Mark’s mom just lent me her copy of “Beard on Bread” and I’m very happy about it. I worked my way through this sweet little book in college and still remember how each recipe turned out–always earthy, flavorful and broadly appealing. Nothing too adventurous or painstaking.  I love you, James Beard.

I’m going to make one of my favorites right now.

Anadama Bread

(From Beard on Bread by James Beard)

  1. 1 package active dry yeast
  2. 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  3. 1 1/4 cups warm water (100-115 degrees, approximately)
  4. 2 tablespoons butter
  5. 1/4 cup molasses
  6. 1 tablespoon salt
  7. 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  8. 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl and let proof for five minutes. Combine the remaining water, butter, molasses, and salt in a saucepan and heat to lukewarm. Stir into the yeast mixture. Add the cornmeal and mix well. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, and beat vigorously; the dough will be sticky and hard to work. Turn out on a lightly floured board. Using a baker’s scraper or a large spatula, scrape under the flour on the board and fold the dough over to incorporate the flour. Repeat this process until you can knead with your hands, using only enough additional flour to make a smooth dough that is springy to touch; the stickiness will not be completely eliminated. Shape into a ball, put in a buttered bowl, and turn to coat the surface with the fat. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk.

Punch the dough down, Shape into one loaf, to fit a 10-inch loaf pan, or divide into two pieces and shape to fit two 8 x 4 x 2-inch loaf tins. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, then lower he temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 35 minutes more, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped with the knuckles on top and bottom. Cool on racks.

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…is delicious. I planted 13 cloves last fall, just pulled them up and they are full-on gorgeous. Lesson learned: Plant a few cloves every three weeks or so, then you’ll have them around. I am loaded with garlic now, not that there will be a problem eating them. Also, I found out that they are not like onions, i.e. don’t wait until all the tops die down before you harvest. The greens on these guys were just starting to turn brown when they were ready to pull.

On the other hand, try not to be impatient like me and pull them up before the bulbs have divided into cloves. You can tell by gently pushing the soil from the top to see how they’re coming along.

Last night I threw some of the fresh cloves into beets and artichokes I was roasting and they really delivered —  super tender, hotter than store-bought and keep the vampires at bay, which is nice.

Garlic curing in the pantry

Garlic curing in the pantry

Bettunya\'s quick pickles

Quick pickles are really delicious and easy. I had 5 medium cucumbers from the garden. Peeled them, then using a mandoline, sliced them thin. Same with 1/2 white onion, 3 cloves of garlic. Here is the rest of my new quick pickle recipe, adapted from a recipe for sunomono on epicurious.com:

Set aside in a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons salt. Let sit for twenty minutes. Drain off excess water.

Over vegetables, sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh cut dill, four coriander seeds (crushed), 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper, leaves from three-ish sprigs of thyme. I also added a few tarragon leaves but only do that if you like that licorice-like taste.

In another bowl, 1 1/2 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar + 3/4 cup sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Pour over vegetable mixture. Lightly stir, cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours. So good.

I just made another batch yesterday with yellow squash and carrots added. It works. We have so much squash now, it’s nice to have something easy to do with them that doesn’t involve turning the oven on.

Squash blossoms with batter

I’ve always wanted to make fried squash blossoms and the moment was about an hour ago. I cut about seven from the garden and followed the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, which is astoundingly easy to get my head around. The way she writes and her recipes, that is. There aren’t many illustrations, but the few there are, are strategically placed. And I love how she numbers the steps in her recipes.

So the process is super simple — the batter is a pastella, the same as you’d use for fried squash, eggplant, etc. Just whisk flour into a bowl containing a cup of water until it is the consistency of sour cream. Add the flour in very small amounts to keep it smooth. I added a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour enough oil in a frying pan that it comes up 3/4 of an inch on the side. Heat the oil — get it very, very hot.

squash blossoms

Lightly, barely rinse off the blossoms in cold water and pat dry. Really, the less you touch them, the better.

Make a slit in the base of the flower on one side and gently flatten it, like you were butterflying a chicken breast.

NB: Check inside the flowers before using the knife. A honeybee buzzed from one of them just as I was getting ready to cut. Disaster averted. But the bee population being what it is, accidentally frying one would have been a serious downer.

Then drag the blossoms by the stem through the batter and drop into the very hot oil. Flip over when they start looking crispy — mine took about a minute or so. The batter will lightly brown.

Drain on a towel for a couple of minutes and serve immediately. They should be crisp on the outside, with a soft, fragile texture inside. The taste is really subtle and they’re pretty to look at.

fried squash blossoms

I love artichokes–baked, steamed, pickled, whatever. It’s difficult not to wonder how anyone figured out that you could pull off all that prickly armor and find something so delicious inside. Hats off to the first artichoke eater! I applaud your work!

Anyway, I’ve become very interested in growing our own. I’ve read that all of the chokes sold in the U.S. are grown in Cali and they are perennials so they supposedly will keep producing for years. They grow to 4-5 feet wide, too, so if it works out, they’ll fill out that empty spot out front where the agaves used to be. I bought five at the nursery and have grown 8 from seed — these will go into the ground in a few weeks. If anyone out there has experience growing artichokes, I welcome your tips.

That’s how it stands.

Keeping fingers crossed.

Here is the sole artichoke we’ve had so far. The biggest plant from the nursery already had a bud, which quickly grew fat enough to eat. Just added a couple garlic cloves and a bay leaf to the water, and steamed until the bottom leaves pulled off easily. Sauteed chopped garlic in butter for dipping and voila. Mmmmm.

Note: I’ve updated the post below with the recipe for this soufflé au fromage. If you try it, send a photo to bettunya@mac.com. I’d love to post.

I’ve just made my first…

Souffle au fromage

soufflé.

And it is so pretty. And delicious. Light, airy with a lovely scent. Thing is, this wasn’t difficult at all. You are basically making a sauce béchamel, adding your flavoring (in my case grated gruyere and parmesan, with a teaspoon of dijon mustard. Some salt and pepper). Then you beat egg whites until stiff, lightly fold them in to the sauce, pour into a buttered soufflé mold. And voila.

Looks so fancy-pants. But so easy.

By popular demand, I’m including the recipe:

Soufflé au Fromage
Adapted from Anne Willan’s “Basic French Cookery” 1980

2 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
4 egg yolks
¾ cup grated gruyere and parmesan, mixed. heavier on the gruyere (the good kind)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 egg whites

Preheat oven to 425. The oven needs to be really hot when you put the soufflé in.

Generously butter a 5 cup soufflé mold. Sprinkle inside with breadcrumbs to coat. Shake out extra.
Melt butter in medium saucepan. On low heat, whisk in flour.

Cook until mixture foams: do not brown. Whisk in milk. Don’t stop whisking.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Add salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Keep an eye out and whisk during the simmer.

Remove from heat. Beat egg yolks into hot sauce until thickened. Cool just a little.
Beat in ½ cup of grated cheese and mustard.
Taste for seasoning. Mixture should be highly seasoned as egg whites will be added later.

Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Spoon ¼ of the whipped egg whites into the cheese mixture and thoroughly mix. Lightly fold this cheese mixture into the remaining egg whites, making sure to be gentle, but not leave areas of pure egg white unflavored.

Pour into prepared mold and sprinkle with 1-2 tbsp of grated cheese.

Bake 12-15 minutes until puffed and brown. Serve immediately.

Bon appetit!

Note: I updated this post in the a.m. as a reader wrote asking what I meant regarding putting “dried beans in the crust” during initial baking. I’ve explained below. Thanks, Reader!

I’m making a quiche lorraine tonight. Madeleine Peyroux, Carla Bruni (French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s soon-to-be wife) and the divine Django on the iPod.

I’ve got to say, if anyone out there shops at the Silverlake Vons…tell me if you find it as bizarre as I do. Every time. The employees are so friendly to a fault, it’s unnerving. Though I do appreciate the help. And I applaud the chain for its dictum to make sure no patron has an iota of trouble finding anything, but there is just something off there.

At least seven people asked whether I was “finding what I need.” I responded to a nice, young man “I would like to find the whipping cream, please.” And he just wandered off. About four steps away he realized that I actually wanted something and came running back and showed me the Reddi-Whip. I felt badly for him. I bet most folks he deals with are as terrified as I am at times of interaction with strangers. And turn away in shame and embarrassment.

The cashier was really outgoing, too. Loudly announcing the names of each of us as he read our receipts. Then handing the receipt to its owner with a flourish. People in the line were laughing nervously, bracing themselves to have their names exposed before their fellow shoppers. But now I just want to shop at Vons!

It worked.

I’m using Anne Willan’s quiche recipe (from “French Country Cooking“), because traditional quiche lorraine is flavored by bacon, with no cheese. But hers includes gruyère for fun.

Anne isn’t afraid to make it even more delicious, that’s what I say.

The crust is baking and smells fantastic. I confess to not letting the pate brisée sit for 15 minutes in the fridge before lining the tart pan. I don’t know whether it will affect the texture or not.

Ok, I just ladled the custard mixture into the crust and I see there is a small hole in the crust. This may mean complete disaster. I saw the custard was leaking into the area between the crust and the tart pan. This cannot be good.

I’ve just peeked into the oven and the custard has seeped out of the bottom of the tart pan because, of course, it’s a tart pan and has a removable bottom. So I’ve definitely screwed this one up.

I need a drink.

>>>

After a stiff glass of côtes du rhône, I’ve chalked this one up to just another bump in the road of learning to be a better cook.

Lesson learned: check carefully for any tiny lack of integrity in the crust before spooning liquid into said crust. My hope now is, albeit alloyed with regret, that my quiche is delicious. I mean, cheese, bacon, eggs and heavy cream? Should still taste good, right?

OMG. The quiche is totally swoony. I made a quick garlic vinaigrette and Mark busted out a nicer bottle of côtes du rhône.

The things I didn’t do correctly in preparing the quiche were:

1. forgetting to allow the crust bottom to brown a few extra minutes after removal of the dry beans I used to weigh the crust down during cooking.

When your pâte brisée crust is browned before adding the filling, you must weight it down with dried beans, rice, etc to keep the crust’s shape during cooking. I removed the beans, but didn’t stick the crust back in the oven with the bottom uncovered.

and

2. not plugging up the hole in the crust

Correctly dealing with both of these issues would have really improved the texture of the crust floor, which was just still too buttery and moist.

Surprisingly, though, the dish was beyond servable. I think the custard cooked up quickly enough on the side without the hole to stem the flow, as it were.

But, as I mentioned, the combo of ingredients is hard to beat. I’m going to do another quiche or torte soon, to right the wrongs.

Photos by Mark Palmer