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Birthday feast: Soft-Egg Raviolo with Shiitakes and Asparagus

Soft-Egg Raviolo

Every year for my birthday, Vance cooks me the most extravagant, delicious, gorgeous meal of the year, from the beautiful Paley's Place Cookbook. Candlelit dinner The dish is labor-intensive and completely out of season, so he ends up needing to make a few modifications to it to get the food on the plate.

Shiitakes stand in bravely for morels, and occasionally chickens are more fruitful than ducks in providing the eggs for the decadent pasta dough. Someday we'll make this in season; in fact as soon as we spot fresh morels at the market we'll probably push unsuspecting patrons out of the way in order to fill our basket with them and make that happen.

Meanwhile, back in cold, rainy January… Now that I've finally procured a digital SLR camera, I was able to document the long process (hopefully) with a quality befitting of such a meal. If you plan on reproducing this at home, leave yourself plenty of time and be sure you have all of the necessary tools in place (a pasta roller is essential, unless you can roll pasta with a wooden rolling pin like an Italian grandmother).

Soft-Egg Raviolo, Shiitakes, and Asparagus

While this recipe is strongly influenced by the one appearing in Paley's Place, you're getting the Jamie-and-Vance version. For the original, pick up the book. It's a revelation. Serves 3-6, depending on how hungry you are. After making this dish, YOU WILL BE VERY HUNGRY.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading/dusting
  • 5 large chicken egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp Extra-virgin Olive Oil
  • 6-7 tbsp white wine
  • Kosher Salt
  • 6 ½ ounces fresh goat cheese
  • ¼ cup good-quality ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup good-quality grated parmesan cheese
  • 10 sprigs of thyme, de-stemmed and finely chopped
  • 10 chives, finely chopped
  • 6 tbsp Persillade
  • All-purpose Flour, for dusting
  • 7 large eggs
  • ¼ lb. fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 12 spears asparagus, woody ends snapped off, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, leaves only (not the curly kind!)
  • 3 large cloves of garlic

Persillade Preparation

Persillade Finely chop the parsely on one side of a cutting board; finely chop the garlic on the other. Mix them together and continue to chop and chop, until they are well incorporated. Transfer to a small container and cover tightly until ready to use. (This recipe will make more than you need — find more ways to use it throughout the week!)

Pasta Preparation

Pasta Dough These directions assume you have a stand mixer (if not, grab a copy of Paley's Place to learn how to make the pasta by hand). Sift flour and a pinch of salt together; add it with the 5 egg yolks and 2 tbsp olive oil to the bowl of your stand mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment. Mix on the lowest (stir) speed until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, about 2

Whole Wheat Couscous, Squash, and Goodness Salad

Three weeks ago I was busy making caramels, wrapping last-minute Christmas gifts, and waxing nostalgic about Christmases years ago, when my family would pack up and head to Memphis for our annual Christmas gathering. I truly miss Christmas in Memphis, all of us under one roof for a few precious hours. I jump at any chance to spend time with my cousins and their beautiful children nowadays. The chance at sweater weather makes it all the sweeter.

Best grandma present ever

The past few years have been the beginning of new traditions, though; traditions that are bound to change as the shape of our family eventually changes. We've paved a backwards checkmark across the US for the past few years, visiting West Palm Beach, then Pueblo, then West Palm again before driving home New Years day. This year, the plan was no different. But the story always changes, even when the plan is the same. Doesn't it seem that way?

Christmas in West Palm was warm and familiar. We shared a smoked turkey and cranberry sauce, stuffing and Papa's famous mashed potatoes. I received more than I could have wished for; an All-Clad pasta pot, The Fat Duck Cookbook, and a pair of TOMS shoes, to name a few.

Driving is hard. But it's so pretty!!

By the time we made it to Pueblo, we had probably eaten enough calories to last us 'till New Years, but we didn't let that stop us. We turned a vegetarian Shepherd's Pie into a more standard Shepherd's Pie using the beef raised on a family farm in Oklahoma. We followed that with a few helpings of Vance's grandmother's potato-free gnocchi and at least two bean burritos bathed in organic green chili. We learned about baking at altitude, putting the expletives back in Cranberry Cake. By the time a week had past, I was so glad to have come and refreshed my sensory memory with the flavors of Colorado, but ready to be back at home as well, curled up with Chester and a glass of wine.

New Years Eve is always an interesting time to fly; people crowd the bars to get a peek at all of the college bowl games that are going on, flights are more scarce but fully-packed, and everyone just wants to be home before the clock rings 12. We boarded a tiny jet from Denver to Memphis, four seats across, and I held out hope that we'd be "bumped" off our second flight and score a free stay in Tennessee with a free plane ticket for later. About the last hour of our flight, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and informed us that there were severe thunderstorms in the area — we'd be flying through Arkansas and coming up from the south to land in Memphis. And we'd be landing about an hour late, as oh-by-the-way we've been stalling for a while.

[caption id="attachment_575" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="Outside the gate, waiting to hear from Delta what the status of our flight home was."][/caption]

At

Heirloom Tomatoes with Peaches

The Season's Pick box from our local co-op has been pretty hit-or-miss lately. We've gotten some bizarre and exotic stuff in there, but very little that we would normally include in our typical cooking repertoire.

This week, however, I was delighted to find two huge, perfectly ripe, flawless heirloom tomatoes waiting in the bottom of the box. Normally I would just slice and top them off with a little light vinaigrette, so as not to take away from the perfect flavor tomatoes have this time of year. But this week I was inspired by the newest issue of Food & Wine, which is filled with southern recipes reinvented for the modern cook.

[caption id="attachment_194" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes, two from our Season's Pick box and one from Whole Foods"]Heirloom Tomatoes[/caption]

I grew up in the South… ish. Most of my extended family was centrally located in Memphis, Tennessee, and our family vacationed in North Carolina nearly every summer. It goes without saying that I was exposed to a great deal of southern food in my formative years. My grandmother's macaroni and strawberry cake recipes are legendary. (At least the Gillespies — myself included — think so!) And while I wasn't exposed to collards and okra until I joined the co-op many years later, I have fond memories of black-eyed peas, corn bread, and sweet potato casserole (smothered in toasted marshmallows, of course) from Christmases past.

There are few food genres that have a worse reputation for health value than Southern cooking (or is that cookin'). Rightfully so, perhaps. On my most recent trip to Memphis, the smell of southern fried chicken was in the air seemingly from the moment I stepped off the plane until I boarded again two days later. Which is why I was surprised to find a (mostly) healthy heirloom tomato salad in the middle of last month's issue of Southern Living magazine. (I know, I said I was inspired by this month's Food & Wine, but that's what made me pick up the Southern Living in the first place… Track with me, people.)

Peeling the Peach

Normally I change a few things about a recipe before posting it here — things I'd change if I made it again, or substitutions I had to make based on what I had on-hand at the time — but there's very little I would do to change this one. If you have amazing tomatoes and peaches at your farmer's market this time of year, this one is definitely worth a shot. If it's the middle of the winter and your tomatoes are like cardboard, put this on the shelf until tomato season hits!

[caption id="attachment_196" align="alignnone" width="540" caption="Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans"][/caption]

Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans

This will take about 20 minutes to prepare and make 6 servings, but my husband and I ate the entire thing right off the platter.

Simple Tomato Salad

A simple tomato salad is perfect on a hot summer day.

Since this blog went live a couple weeks ago, I've started actually reading cookbooks. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to skipping straight to the recipes, but it's actually quite interesting getting to know the personality behind the food before pulling out the measuring cups.

This is especially true when it comes to Earth to Table (Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann). I read through the Summer introduction last night as I was soaking off the week in a bathtub with a glass of wine.

Cooking is easy in the summer; just don't ruin the way the food already tastes. What is easier than boiling some corn, or preparing some berries? A tomato salad is easy. Grilling is easy. Life is good in the summer.

In that same vein, I've put together the simplest tomato salad recipe that, if you're like me, can be made nearly start-to-finish with ingredients grown within a hundred miles of your kitchen (even better, in your backyard). I'm constantly playing with the vinaigrette recipe, using whatever we have on hand; if you don't have the type of vinegar I've listed below, substitute whatever you happen to have in your pantry.

Simple Tomato Salad

This will serve 4 as an appetizer/salad course, or 2 as a main course for lunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey mustard
  • 1 pint organic grape tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
  • 1/4 small red onion, very thinly sliced (use a mandoline if you have one)
  • 5-7 basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Feta cheese (optional)

Preparation

Pour the vinegars into a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and honey mustard until well-combined. Roll up all of the basil leaves together and cut into a chiffonade. Add the basil, the sliced onion, and the tomatoes to the bowl of vinaigrette and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like, serve with some crumbled feta cheese on top.

Pretzel Rolls

[caption id="attachment_92" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Hot Pretzel Rolls, fresh from the oven."]Pretzel Rolls[/caption]

As Vance and I prepare for a week-long vacation in Portland, Oregon we've got street food on our minds. The city is a mecca for food carts, tucked into small food court-like clusters around the city. You're never more than a 15 minute walk from a food cart in Portland, it seems, and a visit to at least one is on our list of must-do's while we're there. One of my favorite food cart indulgences is the pretzel — chewy, golden brown, and perfect with just some coarse salt and a dunk in some simple yellow mustard.

My parents stayed with us one night this week on their way to another one of our favorite places: Brevard, North Carolina. We always cook at least one meal during their stays, and this time I thought we'd try a fusion of the pretzel and the beer brat, one of my favorite street foods and one of Vance's. He kindly prepared the whole meal while I caught up with the 'rents — reason #4,725 why he's a great husband.

Vance's pretzel rolls were huge, more like hamburger buns (the recipe below made 6 hamburger-sized buns). But you can shape them however you like. They'd also be great as a clever substitutes for the traditional dinner roll, or even smaller pretzel bites that could be served alongside some artisan mustard as a hand-held party snack. Or hot ham and cheese on a pretzel roll. Or maybe …

Pretzel Rolls

These really do end up tasting like pretzels, but they're easier to make and you don't have to tie them into that fancy pretzel knot. Don't skip the boiling step — that's the secret to their incredible texture. Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, January 1994.

Ingredients (use organic whenever possible)

  • 2 ¾ cups bread flour
  • 1 envelope quick-rising yeast
  • 2 teaspoons celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water (125°-130°F)
  • Cornmeal
  • 8 cups water
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg white, beaten to blend
  • Coarse salt

Preparation

Measure out the first five ingredients; use a digital thermometer if you have one to get the water temperature just right. Combine the first four ingredients (not the water) in the food processor and blend. With the machine running, gradually add the hot water by pouring through the feed tube, until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Process 1 minute to knead. Grease a medium bowl with non-stick cooking spray or some olive oil. Turn the dough out into the bowl and turn it to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then a towel. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled in volume, about 35 minutes.

Flour a baking sheet. Punch down the dough and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into eight pieces (I use a soap or pastry cutter

Fried Polenta Cakes with Chipotle Corn Salsa

Fried Polenta Cakes with Chipotle Salsa

Each Monday night Vance and I spend the evening with a quirky community of believers in one of our homes here in the city; I call it a house church, some call it a "LIFE" community. Whatever the name, we start each evening off with some good eats.

Tonight's main dish was a taco salad, brought by another group member, and this hearty side ended up being the perfect wingman. It's a crisp polenta cake with a smoky chipotle salsa draped over the top — crunchy and warm with as much kick as you like. And it was a great excuse to feature the local corn we'd picked up from the co-op last week.

This one takes a bit of careful planning, as the polenta needs to set in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, but it's a definite crowd-pleaser that would appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Fried Polenta Cakes with Chipotle Corn Salsa

Fried polenta adapted from Giada De Laurentiis's Fried Polenta Cakes. Nobody but myself to blame for the salsa. :)

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 ¾ cups yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted organic butter
  • 2 cups olive oil, for frying
  • ½ a 7 ounce can of Chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1 barely ripe organic tomato, cut into small dice
  • 4 tablespoons finely diced red onion
  • 2 ears of corn, husks removed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • (optional) Your favorite smoked salt
  • (optional) Sour cream

Polenta Preparation

Start this about 2 ½ hours ahead of time. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter and smoked paprika, and stir until melted.

Lightly oil an 11 by 7-inch baking dish. Transfer the hot polenta to the prepared dish, spreading evenly to ½ inch thick. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.

Salsa Preparation

Brush two ears of corn with the 3 tbsp of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Place the corn on the grill over high heat (you could also do this in a cast iron grill pan in the kitchen if you prefer). Baste with the olive oil and turn occasionally until nice grill marks develop (about 10 minutes). Cut the kernels from the cob and transfer to a small bowl.

Load half of the 7 oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into a small food processor. Pulse until finely minced, scraping down sides as needed. Add about half of the minced peppers to the bowl with the corn (reserve the rest to adjust the heat to your taste).

Add the diced red onion and tomato, and a pinch of smoked salt (sea salt would be just as nice) to the bowl with the corn; stir. Taste and add more of the

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