Towards the end of winter, bogged down by busy days and coming home to an empty kitchen, I turned towards breakfast food for dinner. Looking back on the meals I repeatedly cooked when no one else was around, two things stand out: gently fried eggs on top of kale sauteed in butter and chili flakes, and a warm soul-soothing bowl of savory oatmeal. I invented this dish one night when I was too tired to face preparing a real meal, but craving something wholesome enough to sink my teeth into. There wasn’t much in the fridge, but I had a pear, and some Parmesan, and I’ve always got oats. I’ve repeated this dish many times since then, for dinner, for breakfast, or for a snack. Steel-cut oats, slow-cooked until just tender, so they’ve still got a bit of chew to them. Slices of pear seared in butter with a bit of honey, flipped occasionally until they’re very caramelized. Thin shavings of sharp Parmesan, generously sprinkled over a bowl full of the oats and pears. The whole mess topped with a drizzle of spicy dark green olive oil, a pinch of salt, a whisper of nutmeg. When nothing else would do, this meal hit the spot in just the right way. You should try it someday.
As soon as I saw Melissa Clark’s recipe for Olive Oil and Coconut Brownies in the NY Times last week I knew I would have to try it ASAP. I’m always a sucker for sweets made with olive oil, and the idea of sprinkling salt on top of brownies had me instantly salivating. So this weekend, with my dad staying with us and a group of friends coming over for dinner, I pulled out my measuring cups and gluten-free flours, and adapted Melissa Clark’s recipe. These brownies did not disappoint anyone. Gooey and chocolate fudgy with a salty coconut crust and a slight savory hint of olive oil, they are completely irresistible. I packed up most the leftovers and sent them back to NH with my dad as a Valentine’s Day treat for the family, because I knew it wasn’t a good idea to leave me here alone with a pan full of them.
Gluten-Free Olive Oil and Coconut Brownies
adapted from The New York Times
makes about 2 dozen brownies
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1/3 cup almond meal
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks, lightly whisked
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
about 2 tsp. kosher salt (or fleur de sel if you have it)
Preheat oven to 350 and prepare a 9×13 baking pan by greasing it with olive oil then lining it with parchment paper. (You really do need the parchment paper, I forgot it when I made my batch and suffered the consequences of brownies sticking to the pan.)
In a small bowl, combine the flours and the almond meal.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cocoa powder with the boiling water until smooth, then whisk in the chopped chocolate. Most the chocolate should melt, but don’t worry about any chunks that don’t, it’ll be good that way. Whisk in the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla.
Once the wet ingredients are well combined, stir in the flour mixture and mix well. Pour into prepared baking pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
Carefully (and slowly) sprinkle the shredded coconut over the top of the batter, making sure to cover it as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the salt on top as well, working in a systematic way from top to bottom so you know where you’ve already salted (since you won’t be able to see the salt on top of the coconut). Don’t be afraid to be generous with the salt! Trust me, it’s an important ingredient.
Bake until the coconut is golden-brown on top and the batter is set, about 35 minutes. Don’t bother with a knife or toothpick test for these brownies, it shouldn’t come out clean.
Let the brownies cool completely before cutting into 2 inch squares for serving.
We’re in the very midst of bleak midwinter here, and I’ve been craving herbs. My heart full of longing for fresh-out-of-some-lovely-field-herbs I’ve packed my crisper drawer full of fresh-off-some-air-plane-from-far-away-herbs. I just can’t get enough of them. I’ve been grabbing leaves by the handful and flinging them across everything I eat. You’d be surprised just how much that splash of green brightness helps to drive away any lurking midwinter blues. Fruit helps too. Plenty of fruit in bowls in front of chilly windows.
This past Saturday, with six of my friends scheduled to come over for dinner, I woke up craving herbs (and lemon zest) again, and planned my menu accordingly. A whole fillet of rich wild salmon was marinated in a simple pure of garlic, the juice and zest of a meyer lemon, parsley, rosemary, olive oil, salt, and pepper, then baked till just done and served with a yogurt, lemon, olive oil, mint, parsley, and dill sauce. French lentils were braised with leeks and thyme in plenty of white wine and a splash of orange juice, then mixed with a heaping cup full of diced fresh parsley and mint just before serving. For dessert, inspired by a recent meal at al di la, I slowly poached pears in white wine and sherry, then served sprinkled with fried sweet rosemary and some tart whipped cream. My friend Ryan produced a show-stopping salad to start off our meal of baby arugula, juicy persimmons and pomegranate seeds, crunchy roasted hazelnuts, doused in a appropriately sweet vinaigrette (I wish more people understood that the key to a good vinaigrette is add sugar- thank you Ryan!). And for mopping up that yummy dressing, Julia baked us a loaf of fresh gluten-free bread.
This was a good dinner party. We stayed up too late laughing too hard and playing charades, and my friends actually did all the dishes for me.
I figured out a great trick for prepping pears for poaching: use an ice cream scoop! Very clever, very easy. See?
Pears Poached in White Wine, Sherry, and Ginger with Rosemary
Bosc Pears (a half per person)
Fresh Ginger, peeled and sliced (about 2 slices per person)
Fresh Rosemary Sprig
1 Tbs. Butter
Raw Pure Cane Sugar
Whipped Cream or Creme Fraiche (or a mixture of both!) for serving
Peel the pears, slice in half, then hollow out the center using an ice cream scoop (or a sturdy metal spoon) as picture above.
Put the prepared pears and ginger slices in a heavy pot and pour enough white wine over so that the pears are almost submerged. Now add a splash of sherry. Cook, covered, over low heat, for about an hour, until the pears are soft and the steam no longer smells alcoholic. Set aside until ready to serve.
Heat the butter in a skillet until frothing, then fry the rosemary sprig just until crisp, about a minute. Immediatly dredge the rosemary in a handful of sugar, and set aside to cool.
Pour the remaining poaching juices out of the poaching pot into a small saucepan and add some sugar. The amount of sugar you add should about equal the amount of poaching liquid. So if you have about a cup of liquid, add about a cup of sugar, then heat over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it starts to get syrupy, about 10 minutes.
To serve, spoon the hot syrup over the pears, add a dollop of whipped cream, and garnish with a sprinkle of rosemary leaves ( and any rosemary-scented sugar that may have fallen off the rosemary sprig).
Finally: a gluten-free recipe for my favorite Christmas cookies. With thanks to the SAVEUR test kitchen who came up with a gluten-free version of a very similar cookie, I was able to create this gluten-free version of pecan puffs. They hold their nice round shape in the oven, and melt instantly in your mouth with a puff of powdered sugar and rich nutty flavor. I served these cookies on Friday at my annual Christmas cookie (and charades) party, and they were a big hit. The little bit of chestnut flour in there gives them a nice wintery smokiness. They don’t keep quite as well as their wheat-full versions do though, so go ahead and gobble them all up within a couple days (that shouldn’t be too hard to do).
Gluten-Free Pecan Puffs
Adapted from SAVEUR’s Gluten-Free Vanilla Crescent Cookies
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies
6 oz pecans, finely ground
13 Tbs unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for finishing the cookies
1 1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup chestnut flour
generous pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 325°.
Cream the butter and the 1/3 cup confectioners sugar until soft, then stir in the vanilla.
Stir the pecans, all the flours, and the salt into the butter mixture, and mix well.
Roll the dough into 2 tsp size balls and place evenly on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet.
Bake until the cookies are just barely starting to brown, about 15 minutes.
While still warm, roll each cookie in the confectioners sugar then let cool completely on a cooling rack.
I like to dust all the finished cookies with a bit of extra confectioners sugar through a fine sieve for a smooth finish before serving.
I’ve unpacked all my winter sweaters (I seem to collect these bargain-priced used wool sweaters like I collect all those bargain-priced used cookbooks- that is, in almost excessive quantities) and they’re lined neatly on freshly papered shelves where I can look at them all as I think about what kind of stew to make when it’s finally cold enough to wear a wool sweater again. I’m thinking a lot about sweaters today, but not much about making ice creams… Truth is though, this summer’s not quite over, and before it is actually over, I want to share this sherbet recipe with you, which I adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert. I made this sherbet earlier this summer, and it’s just too good to miss sharing with you simply because my head’s already stuck in autumn’s clouds. Bright with fresh basil and lots of lemon, this sherbet’s light and tart enough to feel cleansing. Let this be your summer palate cleanser; a cold and clean finish to one of the hottest summers I’ve known.
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
a very generous handful of fresh basil leaves (about 1 cup)
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp finely minced fresh basil
In a large jar (or other food storage container), stir together the sugar, lemon juice, and basil leaves, and let stand at room temperature until all the sugar is dissolved, then seal the jar and stick it in the fridge. Let it chill for at least an hour, but preferably overnight (the longer it sits the stronger the basil flavor can be).
Strain the mixture into the milk and heavy cream, pressing on the basil leaves to to make sure you get all the juice out of them. Discard the basil.
Stir in the lemon zest and minced basil, then chill the mixture in the freezer for about half an hour, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker.
If you know me well, you know that I almost always leave a little food on my plate. Usually it’s just one last bite-size amount. I don’t know why I do this, I don’t try to leave things on my plate, I just stop when I’m done, and more often than not, I’m done before the plate is clean. Sometimes I theorize or joke about how that extra bit of food is my offering to Elijah, or perhaps to some other unknown visitor from the other world. There are certain members of my family and friends who have come to count on being able to eat those last few bites off my plate after they’ve already cleaned theirs. Perhaps I do it for them, even when dining alone. Yet I have found that there are some things that are able to over-ride my last-bite-leaving habit. Dessert, of course, often wins in this category- I’ve been known to lift many a dessert dish to my face to lick it clean of it’s last drops of goodness. But what really catches me off guard are the rare occasions when a dinner will actually lead me to lift my plate to my face for a good old-fashioned plate-licking. Plate-licking is best done at home, and probably best done alone.
Last night, home alone with my dinner plate full of veal scallopini covered in a marsala cream sauce and some pan-seared zucchini and tomatoes topped with fresh basil and Parmesan, I found myself overcome by a plate-licking urge. As my second helping of veal and vegetables started to diminish, I abandoned all manners and all silverware and went at my plate with my hands, tearing and popping everything into my mouth as fast as I could, slurping extra sauce off my fingers and then picking up the plate to lick it clean of the last bits of that sauce. Oh that sauce. Next I moved to the stovetop, where I used a spoon to scrape all the leftover sauce out of the skillet straight into my mouth. When it was done, I still wanted more. But of course, I didn’t write my recipe down. It was just one of those meals I whipped up in ten minutes, sleepy and hungry after a long day at the office.
I’d never actually cooked veal before, but when I found a small package of organic and humane veal scallopini from a local farm for sale for $3.00 at the Park Slope Food Coop over the weekend, I knew it was time to try. “Scallopini” simply refers to the cut of meat- it’s the Italian term for a thinly sliced round or oval pice of boneless meat. Veal scallopini are also referred to as “veal scallops” or “veal cutlets” and often are sledged in flour and pan-fried. No flour-dredging for me, mine went straight into the hot cast iron skillet with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. I cooked them two at a time, and marveled at how quickly the thin slices of veal shrank inwards, decreasing with a quick dancing wiggle across the hot skillet until they were at least a third their original size. After about one minute on one side, I flipped them over for another 30 seconds on the other, then removed them from the heat. I deglazed the hot pan with the remaining contents (perhaps 3/4 cup?) of a bottle of sweet marsala wine, and let it boil down a bit before adding some heavy cream (was it maybe 1/2 cup?) and a squirt (let’s call that 1 Tbs) of tomato paste and whisking it over low heat until it was a nice thick sauce. The veal got tossed back into the pan to absorb the sauce, then served alongside some sliced zucchini and tomatoes which I quickly pan-fried in olive oil, garlic, a bit of fresh rosemary, and salt and then topped with Parmesan and fresh basil. That’s almost a recipe. Simple really. Give it a try!
Carrot-Ginger Coconut Milk Dressing
1 (5.5oz) can coconut milk
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium piece ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped
the zest and juice of 1/2 of a lime
salt, to taste
Puree everything in the food processor until creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste.
I love a good Sunday Supper. This Sunday night there were eight of us ’round my table. I love a good full table. My dad was in town all weekend, and on Friday night we ate at No. 7 in Fort Greene where I tried swordfish for the first time in my life and fell in love with it. So Sunday night, after discovering that some “local” swordfish was on special at Whole Foods, I cooked swordfish for the first time and fell in love with it again. It was so simple to cook, and so satisfying to eat. Hardly fishy in flavor, it is meaty like a steak and yet very very light. For eight people I bought 3 1/4 pounds- I should have got 3 1/2 pounds though. I prepared it with a simple rub of lemon zest, sea salt, pepper, cumin, and brown sugar, and let it sit about half an hour before cooking. To cook the swordfish steaks all at once I needed two cast iron skillets. To cook: preheat oven to 400, then heat some olive oil in an oven proof skillet. Cook the swordfish in the skillet for about 4 minutes, then flip it over- the top should be nicely seared. Stick the skillet in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes until the swordfish is done. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of your swordfish steak, so start checking it at about 10 minutes because you really don’t want to overcook and dry out your fish.
I served my swordfish with a yogurt based sauce which I whipped up in the food processor: a handful of fresh dill, a handful of fresh parsley, the juice of a lemon, some olive oil, some Greek yogurt, and salt, pepper, and cumin to taste. I forgot to write down my proportions, but you can pretty much keep fiddling with it until it tastes the way you like.
With the fish I served a cold wild rice and lentil salad, a raw celeric (celery root) and carrot salad, and roasted eggplants and tomatoes. It was all very summery and fresh and full of cumin, mint, and lemon. (I just can’t seem to get enough of the combination of cumin, mint, and lemon recently!)
And just because I loved it so much last time (and because Jose was coming to dinner again), I made my almond cake with almond crust for dessert.