Monday, November 30, 2015

Cookbook Gift Guide

I have a long standing love affair with cookbooks. My first cookbook was a coloring cookbook for kids. It had simple recipes: hamburgers, spaghetti, eggs. I was obsessed with it. I wanted to try every recipe in the book. I colored in every page.

When I was in high school, a family friend knew how much I loved cooking and gifted me with some cookbooks she was getting rid of. I hit the jack pot. Her gift included Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking, The Professional Chef, The NY Times Cookbook, and more. 

That first gift was the start of an always growing and increasingly curated cookbook collection. I started to read cookbooks like novels, eagerly absorbing each recipe, image, personal anecdote, and cautionary tale. I love everything from old vintage cookbooks found at second hand stores and flea markets, to brand new books from chefs or authors I love and admire. My "cookbook bookshelf" is overflowing, and I have no problem with that. From Elizabeth David to Yotam Ottolenghi, from Dorie Greenspan to Suzanne Goin, from Nigella Lawson to Ina Garten, from James Beard to Julia Child - I love them all. 

Below is a list of some of my current favorites. These books have all been published in 2015, and I think they are great gifts for fellow cooks and/or cookbook lovers. There are many other cookbooks that came out in 2015 that I would like to read and haven't yet. I hope to soon, and may have to update this list accordingly. I'd also love to hear any cookbook suggestions (old or new!) 

Happy cooking!

I LOVE this book. I already said I read cookbooks like novels, but this was never more true than when I read this book cover to cover over the course of a few days. I have always loved Reichl's prose, and I was a huge Gourmet fan, and this cookbook is the best of both worlds. The recipes are outstanding (I've already tried a few), and the writing that accompanies the recipes is equally compelling.

This book is an amazing gift for an avid home cook: someone that loves to be in the kitchen, discovering new techniques, flavors, and ideas.

Heidi Swanson - Near and Far

I've been a Heidi Swanson fan for years. She writes the beautiful blog, 101 Cookbooks, I covet every offering in her on-line store, her photography is outstanding, and her recipes inspire healthy cooking and seasonal eating. I love that her second cookbook is a travelogue - a glimpse into her worldly culinary discoveries, and the transformation of her pantry as a result. I was given this book by a dear friend, and am so grateful for the gift. 

This book is great for the healthy eater, the vegetarian/vegan, the world traveler, the farmers' market shopper, the friend that might splurge on a good bottle of olive oil or a Spanish-made pairing knife. That is all to say: this isn't for everyone, but for the right person this book is such a treat. 

Magnus Nilsson - The Nordic Cookbook

If you've ever watched Chef's Table on Netflix, or Mind of a Chef on PBS (also on Netflix), then you know about Magnus Nilsson and his incredible little restaurant in rural Sweden - Faviken. While I have never had the pleasure of eating his food, let alone traveling to Sweden, I became a big fan of Nilsson by hearing him talk about food, how he comes up with recipes, and his hyper-local and seasonal approach to cooking. It's clear that this is a person who is passionate about where he comes from, and the food that that place provides. He has a deep relationship to food as culture, and food as a means of connecting to land, family, and our own history. You may not think much about Nordic Cooking, you may not have a need for a nearly 800 page tome on the topic, but once you start delving into this book it's impossible not to become excited by the recipes. Mainly, this is a testament to Nilsson's writing. His voice comes through in every page. I have just begun reading the book, and I've already learned about how to cook an egg in a new way, the popularity of Tex Mex in Scandinavia, and the influence of Sephardic Jews on a particular kind of cookie, among other things. Nilsson is upfront: some recipes you will not be able to cook (they involve ingredients or techniques we might not have access to). Some recipes will not be bullet proof: cooking, even baking, is not an exact science - the same ingredients (eggs, milk, flour) differ wildly across countries and continents. This book is not trying to provide you with an easy cooking experience where every recipe is replicable. That's the not the point, and the book is better for it.

This book is excellent for the historian, the Nordic lover, the Chef's Table fan, the Magnus Nilsson fan, the cookbook collector, the hopeful adventurer, and the curious cook. This book is an investment at $50, but it's a generous stunning piece of research and writing.

Yotam Ottolenghi - Nopi: The Cookbook

If there's a such thing as a cookbook fan girl then I am one. Yotom Ottolenghi is at the very top of my list of greatest cookbook writers on the planet. I own all of the his books, including the ones he co-authored with the equally admirable Sami Tamimi. His newest venture is co-authored with Ramael Scully, the chef of the London restaurant that offers the dishes documented in the book. Ottolenghi makes it clear from the start that this book includes recipes that are more ambitious than those written in his previous cookbooks: Plenty, Plenty More, Jerusalem, and Ottolenghi. The home cook still has a lot to work from, but many recipes require the kind of labor that most folks don't want to do outside of a professional set-up. That said, even if you're not cooking the recipes they provide stunning inspiration. The photographs are incredible, the ideas are wholly original, and the writing is clear and accessible. I am already eagerly awaiting Ottolenghi's next cookbook. 

This book is for the ambitious chef, Yotam fan, lover of Asian and Middle Eastern fusion food, and serious cookbook collector.

Amelia Satlsman lives here in Southern California, and is a long standing supporter and friend of local farmers' markets. In fact, she even wrote the wonderful Santa Moncia Farmers' Market Cookbook. This book is near and dear to my heart as it's about two of my favorite culinary topics. The recipes are inventive, colorful, bright, modern, and delicious. There are new takes on old dishes, and interesting ways to incorporate some unexpected produce and other ingredients (i.e. Tunisian Lemon Rind Salad). There are an abundance of vegetarian and even vegan options, and the recipes all feel easy and homey - perfect for entertaining during the holidays or otherwise. 

This book is wonderful for the modern Jewish cook, the farmers' market lover, the vegetarian, the Californian, the entertainer, the adventurous eater, and the welcoming home cook. 

Other books that deserve mentioning are: 
  • NEW -  Crossroads - co-written by legendary cookbook author JoAnn Cianciulli. This is the cookbook from the beloved Los Angeles vegan restaurant. Great for any and all plant-based eaters.
  • NEW-ISH -  Heritage - Sean Brock's masterpiece on Southern Cooking. This is a must-have for any cookbook lover.
  • NEW CLASSIC - Plenty - If you only get one Yotam book, this should be it. I have given this book as a gift more times than I can count. All of the recipes are vegetarian, crowd-pleasers, well-written, and soooo good. 
  • CLASSIC REMASTERED - At Elizabeth David's Table - Elizabeth David was/is as important to cooking in England as Julia Child was/is in America. I love her sassy voice, and clear recipe writing. So many gems in this book, not to mention gorgeous photography. 
  • CLASSIC -  Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking  - Written by the incomparable Marcella Hazan. If you love cooking Italian food, this book IS essential. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

Whether you're looking to make a substantial vegetarian dish for your Thanksgiving table, or whether you just love making savory tarts any time of year, this recipe is super easy, delicious, and endlessly modifiable.

Yes, it uses store bought puff pastry. In terms of pre-made things, puff pastry and phyllo dough are two of things I prefer to buy already made. They're complicated and time consuming pastry to make at home, and there are excellent versions of both at the market.

In the picture above I made the tart without egg and creme fraiche/sour cream. The egg and cream will bind the mushrooms a little better, but frankly, I didn't mind it with the mushrooms coming apart a bit. It tasted more mushroomy. If you do use the egg binder, then make sure you're mixture isn't too wet or your tart will get soggy.

If you're not a mushroom fan, you can take the same principles for making this tart, and make it with a combination of any other kind of filling: roasted squash and fennel, sautéed zucchini pepper and feta, potato leek... you get the idea. Basically, you want the filling to be mostly or partially cooked, so that you're really just putting the tart in the oven for the pastry's sake.

You can check out a video of this recipe on our Thanksgiving Pies series over at The Assembly Line . You can also follow us on Instagram or Facebook for weekly recipes and videos.

Mushroom Goat Cheese Tart
Makes one tart, serves 6-8

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, sliced thin
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced thin (crimini, oyster, hen of the woods, chanterelles or
whatever is available)
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
splash of sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
¼ cup sour cream (or creme fraiche)
1 medium egg
⅓ cup goat cheese, crumbled (or to taste)
2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stem
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed and cold
chopped chives, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large skillet, add the butter and olive oil. Add the sliced shallots to the butter and oil. Stir and let the shallots heat up for 2 minutes, until just fragrant and slightly softened. Add the mushrooms to the shallots, and cook until the mushrooms are softened and the moisture has evaporated, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and sherry vinegar to the pan and sauté for an additional 1-2 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and allow the mushrooms to fully cool.

In a small bowl combine the sour cream and egg until the egg is fully incorporated. Add the sour cream mixture to the cooled mushroom mixture in the bowl, stir until fully combined.

Roll out your puff pastry so that it is larger in size than a large dinner plate. Using the dinner plate upside down as a stencil, cut a circle out of the puff pastry. Using a smaller salad plate, gently score an inner circle inside of the larger puff pastry circle. Using a fork, gently poke the inner circle of the puff pastry.

To assemble the tart-
Add the mushroom mixture to the inner circle of pastry. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mushrooms, any extra liquid can remain in the bowl. Top with goat cheese and thyme. Brush the outer edges of the pastry with egg wash.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is browned and fully cooked.  Once fully cooked, top with fresh chives. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pear, Rosemary and Goat Cheese Crostata

I never tire of making crostata's and galettes (as is obvious on this blog). I love that they can be sweet or savory, or walk the line between sweet or savory. I also love that the pastry is simple, with very little wait time. And most importantly, it's a great way to use up some extra ripe fruit.

This pear and goat cheese crostata walks the line between sweet and savory. It's great as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea or coffee (or glass of wine!), or sliced into small wedges as an appetizer at a dinner party. It could also be a dessert, if you're into serving something not too sweet. Also, add more sugar, it will be sweeter. Take away the goat cheese, it will be less savory. The rosemary adds such a nice hit of green and aromatic flavor with or without cheese. If you don't have rosemary, try something else: thyme, black pepper, tarragon, or maybe even marjoram. 

If you don't have a food processor, you can even make the crostata dough by hand (and it's arguably better that way). A food processor helps if you're nervous about mixing it all up evenly and well. Also, good butter helps. This is a good place to splurge on a nicer brand as there really aren't too many ingredients in this pastry. For flour, I prefer King Arthur brand, for its high protein content, but any kind will do. And if you don't want dairy, you could use a quality vegan margarine (like Earth Balance) in the dough; it will make the pastry a little saltier (so omit any additional salt), and it's not quite as great as butter, but it 100% works. 

And lastly, the pears. You want good pears. I like them in this dish when they're really ripe. Even a little bruised is ok. If they're too hard the tart doesn't bake as evenly. You use Bosc, Anjou, or whatever you can get your hands on that's good at the market. You don't need to peel them, and they add such a nice pop of color. 

Pear, Rosemary and Goat Cheese Crostata
Serves 4

For the pastry-
1¼  cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons ice cold water
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
turbinado or raw sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling-
2 pears (about 1 lbs / 450 grams), ripe but still firm, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons honey, plus more for garnish (local honey)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
juice of ½ a lemon
4 oz. fresh goat cheese

To a food processor, add the flour sugar and salt. Pulse a few times to combine the mixture. Add the cubed butter to the dry ingredients, pulse until pea-sized pieces of dough are formed. Alternatively, you can use your hands or a pastry cutter to combine the dry ingredients with the butter.

To the dough, add the apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Pulse until the dough comes together into a ball but is not too wet. It should stick together between your fingers when squeezed. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

While your dough is chilling, prepare the fruit and cheese. To a bowl, add the sliced pear, sugar, honey, rosemary, and lemon juice.

Preheat your oven to 400°F (205°C)

Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper. The dough should roll out to about 12-13 inches in diameter, or about ½ an inch thick. The edges do not have to be perfect. Leaving a 1.5-2 inch border, pile the sliced pears into the middle of the crust. Dollop the goat cheese over the top of the pears. Fold the edges of dough over the pears.

Brush the top of the dough with the beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle the Turbinado or raw sugar over the brushed dough. Transfer the crostata with the parchment paper onto a baking sheet.

Bake the crostata for 45-50 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the pears are tender. If the crust starts to brown too much before the pears are cooked, cover the the exposed crust with foil. Drizzle a little honey over the hot crostata. Slice and serve warm or room temp.

Before going in the oven

Friday, November 6, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie

Photo by Eric Slatkin

I've recently been a part of  launching a new stop-motion digital How-To series called Assembly Line. We started out making sandwiches, and now we're  launching our Thanksgiving videos. We're doing a series on pies, both savory and sweet, to celebrate fall's best day.

I've never been the biggest fan of pumpkin pie, even though I love pumpkin and I love the spices that go into it. Most of the pumpkin pies I've had or made are a little too one-note or too bland for me. When we started thinking about doing a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, we knew we wanted to do something a little different.

The inspiration for this recipe is the beloved (controversially?) ubiquitous "Pumpkin Spice Latte." If people could love a drink this much, maybe coffee was this missing flavor in the pie? 

Adding just a small amount of espresso to the mix adds a note of depth and complexity to the pie. Have you ever added instant espresso to chocolate cake or brownies? It enriches the chocolate favor. Here, it enriches the overall flavor and you can taste a hint of the nutty bitter coffee been. I also add the espresso to the whipped cream. I love the flavor of coffee, and it definitely enhances the whipped cream, but it's not essential if you don't want too much coffee in your dessert. Although,  it helps liven things up after a rich heavy meal.

Different pumpkin pie recipes use different types of ingredients. A lot include sweetened condensed milk, but I often find those recipes too sweet. Some use just milk, some use cream, and here I'm using both milk and cream, in addition to some of the other familiar ingredients. The resulting texture is silky and smooth. For me, this pie has the right density; it's not too flimsy and not too firm. This is my new go-to pumpkin pie recipe, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

For more pie recipes from Assembly Line you can subscribe or follow us on YouTube, Facebook and/or Instagram!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie
Makes 1 pie

for the crust-
1¼ cup all purpose flour (I like King Arthur Brand)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons ice cold water

for the filling-
1¾ (15 oz.) cups pure unsweetened pumpkin purée
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons instant espresso powder (1 or 2 depending on desired intensity, I use Medaglia D'oro brand)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
few gratings of fresh nutmeg (about an ⅛ teaspoon)
1 cup heavy cream
⅓ cup milk (I use whole, but any kind works)
3 large eggs

espresso whipped cream-
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).

for the crust-
To a food processor, add the flour sugar and salt. Pulse a few times to combine the mixture. Add the cubed butter to the dry ingredients, pulse until pea-sized pieces of dough are formed.  (You can use a pastry cutter or just your hands to combine the butter if you do not have a food processor).

To the dough, add the apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Pulse until the dough comes together but is still crumbly and not too wet. It should stick together between your fingers when squeezed, if it doesn’t add another tablespoon of water. Roll the dough into a disc that’s about an inch thick - this will make it easier to roll out into a circular shape. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.  

Onto a lightly floured surface, roll the pie dough out until you have a 12-inch even circle. Carefully transfer the dough into a 9-inch pie tin. Lightly press the dough into the pan. Trim any overhanging crust. Decoratively crimp the edges of the crust with your fingers, or you can decorate the edges with the tines of a fork.

for the filling-
Combine the pumpkin purée, brown sugar, granulated sugar, espresso powder, salt and spices in a large bowl. Whisk in the cream and milk, then whisk in the eggs. Pour filling into prepared pie crust.

bake the pie-
Place the pie in the oven for 15 minutes at 400°F. After 15 minutes, lower the heat to 350°F and bake for 35-45 more minutes (it's super important to start off at a high temp and then lower - if you stay at 400 the crust will get burnt and the filling won't cook properly), or until a toothpick inserted into the batter comes out mostly pumpkin-free. A little pumpkin and dampness is fine, but you do not want super loose pumpkin batter on it. Also, you will be able to tell if the pumpkin is done by the amount it jiggles in the pan. You only want the slightest wobble in the center of the pie.

If the crust starts to get too brown, you can cover the crust edges with aluminum foil and continue to cook the filling.

Once cooked, let the pie cool on a rack completely. Refrigerate once the pie has cooled, and serve either cool or at room temp.

for the espresso whipped cream-
While the pie is cooling, prepare the whipped cream. Combine all of the ingredients in a large cool bowl. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, beat everything together until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to over-whip your cream.

to serve-
Top the pie with the espresso whipped cream. Garnish with ground cinnamon and/or more espresso powder. Slice and serve!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Quick Pickled Grapes

People often thinking of pickling as a daunting task. It can involve sterilizing mason jars, extended wait times, and washing and cutting huge batches of vegetables or fruits. I love pickled things, and I love the craft of food preservation. But one of the things I love most about pickles is their flavor: briny acidic notes that wake up your taste buds with tang and oomph. A quick pickling process can achieve great flavor when you don't as much time or patience.

I'll never say no to a classic dill pickle, but I've also fallen in love with pickled fruits.  Fruits are perfect for pickling; their sweetness allows for that sweet/sour combination of flavor that is so complex and satisfying. From watermelon to peaches, strawberries to plums, there are so many options. It all depends on the season and what's available. In fall, I love to quick pickle grapes. I'll serve them as an accompaniment to a cheese platter, or thinly sliced in a salad (with hearty greens, toasted almonds, ricotta salata, and a good vinaigrette). They're sweet and acidic, aromatic and crisp.

A few notes: You definitely taste the garlic in these grapes. If that's not a flavor you're into, skip the clove of garlic. If you can't get your hands on pink peppercorn, you can skip that ingredient or just add more black peppercorn. In fact, you can skip a lot of the spices. They key elements are vinegar, salt, and sugar - the rest is up to you. I use this brine for lots of pickles. Aside from grapes, I also love it for shallots or red onion. A pickled onion is a great addition to sandwiches, salads, or as a topping for grilled meats.

These quick pickled grapes are easy to make and look great on a plate. They're not for long-term preserving, but they'll do great in the fridge for a week or so (they'll develop more pickle flavor the longer they cure). And you can easily swap out the grapes for another fall fruit: like persimmon or late autumn plums

Quick Pickled Grapes

1 lb. red seedless grapes (about 4 cups)
1½  cups white wine vinegar
½ cup water
juice of 1 orange
3 strips orange zest
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon pink peppercorn
½ tablespoon black peppercorn
5 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 stick cinnamon
1 garlic clove

Trim the tops off of the grapes. This will allow the pickling brine to fully penetrate and flavor the grape. Place the grapes in a heatproof mason jar or bowl.

In a small pot, bring the vinegar, water, orange juice and zest, salt, sugar, peppercorn, cloves, bay leaf, and cinnamon stick to a boil.

Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the salt and sugar has fully dissolved, and all of the flavors have melded together. Pour the brine mixture over the grapes.

Transfer the grapes to a jar or air tight container. Let the grapes marinade for at least 1 hour, or preferably overnight in the fridge. Grapes will keep for up to one week in the fridge.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Warm Marinated Olives

It feels like it's officially the beginning of entertaining season. Between now and New Year's, and all of the holidays in between, there always seems to be a lot of getting together and sharing meals with friends.

When hosting parties big or small, I love to follow Ina Garten's entertaining advice. She always advocates serving appetizers or small bites that involve very little time to prepare and very little cooking. She recommends planning and hosting parties in a way in which you can actually enjoy the party without stressing about the food. Within this framework there are still lots of ways that you can satisfy your guests (and impress them - if that's what you're going for :) Ina will serve antipasto platters loaded with great store bough charcuterie and marinated vegetables of different sorts. I've seen her go as simple as serving up shards of good Parmesan cheese. For me, I am always a fan of a cheese plate. I like crudités and dips. I'll even keep it really simple and just do GOOD quality tortilla chips and great salsa. I might spend a little more money on a few very good items, as opposed to buying and making a wide variety of things.

One of my favorite appetizers are warm marinated olives. They take very little work, but still involve a small amount of special preparation and care, which makes them taste like something special.

Start by getting your favorite kind of olives. I like to get them from an olive bar as opposed to canned or jarred, if possible. Then you add them to a skillet with a little olive oil and your favorite flavorings. It doesn't take much - a clove of garlic, zests of lemon, a few chilies, thyme, a pinch of fennel seeds, a little rosemary... there are a lot of possibilities. I make them just before guests arrive and they can be served warm or room temp. The marinade brightens up the olives and takes some of their store-bought dullness away. The oil that's left over is great to dip a crusty baguette into, too.

Warm Marinated Olives

1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 big sprig fresh rosemary
2 large strips of lemon zest (removed with a vegetable peeler, avoiding the bitter white pith)
pinch of chili flakes (optional)
2 cups olives

Over medium-low heat, slowly heat up the rosemary, lemon and chili flakes in a sauté pan. After a few minutes, or once you can start smelling the lemon and rosemary release their oils, add the olives to the pan. Gently toss or stir the olives in the pan, and heat them completely through, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.