Simple Fruit Tarts

24 Aug
tart

watercolor by Frances Newcombe

This post should actually be entitled Fruit Tarts for Dummies…  or rather, Fruit Tarts for A Dummy. Because, listen, if I can do this … I, me, someone with absolutely no patience for baking or dough or measuring exactly or any of that silliness… if I can do this, you can do this. And you will be so happy.

Fruit trees are one of the many benefits of living in Southern California. Not just fruit trees, but bountiful fruit trees that need very little upkeep. I am as bad at gardening as I am at baking (that patience issue) yet I have in my yard lemon trees, orange trees, apricot trees, a pomegranate tree, a kumquat tree, avocado trees, a macadamia nut tree and a glorious fig tree that goes crazy in season. Consequently, I’m always looking for ways to use the fruit.

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Prepping Fruit Tarts

I’ve written before about Patricia Wells, a chef whose writing and cooking had an incredible influence on my life. In her book At Home In Provence, there’s a gorgeous Apricot-Honey-Almond Tart you can also make with figs. It looked so incredible, and so easy, I had to give it a try. My first attempt turned out so well I kept making these tarts over the summer, in different variations, to master the tarts and see which fruits worked best. And so I give you below my slightly tweaked take on her recipe.

Did I mention how %@$# incredible they taste? Wow, are they wonderful. This recipe slays everyone by both beauty and taste. Anyone you serve the tart will have no idea how simple it is (and there’s no reason to let them know!) They’ll look at you like you had Patricia fed-ex the tart from her kitchen in France. Because it’s best served room temperature, it’s perfect not only for your home but to bring to a picnic or to a potluck. My goodness, these taste good. And they are light as well! While gorgeous, this tart is the opposite of a heavy, dense dessert. But you get all the pleasure just the same. 

Apricot Tart

apricot tart, right out of the oven

ONE NOTE: Hearty fruits such a stone fruits or figs are best with this recipe. The blueberry and raspberry versions I tried tasted great but those soft fruits started to break down into mush by the time they were finished cooking.

***!!! As an added treat this week, my beloved friend Frances Newcombe did some art for the post, including a downloadable PDF of the recipe – click here to download what you see below.

For the recipe and download, click here: Continue reading

Garlic Salad, My Most Requested Dish

10 Aug
GS Ingredients

Ingredients for Garlic Salad

Given all the food I cook, it should be annoying that something so ridiculously simple as my garlic salad would be the dish people currently request the most. Annoying, that is, if I didn’t love it myself and could eat it every night.

And often do.

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Garlic Salad

I say its “my” garlic salad because I landed on this recipe after many, many attempts and variations. But to be honest, it’s my attempt at recreating a favorite dish from growing up, Mama Colichia’s House Salad. Colichia’s Italian Village was opened by Mama Colichia in 1935 in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m not sure the original location but when our family was going, which was often (same for much of my hometown), the restaurant was in the Colichia’s house on Proctor Street. The tables were set up in the living room and dining room and Mama Colichia worked out of her kitchen. 

The food was pure old fashioned Sicily and absolutely wonderful. I always ordered either the Veal Parmigiana (mostly) and the lasagna (on special occasions). The Spaghetti and Meatballs were also a town favorite. But the most remarkable dish that came out of that kitchen was the house salad Mama Colichia served with every meal. She made each salad by hand right before it came out of the kitchen. She used — and pardon my Texas-French — a shitload of garlic and distilled white vinegar. Good Lord, that salad. You can live on it.  We would talk about it as a family, obsessing on it. My dad, whom Mama Colichia loved, thought for years she put a dash of Dr. Pepper in the salad, because she used a Dr. Pepper bottle to hold her vinegar. (It works great!) You could see her making the salad when the swinging door dividing the kitchen from the dining room would swing back and forth when the waiters walked through the door. 

While Mama Colichia passed years ago and the house on Procter is no longer an Italian Village, her children and grandchildren still run updated versions at home and I always slide in to have the salad. 

Over the years, I’ve tried different variations to see if I could get close. I’ve finally ‘mastered it’, if you can call the rather ramshackle recipe below mastering. No matter. I will in no way claim this is a good as Mama Coilichia’s, but if/when I ask people what they want for dinner, I hear this the most. And so I give it to you.

Don’t be scared of the garlic. It’s good for you and you will love this.

Oh, and when I made this salad to take the pictures for the blog, I ate the whole bowl. It’s all I ate for dinner, with a martini, so don’t think I’m a pig. And I’m a rabbit, I love all salad in general. But yes I ate the whole bowl. It’s that good.

GS garlic salad

My dinner

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading

Killer Easy Soft Tacos

4 Aug
Soft Taco Ingredients

ingredients for soft tacos

I may be of Cajun heritage but growing up in Texas, Tex-Mex was easily the most consistent staple of my diet.  Our family ate Tex-Mex all the time: at least twice a week at restaurants (El Charro, I miss you so much) and ground beef crispy tacos frequently at home. Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy remain one of my favorite foods in all the world, something I cannot seem to find anywhere but Texas, a version worth eating, at least.

In college, I ate these amazing enchiladas at least three times a week. I always had them as part of the “Deluxe Platter”, a standard on any Tex-Mex menu. The “Deluxe Platter” consists of a first course which is a large plate consisting of one Crispy Beef Taco, one Bean Chalupa, some Chili Con Queso and a Guacamole Salad. Then comes the second plate of two Cheese Enchiladas with Chili Gravy, a Beef Tamale and Rice & Beans. With flour tortillas on the side.

Deluxe platter

A Tex Mex Deluxe Platter

Yes, three times a week. Minimum. Seriously. And I loved putting the enchiladas into a flour tortilla, which I would imagine to some is a terrible faux pas but who cares when you can be this happy.

I was a bit shocked when I moved to California after college. While there’s just as much Mexican food in Los Angeles, it’s very different than Tex-Mex. Shredded beef tacos instead of ground beef? Red Sauce on enchiladas not chili gravy? Corn tortillas with soft tacos, not flour? Black beans instead of pinto peans?

What on earth were these people thinking?

I was quite grumpy about a new type of Mexican my first few years here… although the side effect of not eating a Deluxe Platter at least three times a week was that I lost 25 lbs in my first two months in Los Angeles without even trying. And I’ve come to love the more interior Mexican food of California but I still love Tex-Mex the most.

Another great Tex-Mex dish is soft tacos, which are always made with flour tortillas, not corn. Breakfast tacos – a flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, pico de gallo and bacon or sausage – are heaven and easy to make. We consumed mass quantities of breakfast tacos in college at 3 AM, usually at The Lazy Daisy on Guadalupe which was conveniently located a block from our fraternity house. (Lazy Daisy, I miss you so much.) But I love grilled steak and fish soft tacos as well.

Steak Tacos

Steak Soft Tacos

Let me give you, then, an easy and wonderful dinner you can make quickly when you have all the ingredients on hand. Even better, if you live near a Trader Joe’s, you can get most everything you need in one shop, save canned Chipotles, which you should always have in your pantry anyway.

Take my word for it, people go nuts over these soft tacos.

For the recipe, click here to  Continue reading

No Cook Farmers’ Market Pasta

25 Jul

If you follow the blog, you know how much I love vegetables. Which means you know how much I love a good farmers’ market. And while I love farmers’ markets all year round, it’s hard to beat a farmers’ market in the summer, bursting with the best of fresh vegetables, tomatoes in particular.

Given all these stated loves – and to avoid cooking too much on a hot summer day – I came up with a ‘raw’ pasta sauce that, all humility aside, will blow your mind. After a few variant experiments, I landed on a recipe that is just about perfect. It’s pretty easy too, even though it involves a little dicing and chopping.

FM Pasta ingredients

Ingredients for Farmers Market Pasta

While I like to let the ‘sauce’ sit for 30 minutes to an hour before tossing with the pasta,  to get really flavorful, if you are in a hurry you can start your water boiling, then start prepping the “sauce” and by the time the pasta is finished, the “sauce” will be ready.  Quick, easy and delicious. The recipe is very forgiving, too – have a little more tomato, corn or chili on hand? All good. In fact, the more of the vegetables the better.

You can also vary it, depending on the vegetables you like. Do you have a ton of zucchini or squash? Not a problem, dice it up and add it in. Same for just about any of your favorite vegetables. But the first time you try it – and you must – make it as written below. Be sure to include the herbs, the mint in particular. The mint makes a big difference. Be sure also to use the goat cheese, even if you think you don’t like it. You’ll never know this has goat cheese – people who swear to me they can’t stand goat cheese love this pasta – and the small amount of goat cheese adds a delirious creaminess, particularly when it melds with the juices from the tomatoes. (If you don’t like tomatoes, there’s no helping you, it’s beyond my significant gifts.)

I’ve made this dish a few times the past couple of weeks to prep for the blog post and each time I made it, everyone who tried it raved. 

Trust me. This is a keeper.

For the recipe, click here to Continue reading

A Killer Southern Supper

7 Apr
Chicken Thigh dinner

Pan roasted chicken thighs with long simmered green beans, Lady Cream peas, and rice & gravy.

Like most true Southerners, I was raised on fresh peas and fresh beans. To this day, one of my favorite meals is a big ol’ pot of either one. (A big ol’ pot of greens, too, of course, but that’s another post altogether.) In our house growing up, a pot of peas or beans and some cornbread was all we needed for a very satisfying meal.

Given my obsession with chicken thighs, however (well documented on this blog… here and here, for instance), I figure beans and peas can only be improved upon by a genius new chicken thigh preparation. Add in maybe my favorite food in all the world, rice & gravy (yes it is a single entity), and you have a killer southern supper like no other. So I give you:

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs in a Mustard Tarragon Cream Sauce, with Long Simmered Green Beans, Lady Cream Peas and Rice & Gravy.

I must note that most cooks wouldn’t serve peas and beans on the same plate. Too much! Overdoing it!

Whatever.

I will admit that when I first starting serving this meal, it was only the chicken, peas and rice & gravy on the plate:

Chicken Dinner 2

A divine plate of food for sure. But a little color on the plate is nice, as is a green vegetable.  I certainly could choose broccoli or spinach or even greens of any type. But can there be too much of a good thing? In a word, no. Thus, I couldn’t resist going full bore southern and adding my long simmered green beans. 

If you’re looking for heaven on a plate, this is it.

Below you will find the recipe for the chicken thighs I’ve developed the last few months, as well as links to recipes for the Lady Cream peas and the green beans.

As for the rice & gravy, just make some white rice (yes, for this, it must be white rice) and cover it with the pan sauce from the chicken.

Did I mention this was heaven on a plate??

Click here for the recipe and to Continue reading

A Food In Film Event

21 Feb

Love food? Love film? Love food in film?

For my Texas readers, I’ll be in Fredericksburg on Friday, March 3rd at the gorgeous Hoffman Haus hosting a “Food In Film” charitable event for The Hill Country Film Festival and a wonderful Film Camp for children HCFF presents every summer.

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Hoffman Haus Great Room

Food In Film Event

I’ll be showing and discussing many movie clips about food, including scenes from Annie Hall, Moonstruck, The Godfather, Big Night, Julie and Julia and Lady and the Tramp. 

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The Godfather

Executive Chef Judd Wood of Otto’s German Bistro has created a wonderful 5-course meal, aligned with the clips, that will be served as we discuss food in film.

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Big Night

The event is hosted at the beautiful Hoffman Haus Bed and Breakfast, a truly wonderful location.

If you’re in the area, please come out. This is our second year running, it’s for a good cause and it is a lot of fun.

Click here for more info and to get tickets: Food In Film Event

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Lady and the Tramp

breakfast

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Lobsters in “Annie Hall”

 

Spaghetti Squash Amatriciana

3 Feb

I love me some pasta but lately I’ve fallen in love with Spaghetti Squash. A quick roast in the oven turns the insides of this amazing gourd into strands pretty close to the real thing. Depending on your diet, spaghetti squash is healthier than pasta. Once you start using it, there are an almost infinite number of ways you can use the ‘noodles’. And except for pesto, every pasta sauce I’ve tried with it sings. 

spaghetti-squash

Spaghetti Squash noodles

I fell in love with Spaghetti Squash making a marvelous Cacio e Pepe version. Cacio e Pepe, made with pecorino cheese and fresh ground black pepper, is a pasta dish I could eat every night of my life. After making the spaghetti squash version dozens of times, I decided to branch out and invented an oven roasted version of another classic pasta sauce, Amatriciana. The name comes from the Italian town Amatrice, recently in the news as the town was hit badly by a number of earthquakes in 2016.

A spicy tomato sauce made with red and black pepper, red onions and guanciale, I first tried Pasta Amatriciana at a wonderful neighborhood Italian restaurant in New York City, Lupa. That dish blew me away so much I ordered a second bowl at the same sitting. More please. In the years since I’ve made various versions at home, usually substituting pancetta for the guanciale. I still love the pasta version, made entirely on the stove top, but lately it’s this oven roasted version, tossed with spaghetti squash, I eat all the time. 

Don’t just trust me. A great friend of mine, Rob, who is Italian, says he loves the spaghetti squash version better than with regular pasta. (Don’t tell his mother he said that.) Trust me or trust Rob, you will love this version of the classic dish. It might not be the most beautiful plate you’ve ever served, but when it tastes this terrific, who cares?

And you can eat it guilt free!

spagsquashamatingredients

Ingredients for Spaghetti Squash Amaticiana

Click for the recipe Continue reading