CAULIFLOWER with GREEN GODDESS TAHINI

What is it about those luscious green sauces — chimichurri, pesto, green goddess? I can’t get enough. If I’m having steak, I usually hanker for chimichurri. Sliced tomatoes cry out for just a dab of fresh pesto. And Alice Waters sparked my obsession with green goddess  — for eggs, potatoes, leafy greens, even roast chicken. If you’re wondering, here are the comparative stats:

Chimichurri: parsley, garlic, shallots, chili pepper flakes, oregano, olive oil, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Pesto: basil, garlic, pine nuts, pecorino, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Green goddess: parsley, chives, tarragon, mint, garlic, mayonnaise, buttermilk, anchovies, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

I’d seen cauliflower served with tahini before, but something about serving beige on beige food goes against my deepest convictions. That’s how green goddess tahini was born. Fortunately, it also tastes pretty swell.

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CRISPY CAULIFLOWER with GREEN GODDESS TAHINI, SPICY PEANUTS & MINT  

for 5-6 generous servings:
1/2 cup of peanuts, shells removed
green goddess tahini (below)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 head of cauliflower
2 cups of canola oil*
handful of small mint leaves
lemon, for zesting
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Crush the peanuts with the bottom of a cup. Toast the peanuts until golden brown and toss them with the chili powder and paprika. Prepare the green goddess tahini (below) and set it aside.

Break the cauliflower down into small florets. Make sure the cauliflower is dry. Heat the canola oil in a high-rimmed pot until at least 350. Fry the cauliflower until nicely golden brown, avoiding crowding. Transfer to a platter lined with a paper towel. Repeat in batches until all the cauliflower is fried. *Alternatively, if you prefer not to fry the cauliflower, drizzle the florets with extra virgin olive oil and roast them on a baking sheet in a 425 degree oven until golden brown and crisp. To serve, spread some of the green goddess tahini on the bottom of a plate, spoon cauliflower over it, and finish with a sprinkling of peanuts, mint leaves, and freshly zested lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

for the green goddess tahini:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup buttermilk*
1/2 cup tahini (or more to taste)
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, chopped
handful of fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2-3 anchovy filtets (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

In a blender or food processor, puree the first 10 ingredients. Add olive oil to reach the desired consistency. Finish by seasoning with salt and pepper. Cover and chill. *The mayo and buttermilk can be substituted with plain greek yogurt.

PUMPKIN BREAD PUDDING

It’s 95 degrees outside (the hardships of life in LA) but my body knows it’s fall. Fall is essentially all about pumpkin. Pumpkin is just dandy for bread pudding. Bread pudding is for lovers. By the transitive property, fall is for lovers.

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PUMPKIN BREAD PUDDING 

for 6 servings, recipe from Gourmet:
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch of ground cloves
5 cups cubed (1-inch) crusty brioche or baguette
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Whisk together cream, pumpkin, milk, sugar, eggs, yolk, salt, and spices in a bowl. Toast the bread cubes until golden and toss with butter in another bowl, then add pumpkin mixture and toss to coat. Transfer to an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish and bake until custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes (I prefer a deep golden brown). Serve hot with ice cream.

SPANISH FRIED CHICKEN with ROMESCO AIOLI

I’m pretty sure that the people in my life are getting tired of fried chicken. Holiday with the relatives? Fried chicken. Casual Sunday family supper? Fried chicken. Bon voyage cocktail party? Fried chicken…on skewers. If you want to know, it didn’t happen all at once. It never does.

I blame the first stage on Thomas Keller’s justifiably lauded recipe from Ad Hoc, his Lemon-Brined Buttermilk Fried Chicken, with which I shared a heated romance. I honestly thought it’d last – it treated me so right – but no. “I’m sorry Mr. Alpenglow,” the note written on a greasy napkin read, “but things are getting stale, and we should go our own ways.”

The second stage was basically an experiment with Curry Fried Chicken. I’d marinate the chicken in wet curry, dip it in dry curry-seasoned flour, into buttermilk, then the curry-seasoned flour again. Then I’d do it again and again, each time with one slight variation. This got good reviews.

With this recipe, I sense that the third stage has dawned upon us all. Since fried chicken obviously ins’t indulgent enough, this stage had to be positively sybaritic. It’s an orgy of peppers. Three peppers go into the flour: smoked paprika, Aleppo pepper, and chili powder. It’s drizzled with cumin chili butter and served with an intoxicating Romesco aioli made with roasted red peppers, almonds, and garlic. At this point, there’s no use reasoning with you. You either get it or you don’t.

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SPANISH FRIED CHICKEN with ROMESCO AIOLI & CHILE BUTTER

for the fried chicken, recipe by Suzanne Goin of AOC in Los Angeles:
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thigh, cut into strips
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin
½ teaspoon toasted ground coriander
3 cloves of pounded garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 additional tablespoons smoked paprika
2-3 quarts canola oil for frying

Marinate the chicken for 3 hours with the paprika, Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, garlic, salt, and pepper. Then pour the buttermilk over the chicken and let this chill for 3 hours. (If you don’t have time, feel free to cut out the waiting time) Stir together the flour, cayenne, and additional paprika. Dredge the chicken in the spiced flour. Heat the oil in a heavy deep pot (leaving 5-6 inches at the top) to 350 degrees over medium heat. Shake excess flour from the chicken and gently drop them into the ho oil. Cook the chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes, and drain on paper towels. If they are browning too quickly, remove them from the oil and reduce heat, or finish cooking them through in a 350 degree oven. Drain the chicken on paper towels. Serve immediately with romesco aioli and sizzling chile butter (optional).

for the Romesco aioli, recipe by Mario Batali:
6 egg yolks
3 cloves garlic, peeled
a pinch of red chili flakes
1/3 cup of slivered almonds
4 jarred roasted red peppers
a squeeze of lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup reserved bacon fat (optional)

Combine all the ingredients except the oil and fat in a food processor until smooth. With the food processor running, slowly add the oil and fat.

for the chile butter:
1/2 stick of unsalted butter, melted
chili powder to taste

Heat the chile powder and butter on a medium flave or microwave until bubbling. Mix well before drizzling over the chicken.

CLAM PIZZA with PARSLEY & CHILIES

You know how, after making some recipes, you’ll think, “Huh. That was pretty good.”

This is not one of those recipes. This one involves sheer alchemy. I tried it first at Franny’s in Brooklyn. It blew my mind then and — since getting ahold of the recipe — it still does.

Look, when you deglaze a skillet full of caramelized onions and garlic with white wine, add littleneck clams to the mix until they pop open, reduce the liquid with cream until it’s a thick clam-infused glaze, which you’ll slather all over pizza dough before it goes into the inferno — you know amazing things are about to happen.

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PIZZA with LITTLENECK CLAMS, PARSLEY & CHILIES* 
inspired by Franny’s Brooklyn

dough for 4 twelve-inch pies, based on Jim Lahey’s recipe:
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups of water

Mix the yeast and water. Combine it with the flour and salt in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place for 12-24 hours until the dough has nearly doubled (*I left it for only 8 hours and it was still very good). Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and sprinkle the top with flour. Fold the dough over itself twice, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Then divide it in 4 pieces and shape each into a ball. Sprinkle a clean cotton towel with flour and cover the dough for balls, allowing it to rise for 2 more hours. Before cooking, gently stretch the dough into the desired shape.

for the toppings, based on Franny’s recipe:
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 1/4 cups of dry white wine
4 1/2 dozen littleneck clams (6 lbs), scrubbed
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
crushed red chili flakes
1/2 cup of chopped Italian parsley

Heat a pizza stone on a rack in the top third of the oven at 500 for one hour. Meanwhile heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic. Reduce the heat and cook for about 7 minutes until the onions begin to turn golden. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the clams, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes until the clams open. As they open, transfer them to a bowl. When all the clams have opened, simmer the liquid in the pot until it reduces to a thick glaze, about 10 minutes. Add the cream and cook for 10-15 minutes longer, reducing the liquid by a quarter. Strain through a mesh sieve. It will thicken further as it cools. Proceed to pluck the clam meat from their shells. Shape your pizza dough into a 12-inch round on the backside of a floured baking sheet. Working quickly, paint the entire pie with the glaze. Scatter a quarter of the clams onto the pizza along with the chili flakes. Slide the pizza onto the stone and bake for 3 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and broil the pizza for 2-4 minutes longer until it is golden, crisp, and blistery, charred in places (be careful that it doesn’t char too much). Slide the pizza off the stone and sprinkle with parsley, fine extra virgin olive oil, and a little fresh lemon juice.

*Confession: I was so eager to serve these pies piping hot that I forgot to add the red chili flakes. Don’t do that.

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FRIED SQUASH BLOSSOMS with RICOTTA & SALSA VERDE

Squash blossoms. How precious.

Squash blossoms stuffed with cheese and aromatics, then fried. Humans really are superior.

Of course, they’re a fixture on the culinary zeitgeist. You’ll see Mario Batali fondling them and Martha Stewart pronouncing in her hushed, knowing manner, “It’s a good thing.” On the pages of Kinfolk, you’ll see a girl with chestnut-colored hair tied in a bun holding a basket of squash blossoms next to a man with a 19th century beard distraught over their beauty.

The thing is, they taste as good as anything does after being stuffed with cheese and deep-fried, like the jalapeno poppers at Applebee’s minus the baggage. I have to say though – this is just one of those dishes that brings disproportionate pleasure to the chef versus the diner. Imagine it: Nestling these brilliantly colored, delicate flowers in the palm of your hand. Peeling away their furled petals with your fingertips to create an opening. Gently inserting a pillow of ricotta. Twisting the flower closed, hoping they comply. Dipping these buds in a veneer of batter, then bathing them for a hot minute. These steps teach us: Take pleasure in the process.

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FRIED SQUASH BLOSSOMS with RICOTTA & SALSA VERDE

for the squash blossom, adapted from Gourmet:
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup finely chopped mint
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano
freshly cracked black pepper to taste
12-16 large squash blossoms (*I also used fresh baby corn)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup ice cold seltzer or club soda
about 3 cups of canola oil for frying

for the salsa verde, adapted from Michael Chiarello:
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 cups packed flat leaf parsley leaves
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6-7 cornichons
2-3 anchovy fillets (optional)
1 tablespoon capers (optional)
fine sea salt and dry crushed red pepper to taste

Combine all the salsa verde ingredients in a blender or food processor and set aside. Combine the ricotta, egg yolk, mint, Parmigiano and black pepper. Gently open the blossoms with your fingers and fill with about 1-2 teaspoons of the ricotta mixture, twisting the tip of the blossom to close. Whisk together the flour, salt, and seltzer in a bowl. Heat the oil in a skillet or pot with a high rim (for safety) on medium-high flame until 375 F. Thinly coat the blossoms in the batter and fry, turning once, for about 1-2 minutes until golden. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels and finish frying the blossoms. Serve immediately with salsa verde.

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FRIED PLANTAINS with SPICED SHRIMP & AVOCADO

It was 2006. I’d graduated from Duke (before the lacrosse scandal, people) and had been living in Washington DC working my first “real” job. Tired of the huge vats of pasta with red sauce, frozen bags of dumplings, and shriveled rotisserie birds that had become my go-to meals, I remember coming across this recipe in the New York Times –Tostones with Shrimp in Ajilimójili Sauce. WTF?! I saw it as a challenge. My roommates were skeptical as the heavy aroma of fried plantains filled our tiny apartment (okay, I was skeptical too), but dude!– it ended up working. Now whenever I see plantains, that first foray into adventurous cooking rushes back, fresh as ever.

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FRIED PLANTAINS (TOSTONES) with SPICED SHRIMP, AVOCADO & LIME    

adapted from this New York Times recipe, for 6 generous appetizer servings:
about 1/2 a cup of ketchup or Spanish-style tomato sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon of Sazon sin achiote seasoning (optional)
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper or hot sauce to taste
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds of shrimp (peeled, deveined, chopped)
juice from 2-3 limes
3 large ripe avocados (peeled, pitted, cubed)
3 large green plantains (peeled, sliced in 1.5 to 2-inch medallions)
round cookie cutters
canola oil for frying
kosher salt

In a medium bowl, combine the ketchup, honey, Sazon seasoning, Aleppo pepper or hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set this sauce aside. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the butter and oil on medium-high flame. Add the garlic until it begins to color. Add the chopped shrimp and saute for a minute. Add the sauce and stir to combine. Saute until all the shrimp are no longer translucent, about 3-4 minutes more. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and set aside. Drizzle the lime juice between both the shrimp and the avocados.

Meanwhile, heat about 1-2 inches of canola oil on medium-high flame in a pot with a high rim, leaving at least 4 inches at the top for safety. When the oil is hot, add the plantains in batches taking care not to overcrowd. (The first plantain is the sacrificial lamb; if the oil isn’t hot enough, it will just sit there without stirring any bubbles) Use a slotted spoon or tongs to flip the plantains. When they begin to turn golden, carefully lift them from the oil and transfer them to a working surface. Place one plantain medallion at a time into a cookie cutter and use the bottom of a jar to press the medallion into a flat disc. Return the plantain discs to the oil and fry until nicely golden brown. Transfer to a platter lined with a paper towel to drain (they will crisp up as they cool a bit). Season with salt. Repeat until all the plantain medallions are done.

To assemble, place one of the tostones into a cookie cutter, spoon some of the avocado over it, then spoon some of the shrimp over the avocado. Top with another of the tostones. (If necessary, use two cookie cutter taped together) Carefully remove the cookie cutters. Serve immediately with a lime wedge.

SALMONBERRY NAPOLEONS

Foraging isn’t something I get to do very much in Los Angeles. I’ll occasionally notice watercress growing in a stream in the San Gabriel mountains or miner’s lettuce along the side of a trail, but it’s not like I’m going hunting for chanterelles in Griffith Park. There are no blueberry patches in Topanga Canyon (there are wild prickly cucumbers but these are not readily edible). The bivalves that can be found on certain L.A. beaches are lone survivors of perpetual urban runoff; they should be left alone.

So when a carton of pale orange berries caught my eye at the farmer’s market, I felt something like a forager’s high. “Salmonberries,” I was told. “Salmonberries?” I asked. With just a sliver of a smile, this sly fox shook his head and waited for my reaction. I could tell he was an old hand at this dialogue.

In 31 years, I’d neither encountered nor heard of salmonberries. I suspected that they were a newfangled concoction of the agricultural elite, a new way to take advantage of people’s willingness to pay exorbitantly for a handful of pretty berries. Thankfully I was wrong. For the fine people (and bears) of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, the salmonberry is found in the wild. Accordingly, it is prized. Asking 5 dollars for these rare gems – with a most delicate floral sweetness, that naïve color, and only a faint memory of its raspy cousin – these are worth every penny.

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SALMONBERRY “NAPOLEON”

for about 6 servings:
8 sheets of phyllo dough
about ½ cup of unsalted butter, melted
about ½ cup of granulated sugar
1 pint of salmonberries (or raspberries)
1 pint of heavy whipping cream, very cold
6-8 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon fine vanilla extract

*True Napoleons (mille-feuilles) have pastry cream and fondant. In order to not overpower the salmonberries, I substituted with whipped cream.

Heat oven to 375. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Stack the phyllo sheets on a working surface. Working with one sheet at a time, brush one side of the dough with melted butter and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Layer another sheet of phyllo over it, and repeat with the butter and sugar. Do this until all of the sheets are stacked. Gently press the phyllo sheets together. Use a knife or round cookie cutter to make 12 squares or rounds. Bake until the phyllo is golden about 10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

Meanwhile whip the heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla together until stiff peaks form, about 7-8 minutes by hand.

To assemble, dust the phyllo layers with confectioner’s sugar. Spoon some of the whipping cream onto 6 of the phyllo layers, then place 6-7 salmonberries on top of the cream. Add a dollop of cream in the center over the salmonberries, then add another phyllo layer. Top again with cream and salmonberries. Serve immediately.

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HEN OF THE WOODS TOAST with FRESNO CHILE, LIME & CREME FRAICHE

If there was a single restaurant in Los Angeles that I could choose to be my personal chef (daydream much?), it’d be Gjelina in Venice. The dishes they make — rustic, flavorful, simply prepared and presented — always allow the ingredients to speak for themselves. This mushroom toast is inspired by Gjelina. The knockout combination of chiles, lime, and creme fraiche takes an already superlative pairing — charred bread and crisp, woodsy mushrooms — to a whole other level. It’s the most primitively satisfying thing I’ve prepared in many months.

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HEN OF THE WOODS TOAST with FRESNO CHILE, LIME and CREME FRAICHE 

for 4-5 generous servings:
1 excellent loaf of rustic bread, sliced diagonally 3/4 -inch thick
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced in half
1 large fresno chile, finely minced
1 bundle of chives, thinly sliced
1 cup of creme fraiche
2 teaspoons lime zest, plus more for garnish
3-4 clumps of maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms, cleaned and completely dry
fresh juice of 1-2 limes
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a charcoal grill or turn your oven’s broiler on. Generously brush the slices of bread with olive oil, rub the garlic cloves all over the bread, and set this aside. Prepare the chile and chives. Combine the creme fraiche with the lime zest. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a nonstick skillet until almost smoking. Add the mushrooms, breaking the clumps down with your fingers and discarding the very bottom part of the clump. Be careful not to overcrowd, which will cause the mushrooms to release liquid. Saute the mushrooms until they are crisp and golden brown, about 6-8 minutes depending on your stove. Repeat to finish crisping the mushrooms. During your last batch, grill or broil the bread briefly so that it is slightly burnt around the edges. To assemble, spoon some creme fraiche onto the bread. Toss the mushrooms with fresh lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste and spoon the seasoned mushrooms over the bread. Sprinkle the chives, chiles, and lime zest over the top and finish with a drizzle of creme fraiche.

LEMON VERBENA & RICOTTA DOUGHNUTS with BLACKBERRY SAUCE

Time for confessions. First of all, I trimmed these donuts. I trimmed their flailing arms, cowlicks, and hats off like a high-speed amusement park ride. The price of beauty, as they say. Turns out that making rotund donuts at home takes a bit of practice (and with some batters, you’ll just want to embrace the doughnut appendages).

Secondly, I lifted the idea for these doughnuts from last week’s Chez Panisse menu, when their kitchen was turning out lemon verbena profiteroles. My version riffs on a ricotta doughnut — fragrant, fluffy, the ideal vehicle for sopping up this blackberry sauce. If laughter from playing games in a garden had a specific taste, this would have to be it.

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LEMON VERBENA and RICOTTA DOUGHNUTS with BLACKBERRY SAUCE 

for 12-15 doughnuts, recipe based on Gale Gand’s:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
8 oz whole milk ricotta
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon verbena leaves, very finely chopped
canola oil for frying
confectioner’s sugar for dusting

for the blackberry dipping sauce:
about 2 cups of blackberries
fresh juice from half a lemon
about 1/2 cup of sugar, more to taste
about 1 cup of plain greek yogurt

(Note that this dipping sauce is essentially improvised, so feel free to take liberties with it!) To make the dipping sauce, combine the blackberries, lemon, and sugar in a small pot until the blackberries begin to release liquid. Use a spoon to smash the blackberries and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes. Adjust lemon and sugar as you prefer. Carefully transfer to a blender and pulse. Strain this mixture to remove the blackberry seeds. Stir in the yogurt until the taste and color is as you like it. Set this sauce in the refrigerator to chill.

Sift the flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add the sugar, eggs, ricotta, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon verbena and mix well until smooth. Let this site at room temperature. Pour the oil into a deep, heavy pot leaving at least 4 inches at the top for safety. Heat the oil on medium heat until it reaches 325-375 F. Fry a test donut using an ice cream scoop or spoon to drop the batter into the oil. Turning the donut immediately will help it to achieve a round shape. Use a slotted spoon to turn it until it is golden brown all around, about 3-4 minutes. If it browns too quickly, turn the heat down (or else the outside will be too brown and the inside won’t be cooked through). When a test donut comes out the way you like it, continue frying the donuts being careful not to crowd. Transfer the completed donuts to a platter lined with a paper towel. Dust the donuts with confectioner’s sugar and serve immediately with the blackberry dipping sauce.