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Mushroom Leek Soup with Garlic Croutons

Mushroom-Leek-Soup

I never think of myself as a soup eater.  When I was a kid, even though I grew up in a foodie family, soup more often than not came from a can, and had water added to it.  It was neither particularly tasty nor particularly satisfying, and I carried that prejudice for a long time.

As an adult, however, who is tasked with feeding the multitudes (i.e. my children) with the contents of my refrigerator, I have come to appreciate soup.  Soup is flexible — you can add the vegetables you have, switch out the base, change the seasonings — and you’ll probably still end up with a good dish.  Soup is forgiving — give me your tired vegetables, your poor meats, and the alchemy of the soup pot transforms them into toothsome delights.  Soup can be stretched to feed more mouths, and frozen and reheated without ill effects.  It can be fed to babies, and sick people and children and made sophisticated for a dinner party.  It can cook a little longer, or a little more quickly, or in the crockpot, or in the pressure cooker.  It might just be the perfect food.

This mushroom leek soup is the perfect example of flexible food.  It cooks up quickly, reheats well, requires very little fuss, and is infinitely adaptable.  If you want it vegan, swap out the chicken broth for vegetable broth and skip the cheese.  If you aim for gluten free, forget the croutons.  If you have a handful of leftover vegetables, you can throw them in the pot.  I added a couple of handfuls of baby spinach because I had it, but it can also be skipped if you don’t.  You can even swap in onions for leeks, but they don’t have quite the same delicacy of flavor.  Many people avoid fennel because they don’t like licorice — here, the licorice notes are all but unnoticeable – the fennel adds a depth of flavor and a hint of sweetness which balances the mushrooms.  For me, accepting soup was tied to accepting my soup personality.  I am not so much a broth-with-stuff-in-it soup person — I tend to prefer smooth textured soups, like this Gazpacho or thisCauliflower soup.  Fortunately, the introduction of a hand blender handles the transition beautifully.  If you prefer a chunky soup, by all means skip the blending step.
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In-N-Out Double Double Animal Style Burger Dip

In n Out Animal Style Dip

I may seem like a hoity toity food person (has anyone seen my baker’s twine?) but deep in my heart I really love a good cheeseburger. And the cheeseburger I really love best is a Double-Double, animal style, from In-N-Out.

If you’re not from around here, or you’ve been hiding under a rock, In-n-Out makes the best fast food burgers in the world.  And I, like many Southern Californians (and frankly non-Southern Californians) am borderline obsessed with them.

Los Angeles is a burger town, in the way that New York is a pizza (or hot dog) town, and Chicago is a hot dog (or pizza) town (and San Francisco is a ?  town?   Odd ice cream flavors?  Fresh figs? Mesclun?)   Angelenos take their burgers seriously.  As I craved cheeseburgers during my entire pregnancy with Boo (who is turning out to be a meat and potatoes man, no surprise), I’ve sampled many of the fine burgers that LA has to offer — Umami Burger, Father’s Office, Pie and Burger, Big Jo’s … but in the end, I’m a burger purist, because none really measure up to In-N-Out.  It’s the ur-burger.  It’s not that the ingredients are stellar (good quality, I would say, for fast food, but not stellar) or that the burger is everything you can imagine a burger to be – but I don’t think you can do much better, food-wise – for your $3 than to spend it on an In-N-Out Double-Double Animal Style.
Animal Style, off the In-N-Out Not-So-Secret Menu, means the burger patty has been grilled with mustard, the raw onions (never my favorite) have been replaced with the addictive little flavor bombs of fried onions, pickles have been added (!) and there’s extra “spread” – really Thousand Island Dressing (!!).  The combination of all the elements is a salty flavor explosion that makes you want to go back again, and again, and again.

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Garlic Butter Mushroom Sliders

Mushroom Sliders

The Super Bowl, oddly enough, seems to be one of the biggest food holidays of the year.  I don’t know why it’s more food-centric than the Fourth of July, or Easter, or Cinco de Mayo, but there you have it.  I myself am not a huge fan of professional football (LA hasn’t had an NFL team since I was in elementary school, which lessens the thrill somewhat) but I can always get behind a party.  Especially a party that involves those semi-junky foods that you always want to eat but usually don’t because they are not good for you.  Foods like buffalo wings, potato chips with onion dip, and jalapeno poppers.

Mushroom Sliders Ingredients

This year, however, I am trying to eat more vegetables, and last time I checked, buffalo wings are not vegetables.  In the past, I have scoffed at “healthy” Superbowl recipes. The whole point of Superbowl food is that it’s unhealthy.  Nobody wants to eat kale chips while watching men pummel each other in freezing cold weather.   This year, though, I saw my vegetable challenge as a Super bowl challenge too – could I come up with a healthi-ER recipe that doesn’t feel like a compromise?  Something that’s so delicious you want to eat it MORE than the meaty alternative?

I don’t mean to brag, but I think I’ve accomplished just that.   Little sliders (fun to eat!, finger food that one can eat on the couch while watching the TV), made from mushroom caps (We’ll ignore the fact that for purposes of the challenge, mushrooms aren’t exactly Vegetables.  They are like vegetables.) oozing with garlic butter and melted cheese.  Forget the Super Bowl.  I want to eat these EVERY day.  (And I could, too- they do contain butter and cheese, but it’s not excessive.)  They’re so good that nobody will notice they’re eating healthi(er) food because they’ll be too busy licking their fingers and asking for more.

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Top 25 Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Dry Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

Halloween is over, and we’ve all recovered from our sugar highs (theoretically). Now is the home stretch for home cooks – less than three weeks until Thanksgiving, and then the sprint through the December holidays into New Year, when we all collapse in a faint of exhaustion. I know you’re already planning your Thanksgiving menu, so to make it easy, I collected the The Domestic Front Thanksgiving recipes into one easy place. The best, most foolproof, most delicious, juicy, crisp-skinned roast turkey? We’ve got that. Instructions on making your own pie crust (with a bonus recipe for silky smooth, perfectly spiced pumpkin pie)? You’ll find that here. In the next few weeks I’ve got a few exciting new recipes coming up — another savory sweet potato dish, a refreshing fall salad, and new twists on old favorites like stuffing and cranberry sauce, but in the meantime, here’s the roundup of Thanksgiving recipes for your inspiration:

Turkey:
Easy, Dry-Brined Roast Turkey

You’re serving vegetarians?
Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash
Kale and Cabbage Gratin
Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Gratin
Onion Tarte Tatin

Your favorite thing is, of course, stuffing:
Old School Sage Stuffing

What vegetable side should you make this year? (see also, cooking for vegetarians, above)
Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts with Cream
Creamed Kale
Creamed Spinach with Jalapenos
Slow Cooked Green Beans
Creamy, Spicy Sweet Potato Gratin

It’s not Thanksgiving without pie:
Maple Walnut Pie
Vegetarian Mincemeat Pie
Nesselrode Pie
Perfect Pumpkin Pie, and a tutorial on homemade pie crust
Rice Pudding Pie

You don’t like Pie:
Cranberry Pecan Upside Down Cake

You’re stuck with the cranberry sauce but you still want a chance to shine:
Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Oranges and Pecans

You’re on Salad Duty:
Arugula Salad with Persimmons and Gouda
Homemade Salad Dressing

You’re keeping the relatives happy (aka mixing drinks):
The Perfect Manhattan
Champagne Cocktail

Aunt Helen won’t let you set foot in the kitchen, but you still want to help:
Polishing Silver
Five Easy DIY Holiday Centerpieces

You’re panicking:
Last Minute Tips on Hosting Thanksgiving

Quick Tomato Peach Gazpacho

Gazpacho

The end of August is not the easiest of times. The novelty of summer has worn off, lost its gloss and charm. Summer camps are over, the last suitcases from vacation are half unpacked and staring dolefully at you. The kids are climbing the walls with boredom. The weather is unrelenting, the temperature climbing into the triple digits and staying high into the night. It’s too hot to cook, too hot to go to the park, or play in the yard.

This summer has not been the easiest time for me. I am usually breezy, with a joke every minute. But I felt unable to cope. And yet I found myself in my OB’s office at 8:30 one morning, sobbing.

Post partum depression was not something I expected. I didn’t have it when Nuni was born, but here I was, with a baby who cried a lot, a husband who worked a lot, a mother out of the country, a nearly- five year old who does nothing I tell her to, and a bucketful of hormones making me -literally – crazy. I wanted to enjoy my baby’s babyhood, rather than resenting it, but I felt like I couldn’t.

It took a good friend to send me a note saying, “I think you might have PPD”, a husband who talked the doctor into seeing me tomorrow, instead of two weeks from now, and some medication, but the fog has started to lift.

The meds have helped, but some days are still a struggle. I have to remind myself, every day, to focus on the blessings. The grins and coos of my little boy When he sees my face, the conversations with my big girl, a husband who is an active parent rather than a bystander. When I focus on these, I can slowly find the joy that surrounds me.

August has its blessings, too. The sun may feel oppressive, but it brings us ruby tomatoes and juicy peaches. This gazpacho takes advantage of those, with the added bonus that it requires no cooking. I keep a jar in my refrigerator, and no lunch is more refreshing on a hot day. When I embrace the season, I can find the joys of late summer.

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Pineapple Avocado Salsa with Jicama

Pineapple Salsa

Cinco de Mayo is one of those strange holidays where the original meaning (Battle against the French? Ring a bell?) is completely forgotten by most of the people celebrating. I could be wrong, but I would hazard a guess that for many Americans, Cinco de Mayo is just an excuse to indulge in tacos, burritos and nachos, preferably washed down with some cheap beer or cheaper margaritas.

As an Angeleno, I don’t need an annual holiday as an excuse to eat Mexican food. We have a vibrant and thriving Mexican and Mexican-American community, and, while tacos and burritos are a regular part of life, I also know that the cuisine goes far beyond them. Mexican cuisine, like any other cuisine, is a changing entity, open to improvisation and inspiration.

This salsa is the perfect example. I make no pretenses that this is based on some autentico salsa especiale I tasted in a tiny cafe in Zihuatanejo. In fact, this recipe is based entirely on a pineapple I had in my refrigerator that was quickly getting a little too ripe (shopping with a 4 year old means you come home with lots of produce and few plans). But it makes use of the Mexican flavors and produce I find all over southern California — the sweet acidity of pineapple matched by savory onions, chiles and cilantro, all mellowed by avocado and enlivened with the crunch of jicama. (If you’ve never had jicama, it’s a great ingredient. Resembling a large pale brown turnip, it’s a juicy root vegetable that’s very faintly sweet and has a terrific crunch not unlike a water chestnut.)
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Roasted Garlic, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Canapes, or Why My Mom is Awesome Sauce

Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Canapes

Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and shortly afterwards, my own role in motherhood is going to be expanding (hopefully, in an inverse ratio to my waistline, which has already expanded plenty), so you could say I have mothers on the brain. All of this makes me appreciate my own mother more and more. Which is not surprising, because my mom is awesome sauce.

My mother is the most shockingly competent person I have ever met in my life. Sure, there are really smart people. And sure, there are kickass homemakers. And sure, there are independent women. But my mom manages to combine all of those and make it seem easy. She’s worked full time since before I was born, is a distinguished professor at her academic institution, and has written at least six books (I’ve lost count) and dozens of scholarly articles, all of which make her an expert in her field. Does that mean we ate takeout Chinese food every night through my childhood? Of course not. She’s a terrific cook. My mother makes the world’s best fried chicken, the world’s best Caesar salad, and the world’s best cabbage rolls. She sews (she made both my prom dress and my wedding dress), does projects around the house (paints, wallpapers, rebuilds decks), and travels around the world (this summer will be spent in Oxford, touring wool churches and doing research). She also spends a ton of time with the Nuni, and does my dishes every time she visits my house (which is fairly often, as I was smart enough to buy a house two minutes away from hers.)

So yeah, my mom? She’s pretty much the bomb.
Continue reading Roasted Garlic, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Canapes, or Why My Mom is Awesome Sauce

French Cauliflower Soup with Bacon and Herb Garnish

Cauliflower Soup 2

I sometimes feel like I’m running perpetually behind. Is it 5:00 already? Is it February already? How am I suddenly six months pregnant? Remember that vacation we took to Paris last July? I never shared it with all of you because I just finished editing my photos in DECEMBER. Expect a post in about April.

The nice thing about being behind on things is that reminders can feel like discoveries. When editing my Paris photos, I found the pictures I took at a wonderful meal we ate in the Latin quarter at Bistro y Papilles. Located in a small wine store, with a different set menu every night, it was the kind of wonderful meals that makes you feel like you’re really in Paris. The menu that night started with a velvety cauliflower soup, served at the table in a big tureen. We were presented with shallow soup bowls that were garnished with a “salad” with lardons, croutons, cauliflower, herbs and creme fraiche, and the hot soup was ladled over the salad. All the garnishes brought a wonderful textural contrast to the soup, and it was one of the best things we ate that week.

IMG_5278

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Chicken Liver Mousse

Chicken Liver Mousse 2

I like Halloween, I do. Costumes and candy and creepy crawlies are all lovely. But when the calendar turns to November, my heart starts to beat a little faster. We’re into my favorite time of year — the Holidays, Thanksgiving and Hanukah and Advent and Christmas and New Year. A time when my kitchen is filled with warmth and laughter and the smell of wonderful foods cooking and baking. And a time when our focus turns on gathering — with friends and with family, to warm up this dark time of the year.

With all the holiday entertaining, it’s nice to have a couple of good appetizers up your sleeve — something that can be served to guests or brought along to a party. Something that can liven up a meal of leftovers, or even make for lunch on the day when a festive dinner is taking up your attention. This chicken liver mousse is one of my absolute favorites. It can (should) be made ahead, is just decadent enough, and is cheap to make. I buy organic, air-chilled chicken livers at Whole Foods (because they always have them) and they cost $1.50 for the whole recipe’s worth.

I wish I could take credit for this recipe, but it 100% belongs to Michel Richard, who is one of those great chefs (at least based on this recipe, my favorite from his cookbook). The technique is a little eyebrow-lifting — pureeing raw livers is probably more worthy of Halloween than the Holidays, but the absolutely smooth and creamy results are worth it. Richard calls this “faux-gras” because the texture and richness is reminiscent of foie gras, and he’s right on the money. Foie Gras for the 99%, for Californians after the ban takes effect. Try it — I suspect it will become a mainstay for you, too.

Chicken liver mousse 1

Homemade Chicken Liver Mousse
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
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Serves: 6
 
The surface of the mousse turns a funky gray color when you cook it. Richard includes a recipe for a parsley gelee to top it with, but I never get around to making it, and nobody really cares about it. Baking it in a cute jar, instead of a ramekin, aids in presentation. I like to serve this with baguette, apples slices and cornichons.
Ingredients
  • ½ c. finely chopped onions
  • 1 stick butter, divided
  • ¼ c. cream
  • pinch salt
  • ½ lb chicken livers
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan over low heat, saute the onions in 1 T of the butter until the onions are translucent. Add the cream, cover, and simmer over low heat until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 7 T butter, and return to the heat until the butter is melted. Let the mixture cool to warm. This mixture will make your kitchen smell like heaven, and also will taste divine. Try to leave some for the mousse.
  3. In a food processor or blender, combine the butter onion mixture and the raw chicken livers, and process until smooth. For ultra smoothness, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a 16 oz. ramekin or canning jar (I often skip the straining because I'm lazy like that).
  4. If using a ramekin, cover tigthtly with foil, and if using a jar, seal the lid, and place into a baking dish. Add boiling water to half way up the container, then place in the hot oven and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool, and chill in the refrigerator until serving.

 

French Onion Dip — Homemade in the Crockpot

Onion Dip
Sometimes, I want to spend time in the kitchen. I want to smell and chop and stir and taste and really EXPERIENCE cooking. Sometimes, I want to go about my life. I want to watch the Superbowl, go to work, read to my daughter, talk with my husband, play with the new puppy. But just because I don’t want to spend time cooking doesn’t mean I want to eat bad food. I still want to eat good, homemade food, made from scratch.

If I want onion dip for a Superbowl party, I could use the classic recipe: open a packet of Lipton’s soup mix and a container of sour cream, mix them together and have a fat bowl of MSG, corn syrup and unpronounceable things with a side of my entire RDA of sodium. Or I could make onion dip from scratch, controlling the ingredients myself, adding the right amount of salt, and slowly caramelizing the onions to add depth of flavor. Of course, caramelized onions require a long period of cooking them in a skillet, stirring frequently to make sure they don’t scorch, waiting for those Maillard reactions to hurry up and happen. Or you could just use a crockpot.

Onion Dip 2

A crockpot is the perfect vessel for caramelizing onions — it cooks long and slow and consistently, and it retains liquid so the onions don’t scorch. Best of all, you don’t have to babysit it — you just add the onions, turn it on, and walk away. It’s really only one step removed from opening a packet, and it tastes better and is better for you. A super bowl of dip for the Superbowl (OK, I couldn’t resist the pun.)

French Onion Dip -- Homemade in the Crockpot
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped (about 3 cups chopped onions)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T butter
  • large pinch salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ c. mayonnaise
  • 1 small pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Place onions, oil, butter and pinch of salt into a slow cooker, and stir to coat. Cook on high for 8 hours, or until onions are deep caramel brown.
  2. Drain any liquid off the onions. Combine half the onions with remaining ingredients in a small bowl, salt to taste. Serve with potato chips and enjoy the Superbowl.
Notes
My slow cooker works best if I cook larger amounts, so I make a lot of onions and use only half for the dip. The rest can go in the refrigerator and be used in pizzas, sandwiches, or to make an instant french onion soup.