Ruffle Some Feathers

For all its ready-made convenience, frozen phyllo dough can still be a beast to work with. Forget to thaw it out overnight and you’ll be stuck waiting for hours until it’s pliable. Wait too long, however, and it’ll become as brittle as a dried out twig. Bake it too close to the heating element and the top will burn before the center ever feels a blush of warmth. Under-cook a carefully layered tower, and all your intricate assembly can turn into one murky morass of pastry. It’s enough to make you want to crumble the whole sheet into a ball.

Well, have I got the dish for you! Ruffled milk pie is exactly the catharsis for anyone that’s struggled to deal with fickle phyllo. Traditionally a sweet type of galatopia, which in the simplest terms is just a Greek milk pie. Sometimes there’s semolina involved, sometimes it takes the form of a crustless baked pudding, but the best ones involve that gossamer-thin golden pastry, phyllo.

Before you slam the freezer door shut on this idea, hear me out. Rather than stacking up sheet after sheet in a precarious towering column, all you need to do is roll them into little rosettes, fit them into a pan, and bake without a worry in the world. Since the bottom is immersed in custard, the lower sheets stay soft like bread pudding, while the tops that jut out become shatteringly crisp, without any careful oven calibration required.

Naturally, I could never do anything completely traditional, so my version is savory rather than sweet, designed as a showstopping entree for any brunch, garden party, celebration, or casual affair. It’s so quick and versatile that there’s no reason why you couldn’t just whip it up on some random Tuesday, too. A blend of chickpea flour and nutritional yeast gives it a distinctly eggy flavor, like a quiche or frittata with the crust on top.

Fresh mint and lemon zest add bright pops of flavor in every bite, highlighting tender fresh asparagus that’s woven throughout the matrix of phyllo and custard. Any seasonal vegetable would be fantastic here:

  • Consider peas or chopped artichokes for a change of pace while spring is in high gear.
  • For summer, switch it up with diced zucchini, green beans, corn kernels, or bell peppers.
  • When fall comes around, beets, diced pumpkin, or acorn squash would make a vibrant splash.
  • Finally, consider some wintry options like shredded Brussels sprouts, carrots, or chopped kale to see you through the colder months.

There’s truly never a bad time or place for such a versatile, deeply satisfying, and reasonably healthy meal. It’s certainly a good reason to embrace phyllo again, even if you’ve been burned before. This one is perfect for beginners and believers alike.

Continue reading “Ruffle Some Feathers”

Turn Over a New Leafy Green Vegetable

Spring, a time of renewal and rebirth, is upon us! As someone who dreads the colder months like an impending death sentence, the arrival of spring feels like getting a new lease on life. We’ve been pardoned for our crimes, free to go back out and commit fresh offenses against the world. Nothing too severe now; I’m just talking about reinterpreting traditional dishes in unconventional and sometimes controversial ways. In lieu of traveling to get the full experience while still craving a taste of different cultures, that’s always my MO.

For as long as I’ve known about the celebration of Nowruz, I’ve always wanted a slice of the festivities for myself. The Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year, begins today to mark the spring equinox. For some, that means spring cleaning, shopping, or visiting with friends, but for most, it means eating, drinking, and dancing, just as any good holiday should entail. Combining all of these inclinations, you’ll find incredibly creative dishes that are also excellent for clearing out the fridge of any bits and bobs leftover. I suppose the results are so good, they might make you want to dance, too.

Top of mind for me is kuku sabzi, frequently described as a Persian frittata, though I find that a bit misleading. It’s more about the herbs and greens than the eggs, bound together with just enough filler to create a cohesive savory cake. I recall seeing a vendor at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers market selling them in the early dawn hours, pomegranate arils sparkling on top like cut gems. Oh how they would tease me, beckoning in shades of dark emerald green, yet impossibly tangled up in that eggy base. I vowed to make my own, remembering that pledge every year as spring rolled around, and being too busy to make good on the promise.

I’m no less busy these days but I do have a better approach to time management. When something is important, we seem to find a way to make time, no matter what. I think it’s important to honor this Iranian tradition with my own eggless spin, if only to finally be able to enjoy it myself.

Kuku sabzi can be slightly sweet, pockmarked with chopped dates, barberries, or pomegranate arils with a hint of aromatic rose petals, or savory, leaning more heavily into bold spices, or a combination of the two. Terminally indecisive, I thought that mixture seemed like a fair compromise to try all the best, most intriguing additions at once.

Though it seems like a ton of greenery on paper, just trust me: You need to add them all. Granted, it doesn’t have to be this precise formula, since it’s excellent for cleaning out all the scraps you might find languishing in the vegetable crisper. Mix and match, make it your own, and dance a little jig when it’s all done.

Continue reading “Turn Over a New Leafy Green Vegetable”

Shell Shock

Everyone in my family is a fidgeter, a picker, or a combination of the two. We simply can’t sit quietly, motionlessly, and we certainly can’t keep our hands still. As if possessed, they move with minds of their own, searching and groping into empty space for something to latch on to, work through, touch and feel.

If not for knitting, I would have long ago torn my nail beds to utter ruin, all without realizing precisely what those devious hands were doing. I’ve noticed that my mom often tries to redirect that energy into more positive channels as well, typically working knots out of yarn or twisted lengths of jewelry, impossibly tangled by yours truly. My sister’s gift, however came as a complete surprise. It turns out, she’s a gifted and endlessly enthusiastic sheller.

Failing to locate shelled pistachios for a recipe in need, I resigned myself to a frustrating night of cracking open about a million half-smiling green nuts, their tiny smirks mocking me from the safety of their hard cocoons. Somehow detecting the need for help, my sister was there in an instant, popping them out left and right, until only a pile of clean, perfect pistachios remained. Stunned, I could only stare at the heaping bowl of nuts, dumbstruck. This girl hates nuts, had never willingly or knowingly eaten a nut of any variety, and yet relished this horribly monotonous duty to free them from their shells.

Of course, this discovery came years ago, when we all lived together under one roof. Now separated by hundreds of miles, I can’t help but think of this moment wistfully as a new heap of nuts sits before me, cocooned in their impenetrable cloaks.

In the times of quarantine, though, it’s not the worst way to pass the endless hours. Any project that ends with a delicious result is a worthwhile investment in time.

Most cream of [fill-in-the-blank] soups are good only as ingredients, possessing little redeeming culinary value alone, but this pale green pottage was designed specifically to fly solo. Lush toasted pistachios are blended to both flavor and enrich the silken brew, dazzling with simplicity and subtlety. Glorious spring greens enhance the color, of course, while adding a light, peppery bite. Fennel, typically a bit player, is essential for this unique concert of seasonal flavors, not to be overpowered by the standard array of aromatics.

If you don’t start with shelled pistachios, it will definitely take a minute to prepare, to which I say: All the more better. Consider it an act of productive meditation. Don’t rush the process, but embrace it instead.

Continue reading “Shell Shock”

Spargelzeit

Spargelzeit, Germany’s annual homage to all things asparagus, is one of the greatest food crazes around the world. Although the average green variety is available all year round, Germans prefer the seasonal white variety, or “white gold,” grown only between mid-April and June 24th. The end date, the Christian celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist, is harsh and nonnegotiable, spurring residents to double down on consumption while they can.

Paying tribute to the tender young stalks, there are asparagus peeling contests, festivals, road side asparagus booths, beauty pageants, farm tours, asparagus seminars and of course, cooking classes. Traditional preparations are very plain, the most popular of which being butter-poach asparagus with a heavy cloak of hollandaise sauce. For such a versatile vegetable, though, this is just the start.

Last year, I had the great fortune of experiencing spargelzeit firsthand, traveling to Beelitz, which is also known as Spargelstadt (asparagus city.) Producing the most highly regarded spargel in all the land, they also lay claim to an asparagus museum and dedicated asparagus restaurants. It was back in Berlin, however, that I really got my fill.

On one fateful crisp spring evening, a small crowd assembled in Goldhahn & Sampson around closing time. We weren’t there to flip through cookbooks or ogle truffle oil, though. Donning aprons as the front lights dimmed, we set our sights upon countless bundles of asparagus, fat and thin, green and white, fresh as can be.

Nothing was lost in translation when cooking with Boris Lauser, despite mild language barriers. Best known for his work in the realm of gourmet raw food, this unique culinary background inspires a more creative approach to cooking, incorporating elements of juicing and dehydrating right alongside conventional baking and sauteing.

Lining up hit after hit on the menu, we quickly got to work breaking down a small fortune of “white gold” for the luxurious veloute. Warm, but still raw soup enriched with cashews contrasted sharply with an unexpected dollop of sweet yet tart rhubarb compote. By equal turns soothing and invigorating, it was unlike any take on asparagus I had tasted yet. Lavished with a sprinkle of truffle oil, it hardly needed such an extravagant finishing touch… But I can’t say it detracted from the experience, by the same token.

Bacon-wrapped asparagus is exceptionally popular even among the pickiest omnivore, and I have a feeling that they would be just as smitten with Boris’ imaginative plant-based twist. Eggplant, sliced into paper-thin sheets, takes on a crisp, smoky character after a few hours of slow, steady dehydration. Topping shaved, raw spears of the verdant green vegetable, it’s the kind of dish that could feed either a dozen, or just one, if you don’t pay close attention to portioning. It’s compulsively snackable, especially with the potato chip-like crunch of that eggplant.

Relinquishing the spotlight temporarily to another vegetative star, zucchini schitzel took shape in a blazing hot cast iron pan, encrusted in breadcrumbs.

Pumpkin gnocchi, served alongside a shock of green pesto sauce, come together with a secret ingredient not typically found in the pedestrian potato variety: psyllium husk! Lending a surprising chew, they’re a bit denser and more like dumplings, but quite satisfying all the same.

The dish I was most excited for, an idea so crazy that it just might work, turned out to be a slight disappointment, but not based upon the actual eating experience. Listed as “asparagus panna cotta,” I was slightly let down to discover that it was merely a typo on the agenda. It was, in fact, a simple almond-based custard topped by fresh berries, cacao nibs, and almonds, not a stalk in sight. While it was perhaps a better complement for the overall meal, I can’t help but wonder what an asparagus dessert might taste like… But some things, like asparagus liqueur and asparagus jelly molds, are better off left untasted.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like another trip to Germany will be in the cards for this particular spargelzeit, but I fully plan on celebrating the season at home. Raw or cooked, there’s no wrong way to enjoy asparagus.

Wie isst du gerne deinen Spargel? (How do you like to eat asparagus?)

Light Whites for Spring Delights

Fearlessly springing forward, onward to brighter days and warmer weather, it’s time to emerge from hibernation at last. Blossoming alongside the flowers, as tender green buds unfurl their fragrant sails into the wind, is the urge to raise a glass in celebration. The crisp, clean, refreshing flavors of white wine are exactly what the season calls for.

Explore the world of nuanced, diverse white wines right at home through the carefully curated selection from Wine Access. Unique, rare, yet surprisingly affordable bottles perfect for the season can be unlocked with the turn of a corkscrew. Whites are my first pick when opting for a sophisticated sip, but I still don’t know the first thing about selecting the best bottle. That’s why this kind of rigorous vetting is invaluable; it’s impossible to pick a dud from this exclusive roster.

What makes a great white wine at this time of year? For food pairings, it should play nicely with delicate green vegetables, mild proteins, and sweet citrus, while still offering some substance and body. It should be cool, but not cold, for those evenings when there is still a bit of a nip in the air.

Starting the party with a bang, a velvety curtain of fine bubbles lifts with the first sip of this NV Langlois-Chateau Cremant de Loire Brut Loire Valley. Crafted like a fine champagne, it unfolds in layers, leading with acidity reminiscent of grapefruit that morphs into notes of tart green apple, finishing with a crisp, mineral bite. Pair with an elegant starter like creamy asparagus and coconut soup to best compliment these bold bubbles. It helps to cut the richness, while harmonizing with the bright citrus notes and subtle vegetal sweetness.

Herbaceous notes of tarragon and the tropical twang of kiwi and pineapple set the 2018 Kinfolk Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley apart from the pack. Pleasantly grassy, yet slightly floral with a hint of jasmine, it’s unlike any other white I’ve encountered. Lingering long after each taste, the surprisingly assertive flavor can stand up to stronger dishes, like the funky blue cheese on a classic wedge salad.

When you want a juicy, luscious white wine that’s as sumptuous in the glass as it is on the plate, look no further than the 2018 Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand. Dazzlingly acidic with a sharp nose combining lemons, lychees, and limes, it’s strong enough to take the heat in the kitchen. Fiddlehead scampi positively sings with this vibrant, fruit-forward infusion. Naturally, those fickle ferns can be a bit tough to find early in the season, so I’m happy to report that it’s just as delicious with your garden variety zucchini, too. Fava beans or artichoke hearts would be equally delicious substitutions, verdant and elegant, ideal for tangling around al dente strands of pasta.

Just like the season itself, this is just the beginning. Wine Access has so much more to offer for every occasion, even if it’s just an evening at home. Revel in the warmer weather and raise a glass to the bounty of spring produce making a triumphant return on the table. For a limited time, you can get 15% off your purchase by exploring this collection, and shipping is included for all orders over $120 or 6 bottles or more. Leap into spring to greet the sunshine with only the best white wines at hand.

This blog post is sponsored by Wine Access but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

The Mother Lode

She a teacher, a cleaner, a party planner, and a cheerleader. She’s your biggest fan and most honest critic. She drove you around town after school while driving you crazy at the same time. She’s your mom, through good and bad, and while she deserves more than just a day for a lifetime of love, this coming Sunday is at least a good opportunity to say thanks. Naturally, I’m most inclined to express my appreciation through food.

Fixing a fresh brunch spread for your beloved mother is really a gift for everyone, including yourself. Who wouldn’t want to settle into a leisurely midday meal, ideally taken al fresco, surrounded by friends and family? I’ve shared some ideas for a crowd-pleasing menu in the past, but I’ve hit upon so many new winners since them. Freshen up your own maternal celebration with something different this year.

Let mom wake up slowly with a chilled Cloud Macchiato in bed. If she’s late to rise anyway and ready to party before her feet hit the floor, consider adding a little splash of coffee liqueur for an extra little indulgence.

While she’s busy greeting guests, surprise them with an early appetizer of crackers or crudite served with Pea Leaf Cazuela. If you’re contending with unseasonably hot spring weather, prepare it in advance and serve cold. You’ll save yourself the hassle of last-minute cooking in the morning, too.

Kick off the main event with small bowls of punchy Chive Pesto Soup. Though unassuming on paper, the verdant green blend comes together in a matter of minutes and pays off in surprisingly complex layers of flavor.

I can only speak for myself, but if I was a mom, I would all but demand that avocados show up at my party in some form. Avocado Grapefruit Salad features my favorite fruit with a zippy citrus dressing that will satisfy any cravings.

When it comes to the entree, don’t hold back. This is an event worthy of this show-stopping, unconventional, unforgettable Green Cauliflower Cake. A savory torte reminiscent of a thick frittata stuffed with tender florets, you’ll do your mother proud by finally eating your vegetables with aplomb.

When it comes to dessert, you know your own mom best, but it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate. My own happens to have a soft spot for cheesecake, so this Marbled Chocolate Chip Cheesecake would be an easy win on my table.

To all the strong women leading the way (deliberately or not) for future generations, Happy Mother’s Day!