the dough begins to rise. Let cool. If you are going to be using them the same day, set them aside in a stack leaving the parchement between each crust. If you aren’t going to use them the same day, wrap them really well so they are airtight, they can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for a few weeks.

Quick Sauce:

Lightly pulse a 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes. Add a little salt and a little sugar (if necessary.)

A Little Bit Longer Sauce:

Prepare the “Quick Sacue” and add:

1 Tbsp. salt packed capers, rinsed

dried oregano

dried thyme

fresh pepper

1/4 c. grated parmesan

4 cloves roasted garlic

Simmer on low for about an hour.

To assemble the pizza:

Place a pre-baked crust on a pizza peel and rub a touch of olive oil on it, spread a thin layer of sauce on it, add topping of choice and cheese. Bake on a pre-heated pizza stone in an oven set as high as it can go. As every oven is different, I would recommend checking it after 5 minutes. Check the bottom of the crust to make sure it has some nice dark spots. Remove with pizza peel. Slice and serve.

Topping ideas:

-fresh arugula (after baking)

-capers and olives

-roasted garlic and rosemary

-feta, olives, and artichoke hearts

-roasted red peppers

-fresh basil (after baking)

– just tomato sauce (pizza marinara)

After a week of cool and cloudy weather the sun finally came out this weekend which means that our asparagus patch took off! I went outside and harvested several pounds of tender spears.

Tonight for dinner I made myself a very simple and delicious meal. I took two sheets of feuille de brik (a Tunisian phyllo dough-like pastry) and brushed them each with a little melted butter and olive oil.  I selected several spears sliced them and sautéed them in a little water and butter.

I divided the asparagus amongst the two sheets, I then added some Prairie Breeze cheese (a local cheddar) to one and an egg to the other.

I folded them up and placed them in a hot frying pan. When they were almost finished I popped them in the oven under the broiler for a minute or so to get them extra crispy. I also made myself a very simple salad of feta cheese and sweet peppers.

Ever since I was little, I have wanted to be able to make candied violets that end up looking presentable; although I am not completely there, I am at least getting closer. My backyard is full of  violets so the other day I went outside with a little basket and collected some of the prettiest ones.

I made a simple syrup 2:1 sugar and water and added a little rose-water to it to enhance the flavor. I pounded some sugar in my mortar and pestle so it was “superfine” and then began to candy the violets. I dipped each flower in the syrup…

…carefully opened the blossom back up with a fine paintbrush, and sprinkled them with the superfine sugar – being careful to coat the front and back of the flowers. I placed the flowers on a sheet of waxed paper to dry. They have been drying for a day now and are still a little moist. I am hoping that when all is done, they won’t crumble.

I also am in the process of making a bunch of marzipan roses. Yesterday at the store I got some almond paste (which I prefer over marzipan because it is less sweet) and some natural food coloring, made from beets. I added the red coloring to the almond paste until it was the shade of pink I was going for. I took a small portion of the almond paste, rolled in to a log and covered the rest with plastic wrap so it wouldn’t dry out. I sliced off 6 small pieces and rolled them into little balls.

I then gently flattened them out with one end of the disc thinner than the other. I found the having a little bowl of water nearby to rinse my fingers every once in a while helped keep the “petals” from sticking to my fingers.

When all 6 petals were ready, I started rolling them together with the thinner end at the base of the blossom.

Overlay two petals and begin to roll them up, add a third petal and roll a little more, repeat until all the petals have been incorporated. (These pictures were taken in low light, I apologize for the poor quality but they should give you an idea of how to put the petals together.)

You can trim the end at an angle to help the flower sit upright.

Both types of flowers make great decorations, especially for cakes.

(Note: As long as the marzipan is stored in an air tight container you can make the flowers in advance. They are very simple to make but they do take quite a bit of time so plan ahead, maybe recruit some helpers if you need a lot.)

This afternoon I made some chocolate covered strawberries. I have dipped berries in chocolate before but I will admit, I have never actually tempered the chocolate. I figured it was time to do it right so I tempered it, since I don’t have a nice big marble slab I chose to use the “seeding” method. It is really very simple, you chop some chocolate (about 1 lb.)…

…bring it up to about 110*F in a double boiler mixing constantly at this point all the chunks should have melted. Let it cool to about 100*F and then add some more chocolate (about 4 oz.) which will bring the temperature down further still. When the chocolate reaches the desired temperature, in this case about 90*F  remove the solid chocolate.

Since I was using the chocolate for dipping, I placed the bowl of tempered chocolate in a bath of water that was a few degrees warmer in order to keep the chocolate liquid for dipping.

I dipped clean and DRY strawberries in the melted chocolate and set them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. When I had finished, I  put the tray of berries in the fridge to set up.


Tempering the chocolate resulted in a smoother finish and a crisper break when you bite through the chocolate. It only took a little more time but I think it is definitely worth it.

Morels

This morning, while taking a walk, I stumbled upon a morel–the first of the season. I plucked it from the side of the trail and took it home. It was pretty small, about 2 inches high but since it was an early one, it doesn’t matter since I know there are more to come.  I sliced it in half and fried it in a little butter and ate it with hot toast (my sister made me a bunch of bread this weekend) and some black pepper.

Such a perfect snack for this cold and hazy afternoon.

When I found out that I was going to a wedding in New York, I was very excited! (Of course for the beautiful couple, but also for the bakeries!) I decided to take a day or two to run around eating baked goods, this is exactly what I have done the passed two days.  I started out Thursday morning at Baked in Brooklyn. I met up with one of my friends who lives nearby, we shared a chocolate chip cookie, some banana bread, and a fig pinwheel. I think it is safe to say that the pinwheel was my favorite at that stop and one of my highlights from the day. The pinwheel had a flaky crust, but not too crumbly, and the fig filling had just a hint of orange in it. It was perfect for a morning treat, not too sweet.

Next on my stop was a cookbook store in Tribeca called Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks. I walked up to the window, peered in at all of the beautiful old books, and realized it was closed. I forgot to call to make sure she was open before I went. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go back in the afternoon, next time though I will definitely schedule that stop better. After  that, I walked a bit further to Once Upon a Tart in Soho for some lunch. I had a zucchini and tomato tart. I loved the way they arranged the slices, usually I place them with the cut side down, but they had them on end which allows the steam to escape (so I wasn’t soggy) with lots of veggies.

After lunch, I continued on to Francois Payard Bakery. Francois Payard is the author of one of my favorite, out of print, baking books from which I have made many things including lemon tarts, chocolate chestnut cake, and black and white sugar cookies. I walked in and stood in front of the case for several minutes gazing at my choices.

With the help of the server, I decided on a slice of an apricot pistachio tart. The base was a slightly sweet and flaky crust with a layer of pistachio mousse – that had wedges of fleshy apricot in it, and then a layer of apricot chiboust – pastry cream lightened with whipped cream or stiffly beaten egg whites (in this case I think the latter.)

Next on the list was Balthazar Bakery. I got a chocolate madeleine there and snacked on it on the way to the next stop. It was a nice treat but it didn’t blow me away.

At babycakes in the lower east side, I got a couple of cookies and was approaching the cash register when I impulsively ordered a tiny brownie. The brownie turned out to be my favorite at babycakes. It was moist and chocolaty with crispy edges. I really would have liked to get some more bite-size  brownies to take with me but I didn’t know how I would be able to eat them all.

I took a small break from walking and eating followed by dinner and yet another bakery, Billy’s in Chelsea. Having shared my first bakery experience of the day with a friend, I enjoyed sharing my last of the day as well. My friend got a chocolate chip cookie and I a slice of lemon pound cake. The lemon cake had a great texture, dense but still soft and super moist. All too often lemon cakes don’t taste like lemons but more like eggs. This one actually tasted and smelled like real lemons, so refreshing.

Egg decorating

Yesterday morning, my friends and I decorated eggs for No-Rouz (Persian New Year.) We decided to try coloring them with onion skins. We collected red and yellow skins and soaked them separately in some water, so they were soft enough to wrap around the eggs. We also used some basil leaves for designs.

We tightly wrapped the eggs in red and yellow onion skins and then in (new) nylons.

We put the egg bundles in a pot of boiling water with some purple cabbage (in hopes to add a little more color.) When they were cool enough, we got to unwrap them!

I look forward to playing with other vegetable for color, maybe beets would result in a brighter purple?

No-Rouz

I am visiting some friends in Colorado. Yesterday we celebrated No-Rouz, the Persian New Year. The exact time of No-Rouz changes yearly in accord with the exact time of the beginning of Spring (This year it was in the late afternoon.)  We began by preparing the “Haft Sin.” or “Seven S’s.” As you might guess from its name, Haft Sin includes seven items that begin with “s”, however it is not exclusive to these items.

Our Haft Sin setting included the traditional seven:

Sabhez- lentil sprouts, symbolizing rebirth

Samanu- a sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence

Senjed- dried oleaster fruit, symbolizing love

Sir- garlic, symbolizing medicine

Sib- apples, symbolizing health

Somaq- sumac berries, symbolizing the color of the sunrise

Serkeh- vinegar, symbolizing patience

Plus some more recent additions:

Sonbol- hyacinth flowers

Sekkeh- coins, symbolizing wealth

Sohun asali- Sesame honey cookies

Shirini nokhod chi- Chickpea flour cookies with cardamom

Haj Badoom- Crispy almond cookies

Nargili- Coconut cookies

Ayeneh- a mirror, symbolizing honesty

Sham’- lit candles, symbolizing happiness and enlightenment

Tokhm e Morgh- decorated eggs, symbolizing fertility

Mahi-goldfish, symbolizing life within life

A book of Hafez (a highly respected Iranian Poet), and or the Qur’an

We prepared the Haft Sin setting together, each adding a little bit of the different items. After the sun passed over the equator and we had a quiet celebration, exchanged gifts, and gathered at the table for a traditional No-Rouz dinner.

We had sabzi polo – rice pilaf cooked with lots of fresh herbs and saffron, kookoo – a frittata like dish that is heavy on the greens and light on the eggs, maast – yogurt with shallots (a different variety than what we are used to in the states), and a tray of olives, mint yogurt, and naan khoshkeh – a crispy flatbread (literally “dried bread”) from Isfahan, and fish.

Sabzi polo:

3 cups basmati rice
water
3 tablespoons salt
3 cups finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, young leeks, cilantro, dill, fenugreek)
3 spring garlic shoots*

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

1/4 tsp. saffron powder

Rinse rice thoroughly. Combine rice and boiling water (cover about 1″ above the rice) and soak for about 4 hours. Strain the rice. In a large pot, boil some water, add some salt and the rice, cook for about 5 or 6 minutes, or until the rice is tender but not to soft (you can 2 or 3 Tbsp. of yogurt to the water if you like). Strain.

In a large pot, place about 2 Tbsp. oil and 3 Tbsp. water add the spring garlic shoots, cut in half lengthwise and saute for a few minutes over medium heat. Layer rice and herbs on top of the garlic and cover with a clean cloth or paper towel and the lid. This prevents the excess steam from going back into the rice and making it mushy. Let cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes.

In a separate pot, melt 2 Tbsp. butter and stir in 1/4 tsp. saffron powder.

Stir a little of the cooked rice in with the saffron butter to use as a garnish. Mound the rice on a platter and decorate with saffron rice.

*For a potato version: replace garlic shoots with a potato or two, thinly sliced. Add a little salt and a touch of saffron while sauteeing.

A friend of mine lent me a couple of french cookbooks to browse through. My eye was caught by a recipe for butter cookies from Normandy in the French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Loomis.. I love french butter cookies, they aren’t too sweet and they melt in your mouth. I immediately got some butter out to soften, waited patiently, and made some dough.

The recipe has you roll the dough out and cut out cookies but I chose to form it into a log and slice them. I find there is less waste this way, plus its tidier in the kitchen. After the cookie dough had chilled, I took it out of the fridge, sliced it up, and popped the cookies into a hot oven.

The first batch I was a little cautious about overcooking so I baked them until they were just beginning to brown around the edges. I put the second tray in. While the second batch was baking, I snacked on one from the first. While it was tasty and cooked through, I decided that they were better off being a little darker and more flavorful. (The picture below is from the first batch that went in the oven, just to give you an idea of color.)

They are excellent with coffee, tea, and especially hot chocolate!