Nothing really sings of spring like Asparagus. The little stalks, poking up so proudly, and tasting so very green are the essence of all that is springtime. Asparagus was a seasonal vegetable before eating seasonally was cool – I remember eating lots of asparagus during my childhood, but only in the springtime. (Do not speak to me of the horror that is frozen asparagus or – shudder – CANNED asparagus. Part of the point of asparagus is its texture – that perfect balance between crisp and yielding with just a tiny snap as your teeth close on the stalk.
When I was a kid, we mostly ate salads. My dad was not a vegetable-lover, and with a few notable exceptions (artichokes and asparagus) we primarily consumed our vegetables raw. As a result, I held a deep-seated prejudice against most forms of cooked vegetables. I rejected red peppers. I scoffed at spinach. I pooh-poohed parsnips. But the worst offender in my young mind was cooked carrots. (Possibly because this is one of those kid-friendly foods people were always trying to serve to me.) I despised and loathed cooked carrots. They were anathema, and not a morsel of the reviled substance passed my lips.
Fast forward several years to New York City, circa 2002. I was browsing the shelves of my favorite used bookstore in Soho (Housing Works. Wooden bookshelves, leather chairs, a little cafe in the back, a library ladder …) when I stumbled on a copy of the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child, Bertholle and Beck. Then, as now, I was lazy (let’s call it “time-pressed” – I was, after all, in law school) so I skipped through the eight-page cassoulet recipe or the 36-hour Boeuf Bourguignon, and lit upon the vegetables. Carrots, braised in butter. Six ingredients, two sentences. I was sold.
I cut up my carrots, added my butter, my water, my salt, my sugar, and what resulted was a revelation. Not nasty. Not watery. Not insipid. Carrots expressing everything glorious about carrots except the crunch. I was hooked. And that recipe, that first start, got me cooking more vegetables. which has brought me to my year of living vegetally. Because here’s the secret about vegetables. They are good for you. They are full of vitamins and nutrients. They have fiber and antioxidants, and you can feel morally superior when you eat them. But if we prepare them correctly and season them well, they are DELICIOUS. My husband and I were fighting over this particular batch.
If you’re eating vegetables for their health benefits, you’d be hard-pressed to find something betthan than kale. Low in calories, full of fiber, and rich in vitamins, A,C and K, it’s commonly referred to as a “nutrition powerhouse.” Of course, I’m not the first person to discover this, so there are recipes all over creation trying to make kale, which can be challenging, palatable. This one actually succeeds. You may think that there are no new frontiers to be conquered with regards to kale salad, but you would be mistaken. This kale salad is epic. This kale salad is the one that people go back for seconds for on a buffet. This kale salad caused my five year old to utter the words, “Sigh. MOOOOOMMM. Why can’t you just make kale salad again?” (She is five going on fifteen). This kale salad will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
I have a terrible sweet tooth (as you may have divined if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time), but my sweet tooth is not typical. Not for me the sweetness overload, the gooey cakes, the sugary cookies and candies. I prefer a more subtle sweetness, balanced by savory, or tart, or nutty flavors. Something that could easily be served for breakfast or afternoon tea.
Enter the clafoutis. A classic French dessert that’s sometimes described as a custard, sometimes as a pancake. It is a custard with flour, a pancake with more cream. Or it’s own thing. An eggy, custardy, but not insubstantial dessert with a subtle sweetness that is braced by whatever fruit it is made with. It’s not much to look at, generally — it’s really a country casserole, with nubs of fruit poking through a golden, eggy crust. It’s practically foolproof to make, and the batter comes together almost instantaneously. And yes, I am hooked.
The classic clafoutis is made with cherries, and indeed, a cherry clafoutis was on my agenda as I hit the grocery store. But then I spied the rhubarb — enticingly ruby stalks promising fragrance and tartness and that indefinable exotic yet familiar flavor that only rhubarb offers — and I was a goner.
I adore rhubarb everything, and I like it best where the flavor of the rhubarb shines through without much adornment in the form of strawberries or orange juice or other such nonsense. Rhubarb does, however, pair beautifully with custard, as the English know so well, and I thought it would make a lovely clafoutis — it’s melting tenderness complementing the silkiness of the custard/pancake.
Not too sweet, fragrant and juicy from the rhubarb, with the eggy structure of the clafoutis? Yes please.
The excellent clafoutis base is from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table. It can be adapted for any fruit.
For the rhubarb:
1 lb. rhubarb
3 T. granulated sugar
For the clafoutis:
½ cup granulated sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup flour
¾ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
Roast the Rhubarb:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop the rhubarb into roughly 1 inch pieces, taking care to discard the leaves. In a 10X6 baking dish, toss the rhubarb pieces with the sugar. Roast 10-15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender.
Make the Clafoutis:
Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sugar until blended. Add salt and vanilla, whisk until combined. Whisk in flour until thoroughly combined, then whisk in cream and milk.
Pour Clafoutis batter over the roasted rhubarb. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the clafoutis is puffy and golden. Sprinkle additional granulated sugar over the top, and serve with whipped cream.
It’s far too cold in Los Angeles this week to even think of having a picnic, or eating a salad. We’ve had rain and fog and nighttime temperatures in the 40’s. I’ve been digging out my thick sweaters and my boots and thinking of building a fire in the fireplace. It’s MAY, people! I live in Los Angeles! Apparently Mother Nature didn’t get the message.
Regardless of the weather, Memorial Day is around the corner! Which means PICNICS! And POTLUCKS! Or mayonnaise slowly congealing in the hot sun until it becomes liquid death, and “I’m a vegetarian/lactose intolerant/in a neurotic relationship with pasta.” Well, given these parameters, have I got the dish for you. I got it from my friend Corrine (of the apparently departed casavillecooking) who deals with dairy and egg allergies in her family, and is therefore a great source of vegan and dairy-free recipes. This dish is a perfect potluck dish — it’s vegan (or not, depending on your additions), dairy-free, egg-free, and not too starchy. You can make it gluten-free by replacing the ramen noodles with rice noodles fried in a little oil. It’s also easy and quick to make, can be scaled up or down, and can be adapted to suit your tastes and your audience. With no mayonnaise, it will hold for a few hours without refrigeration (it also makes a great brown bag lunch dish). And did I mention it’s delicious? Flavorful, kid friendly — it even features healthy vegetables! Continue reading Japanese Ramen Salad
I used to be afraid of pie. The rules about cold hands and precise handling, the rolling and the cracking and the patching and the shrinking – it all gave me hives. But now? I’m over it. I can honestly say that I make a pretty darn good pie crust. What changed?
2. My techniques. I roll out between sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. I use this method for making pie crusts in the food processor, but it’s even better if I keep back about a third of the butter and mix it in by hand before I add the water, rubbing it in with my fingertips, flattening globs of butter into flakes. Then I add the water by hand, too.
3. My ingredients. I get better results if I use European butter — my favorite is Kerrygold Irish butter. It has a higher fat content than most American butter, and a better butter flavor. Shortening and oil may yield a more tender crust, but what you’re giving up in the butter flavor is, IMO, not worth it.
4. My attitude. This is the most important piece. Pie crust doesn’t intimidate me any more. I just make it, chill it, roll it. If it cracks, I patch it. If it shrinks, I shrug it off. Pies don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they’re better if they’re not. And nobody refuses homemade pie.
This rice pie is a creamy pie that’s part of the traditional Easter meal in parts of Italy. And it could be an Easter dessert for you. The ingredients are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. It slices beautifully, and travels well, and tastes best after chilling and then about an hour out of the refrigerator. Best of all, it’s glorious homemade pie with homemade pie crust, and you really can’t go wrong with that.
8 oz. (about 1 cup) fresh, whole milk ricotta, drained in cheesecloth (or coffee filter) lined sieve or colander about an hour
¾ c. sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the crust:
Combine flour, salt and about ⅔ of the butter, cut into pieces, in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about 9-10 times in short bursts, until the mixture resembles coarse, damp sand.
Tip it into a bowl, and rub the rest of the butter in with your fingertips, pinching and flattening pieces of butter until it is incorporated.
Add the water all at once, stir with a fork, and dump the whole mixture onto some plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk, and chill for about an hour.
Roll the dough out between two pieces plastic wrap or parchment, making sure to roll from the center out.
Being careful not to stretch the dough, transfer into a deep, 9" round pie plate, and carefully lift the dough into the corners.
Form the pie crust and crimp the edges, according to the directions in this post. Prick with a fork all over, and chill for about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350. Line the piecrust with greased foil, fill with pie weights, and bake until set, or about 8 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights, and bake the crust for another 6 minutes, or until pale gold and slightly dry looking. Cool the pie crust.
For the filling:
Preheat oven to 350, or leave the oven on after prebaking the crust.
Bring a pot of water with a pinch of salt in it to a boil. Boil the rice about 10 minutes, or until slightly underdone. Drain.
Combine the drained rice with 2 cups of milk, the lemon zest and the salt, simmer over low heat until the rice is cooked through, about 20 minutes (most of the milk will be absorbed).
In a large bowl, beat the eggs, milk, ricotta, sugar, cream and vanilla together until smooth. Add the cooked rice and milk and stir until combined. Pour into the cooled prebaked crust.
Bake until the filling is firm, about 40 minutes. (it's OK for there to be a little wobble in the middle).
Cool, chill in the refrigerator, and serve with a little cinnamon sprinkled over the top.
We are in full on girly mode in the The Domestic Front household. The Nuni is two and a half years old, and is seriously interested in the following (in no particular order): twirly dresses, crowns, glass slippers, toenail polish, my makeup, shiny shoes, and anything with sparkles. I would freak out in a feminist quandary, except I have a fuzzy memory of being VERY into princesses and makeup when I was quite young myself, and I am a perfectly acceptable adult with a career and a family and a tendency to wear Old Navy tee shirts to work.
In the Nuni’s world, her current favorite book is one called “Fancy Nancy”, about a hapless girl who LOVES being fancy — she likes to write her name with a plume (which is a fancy word for feather), her favorite color is fuchsia (which is a fancy word for purple), and she can’t WAIT to learn French, because EVERYTHING sounds fancy in French. Poor Fancy Nancy is beset by a thoroughly plain family, who thrills her one night by dressing up in accessories, going to a restaurant and ordering parfaits, which are “French for ice cream sundaes”.
Now, accuracy aside, parfaits are a very fancy dessert, and as the parent of a wee one who loves all things fancy, I thought I would accommodate her wishes and make them. As she also loves all things pink (as she regularly tells me, “Pink is my favrit color, mamma.”) I thought I would turn to the pinkest of all pink things — rhubarb. Sure, it doesn’t sport the aggressive magenta of anything made with beets, but for rosy, fancy, girly pinkness, rhubarb is your ingredient of choice. Continue reading Fancy Rhubarb Parfaits
I don’t really understand the marketing of Mother’s Day. I see all these floral pastel cards and delicate lacy handkerchiefs and early morning breakfast in bed and advertisements for “brunch” and “afternoon tea” with fussy hats implied. Let me set the record straight. I am a mom, and I know a lot of moms. An informal survey of what our ideal Mother’s Day would look like involves 1) sleeping in; 2) a pedicure with some celebrity gossip magazines; 3) sushi; 4) chocolate and 5) lots of wine. Maybe this holiday doesn’t sell so well on a greeting card, but it sounds pretty awesome to me. Too awesome to be an also-ran Mother’s Day. Maybe I will name it something else, like “Saturday”. And it will fall once a week.
Spring has sprung. Sure, I live in LA, where a sunny day could just as easily mean December as it could April. People are always exhibiting various degrees of suntan (usually related to their house’s proximity to the beach), and flip flops are a year round fashion statement. Fortunately, I like to frequent the farmers’ markets (particularly the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, which I think is the best farmer’s market in Los Angeles), and the signs of spring are unmistakeable. Strawberries are a big tip off, trucked in from Oxnard, and so are the lilacs that are only around for the early birds. The very first tomatoes are appearing, but the vegetable that says “spring” to me is asparagus. The thin and tender stalks are all over the market.
Now, I love steamed asparagus with a little hollandaise, or roasted asparagus with olive oil, but sometimes I just don’t feel like going to the effort that steaming and roasting require. (And don’t ask me why it seems like a big deal to turn on the oven or dig out the two part steamer, but it does). That’s where pan sauteeing comes in. You don’t need a special asparagus cooker or a hot oven. Just a skillet, a little butter, and some quick knife work, and you have a dish fit for a king. The asparagus stay bright green and tendercrisp, with the flavor being undimmed by high heat roasting and undiluted by water. I like to add some leeks for a mellow oniony bite — the combination is really fantastic. Topped with some curls of sharp and grainy parmiggiano, this dish is simple, quick and delicious.
I have vivid childhood memories of dyeing Easter Eggs. We always made my family’s traditional Craftsman flower eggs, but I also spent many a spring break waiting impatiently for the eggs to take on a deep color sitting in vats of vinegar with those little Paas tablets. Now that I am the mom, I try to recreate for the Nuni some of my own childhood joys, so I buy dozens of eggs each Easter, ripe for the decorating.
What I am faced with as an adult that I didn’t realize as a carefree kid is that after the fun of the Easter Egg hunt comes a long slong of trying to use dozens of hard boiled eggs. There are only so many plain hard boiled eggs you can eat, though a dash of tabasco helps matters immensely. Likewise, egg salad, although a love of mine, can quickly grow tireseome. Enter deviled eggs.
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!