May 25, 2012

sage brown butter rolls

Whenever I rub my dog Hiro's ears, he slowly collapses onto the floor. I call it a puppy melt, and it's a sure sign of complete momentary pleasure. I feel the same way when I eat freshly made bread, and with these sage brown butter rolls you might just melt too. To make the rolls I use the whole wheat cast iron bread recipe as a base, and then I add minced fresh sage seared in butter that's been browned. There's an excellent tutorial on how to brown butter on Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes site, and it's worth reading so you know the difference between just melted, browned, or burnt. Once you've gotten a handle on the butter technique, it's simply a matter of adding everything together for a swoon-worthy little roll.

May 18, 2012

lemon rose granita

When we lived in California, we used to regularly visit Second Street in Long Beach, located in the neighborhood of Belmont Shore. I'd forgotten how often we'd gone there, and how many great food memories I had from the small storefront or side street restaurants we loved to go to. One of our favorites was Cafe Gazelle, an Italian restaurant that despite its tiny dining space was big on atmosphere and authentic food and consistently packed out; another was a sweets shop called Grandma's Sugarplums that was overflowing with an amazing variety of homemade desserts. After finding a parking spot, we would often start walking at one end of Second Street and just wander until we decided where to eat; sometimes we made it past the window of Sweet Jill's Bakery while they were making fresh cinnamon rolls, and sometimes not.

On one of those visits we tried a middle-eastern restaurant we'd never been to before. Though we'd eaten lots of hummus, baba ghanoush, and tabbouleh at other places, the waiter suggested several things that were new to us, as well as a really interesting twist on iced tea with rosewater added. I think the restaurant also served lemonade with rosewater, too.

So as I was making fresh lemonade recently, I decided to sweeten it with a simple rosewater syrup I made using honey granules. Then, as I was browsing through a cookbook, I saw a recipe for making granita. I knew that was it; the perfect vehicle for the lemon-rose flavor. Simple, but different, and infused with a little bit of cardamom, it's a sweet treat with just enough tang to make you pucker by the time you finish eating it. For dessert, it treads lightly at the end of a meal, but really, it's a perfect refresher anytime you need it.

May 11, 2012

mustard, turnip and beet green gratin

This week, after harvesting the mustard and turnip greens from our garden and buying beets from our local farm, I was overwhelmed by a refrigerator filled with greens that needed to be eaten soon. Of course, that's a pretty good thing to be overwhelmed with, but if you have your own garden, you know that once things start growing, you've got to get cracking to keep up with the output. I've been experimenting a bit with a pesto, but in the meantime I needed another recipe that would single-handedly reduce that very large pile of greens into something tasty.

Enter, once again, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. We were lucky last night to hear him speak in person, so I guess this slightly adapted version is my homage to him. For my version of his "Rich Spinach Gratin," I've substituted mustard, turnip and beet greens for the spinach while adapting the cooking technique a little; I've also increased the amount of eggs and milk to balance the volume of the heartier greens as well. In the space of about an hour, my problem of what to do with all those greens was solved.

If you like a bit of egg with your mess of greens, then this is the dish for you. Although I didn't include it in this version, if you find the bitterness of the greens a little too strong, I'd try adding a teaspoon or so of a pungent spice, such as cumin or curry or coriander, or another favorite you have that works well with savory food, to counteract that. Whichever way you choose to season it, this dish goes a long way towards moving you in the direction of more greens, less meat, which according to Mr. Bittman, is a path we would all benefit from following. I agree.

May 4, 2012

of food and healing

The story of food and healing began, I think, when my husband decided it would be nice to buy two fig trees from a local nursery. At first the trees sat on the front porch; then, for purposes of easier watering and more sun, they migrated to the middle of the backyard. A couple of months after we bought the trees, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. A few months later, so was I. As we watched the two fig trees endure the unpredictability of the weather, they seemed to share our journey; and despite the storms they still survived to see another season.

The story evolved while I was sequestered for three days in a separate room of the house. I was there by necessity while the large dose of radioactive iodine I'd taken as a cure for any remaining cancer slowly dissipated from my body. In that bare, stripped down room, I ate hard candies until I was nauseous, finished writing a song, and read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. The candies kept my salivary glands from absorbing too much radiation, the song told a story that shaped my early life, and the book opened my mind to the possibility that the quality of what we ate could aid in our own healing more than I'd ever realized.