Herb Pie

 

Herb PieThis recipe is a play on familiar spanakopita, made with spinach Whenever I have made spanakopita in the past, I made it from a recipe-driven point of view, buying special ingredients from the grocery store and assembling them in specific amounts.  Chock that up to my inexperience, but it never really occurred to me, until now, to make that pie in a free-form way.  As Yotam Ottolenghi describes in his book Jerusalem, this isn’t a recipe to be made from buying little packets of herbs from the store.  This is what you make when you’ve come from a true farmer’s market with unruly heads and bundles of fresh greens and herbs, or, even better, you are growing them yourself and you have so much you need ways to melt them down into savory dishes.  This is additionally a good way to use up bits of delicious cheese.  You pretty much can’t go wrong with the filling proportions and because the filo pastry looks all the better with rustic flourishes and scrunches, that part is worry-free, as well.

In addition to being a delicious way to use an abundance of produce, this is an extremely versatile dish to have on hand this time of year, particularly if you have company.  It is a splendid side dish to any kind of meat you have cooking.  It also makes a comforting breakfast as well as a classy lunch with salad.  It keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Rewarm portions in a 350 degree oven.

Herb Pie

Adapted from Jerusalem

Serves 6

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 lbs (about 8 cups) hearty greens (Swiss chard, bok choy, spinach, kale etc…) thick stems separated from leaves, each roughly chopped
  • 1 large bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed fresh herbs and tender greens (parsley, mint, dill, arugula etc…) chopped
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 oz other cheese, grated (sharp cheddar, goat cheese etc…)
  • Grated zest of l lemon
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1/3 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 9 oz filo pastry

Pour olive oil into a large, deep frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute for 8 minutes, without browning.  Add the green stems and continue cooking for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the green leaves, increase the hat to medium-high, and stir as you cook for 4 minutes, until leaves wilt.  Add the green onions, tender greens, and herbs and cook for 2 minutes more.  Remove from the heat and spread the vegetables into a 9′ x 12′ baking pan. Put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes to cool.

Once the mixture is cool, squeeze out a much liquid as you can and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add the cheeses, lemon zest, eggs, salt, pepper, and sugar and mix well.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay out a 9′ x 12′ baking dish.  Divide 1/2 packet of filo pastry into two roughly equal portions.  Freeze remainder for another use.  Place a damp dish towel over the sheets.  Pour about 3 tablespoons olive oil into a small bowl.  Dampen your hands with olive oil and pick up a sheet of filo.  Brush your hands over the sheet and then place it into the bottom of the baking dish.  Continue in this way, placing some of the sheets so they overlap the sides of the dish, until 1/2 of the filo packet is used.  Place the filling on top of the pastry and bring sides around it.  Then, continue placing the rest of the filo packet, in the same way as before, on top.  Finally, tuck the filo sheets down around the sides of the pie.

Brush the top generously with olive oil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is bubbling and the top is crisped and golden.  Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Chocolate-Pine Nut Cookies

Red Chicken

We are doing lots of earnest work here at the farm.  Allan is repainting the entire interior of the house, and even though I had convinced myself I would paint an accent wall in aqua or a mineral green, in the end, I love Winslow White walls against natural wood floors so much that I couldn’t adulterate them with a color.  It looks so clean and spacious.  Additionally, we are organizing outbuildings and decluttering all of our storage spaces, which also creates elegance in our small living space.

We are staying on top of our cooking, foraging crab and em, shark (Gabe made tacos if you are curious), and making good use of our farmer’s market purchases, eating fruit desserts, when we have any.  But today was blessedly rainy, which we desperately need here in Western Washington, and this afternoon sounded perfect for tea and cookies.  Chocolate cookies.

This recipe, hot off the press from Food and Wine magazine was a fabulous surprise.  They are like pavlova when I get it the way I like it.  The top and bottom have a meringue-like crispness, but the middle is gooey chocolate, with toasty, oily pine nut bites.  They are not terribly sweet and are actually light.  I’ll just say they flew out of the house, and now we will resume our righteous living.

Cookies Cropped

Chocolate-Pine Nut Cookies

Food and Wine, August 2014

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 lb. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp.  baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp.  fine salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • Flaky sea salt for finishing (optional)

Method

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a large skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, tossing occasionally, until they are golden, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer the pine nuts to paper towels to drain and cool completely.

2.  Meanwhile, in a large heatproof bowl set over a medium saucepan of simmering water, melt the chopped chocolate with the butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 5 minutes;  let cool completely.

3.  In a small bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar at medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate, then fold in the dry ingredients.  Stir in the pine nuts.

4.  Bake the cookies in 2 batches:  Scoop 1-tablespoon mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Sprinkle with flakes of sea salt.   Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are dry around the edges and cracked on top; shift the sheets halfway through baking.  Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.  Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely before serving

Makes 3 dozen cookies

 

Roasted Tomatoes with Chicken and Gnocchi

Tomatoes, Counter

It is a wee bit early for tomatoes, still. I found this handful at the farmer’s market this week and due to their beauty, had to find a special treatment for them.

I want to post more recipes that my young adult sons, among others,  might actually attempt to cook.  One son is already a highly intuitive cook, ranging toward foraged foods, which explains why there is a small shark marinating in buttermilk in my fridge at this very minute.  I am not kidding; I wish I was.  He could use a little more variety, however, and perhaps a few more dishes his girlfriend might enjoy.  His brother has been more comfortable utilizing a full meal plan at university, but being only about a year away from moving into the world with his first job, I know he needs to practice making meals from scratch.

Years ago, when we functioned like normal Americans and had a Costco membership, I developed a dish using some staples I kept on hand at the time:  boneless/skinless chicken thighs, 3-cheese tortellini, and an enormous jar of sun-dried tomatoes that took up a lot of space in my refrigerator and seemed to never diminish, no matter how much I tried to incorporate them into my cooking.  It was almost like the Hanukkah miracle.

This would be a good dish for the boys to have in their repertoire.  I don’t, however,  want to get back into the sun-dried tomato stockpile and besides, they are a little passe.  We got sun-dried tomatoed out, didn’t we?  Oven roasting your own tomatoes, though,  makes them deliciously complex and when you make up a batch ahead of time, this dish comes together, well, like a Costco dinner, except that you’ve actually cooked it and not merely assembled it.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

  • 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. tomatoes (heritage varieties, highly recommended), sliced in half, vertically
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 6-7 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 good sprig of rosemary
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Add olive oil to a 12″ round or square baking dish, ceramic or glass preferred.  Place tomatoes cut side down, without overlapping.  Scatter over them the garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Roast in a 325 degree oven for as much as 2 hours.  Remove when they have the texture you are looking for.  I like them to have some caramelization, while still being juicy.  Remove to a clean glass jar, capturing all of the roasting oil,  and use immediately or  refrigerate and use within 5 days.

Tomatoes, Roasting

Tomatoes, Jarred

Oven Fried Chicken

  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil

Add olive oil to a 9×13 baking dish.  Add flour, salt and pepper to a pie plate.  Dredge the chicken pieces to coat with the flour mixture, on all sides.  Place in the oiled pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Turn chicken pieces and cook for another 25 minutes or until the coating is crispy and the juices run clear.  Allow to rest and cool slightly at room temperature.  Cut into 1″ pieces, using two knives,  and toss back in the pan oil and juices.

Gnocchi and Assembly

Cook gnocchi according to package instructions.  Keep it al dente.  Drain gnocchi and toss with chicken in the pan oil and juices.  Add the roasted tomatoes and all of their oil.  Toss all components.  Place in a serving bowl and top with grated parmesan cheese.

Serves 4-6

Final Dish

 

 

 

 

Steamed Fruit Dumplings

Since my mom passed away, it has felt right to be quiet, stay out of social chatter, take some time to listen and reflect, but I want to start to build a bridge, now, between that place and the current of daily  life.  For some context, after my mom died on May 24th, all of my four other siblings and I made it to Billings, Montana within a few days.  Our goal at that time was to help make the necessary decisions and to be around our dad during the first week of his loss.  We didn’t want to do any kind of service, then.  We have, for many years, met in Billings for a family reunion around the 4th of July and we agreed to come back then, taking a month to consider how we, and our children, would like to participate in a memorial of her.

There were nearly 50 of us when the clan descended.  Guest rooms were made up, meal planning and preparation was shared out, a beautiful garden at my brother’s ranch was groomed, and tributes in all forms were pulled together.  Layers and layers of prepared writing, music, photos, even seeds to scatter in her memory were brought.  All I can say is that it was perfect.  It was everything our mom loved and everything she would have wanted for and from us.  We alternately sobbed and then held our bellies in laughter, sitting together in the evening ranch air, in wonder.  In the end, we were so darn proud of ourselves.  We haven’t always dealt with everything well, but this, we got exactly right.

When I got home to Lummi Island, I told friends that I felt like I was waking up from a sweet dream.  Maybe that is an odd way to describe a passing, but I don’t think my mom would mind it.  A friend said I feel this way because I’ve lived in Asia and I’ve already confronted and become comfortable with the uncertainty of afterlife.   That could be part of it, too.  I have thought back to the many, many hours Allan and I sat at the cremation piers on the Bagmati River in Kathmandu.  Strangely, it was one of our favorite places to go.  The family of the deceased would wrap the body and place it on a prepared wood stack. Then, the oldest son would light a candle in the father’s mouth, the youngest son would light one in the mother’s, and the fire would slowly take over.  It was warm and peaceful and when all was ashes, after many hours, they were swept into the river and it was finished.  Allan and I would always ask each other, “If that is all there is, are we OK with that?” and the answer was a confident, “Yes.”

My sister and sister-in-law made requests of some of us to take the lead in preparing our communal dinners the 3 nights we were together.  They honored me by giving me the memorial dinner.  I had come to Billings several days before and since my family stayed with Dad, I had some days, I will always treasure, of preparing for this meal in the solitude of her kitchen.  Her particular way of arranging things and the collection of items in her kitchen was just as her kitchens always were.  What I could prepare for a large dinner was dictated by the limitations of her cookware.  Having lived on a farm in Colorado at 7,000 ft. altitude while we were growing up, her kitchen had two small pressure cookers and several other Dutch oven type pots with lids for cooking  beans and stews.  I rounded them all up, six in all, and for the dessert, that we would have after the dinner and our “service”, I decided to make steamed fruit dumplings that were a comfort treat for us as kids.  Mom would make them from canned fruit, blueberries or most often blackberries, with a Bisquick dumpling topping, but I was able to source fresh berries and made the dough from scratch.  Two of my nieces mentioned their memories of those dumplings in a compiled memory book, so I know I hit on the right choice.

Blueberry Dumplings

 

Steamed Fruit Dumplings

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

Fruit Base

  • 4 cups fresh berries, washed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 tsp.  spice of choice (optional)

Dumplings

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Directions

Place berries, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium-sized pot with a heavy bottom and a lid.  Bring to a boil.  Dissolve cornstarch in 1 Tbsp. water and drizzle it into the fruit mixture.  Reduce heat, stir and cook a few minutes longer to thicken.   Add a little spice at this point if you like.  I love ginger and anise with blueberries.  Cinnamon, mace, or allspice are also great choices.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Cut in butter, using finger tips to work through the dry ingredients.  Add the milk and stir to form a dough.  Drop by tablespoons onto the bubbling fruit mixture.  Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover, and let dumplings steam for approximately 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and allow dumplings to rest and filling to cool slightly before eating.  Drizzle with unsweetened heavy cream to serve.

 

The Time Before

Wedding PicI like this family picture.  This is my niece Camilla’s wedding 3 summers ago.    The picture was taken by a 12-year old boy I handed my camera to and it turned out being one of the best family photos we got that day, never mind that some of us don’t have feet.  This was the summer after my brother Mark died, Camilla is his oldest daughter, and his death was just weeks after my mom had had an emergency surgery that left her managing a stoma, thereafter.

But at the time of this photo, my mom and dad had been able to drive from Montana to Colorado pulling their beloved travel trailer.  They had managed to keep up with the pre-wedding activities and even though my mom had to sit down for the picture,  they were part of everything and helped create this memorable time.

But that was before she started having heart pains, and dizzy spells, and episodes where she couldn’t get her breath.  These precipitated more than one ambulance ride and several diagnostic hospital stays.  One doctor told her she had an inoperable heart valve malfunction.  Another, a few months later, told her her heart was just fine and she needed medication to control her anxiety.  I’m not sure it matters which one was right; it was probably both.  But that was before she started using a constant oxygen supply and before she became so immobile that she gained weight and her body swelled from uncirculating fluids.  And it was during this time that my dad didn’t want to leave her, at all.  He made sure that everything was comfortable for her, that she had food she could chew and a garden to watch grow from her street-facing picture window.  He helped her with her medical care, with any of her care.  Their life became very much the two of them, again.  They didn’t go out together anymore.  He would go do some work, but when he came back, they would eat a little something, and watch the news, and discuss things.  They would remember their stories and he would call her “his sweetie”.  They also talked about how death might be, how they hoped it would be.

That was before last night, when after one of their quiet evenings,  she wasn’t feeling so well and went to her bed.  Dad went to the kitchen to make her a little something to eat and when he came back, she was gone.

Now this is the time before all of it really sinks in.  My adrenaline is racing and I’m able to make substitute plans and book airline tickets, but it’s still before morning on the West Coast.  I will let my dad have a little time to himself, first, before I call him and we talk about what happened and what is next.  Then I will call my sons and tell them that their grandmother died last night.

Barbecue Season Prep

Hamburger Bun, Unbaked

Was it Richard Nixon who came out and said that honestly, he would rather have a great hamburger than almost anything he could think of?  As our expatriated minds turn toward summer, our salivary glands are already anticipating American hamburgers.  It is our national food and in our imaginations, it is perfection.

Allan and I can make a decent burger here in Tunis.  There is a surprisingly efficient built-in barbecue in our backyard, and it creates a nice ambiance for outdoor parties.  We spent yesterday tidying up the garden:  getting rid of stuff that was parked there at some time over the winter, pruning, dividing, and moving plants to better locations, washing up the outdoor dining furniture.  We are hosting a special party at our house in two weeks.  It will be a combination celebration  party after graduation and a goodbye party for some folks who are moving on.  Firing up the charcoal barbecue will kick-off the summer season in good style.

We make our hamburger buns here.  You can’t really buy anything that is a satisfactory substitute, but now that I’ve got it down, I think everyone should be making their own buns.  They aren’t difficult,  and man, do they elevate the burger.  This is a recipe found at Smitten Kitchen, though you can see the attribution of where it originated.  What you do is get a double batch started, using your Kitchen Aide, on a day when you are going to be in the kitchen, anyway.  Every couple of hours, you do some little thing with them and then let them continue to proof.  Finally, you bake them off,  making your kitchen smell toasty and buttery.  When cooled, you pop them into bags and freeze them.  Then, when you’ve entirely forgotten you made them, you will be so delighted to find them again one night when you are craving an awesome burger.

Light Brioche Burger Buns
Adapted from Comme Ça restaurant in Los Angeles, via the New York Times

Makes 8 4 to 5-inch burger buns

3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Sesame seeds (optional)

1. In a measuring cup, combine one cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Meanwhile, beat one egg.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. *Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.  (*I did all of this with my Kitchen Aide.  It is much easier than getting involved, by hand, with the sticky dough.)

3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours. (If your kitchen is warm, it will be closer to 1 hour.)

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. Gently shape each into a ball and arrange two to three inches apart on baking sheet.  Dough will still be quite tacky.  Work with a dough scraper and only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Your dough balls will be a little bit free-form.   Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray and let buns rise in a warm place for one to two hours.  Watch for deflation, which is a sign of over-proofing.  Bake immediately if noticed.

5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with one tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

 

 

Hamburger Bun, Baked

Strawberry Lemon Curd Cake

 

Cake Packets

A couple of weeks ago, our community held our annual International Day and Spring Fair.  This is an extravaganza where all of our various expat groups, alongside our host country, pull out the stops on their national pride.  There is a parade of national dress and flags, and then the highlight is two gymnasiums of food tables selling servings of favorite dishes from all of our representative countries.  You can very likely end up with a plate full of injera and kim chi, with a waffle on the side.  It’s weird, but fun.

The British table this year, rather than stooping to bangers and mash, sold tiny jars of lemon curd.  You can see my now empty lemon curd jar in the photo background below,  wearing its gingham cap. Having the occasion of a school bake sale, I made a couple of loaves of this moist, flavor-intense cake.  You could use any type of fruit.  The recipe calls for blueberries, but we have strawberries, and  I can imagine it with peaches or even figs.  We’re down to the dregs of our lemon season now, but next winter, when everyone is giving away their lemons again, I will use more  juice in batches of tangy lemon curd.

Both of the following recipes are from BBC Food Recipes, the British-speak just enhancing the mood.  I didn’t ice my cakes because they were so moist and nice without it.

 

Lemon Curd

  • 4 lemons, zest and juice
  • 200g or 7oz caster sugar
  • 100g or 31/2 oz unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 3 free-range eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  1. Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter into a heatproof bowl. Sit the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl. Stir the mixture every now and again until all of the butter has melted.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs and egg yolk and stir them into the lemon mixture. Whisk until all of the ingredients are well combined, then leave to cook for 10-13 minutes, stirring every now and again, until the mixture is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  3. Remove the lemon curd from the heat and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally as it cools. Once cooled, spoon the lemon curd into sterilised jars and seal. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.

 

Lemon Curd Cake

  • 175g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 500ml tub Greek yogurt (you need 100ml/3½ fl oz in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 300g jar good lemon curd (you need 2 tbsp in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 3 eggs
  • zest and juice 1 lemon, plus extra zest to serve, if you like
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 200g punnet of blueberries (you need 85g/3oz in the cake, the rest to serve)
  • 140g icing sugar
  • edible flowers, such as purple or yellow primroses, to serve (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 160C or 320F. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line with a long strip of baking parchment. Put 100g yogurt, 2 tbsp lemon curd, the softened butter, eggs, lemon zest, flour and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl. Quickly mix with an electric whisk until the batter just comes together. Scrape half into the prepared tin. Weigh 85g blueberries from the punnet and sprinkle half into the tin, scrape the rest of the batter on top, then scatter the other half of the 85g berries on top. Bake for 1 hr 10 mins-1 hr 15 mins until golden, and a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.
  2. Cool in the tin, then carefully lift onto a serving plate to ice. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough lemon juice to make a thick, smooth icing. Spread over the top of the cake, then decorate with lemon zest and edible flowers, if you like. Serve in slices with extra lemon curd, Greek yogurt and blueberries.

Lemon Curd Cake, 2