Category Archives: easy cooking

Roasted Delicata Squash Tarte

Let’s get back to a food post, shall we? 
I know I’ve deviated quite heavily from my original “food blog” posts, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love and appreciate good quality, delicious food. I’m for sure preparing simpler dishes these days, and definitely not throwing myself into complicated dessers like macarons, but I do still enjoy cooking. 
I’ve mentioned our CSA before. If you’re local to the bay area, we get our weekly produce from High Grounds Organics, and I absolutely love them. We’ve tried other CSAs, like Eating with the Seasons, Farm Fresh to You and Full Circle, but none of them have compared to the quality of our fruits and veggies from High Grounds. I’m planning on putting together a post about all of them, so that’s enough CSA comparison for now. Back to the food.
We’ve started getting more fall produce in our box these last few weeks. Yes, we still get tomatoes (yay California!), but we also get leafy greens, root vegetables and winter squash. 
Last week, we got two delicata squash. I wanted to change things up from my usual protocol- cut squash in half, dig out seeds and roast, probably blend into soup. Instead, I decided to make a tarte. It turned out lovely. Sweet and savory, warm and comforting, especially with a bowl of soup on a cool day. 
Ingredients:
– 1 delicata squash
– 1 sheet of puff pastry 
– olive oil
– salt
– a few sprigs of fresh rosemary 
– dried thyme
– a handful of shredded parmesan cheese
Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut off the ends of the delicata squash, cut it in half and peel it. Then slice it into 1/2 inch slices. 
2. Lightly coat the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Place delicata squash slices in dish. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle a little olive oil, and place rosemary on top. Bake for 30 minutes, until a sharp knife goes into the squash easily. 
3. Mold puff pastry into your buttered tarte pan (you’ll have to let it defrost on the counter for 10-15 minutes before it will be pliable enough to do this). Brush the puff pastry with olive oil, sprinkle parmesan cheese to the bottom, and transfer the roasted squash slices to the tarte. Sprinkle with dried thyme. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (still at 375 degrees). 

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Moong Dhal

Even though I grew up learning to cook (and eat!) French food, I like to mix things up every now and then. Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines, so I’ve learned how to make a few simple Indian dishes. Moong Dhal is a staple of my limited repertoire of Indian recipes. I originally looked up lots of recipes online and adapted mine based on the balance of spices I prefer. My dhal is probably not as authentic as it could be, but it’s tasty.
Moong Dhal:
     Ingredients:
2 cups moong dhal (yellow lentils)
1 Tbsp Turmeric
2 Tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 chili pepper, finely chopped (I like to use fresh thai chilis if I have them. This time, I used dried thai chilis, and only 1, because the little guy was going to be eating it. Normally I would make it spicier)
8-10 whole curry leaves (I get them at the Indian grocery store and keep them in my freezer)
3 large tomatoes, diced
Salt to taste
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish
     Directions:
1. Wash the dhal in a large bowl several times until the wash water is clear. Cover in water and soak for 20-30 minutes. Drain the water. Put the washed and soaked dhal in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and cover with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover with lid most of the way and simmer for 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft.
2. While the dhal is cooking, prep the remaining ingredients. Dice the onion and chop the garlic. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Melt the ghee/vegetable oil. Cook the onions until they begin to be translucent, stirring often. Next add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ground cumin, chili pepper and curry leaves. Then add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Don’t let the garlic burn! The cumin and mustard seeds should start to pop. Remove from heat.
3. Stir the turmeric into the cooked lentils. Next add the onion and spices from the previous step into the lentils. Stir well.
4. Stir the tomatoes in and cook for a few minutes. Add salt to taste.
5. Serve with naan bread, chapati or rice, and garnish with cilantro.
The most recent version of dhal and homemade chapati (recipe and instructions here) were a hit in our house, little man included.

Homemade fruit leathers

I admittedly have a sweet tooth. I love dessert of all kinds. I know it’s a bit of a confession for someone who fancies themselves a fresh, clean eating foodie, but my concession food of choice if we’re at the movie theater would be sour patch kids. I think it’s the nostalgia from junior high sleep overs combined with loving all things sour. (Seriously, just ask my husband how I make my vinaigrette). Alas and alack, eating sour patch kids on a regular basis is just not going to happen anymore. Enter, homemade fruit leathers. You can whip up your own “gummy candy” with as much or as little sugar as you want. I’ve chosen to make my fruit leathers without any sugar added at all and find them very tasty!
Making fruit leathers is really easy. Choose whatever fruit you have in excess. You can be creative here and combine fruits if you’d like. Peel & cut up the fruit if appropriate. Cook the fruit down in a pot over medium heat. If you still have big chunks in the fruit at this point, you can give it a run in the food processor, but this step is not always necessary. 
Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spread the fruit mixture on top. Put the fruit leathers out in the sun to dry. You can also dry them in your oven if you can get your oven down to 170 degrees or less. Mine doesn’t go that low, so I use the sun. 
Here are some kiwi fruit leathers, starting to dry.

Here it is fully dried. Kiwi looks kind of odd with all the seeds, but I actually really like the crunch. 

Roll the parchment paper up and cut the fruit leathers into strips. They can now be stored in the freezer and taken out 10-15 minutes before you’re ready to enjoy them. 

Below, the same process using blueberries:

Leek tart


Let’s get back to some food blogging, shall we? This spring and summer, we’ve received a lot of leeks from our CSA. I absolutely love it when we get leeks because they’re so versatile (and usually expensive at the grocery store). I use them in smooth soups often, but lately I’ve been into leek tarts. They are very quick and easy to make, but look fancy. You can make the components ahead of time and assemble and bake at the last minute, making this a perfect party food. I’ve even gotten the stamp of approval from an 8 year old boy- the ultimate taste tester. 

Leek tart recipe:

Ingredients for 1 Leek Tart:
– White and light green part from 3 leeks
– 4 tablespoons of butter
– Salt & pepper to taste
– 1 sheet of puff pastry dough 
Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Thinly slice the leeks and wash them well. Make sure to separate the layers of leek as much as you can with your hands so that all the dirt washes out. Strain water out with a sieve.
2. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan (I use cast iron) to medium-low heat. Melt the butter and add the leeks. The most important thing about making this tart is to allow the leeks to cook very slowly. Leeks, like onions and garlic, are notorious for burning easily and you need to make sure to prevent this from happening. They should slowly “melt” so keep the heat fairly low and be patient. Stir often. 
3. While the leeks are cooking, remove your sheet up puff pastry dough from the freezer. Butter a tart pan and when the dough is defrosted enough (but not too soft), roll it out so that it’s just slightly thinner than how it comes in the package. I use a tart pan like this one, so once I get the dough in and molded to the sides, I just use the metal edge to cut the dough off. 
4. Season the leeks with salt and pepper to your taste. You can also add some dried rosemary (chopped) or dried thyme if you’d like. Once they are soft, put them in your prepared tart pan and spread them evenly. 

5. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes. I start checking after 25. The tart is ready when the puff pastry dough is golden. Allow the tart to cool a little bit before removing it from the tart pan. This is nice served with a salad for lunch, or as part of a buffet at a party. Enjoy!

Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel is one of the very popular desserts that you might make for a family night treat in France. Some people liken it to flan, but I take issue with comparing it to flan because most people hate flan. Creme Caramel is awesome. In order to educate myself of the differences between the two, I did a little googling and found out that flan typically is made with lots of sugar (a cup in most recipes), condensed milk, evaporated milk and/or heavy cream, vanilla extract and eggs. Creme Caramel has much less sugar, real whole milk, a vanilla bean or vanilla sugar and eggs. So eggs are the common denominator. They really are different, though. So even if you hate flan, you must give creme caramel a chance.

Creme Caramel: (Printable recipe here)

Ingredients:

For the caramel:
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp water

For the creme:
2 cups whole milk
1 pinch of salt
4 Tbsp sugar
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla sugar
4 eggs

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the caramel, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on medium-high heat. Resist the urge to stir right away. Once the sugar starts to become golden, stir in any clumps of sugar that remain. They should melt in the caramel. Once all of the sugar is caramelized, remove from heat and pour into 4 ramekins. (Note, in the picture I thought I might be able to get 6 creme caramels out of my recipe. I was wrong…just go with 4).


2. To make the creme, combine the milk, salt and sugar in a medium pot. Heat until the milk just starts boiling.


3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.

4. Once the milk starts to boil, pour a small amount of hot milk into the eggs making sure you never stop whisking. If you do, you run the risk of cooking the eggs and ruining the smooth consistency of your creme. This is probably the hardest part of making creme caramel (and it’s not that hard, promise). Slowly add more and more hot milk, continuing to whisk the whole time.

5. Strain the mixture with a sieve and pour it into the ramekins. Place the ramekins in a bain marie (you can use any sort of cake pan filled partway up with cool water). Bake for 30-40 minutes. You know they are done when the centers just quiver a tiny bit. Allow to cool completely before serving.


Poulet au Citrons Confits (Preserved Lemon Chicken)

I realize that the picture above does not look like much. Don’t let the image fool you, though. This chicken recipe is flavorful with chicken falling of the bone. You will want to go back for seconds. The only downside to this recipe is that it requires that you first make (or somehow procure) “preserved lemons,” which takes a month. It’s really easy, though and it will be worth it. Believe me.

Preserved lemons:

Ingredients:

  • 6 lemons (preferably organic…you will be cooking with the whole lemon once these are ready). I like to use Meyer lemons, but any variety will do.
  • Several cups of sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • You will also need a large, gallon-sized mason jar.

Directions:
1. Wash and dry the lemons.
2. Cut the lemons into quarters length-wise, but leave one end of the lemon intact.
3. Using a paring knife, remove as many seeds as you can easily access. Don’t worry, though, if you miss some seeds. You can get them out later.
4. Sprinkle about 1/2 c of salt in the bottom of the jar and about half of the coriander seeds.
5. Stuff as much salt as possible into the just-about-quartered lemons. Then stuff the lemons into the jar. After each lemon you add to the jar, sprinkle some salt on top. You certainly don’t need to fill up the jar with salt, just make sure there’s plenty in there. About halfway up, add the rest of the coriander seeds. Don’t worry about smushing the lemons. It’s ok, they’re going to soften a lot anyway.
6. Wait 2 days. The salt should extract the lemon juice and the lemons will start to be submerged in their own juices. If after 2 days, they are not submerged, add enough boiling water to cover the lemons. Put the jar in the fridge and wait at least 1 month. After a month, they are ready to use. I’m not really sure how long they’re good for. One recipe I have says they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. I have personally used them after a longer time than that, but of course, if you do, it would be at your own risk.

Preserved lemons

Now, you can finally make the preserved lemon chicken, or as I prefer to call it “Poulet au Citrons Confits.” That sounds much better.

Poulet au Citrons Confits:

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow onion. Peeled and cut into rings.
  • Olive oil
  • 6-8 chicken drumsticks.
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed.
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 4 preserved lemons
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seed
  • Pinch of saffron

Directions:
1. Rinse the chicken and pat it dry with a paper towel. Douse it with fresh lemon juice and a little salt. Set aside.
2. Rinse your preserved lemons and cut them the rest of the way, so that they are now fully quartered. Remove any seeds that you see and can easily access.


3. Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Cook the chicken until it is golden brown on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside.


4. Add a little more olive oil. Place the onions, garlic, coriander seed, and preserved lemons in the bottom of the pot.

5. Put the chicken on top of the onions and preserved lemons. Add enough water to just submerge the chicken. Add the pinch of saffron.



6. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour, or until the chicken is cooked through and very tender. Serve with rice to help soak up the extra juices.

Enjoy!

Cast iron pizza

I received a long-wished-for bread machine for Christmas this year. I crossed my fingers that I would not be one of the many people who has a bread machine and lets it collect dust for years before deciding to craigslist it. Let’s just call that my new years resolution to not be a lets-her-bread-machine-collect-dust-until-it-goes-in-the-craigslist-pile person. So far, new years resolution is going strong! Not the best for my carb intake, but at least it’s good bread.

I’ll post about making bread another time, but for now, let’s talk pizza. I’ve been a wee bit busy with the wee one, so sometimes it’s hard to put together a well thought out dinner. On the nights that I just don’t know what else to do, we usually make pizza. We always keep mozzarella, tomato sauce and pepperoni in the house. Sometimes we also have bell peppers or mushrooms to add, but if not, we at least can have pepperoni.

Around Christmas time, some friends came to visit us Quentin from Seattle. We agreed to keep it simple and make pizza, and they were sweet enough to pick up the fixings for it. When they arrived, I needed to nurse Quentin, get his purees ready for his dinner, get him bathed and ready for bed, etc. Luckily, we have been friends since college and used to routinely cook in each others kitchens. So, just like the college days, our friends (C & M) set out to learn my kitchen and get dinner going. M started prepping veggies and C asked where my cast iron pan was.

Me: Umm…cast iron pan? What are you going to use that for? I mean, you’re welcome to use it, but why?
C: We’re going to use it to make pizza. You’ve never had cast iron pizza before? It’s awesome.
Me: Strange, but go on…

Once the babe had gone to bed and C and M had already made their first few pizzas (which I tasted…awesome indeed!), I had a chance to observe the magic. C taught me his secrets and we’ve pretty much only used this method since that day. It’s so much better than using a pizza pan, and not much more work. I will now share the secret with you.

First, move your oven rack to the top 3rd part of the oven. Not right at the top, but higher than the middle. Turn your oven on broil and put the cast iron pan in. Also, turn the stove on medium.
This is basically to keep the cast iron pan hot because it’s going to be going in and out of the oven. Now cut your dough into 3 chunks (more or less, depending on your dough recipe. If using store bought dough, I’d probably cut it in half).

Start to flatten your first chunk of dough.

Roll out the dough. I like mine pretty flat.

Take the cast iron pan out of the oven and put a splash of olive oil in it. Spread it with a metal spatula. Then put the flattened dough on. Return the cast iron pan to the oven and set your timer for 2 minutes.
Remove the cast iron from the oven and flip the dough.

Add your ingredients. Whatever you want, really. Here I’m making a pepperoni pizza with some oregano sprinkled on top. You can definitely get crazier than that, though. We were feeling a “pizza and beer” night, though, and in my opinion pepperoni pizza + beer is a perfect combo.

Now the whole thing goes back in the oven. Set your timer for 5 minutes. Check your pizza to see if it’s done. It should be nicely browned. It might need another minute or 2 but it depends on your broiler.
Out comes the pizza!