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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Simply Elegant

I'm not much of a vegetable lover, but I do really enjoy haricots verts.  I like regular green beans as well, but the slim french green beans are really my favorite.  Maybe it's because they're french.

Back when I was a girl, back in the olden days of Los Angeles, we didn't have haricots verts.  We had green beans.  That was it.  There were no international green beans served in my house.  It wasn't until years after I moved out on my own, that I discovered that there actually existed different varieties of green beans than the ones served at our dinner table.  Who knew?  I certainly didn't.

But the fact remains that the french version are absolutely delicious.  They're sweet and if cooked properly, they're a vivid green with a delicate little snap when you bite into them.

The best way to prepare haricots verts is to briefly blanch them in lightly salted boiling water and then to immediately dunk them in a bowl of ice water.  This will stop the cooking and help the beans to maintain their bright green color.  At this point, you can then go ahead and use the beans in any recipe... or just snack on them as is.

This is my go-to recipe and it's a perfect little side dish.  It's filled with flavor; shallots and garlic have a way of doing that.  It'll add a touch of the fancy-schmancy to whatever you're serving for dinner.

Recipe:  Sautéed Haricots Verts


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallots
3 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
3/4 pound haricot verts, stemmed and blanched
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic and the shallots until soft.  Add the parsley, and stir to coat.  Add the haricots certs, toss to coat with the herbs and oil and heat until hot, 2-3 minutes.  Season generously with the salt and pepper.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Not Your Pioneer's Cast Iron Pan

I really love a good steak.  I mean, come on.  Who doesn't?  Okay, maybe those of you out there who are vegetarians and vegans don't love a good steak.  But so far as I know, most everyone else does.  At least amongst my friends.

But I digress.
Usually I like to go out for a steak.  Or I like to fire up the grill (or rather, I like to direct Ted to fire up the grill), and cook the steaks that way.  I'm not big on the whole pan cooking steaks thing.

That is, until I saw this recipe in The New York Times for cast iron cooked steaks.  Just like the pioneers!

Make sure to get really nice steaks from your butcher.
Making a steak in a cast iron pan really is so easy it's criminal.  First of all, you'll want to make sure the steaks are dry.  There are instructions in the recipe for drying the steaks, but fret not.  All it involves is about an hour and a roll of paper towels.  The real key to success is making sure your cast iron pan is good and hot.  So hot that the steak really sizzles and caramelizes when it makes contact with the pan.  Other than that, you'll be good to go and you'll end up with the best (indoor) steak you've ever had.

Recipe:  Cast-Iron Steak
Julia Moskin, New York Times, 5//14/14


Coarse salt, such as kosher salt or Maldon sea salt
1 or 2 boneless beef steaks, 1 inch thick (about 2 pounds total), such as strip, rib-eye, flat iron, chuck-eye, hanger or skirt (preferably “outside” skirt)
Black pepper (optional)


Remove packaging and pat meat dry with paper towels. Line a plate with paper towels, place meat on top and set aside to dry further and come to cool room temperature (30 to 60 minutes, depending on the weather). Turn occasionally; replace paper towels as needed.

Place a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, on the stove and sprinkle lightly but evenly with about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt. Turn heat to high under pan. Pat both sides of steak dry again.

When pan is smoking hot, 5 to 8 minutes, pat steak dry again and place in pan. (If using two steaks, cook in two batches.)

Let steak sizzle for 1 minute, then use tongs to flip it over, moving raw side of steak around in pan so both sides are salted. Press down gently to ensure even contact between steak and pan. Keep cooking over very high heat, flipping steak every 30 seconds. After it’s been turned a few times, sprinkle in two pinches salt. If using pepper, add it now.

When steak has contracted in size and developed a dark-brown crust, about 4 minutes total, check for doneness. To the touch, meat should feel softly springy but not squishy. If using an instant-read thermometer, insert into side of steak. For medium-rare meat, 120 to 125 degrees is ideal: Steak will continue cooking after being removed from heat.

Remove steak to a cutting board and tent lightly with foil. Let rest 5 minutes.

Serve in pieces or thickly slice on the diagonal, cutting away from your body and with the top edge of the knife leaning toward your body. If cooking skirt or hanger steak, make sure to slice across the grain of the meat.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Experimenting with Whole Wheat

So...  I've been trying really hard to cut down on all the white flour I've been eating.  I've been cutting back on the sugar too.  Don't I sound like a whole lot of fun?  As you can imagine, for someone like me, this does not make for very exciting eating, (or, for that matter, someone to hang out with).  I'm a baker and baking usually includes flour and sugar.  Need I say more?

But surprisingly enough, I've been pretty successful at my little experiment.  What started out as a two week challenge to myself, has now lasted about three or four months; long enough that I've lost count.  Believe me, no one is more surprised than  moi.

For the most part, the flour (and it's really just bread that I've eliminated), has been pretty easy.  The only bread I've eaten is bread that's worth it.  And by worth it, I don't mean the couple of pieces of uninspired toast that comes with my eggs, or the bread basket at most restaurants.  For me to have bread, it has to be really good bread.  As a result, I've only had bread a couple of times.  I'll tell you, it's amazing how little of the bread in breadbaskets near and far is really worth eating.

The sugar  thing has been a little tougher.  To say I was addicted to sugar would be an overstatement, but let's just say that I enjoyed my desserts.  I still enjoy dessert, just far less often.  And, when I do indulge, I've been trying to make it a little healthier than what I was eating pre-experiment.

I recently came across this recipe for dark chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour.  I have to admit that I was a little dubious, but in the interest of science (or my sweet tooth -- you choose), I decided to give the recipe a try.

The results were... surprisingly delicious.  The whole wheat flour gave the cookies a really nice texture and the dark chocolate was a nice counterbalance to the more rustic texture of the flour.  In fact, these cookies were decidedly more adult and sophisticated than you average Toll House cookie.

Who knew?  I certainly never would have pegged that one.

While these cookies clearly aren't sugar-free, they're a step in the right direction.  And a nice little treat on those days when my experiment starts to feel a little, shall we say,  less experimental, and  a little more sugar-free.

Recipe:  Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce)

*Note:  I used Valrhona 72% cacao (bittersweet) chocolate.

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces


Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.

Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients.

Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet.

Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough. These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They’ll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.