Archive for March, 2010

This is my last Dark Days post.  I think a few die hards might be going one more week but this will be it for me.  So, I wanted to go out with a bang.  On Saturday at the farmers market I picked up some gorgeous asparagus.

and I got some of these…chanterelles.

I decided to make a savory bread pudding.  There’s a few of these recipes floating around and all winter I had in my head that I’d make a butternut squash one.  That never happened, so this is the spring version.  Because I blew all my cash on those chanterelles, I wasn’t able to get my cheese at the farmers market.  So I stopped by the grocery store on the way home in search of local cheese.  They had an aged, nutty goat cheese from Cypress Grove, which is in Northern California.  I  thought would be lovely.  Except now, I just went to their site to get the name of the cheese, only to learn that this particular cheese is made in Europe for Cypress Grove.  Gahhhh.  If I had known that, I would have just gone for gruyere.  Oh well, it was just four ounces.

This all came together really easily.  Nothing here is too precise and I think it’s fairly hard to screw up.  Just stale bread, a custard batter, cheese, and vegetables.  Simple and hearty.

Asparagus and Mushroom Bread Pudding
Recipe inspired by Epicurious and 101 Cookbooks

1 1-pound loaf  bread, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces.  I used Acme’s pain au levain, an earthy sourdough type of bread.
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, leek, or spring onion, thinly sliced
6 large eggs
2 cups whole milk (I used one cup skim and one cup half and half because that’s what was in my fridge)
1-2 cups finely grated cheese, idealy gruyere or some aged, nutty cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper


 So warm and hearty and satisfying.  We drank a lovely Sonoma chardonnay with it.  Perfect early spring dinner. 

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I had an insane week, running around to meetings all over the place.  When Friday came, I just wanted some good food and a giant glass of wine.  There wasn’t much in the house, but I had a head of escarole crammed in the back of the fridge that I had forgotten I bought last weekend at the farmers market.   Still good!  My lucky day.  With a bit of pancetta and a couple of leeks on hand, I figured I could toss a quick pasta dish together.

I really think you can’t go wrong by just tossing a bunch of spring produce into a pot, and this dish proved to be no exception.  Yum.  Best of all, I could prep and cook the vegetables in the same amount of time it took to boil the water and cook the pasta.  After just 20 minutes, I was eating my yummy spring dinner and drinking my wine.  The bonus was lots of leftovers for easy weekend lunches. 

Pasta with Pancetta, Escarole, and Leeks

1 pound pasta (I used linguine)
1-2 heads of escarole (1 was fine, but next time I’ll do two because I like lots of greens in my pasta)
4 ounces finely diced pancetta
2 leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of dry white wine
olive oil
salt, pepper, and grated parmesan to serve

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.  Meanwhile, wash the escarole and chop into thin ribbons, and prepare the leeks and garlic.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and the pancetta.  Saute for a couple minutes and add the leeks, sauting for another 5 minutes or so until they start to get soft.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute or so.

Around this point, the water should be boiling, so add your pasta.

Add the wine to the leeks, scraping up any brown bits from the pancetta from the bottom of the pan.  Add the escarole, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Stir every three or four minutes or so. 

Just before you drain the pasta, take the lid off, add a half cup or so of the pasta water to the escarole, and continue to simmer.  Drain the pasta and add it to the escarole mixture, mixing well.  Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and serve with grated parmesan.  A glass of wine too – I went for St. Supery’s sauvignon blanc, perfect with the dish.


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The weather is warm and gorgeous and the dark days are definitely over in this part of the country, though the challenge continues for a few more weeks.  In solidarity with my brethren in colder climates, I made a warm, hearty wintery dinner this week.   Our meat CSA, Marin Sun Farms, delivered to us this beautiful top sirloin roast, so I went for pure comfort food.   At the farmers market, I came across spring shallots.  I’m not entirely sure what they are, though I guess they are just what shallots look like when they are still young.  The flavor is a little grassier and more oniony than a regular shallot.  I bought a bunch, along with some creminis to make a sauce for the beef to serve along with some mashed potatoes.

The beef I used here was a 1 and 1/2 pound sirloin roast.  I rubbed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and a bit of rosemary.  Then, I roasted it at 425 for 10 minutes, then at 300 for another 40 minutes or so.  I found timing the cooking a little tricky and I think I need a good meat cookbook, so if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!

When the meat came out of the oven, I tented it under some foil.  I chopped up the shallots and reserved the juice.  To make the sauce, I heated a pat of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan.  Added a couple cups of sliced mushrooms and sauted for a few minutes.  I then added the pan drippings and a half a cup of red wine, and the diced shallots.  I reduced it to a simmer for about 5 minutes.

For the potatoes, I used this recipe from epicurious, except I only had skim milk on hand.  Not a problem – the potatoes were still really rich, earthy, and delicious.  All and all, when paired with a glass of a Bordeaux blend from Sonoma – a delicious winter meal…at the beginning of spring.

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Boxty is an Irish potato pancake.  I’ve had them a couple times in Irish pubs and they rock.  Since I failed last year to create an authentically Irish St. Patrick’s Day offering, I wanted to do something delicious this year.  And what’s more Irish than potatoes?

The recipe is fairly straightforward.  The batter is a little sticky and tricky to work with, but I think they are kind of hard to screw up.  And, they were delicious.  

Recipe adapted from Epicurious and this blog, The Evening Heralt

1 9-ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups grated peeled russet potato (about one 9-ounce potato), squeezed dry in kitchen towel
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (about) buttermilk

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Once, when I first started cooking, I made a spinach pie recipe that involved a phyllo sheet crust.  That damn crust was the hardest thing ever.  Of course, I didn’t have a pastry brush back then, so I was smearing the butter on with a spoon and made a giant mess.  But for years and years after, I didn’t make anything with puff pastry because I thought it was the same thing as phyllo and I was never, ever going to repeat my phyllo experience.

At some point, I figured out that puff pastry are phyllo are night and day.  Puff pastry is one of the easiest things ever.  I have not gotten over my fear of phyllo, but I’m quite happy to have cured myself of the confusion.

This recipe is delicious.  It was super easy and a perfect appetizer with wine.  The original recipe called for feta, but I used parmesan.  My friend said how much he liked gorgonzola with carmelized mushrooms, so I think that would probably work well.   Really, it’s pretty flexible so I plan on playing around a bit with cheese and herbs in the future.  I also bet it would be nice with some ground walnuts in there.  I had some issues making them look pretty so I probably didn’t fold it right, so my next attempt may just be rolling it up like a pinwheel.

Carmelized Onion Palmiers
Recipe printed with permission from I Shot the Chef

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 to 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1 sheet of store bought puff pastry, thawed
2 tbsp cornmeal (I used flour)


Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring often until they just start to color.  Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking, stirring often until brown and caramelized.  This should take about 30-45 minutes.  Just keep an eye on them.  When they are carmelized and golden brown,add the garlic and stir around for one minute.   At this point, I added about a tablespoon of water so I could scrape up some of the carmelized bits at the bottom of the pan, but that’s optional. 

Remove from the heat and add the cheese and thyme and stir until the cheese melts.  

The original recipe recommended roughly chopping the onion in a food processor until it’s a little more fine but still chunky.  I didn’t find I needed to do this, maybe because I had sliced the onions in a food processor to begin with so they were pretty small.  Whatever you decide will probably be fine.   Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.  Let cool completely.

Sprinkle your clean surface with cornmeal (or flour).  Place the thawed puff pastry on the dusted surface and sprinkle the top with whatever you are using.  Roll the sheet of puff pastry into a rectangle, just slightly thinner than it was originally.  Be careful that it does not stick.  Spread the onion mixture on the puff pastry, leaving about 1 inch around the edges.

Start rolling one of the short edges towards the middle.  Then roll the opposite edge to meet up in the middle.  This will make a log shape.  Brush a little water in the center where the two rolled halves meet.  Turn the log onto its side and press down slightly so the halves stick together.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes to firm up.  This makes it much easier to cut. 

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Remove the log from the freezer and slice into 1/4 inch disks.  Place the cut side down on a parchment covered sheet pan.  If they are deformed, don’t panic.  Mine looked much better when they came out.

 Bake for about 20 minutes until the puff pastry is golden brown and cooked through.  Best served warm, but also good at room temperature.


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Last night was a late night.  We were out celebrating friends’ engagement and I woke up this morning starving.  Granola and yogurt didn’t really cut it, so when I was at the farmers’ market, I went a little crazy.  In my mad frenzy to find things to make the hunger go away, I grabbed some tortillas from Primavera and some raw milk cheddar from Spring Hill Farms.  Primavera makes these amazing white cheddar and pumpkin tamales, so I wanted to try to recreate that flavor.  And I knew from my chorizo and sweet potato tacos that their tortillas were delicious. I had  half a butternut squash in the fridge left over from the coleslaw, so my lunch was sounding pretty good in my head.  Some good looking avocados and citrus fruit were out, so those went into my backpack as well.

To make the quesadillas, I just roasted some 1 inch cubes of butternut squash, tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper, at 425 for about 25 minutes.  Mashed that up and spread it on a tortilla.  Topped it with some grated cheese and another tortilla and cooked it up in a skillet for a few minutes on each side.

For the salad, I diced an avocado and segmented a pink grapefruit and a blood orange.  Toss those up with a bit of salt and pepper, and lunch was ready.


When I was finally able to eat it, I was a happy, happy girl.


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This is a weird dish though.  Good, but weird.  The squash is raw.  I liked it, because it was fresh and crunchy, but it has a really unusual taste.  I found it tasted better the next day, after it had sat for a while and absorbed some of the dressing.  My husband wasn’t so much of a fan, as he claimed it had a raw squash taste.  That’s sort of the point, but I suppose if you don’t like the raw squash taste, then you probably won’t like this.

If you’ve got any butternut squash still stashed away from your garden or CSA, this would be a good dish to try.  It’s a great way to use up the squash in a lighter, more spring appropriate dish if you are sick of heavier soups and roasted vegetables.  IT’s also super easy and takes just minutes to prepare.

Butternut Squash Coleslaw with Honeyed Goat Cheese Dressing
Recipe by Tyler Florence

4 ounces fresh creamy goat cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium butternut squash
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I used golden raisins, though cranberries would probably be prettier.)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves

In a large mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, honey, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.  Whisk it up well until fully combined. 

Remove the top narrow portion of the butternut squash and peel, and reserve the bulb for another use.  Or just use an entire small squash.  The recipe recommends using a mandoline to cut it into long, fine matchsticks, but I don’t have a mandoline.  Into the food processor it went, using the grating blade.  Perfect.  And probably easier than the mandoline.  This should yield about 4 cups, though I probably had at least 6 and found the dressing enough to cover all that.  Fold it into the dressing and add the dried fruit, walnuts, and parsley.

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I love limoncello.  It’s one of my favorite adult beverages.  I haven’t tried to make my own yet, but it’s on my cooking bucket list.  Until then, I will just have to buy the bottles of stuff to drink straight or add to these cupcakes.

I think this recipe might have originated with Martha Stewart, though I might be mistaken.  In any event, there’s several iterations of it floating around the internet, though I followed the instructions from Brown Eyed Baker, who got hers from Tartelette.  Their recipes involved making a lemon curd and filling the cupcakes with that, but I wasn’t that ambitious.  I figured the cupcake and frosting was enough of a project for a Saturday afternoon. 

 I loved the frosting.  The cupcakes were good, though they were a little dense for my liking.  Despite the cupcakes’ flaws, they were a perfect base for the delicious frosting, which I wanted to eat with a spoon.  

I had visions of piping beautiful swirls of frosting onto the cupcakes, but after an epic battle with my pastry bag, I remembered that I don’t have any hand-eye coordination.  I wound up making a huge mess and had no lovely swirls. 

Thankfully, colored sugar sprinkles can really make non-artistic white blobs look quite sparkly and cute.   Woot!

Limoncello Cupcakes

Yield: 1 dozen


For the cupcakes
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons limoncello
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup lemon juice
Zest of one lemon

For the cream cheese limoncello frosting
2 ounces (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon limoncello
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the center. 

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.   Slowly add in the eggs one at a time, and beat well after each.    Add the limoncello and beat an additional minute. 

Reduce the speed to low, and slowly add in the flour and milk.  Alternate each, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Finally, add the lemon juice and zest and mix on low speed just until incorporated. 

Divide the batter between 12 muffin tins.  They should be filled almost to the top.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.

Cool them completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, fit the mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the limoncello and beat for an additional minute.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and beat until fully incorporated and smooth.

The lemon flavor in the cupcakes will be subtle, so I think next time I might double the lemon zest.  But, they are a lovely spring or summer dessert – particularly because the frosting is so creamy and tangy.  We had them for dessert after my friends’ amazing home cooked Indian feast, though I think they’d be great for just about any occassion.

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This week was unusually hectic and I’ve been feeling uninspired. I’m sure the Dark Days bloggers in more snowy areas are probably rolling their eyes at me right now, but the farmers’ markets right now seem to be having a bit of a seasonal identity crisis.  There’s still a lot of winter squash, apples, and chard, which are starting to bore me.  There’s asparagus and avocados, but there’s no peas or strawberries or rhubarb or other things that signify spring.   I did buy some asparagus last weekend and roasted that to eat with my leftover pork on Monday night.  Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, very little cooking happened.  There were a couple omelettes and some reheated frozen leftovers.  So, rather than write a post about an omelet, I’m going to write about my delicious restaurant visit on Friday night.

Gather is a new restaurant in Berkeley.   Their vision is very consistent with the values the Dark Days challenge.  The feature local, sustainably grown ingredients and have an entirely local wine list.  According to this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle, even a lot of other locavore-type restaurants eschew local wines for whatever reason, which strikes me as odd, particularly in Northern California, where the local wine is so good.  And they stock an entirely organic bar.

The food was amazing.   I wanted everything on the menu.  My husband and I ended up split three dishes – a “small plate” of squid with black rice, the vegan charcuterie plate, and a  pizza.  It was a ton of food and every bite was delicious.  The vegan charcuterie plate was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve ever eaten – five little creative vegetable spreads, and each was excellent.  My favorites were the celeriac-potato-olive salad and the trio of beets with horseradish.  I liked the latter so much I’d love to track down some fresh horseradish to try to recreate it.  

I was taking pictures on my iPhone and they weren’t coming out, so I gave up with attempts to capture the food.  The rest of the meal was just as great though.  The squid dish was my husband’s favorite – spicy and rich, and it was nice to see squid on a menu and not have it be deep fried.  Finally, the pizza.  It was topped with goat meat, something I had never had before.  It was really good, and I particularly enjoyed the little bit of fresh mint that was sprinkled across it, which really brightened up an otherwise earthy dish.   All and all, a pretty spectacular meal. 

And, I feel inspired to do more local cooking now and finish out the last few weeks of the challenge.

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This week, I prepared another piece of meat from my meat CSA through Marin Sun Farms – a boneless leg of pork.  Not something I’ve ever eaten before, as apparently the vast majority of this cut goes to making hams.    There wasn’t even any useful instructions in the Joy of Cooking.  The series of tubes to the rescue! I discovered that it’s about 30 minutes at 350 for every pound, until it hits around 160.  Easy peasy.

I marinated it in this marinade from the December 2008 Food and Wine, using local citrus, rosemary, and bay, and not local fennel seeds and juniper berries.  I’ve made this marinade it a few times for pork roasts and rarely have every single ingredient and it doesn’t really matter.   Zest a couple oranges and a couple lemons, juice them and whisk in some olive oil.  For herbs, crush some fennel seed and juniper berries in a mortar and pestle, add in a few springs of rosemary and some bay leaves, and you are good to go.  If you don’t have a few of these things – no worries.  It’s still going to be amazing.  Let it marinate overnight, flip it over a couple times, and wipe the meat dry just before cooking.  

The leg needed to be covered for the first half hour or so, so it didn’t dry out.  All and all, the 2.5 pound roast took about an hour and 10 minutes to hit 155, then I let it rest under some tin foil for about 5-10 minutes, which got it just perfect.

I picked up some cute little potatoes at the farmers market, so I tossed them in some olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper, and put them in the pan with the pork to roast.  I made a quick pan sauce with the drippings, a pat of butter, and a bit of white wine.  And along side of it, a salad of radicchio, walnuts, and blood orange infused olive oil from Stonehouse here in Berkeley.  My walnuts were not local , or maybe they were, as the bag from Trader Joe’s says “California Walnuts” on it.  Not bad.

While prepping everything, it was all starting to look pretty delicious and seemed like a good time to open up something good.  My “Hello Vino” app for my iPhone suggested viognier, gerwurztraminer, or zinfandel to go with fruity pork dishes.  No viognier or gerwurtz were on hand, but this is Northern California, so zins are plentiful chez arugulove.  Hello Vino even suggested a zin from Mazzocco, a lovely little vineyard in Healdsburg which we visited in November with friends.  So, we happened to have a bottle of their zin on hand, making the choice very easy.  What luck!

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