Random recipes from Bon Appétit, The Lemonade Cookbook and more

I do cook over the summer, but you’d never know it from this blog.

And, frankly, over the last few months it was harder than usual to muster up enthusiasm for turning on the oven or cranking up a burner. With the extra-intense heat and El Nino/Pacific hurricane-related humidity, all I ever felt like eating was salad or a taco grilled outside.

I did crack open my new Lemonade cookbook for one afternoon BBQ and made the very delicious, simple Broccoli, Ricotta, Champagne Vinaigrette recipe. This is one of my favorite salads at Lemonade café and the recipe didn’t disappoint (although, note to all: when the recipe calls for “ricotta salata” you actually need to buy that hard, typically sheep’s milk-based cheese, not the ricotta slubs in their salty puddle from the refrigerated section of the store).

With the unused ricotta cheese, I baked—on two different occasions—the tangy, moist, absolutely delicious Blueberry Ricotta Muffins from the Eva Bakes site. Yum times 10 on those, and ridiculously easy to make. Definitely try them out.

During one of our extended family camping trips, we made Bon Appétit‘s Seared Cod with Potato and Chorizo Hobo Packs using “soyrizo.” The recipe has a series of multiple steps, but actually isn’t that complicated to follow. While Cook #1 oversees baby potatoes, wads of soyrizo and olive oil roasting in tinfoil packs over the grill, Cook #2 pan fries cod fillets that are then slathered with a pumpkin seed-lime butter. Everything gets dumped on the plate or in the bowl, and then inhaled by happy campers (to make it even more deluxe, we sautéed some spinach to add to the pile).

Then, last night, as the temperature finally started to drop a bit with rain in the forecast, I made Bon App’s Green Posole with Cod and Cilantro. This is a terrific “swimmatarian” alternative to traditional pork-packed posole, a hominy-based Mexican stew that I otherwise love. With its tomatillo-cilantro base, this soup is bright green and light, while still including enough oomph—fish chunks, hominy—to fill you up. And the lime juice, sliced radishes and sliced Serrano toppings add even more zest and tang. I wonder if Italian parsley could replace the cilantro for those who find that tricky herb soapy tasting?

Random Bon Appétit recipes: Part Four—Meyer Lemon Cream with Graham Crackers and Sea Salt

Over Super Bowl weekend my in-laws were in town from Seattle to help celebrate Roxy’s ninth birthday and, of course, watch the Big Game (yeah, we know how that went). Our weekend thus whiplashed from afternoon tea at a rose petal- and chandelier-filled Glendale shop on Saturday, to the grunting-crashing-leaping-sprinting-tossing-fumbling-guilt-inducing spectacle that is high-stakes pro football on Sunday.

Like many dutiful Americans, we planned a hearty Super Bowl feast (grilled salmon, gougères, quinoa salad and shrimp salad) because the guacamole, tortilla chips, veggies, hummus, shrimp and cheese board that we’d laid out at the start of the game was somehow not going to fill everyone up.

Knowing dessert would need to be a light, barely there affair, I decided to make Meyer Lemon Cream with Graham Crackers and Sea Salt for dessert. I ripped this recipe out of the February 2014 issue of Bon Appétit months earlier intrigued by its simplicity and the sparkling words “Meyer lemon” since that almost always means yummy in my book.

Uncharacteristically, I’d read the recipe through the night before, so I knew the dessert would need to chill two hours prior to serving. Consequently, I got to work around noon, with the kitchen door flung open to the beautiful Los Angeles day.

The simple process started with cooking three eggs, 2/3 cup sugar and ½ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice over medium heat, while “whisking constantly,” for 10 minutes. The goal is to thicken the ingredients without scalding them.

Next, I scraped the pale yellow mixture into my blender and turned it on the lowest speed.

The recipe makes a big deal out of this, warning “you’re not trying to aerate the mixture, so keep blender on low speed.” Problem was: I had no idea if Stir was faster than Mix or Blend faster than Chop on my Osterizer, so I had to punch through the entire lineup of buttons before settling on Grind.

Into the whirlpool of lemony-sugary-egg I gradually added 2 tablespoons of butter that I’d chopped into tiny slices. With each drop of a butter pellet, the blender’s contents grew paler and (slightly) thicker. After finishing, I poured the curd into a glass bowl, covered it and tucked it into the fridge for a few hours of chilling. Then, I zested a lemon and, with the back of a wooden spoon, pounded six graham crackers tucked into a plastic bag into bits.

The results: As the evening light faded into the dark, fuzzy gray that is Mt. Washington at night, I prepared dessert. The game was over, spirits subdued and stomachs more than full.

I pulled the curd out of the fridge. It had firmed up and settled on a cheerful sunshine yellow. I slowly stirred in 1½ cups of chilled heavy cream, which both loosened the curd and returned it to a paler, pastel Easter-party hue. Then, I found four small bowls and spooned a serving of the cream into each one, followed by a sprinkling of the smashed graham crackers, followed by another dollop of cream, followed by a dash of fresh lemon zest and a sprinkling of sea salt. I could’ve really gone for the parfait effect and chosen glass bowls and added two extra layers, but no one needed the extra calories.

I served the group and we all grabbed our spoons.

And, basically, wow.

The Meyer Lemon Cream was incredible: silky smooth, lemony sweet with just the right amount of tart. The graham cracker bits are a brilliant addition giving the luscious curd a perfect, slightly salty crunch, while the zest layers on a refreshing intense pop of citrus juice. The recipe couldn’t be easier (well, I guess the whisking is a bit of a chore) and the results look fresh, inviting and light.

A total winner.

Random Bon Appétit recipes: Part 3—Apple Dutch Baby

We spent all of September—and October—camping in our house.

Yes, what used to be camping in front of our home, in the Airstream, cozy as a sleeping bag in its stuff-sack, took an abrupt left turn after Labor Day. The beautiful new floors we’d chosen turned out to be a disaster: unevenly arranged, poorly installed and sloppily stained. “Your floors pain me,” said our contractor after examining the results. We agreed, miserably.

While we cut loose the old work crew and figured out a new plan, Jon, Roxy and I spent two months perched in the house with the barest of necessities: mattresses on the floor (although Jon kindly re-assembled Roxy’s bed), folding chairs in the kitchen, shoes in a pile by the front door. No tables, no couch, no bookcases. No salad servers, recycling bins or art supply cabinet. Neither completely in nor utterly out.

Honestly, there was something liberating about not living with one’s stuff. There were fewer distractions, for instance. When a magazine or newspaper arrived, I read and recycled it pronto, rather than placing it on the ever-growing pile on the coffee table. There was less to clean and fuss over. Views across rooms were long and uninterrupted.

But then there was the somewhat plodding, uncomfortable reality of not living with one’s stuff. Assembling outfits for work and school required multiple trips to the back deck, where dressers and hanging racks sat shrouded in tarps. Tackling a project involved tools invariably buried in our Atwater Village storage unit. Even cooking a meal was no easy feat with counter space the size of a placemat.

But still I tried.

One Saturday morning, inspired by the early season fruit in our CSA box, I grabbed the latest issue of Bon Appétit and thumbed to the Apple Dutch Baby recipe. We regularly make Dutch Babies for weekend breakfast, and I was curious to see how BA’s approach might differ.

Unfortunately, in the simple BA recipe, nary a word appears as to the origins of so odd a dish name. To the Internet I went. “A Dutch baby pancake,” states Wikipedia, “sometimes called a German pancake, a Bismarck or a Dutch puff, is a sweet popover that is normally served for breakfast.” Even more interesting: according to Sunset magazine, the Dutch Baby hails from a Seattle café called Manca’s, where the owner’s daughter coined the dish’s quirky name. Sadly, the place closed in the 1950s.

All this was news to my husband, a Seattle native. “Then why wasn’t it called a Seattle baby?” he asked after I shared this new Pacific Northwest accolade. Good question. Honestly, though, with a name as awesome as “Dutch puff” why bother with Baby?

I skimmed the list of ingredients. The key difference with BA’s Baby/Puff and ours (a recipe from the November 2002 issue of Real Simple magazine) is the homemade apple syrup. Unfortunately, to make said syrup one must have apple cider, which I haven’t seen in our fridge for about a year. In the interests of eating that morning, without a trip to the store, I opted to use plain old, store-bought maple syrup and focus on the Puff/Baby itself. (For the record, BA’s syrup calls for boiling and then reducing 4 cups of apple cider and 2 tablespoons of butter, plus some cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla…sounds delish to me.)

While Jon prepared Roxy’s breakfast of eggs and toast (she’s never been a fan of sweet breakfast foods), I preheated the oven to a roaring 425 degrees and then whisked together the bulk of the recipe’s ingredients: 3 eggs (ideally at room temperature; mine never are), ¾ cup milk (whole, says the recipe, and at room temperature, it demands; both I ignored), ¾ cup all-purpose flour (finally something we could agree on), a teaspoon of vanilla, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. The results were familiar and frothy…don’t most breakfast dishes start this way?

I dragged the cast iron skillet out of the lower broiler section of our ancient oven and melted two tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat. Into that bubbly goodness went an apple that Jon had sliced thinly (he skipped peeling it, as called for in the recipe), plus 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and another ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. I sautéed all this for about 5 minutes until the apple—BA calls for a Pink Lady; ours was more Gala-ish—was soft and evenly coated. Then I scraped the contents of the pan into a small bowl.

Next, the recipe says to wipe this (burning hot) skillet clean before sticking it in the preheated oven. This step could easily become an object lesson in how to treat burned fingertips; fortunately, I was paying attention and put on an oven mitt before grabbing a paper towel and wiping the charred black sides of the pan fairly dry.

I waited about five minutes before pulling out the now ragingly hot pan and plunking in another two tablespoons of butter. After making sure to coat the bottom and sides with the sizzling liquid, I arranged the apple slices in the center of the pan, poured the batter over them and carefully stuck the breakfast bonanza back into the oven for about 15 minutes of final cooking time.

The results: Jon pulled the Dutch Baby Puff out of the oven, so I didn’t get to see how fluffy (or not) it looked. That said, when I walked into the kitchen 10 minutes later, I was surprised by its appearance.

“It’s so gray-beige,” I said, looking at its collapsed self in the cast iron skillet.

“I’m sure it will still taste good,” Jon said, shrugging.

We perched on our folding chairs, bowls balanced on our laps, and tucked in to our slices. This Baby Puff was denser, even a bit custardy, compared with the lighter, fluffier Real Simple recipe. When I compared the recipes, however, I realized they’re almost identical. The only differences: Bon Appétit spreads the cinnamon between the apple sauté and the batter, uses a tablespoon of brown sugar instead of two tablespoons of white, doubles the butter, and cooks for only 15 minutes instead of 25. That last point—plus all that melted butter—might be the clincher.

Regardless, the apples offered a sweet-cinnamon zing that contrasted nicely with the caramelized notes of the dark maple syrup we poured on top.

In retrospect, I wonder how the apple cider syrup would change things—more fruity goodness or too much of a good thing? I’ll have to experiment once apple cider hits the stores—and we have a bit more counter space to work on.

Random cooking in an Airstream

My Auntie Em’s Cookbook sits locked inside my house, perched on a dusty, cluttered kitchen counter. I and my family, meanwhile, sit outside the house, perched (when not at work and school) in our 16-foot Bambi Sport Airstream trailer in the driveway.

Why the city-limits camping? It’s Week Eleven of our house remodel and floors are being “installed”—an odd term, as if we’re uploading software into each slightly out-of-date room. The project extends from north to south, end to end. Only the bathrooms are untouched.

I guess I could unlock the back door, twist around and grab the cookbook from the kitchen while avoiding the still-drying, stained floors. But why? Cooking has been reduced to the occasional creative pairing of one leftover with another, the inspired addition of a grilled-cheese crouton to an otherwise standard leafy green salad.

Last night, stepping into the “galley,” as Airstream calls the cooking zone (many boating terms reappear in the trailer world), I rifled through the mini fridge and found Roxy’s penne from dinner out the night before. I also spotted a carton of brown mushrooms. Excitement!

I washed them carefully in our shoebox-sized kitchen sink, pulled out a mini flexible cutting board from one of the two overhead storage bins, grabbed a knife from the drawer near my knee below the sink, and sliced those mushrooms. Next, I pulled out the mini frying pan, which we store in the microwave when it’s not in use, lifted the protective glass top from our “range” over the fridge, and lit the far-right pilot with a flamethrower (actually, a propane lighter). Then I grabbed the olive oil from our “pantry”—the roomy, long drawer that’s located under one of the bench seats in our eating area—and drizzled a swirl into the pan. Feeling fancy, I added a bit of butter, and, once the pan was hot, the pile of mushrooms and some herbs de Provence.

I love these herbs of the Provence. I bought them at a little stand in Pasadena that’s nothing but powders and teas and other dried stuff. The herbs de P smell so powerfully—a heady combination of lavender, oregano, thyme and whatever else is in there—that they put all my other tired spices to shame. Good thing those are all in the house, getting dusty, while the herbs are with us in the trailer.

While I sautéed the mushrooms for about five minutes, I marveled at the fact that we (or, I should say, some of us) even eat them. Wikipedia defines mushrooms as “the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bod[ies] of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source.” Dictionary.com goes one better, saying “any of various fleshy fungi including the toadstools, puffballs, coral fungi, morels, etc.” Take your pick: both sound like a scourge from the End of Times. And yet mushrooms are miraculous little packages of flavor, architecture and health—as well as excellent excuses to eat olive oil and butter.

As Jon helped Roxy finish up her homework (she’d already scarfed a plate of chicken nuggets and green beans), I zapped the penne in the microwave, wiggled two bowls from the nested pile in our upper storage bin, and dished out equal portions of the pasta and the mushroom sauté. Then I unearthed two forks (again from the knee drawer) and poured glasses of sparkling water. Plunking down beside Jon on the bench seats bracketing the table—the table that would later be magically pulled from its slot in the wall and converted into a sleeping platform for Roxy—I took a breath and then a bite.

Magical, those mushrooms. Deeply flavored, satisfying; reminiscent of forest floor and hikes and camping.

Yes, even camping on a street in Los Angeles.

Random recipes: Late October version

Halloween has come and gone once again. Mon dieu, what a season!

Not content to simply carve a pumpkin and eat some candy corn, we decided to make the holiday extra crazy this year by co-hosting a neighborhood party in the park. The goal of the get-together was simple: provide some seasonal fun for the younger kids who still find much of the zombie-, ghoul- and serial killer-filled holiday way too scary. So my neighbor Pilar and I invited a bunch of local families and friends, came up with a menu (me), created some games (her) and set up shop at 4pm on Saturday under the trees in Cleland Park.

As it turns out, our fete was happening simultaneously with (or directly after/before) Mt. Washington Elementary School’s Halloween carnival; about 400 harvest-, pumpkin- and apple-themed events in municipalities throughout the Southland; and, as my friend Catherine reminded me at lunch recently, Nevada Day. Needless to say, many of our guests arrived slightly glazed, having already tucked two events under their belts.

“THANK you for having real food,” my friend Tiffany said as she spooned up the vegetarian chili (my favorite version from Rosso and Lukins’ New Basics Cookbook) I’d served her. “We’ve been eating junk and spending money all day.”

Which pretty much sums up Halloween in 2013. When did the holiday get so complicated? Growing up, we made a costume, put it on once for a school party, and then again for trick or treating in the immediate ZIP code. End of story.

My proudest accomplishment for our party in the park were the individual apple pies I baked the night before. I riffed on the Mini Apple Pie Recipe from CitronLimette, an appealing culinary partnership between a Quebecoise chef and a Floridian empty nester.

To have enough for at least 20 people, I skinnied their minis down even further by using a tiny Turkish tea glass to cut out rounds of the very simple, tasty dough and a mini muffin tin to bake them in. Without a top crust, the sugar-cinnamon-apple filling dried out a little, but the results were still quite yummy and a less guilt-filled way to eat pie.

Random Bon Appétit recipes: Part 4

Finally, this past weekend I made Fresh Strawberry Jam in order to slather it upon Strawberry Jam Biscuits (both from the June 2013 issue) the next morning.

This jam is incredibly easy to make. The home cook simply cooks hulled, halved (or quartered, if the berries are huge) fresh strawberries with a heap of sugar over medium-high heat “until jamlike in consistency.” No pectin. No freezer. No canning complication. Just cooking with the occasional stirring.

When the chunky red-pink syrup looked oozy and sticky, which took about 20 minutes, I pulled the pot off the burner and stirred in both lime zest and juice. Then I let it cool before spooning it into a jar and sticking it into the fridge.

To make the biscuits the following morning, I whisked together sugar, baking powder, salt and flour; worked in slices of chilled butter—an entire stick, mind you—along with a teaspoon of fresh lime zest with my fingers; and added some buttermilk. After combining it all with a fork, I kneaded it carefully into a “shaggy” dough, rolled out the dough, used a glass to cut out biscuits and arranged them on a Silpat-covered baking sheet.

Before sticking the pale rounds into the oven, I brushed the tops of each biscuit with some beaten egg and sprinkled sugar, and then put a big thumbprint in the center of each biscuit for a spoonful of the fresh strawberry jam. The biscuits baked for about 18–22 minutes.

Bon Appétit says to serve the biscuits warm, with vanilla ice cream “if using,” and more jam. We skipped the 8 a.m. ice cream and pretended we were eating a healthy breakfast instead. Fresh off the baking sheet, these were very, very good. The lime zest in both the biscuits and the jam is particularly inspired—a bright, tart note against the sweet, fruity strawberry.

I’m totally sold on Bon App, as we’ve now nicknamed the magazine. Some of the articles are a little pretentious—foody snark for world-weary readers. But for the most part, the recipes are straightforward, well edited and accurate; the photos are lush and practically edible; and the range of foods and flavors covered impressive.

I might even subscribe to the magazine if it ever stops appearing in my mailbox!

Random Bon Appétit recipes: Part 3

The other night Jon and I decided to make Spicy Sautéed Spinach (April 2013 issue) and Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower (February 2013 issue) for a speedy weeknight dinner. We had a big bag of spinach, a lonely head of cauliflower and a jar of chutney in the fridge—building blocks for yumminess.

We had to substitute a few ingredients in the Indian-inspired spinach, replacing scallions with chives and using red pepper flakes rather than chiles de arbol. But the ghee-sautéed side with its mustard seeds and garlic was easy to prepare, and quite yummy in that simple, umami-rocking way that cooked spinach dishes often are.

The roasted cauliflower was equally easy: preheat the oven to 425, cut a head of cauliflower into florets, and combine the snowy white results with a sliced medium onion, fresh sprigs of thyme, and plenty of garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper. After about 35 minutes of roasting, sprinkle everything with ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, toss together, and roast for another 10 minutes. The flavor combination was spot-on, but the roasting time far, far too long and hot. Next time, we’ll try this at 350 degrees to avoid the char and desiccation of 425.

Tomorrow: Fresh Strawberry Jam and Strawberry Jam Biscuits!

 

Random Bon Appétit recipes: Part 2

Before our camping trip into the Sierras a few weeks ago we made Brown Rice and Beans with Ginger Chile Salsa (April 2013 issue) for a quick evening dinner. “Quick” should be taken with a grain of salt—or maybe rice? There are easier ways to make rice and beans, but I doubt most of them produce results that are this attractive or deluxe.

The rice begins with chopped sautéed onion and ends, once cooked and fluffed, with ¼ cup chopped cilantro stirred into the pot. The black beans include more chopped onion, plus coriander and cumin. And the salsa—a pulsed mash of red jalapenos (I used green), garlic, fresh ginger, lime zest, lime juice, plus some chopped onion—looks like something one would drink during a juice cleanse, but tasted tangy and fresh, with more than a little heat.

To serve, we put spoonfuls of the rice and beans into bowls, and topped it all with the fresh salsa, before adding chopped avocado, crumbled feta cheese and cilantro. So, so tasty! And so healthy! Colorful, too. This recipe, which Bon Appétit put in its “Fast, Easy, Fresh—Budget Dinners” section, definitely goes into the mental binder of fuss-free weeknight food.

Tomorrow: Spicy Sauteed Spinach, plus Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower.

Random Bon Appétit recipes: Part 1

Late last year I started to receive Bon Appétit in the mail.

“Why am I getting this?” I asked Jon the first, second and third times the glossy cooking mag arrived. He had no idea.

Old-school secret admirerer? Postal delivery mishap? Local high school kid’s team fundraiser? Perplexed, I’d toss the magazines on my ever-swelling, coffee-table “to read” pile and forget about them.

Until earlier this spring.

There I was on the couch, comfy-cozy with a National Geographic (don’t laugh, it has beautiful photos and good writing) or one of the bits of Chris Ware’s mind-blowingly detailed Building Stories box when the cover of a Bon Appétit caught my eye. I grabbed it, thinking I’d zip through it and toss it into the recycling bin.

Instead, I read it front to back, dog-earring about 10 recipes in the process. Then I picked up another one and did the same thing, ripping out recipes this time, to put in a prominent kitchen spot.

Last month, I decided to try a few of these random recipes.

For our Fourth of July barbecue Jon and I made Spiced Salmon Kebabs, Baby Potato Salad (both from the June 2013 issue) and a kale salad (our creation). For the kebabs, I mixed chopped fresh oregano, sesame seeds, cumin, salt, and red pepper flakes into a spice potpourri. Jon got the grill going at about medium heat and cut the enormous filet of wild salmon Rox and I had purchased that morning into one-inch chunks. I sliced two Meyer lemons into thin, round, cheerful disks.

To assemble the kebabs, Jon stuck first a salmon chunk, then a folded lemon slice, then a salmon chunk (et cetera, et cetera) onto parallel bamboo skewers. This was a trick we picked up from the recipe’s handy introduction, which reads: “Thread salmon pieces onto two skewers so they don’t flip and spin every time you turn them on the grill.” Brilliant, will-do-it-forever advice.

Once finished, Jon painted the skewers with olive oil and sprinkled them with spice mix. They went on the grill for about 7–8 minutes and were absolutely fantastic: robustly flavorful (especially the warm nuttiness of the sesame) and filling without being heavy.

The Baby Potato Salad was also good—creamy, mustard-tangy, with a welcome non-mushy bite—although I ended up using fingerlings that I cut into chunks since I couldn’t find baby potatoes at Whole Foods.

Flecked with chopped fresh chives, the salad features a homemade mayonnaise dressing of egg yolk, white wine vinegar, kosher salt, vegetable oil and spicy brown mustard. Once again, I was reminded that mayonnaise is much less threatening when made at home with ingredients one can see, touch and relate to, rather than when spooned from a tub of too-white, too-smooth, Brylcreem-esque whip.

I’d definitely make this potato salad again. In spite of the dubious mustard seeds, Roxy even ate a few bites and pronounced it “mmmm good.”

Tomorrow: Brown Rice and Beans with Ginger Chile Salsa!