Tag Archives: Lynda Balslev

Lamb Tagine with Figs, Chickpeas and Couscous

lamb tagine view tf

This lamb stew is inspired by a traditional Moroccan meat and vegetable tagine and Mrouzia, a rich celebratory stew sweetened with fruit and honey. I have scaled the sweetness back, omitting the honey and relying on dried figs, which  melt into the stock while  simmering to provide gentle sweetness. A few spoonfuls of tomato paste add body and a nice balancing acidity to the sauce.  The meat can be rubbed with the spices and cooked straight away, but if you have the time, rub the meat the night before preparing and refrigerate. The longer the meat can sit with the spices, the deeper the flavor.

Lamb Tagine with Figs and Chickpeas

The spice list is lengthy, but attainable. It’s a compilation of spices similar to those found in Ras El Hanout, a spice blend that is a staple in North African cuisine. Serves 6.

Rub:
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

3 pounds lamb leg or shoulder, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch chunks

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger with juice
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
12 dried brown figs, stemmed and halved
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 (2-inch cinnamon stick)
2 carrots, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup cooked chickpeas
Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish

Combine all of the rub ingredients in a small bowl.  Place the lamb in a large bowl and sprinkle with the rub, then toss to thoroughly coat. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes (or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours).Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot with a lid. Add the lamb in one layer in batches, without overcrowding. Brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining lamb. Add the onion, garlic and ginger to the same pot. Saute until fragrant and onion begins to soften, about  2 minutes. Return the lamb with any collected juices to the pot. Add the 3 cups chicken stock, the figs, tomato paste, cinnamon stick, and 1 teaspoon salt. The lamb should be mostly submerged in the stock. If needed, add more stock to cover the lamb.
Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is very tender, about 2 hours. (Alternatively, place into a 300°F oven).
Stir in the carrots and chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, over medium low heat until the sauce reduces and thickens to a thick stew consistency and the carrots are tender, 20 to 30  minutes. Serve warm, spooned over couscous. Garnish with cilantro and serve with harissa or hot sauce if desired.

Walnut Harvesting with Sweet and Savory Recipes

Ancient and worldly, walnuts have been treasured for millennia as a source of sustenance. One of the oldest nuts cultivated by man, walnuts originated in Persia and were traded along the Silk Road, spreading in popularity in Asia, the Middle East and then Europe. Walnuts were introduced to California by the Franciscans in the 1700s, where they flourished in the Mediterranean-like climate. Today Californian walnuts grow primarily in the Central Valley where the mild climate and rich soils provide perfect growing conditions.

orchard alley

Not to rest on their historic laurels, by today’s standards walnuts are also considered to be a superfood, due to their exceptional nutritional value. High in protein, vitamins, minerals, packed with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are a rich source of energy. They also taste great, adding subtle sweetness, smooth buttery flavor and crunchy texture to savory and sweet recipes.

cranberry trifles 1Cranberry and Orange Trifle with Candied Walnuts

Last week I had the opportunity to tour Diamond Nuts near Sacramento, California. For all of my cooking and writing about nuts – not to mention eating – I had never seen  how a nut is harvested and processed. As the season and location would have it, it was prime walnut harvesting season in the Central Valley.

hands

When the walnuts are ready for harvest a special hydraulic driven shaker grabs the trunk of the walnut tree and shakes it for about 15 seconds, resulting in a shower of walnuts to the ground. Imagine a 30-foot tree doing the shimmy and you get the picture.

shaker

The carpet of fallen nuts are blown by a sweeper (similar to a large leaf blower) into neat piles down the centers of each orchard alley.

rows
A harvester, which slightly resembles a dusty street cleaning machine, hoovers up the nuts, funneling them into a bin, while somehow managing to leave behind wayward leaves and sticks.

wlanuts

The nuts are transported by trucks to the processing plant, where they are sorted. hulled, and washed.

sort

Then they are left to dry in enormous vats at 105°F to dry out the in-shell walnuts to an 8% moisture level. Picture a walnut sauna.

drying

From there the freshly transformed and spiffed up walnuts are transported to the packaging facility where the powers-that-be decide to halve, chop, dice, and grind them, not to mention salt and sweeten.

Diamond bldg

All wrapped up and boxed, they are shipped off to stores and the world for purchase and consumption, winding up in our kitchens  – which is where we come in. I cook a lot with walnuts, especially during the holiday season, and here are a few of my favorites:

brussels sprouts grapes tastefoodRoasted Brussel Sprouts with Farro, Grapes, and Walnuts

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Spinach with Goat Cheese, Cranberries, and Walnuts

pear blue cheese tfPear, Blue Cheese, and Arugula Bruschetta with Walnuts

apple cake tastefoodApple Cinnamon Cake with Raisins and Walnuts

Disclosure: My visit and tour were hosted by Diamond Walnuts with no obligation to write this post. All opinions are entirely my own.

Chicken and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitakes

Posted by Lynda Balslev

This is a Sunday soup, a perfect antidote to a social weekend with big meals and late evenings. Restorative, healthy, and nourishing, it’s a perfect time-out meal to enjoy on a relaxed and peaceful day, with no reservations and no make-up on the agenda. I used leftover chicken from a roast, but you can easily use a rotisserie chicken from your local store or farmer’s market.

Chicken and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitakes

Don’t leave out the shiitakes – they impart a luscious umami flavor to the stock. Barley may be substituted for the farro. Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, trimmed, halved if large
5 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup farro or pearl barley
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it softens without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and mushrooms. Sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the mushrooms begin to release their juices, about 3  minutes. Add the stock, farro, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the chicken and top off with additional stock if needed. Simmer until the chicken is heated through. Ladle into bowls. Serve hot, garnished with parsley.

Roasted Pears and Yogurt Streusel

pear yogurt crumble tfPosted by Lynda Balslev

Fall on a plate: Burnished Warren pears, toasted streusel and golden honey. I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Or in this case, turn down an offer for a box of pears from Frog Hollow Farm – especially in the fall, when I love to bake fruit crisps, crumbles and tarte tatins. This recipe is a “healthy” version of a crumble, with pear halves roasted in the oven, then topped with yogurt, honey and a streusel topping. Call it a healthy dessert or a decadent breakfast, but just be sure to make it.

Roasted Pears and Yogurt Streusel
Serves 4

2 ripe but firm pears, such as Warren or Bartlett
Extra-virgin olive oil
Granulated sugar
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons runny honey, plus extra for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the pears in half lengthwise and remove the cores. Brush the cut sides with olive oil and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place in a baking pan and roast in the oven, cut side up, until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.

Combine the oats, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil and mix to coat. Spread on a small rimmed baking pan and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whisk the yogurt and honey in a small bowl. Arrange the pears in bowls. Spoon the yogurt into the centers of the pears. Sprinkle the streusel over the yogurt and pears. Drizzle with additional honey.

*Disclosure: I received a complimentary box of Warren pears from Frog Hollow Farm with no obligation to write about the product. All opinions are my own.  This recipe is inspired by and adapted from a recipe by Bon Appetit.

Hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup

tortilla soup tastefoodPosted by Lynda Balslev

My inspiration for making soup is often a convergence of too many vegetables in the refrigerator with homemade stock and leftovers from a roast chicken. This recipe is not an authentic tortilla soup, as I managed to empty most of the contents of my veggie drawer into it. It’s chock-a-block full of corn, zucchini and peppers, purchased at the farmers market, along with the requisite garlic and onion. Season and spice the soup to your taste. Ideally it should have a little heat, but since our family is divided on what constitutes “spicy”, I pass a bottle of hot sauce around the table so everyone can fire up the soup to their taste.

Harvest Chicken Tortilla Soup

This soup is meant to be thick. More chicken stock may be added for a soupier consistency. Serves 4 to 6.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3/4 pound shredded cooked chicken
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup cooked black beans
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Tortilla chips, broken in pieces

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and zucchini and sauté briefly, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, plum tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, 20 minutes. Stir in the chicken, corn, and beans. Partially cover and simmer until thoroughly heated through. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve warm, garnished with the tortilla chips.

Veggie Fried Farro

Veggie FarroPosted by Lynda Balslev

Farro stands in for rice in this easy stove top dinner. Cooked farro is added to a sauté of seasonal chopped veggies – in this case cauliflower, peppers and purple kale. It’s a great way to use up your veggies  Almonds are an optional addition, adding extra protein and great crunchy texture to this satisfying dish.

Veggie Fried Farro

I used what I had on hand from the farmers market, including bok choy flowers for garnish (not necessary but very pretty).

Serves 4

1 cup farro
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or water)
Salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 small head cauliflower, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
2 gypsy peppers (or 1 sweet red bell pepper), stemmed and seeded, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 heaping cup coarsely chopped kale leaves
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring the farro, stock or water, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the farro is tender, about 45 minutes.

Heat the oil and red chili flakes in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and carrot and sauté until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the peppers, garlic, cumin, and paprika  and sauté  until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kale and sauté until the kale wilts, about 1 minute. Stir in the farro, almonds and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve warm.

Weeknight Dinners: Spaghetti Bolognese


Spaghetti Bolognese – Posted by Lynda Balslev

Things are a little busy around here – more on that later. For now, I share with you a favorite recipe that’s perfect for the fall. It’s also perfect for busy schedules, when you can make a big batch of the sauce and keep it on hand for weeknight dinners. If you don’t have a recipe like this in your weeknight repertoire, then you should. We refer to it as Spaghetti Bolognese in our house, and before someone writes to inform me that this is not an authentic bolognese sauce, I’ll save you the time and announce it right here: This is not an authentic bolognese sauce – but it’s our version, and somewhere along the way it was assigned the name “bolognese” (probably my fault) and since then it’s stuck. More importantly, my entire family loves this sauce, and we’ve become quite attached to it’s name, so we’re are standing by it.

Since we are on the topic of authentic vs. unauthentic Bolognese, let me explain:

Bolognese sauce is a meat ragu, often containing 2 to 3 kinds of meat (beef, pork, veal). My sauce calls for ground beef since it’s most readily available in organic, sustainable form in all of the markets I shop. If you wish, feel free to add pork, pancetta or veal to the mix.

Bolognese is typically not a tomato-rich sauce. The meat is the principal component, which is why it’s a ragu. My version is generous with the tomatoes, because, well, we like tomatoes, and we are happy to call our sauce a sauce.

Bolognese spices are minimal: salt, pepper, bay leaf, nutmeg – and no garlic (gasp). You can be sure there will be garlic in my sauce, along with a handful of my garden’s herbs, such as oregano and thyme.

Bolognese includes white wine and milk – yes milk.  Neither are in this sauce  – otherwise, at least one young family member would have rebelled years ago due to a mystifying bias against dairy. Instead, I add red wine, because it deepens flavor and acidity to meaty sauces, and (for some reason) there’s always red wine in our house.

Finally, bolognese is a hearty ragu, often served with thick hearty-type pasta such as pappardelle. We love pappardelle, but, unlike red wine, there’s rarely pappardelle in our house, so spaghetti is the go-to staple of choice.

The point here is this is a flexible sauce that tastes great no matter it’s name or its origin. More importantly, it’s a family staple that’s hugely popular, may be prepared in large quantities, easily frozen, and is unfussy in its use: Ladle it over pasta, between lasagna sheets or even call it a base for chili. It may be prepared within an hour for easy weeknight dining and tastes even better the next day.

Spaghetti Bolognese

This recipe may be doubled. Freeze the extras for later use.
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, finely diced
1/2 sweet red pepper, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup heavy-bodied red wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste

1 pound pasta – cooked al dente
Fresh parsley
Grated Parmigiano or Pecorino (they don’t do that in Bologna either) cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until brown, about 3 minutes. Drain the beef in a colander. Return the pot to the stove and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until beginning to soften, stirring up any brown bits, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, red pepper, and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Return the beef to the sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and breaking up any of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add the sugar if necessary. Serve ladled over cooked pasta, such as spaghetti, pappardelle, or rigatoni. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with grated cheese.

 

 

The Cowgirls’ Guide to Cheese and Potato Gratin

Cowgirls gratin

Posted by Lynda Balslev 

I am not going to lie. I am a cheese fanatic. Those of you who know me already know this. I adore cheese, and relish serving it on pretty boards, tumbled into salads and cooked with gratins, pastas, eggs, you name it. I even call it dessert when given the choice. I think I know a little about cheese, gleaning knowledge from my international life, tasting, favoriting and cooking with locally produced cheese from the various countries I’ve called home and traveled to. People ask me about cheese, seek recommendations, and even pay me to create lavish baskets and wooden boards covered with blocks, rounds, wedges, and slabs of mild, creamy, floral, moldy cheese. And then I met this book: Cowgirl Creamery Cooks and realized that while I know about cheese, the gals at Cowgirl live it. And I envy them.

cowgirl book

Sue Conley and Peggy Smith are the Cowgirls behind the Marin creamery, located in Point Reyes, California. They met in college, and have both worked as chefs in Berkeley restaurants before launching Tomales Bay foods, which promoted West Marin’s farms and dairies to Bay area chefs. From there it was a quick leap to producing their own cheese from locally produced milk from Strauss Family Creamery. Nearly 20 years later, the Cowgirls are known throughout the Bay area and beyond, garnering numerous awards, including the induction into the Guilde des Fromagers.

This book is a great read for cheese lovers and organic food aficionados. Not only is it Conley and Smith’s personal story, it’s a how-to on all things cheese – including tasting, buying, storing, and pairing with 75 recipes and photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. It will entertain and enlighten, and most importantly, leave you very hungry. Here is a taster.

Red Hawk Potato Gratin

Red Hawk is a rich triple-crème washed-rind cheese with a strong aroma and mellow flavor. Camembert may be substituted. Serves 6 to 8.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, julienned
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup heavy cream
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
10 ounces Red Hawk cheese, cut into 16 wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat a cast iron skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the pan. When the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the cream and half of the Parmesan.

2.Transfer half of the onion-cream mixture to a glass 13 by 9-inch baking dish or casserole. Arrange half the potatoes in an overlapping layer on top of the mixture, and then top with 8 of the Red Hawk wedges. Add the remaining potatoes in an even layer, the remaining half of the Red Hawk, and the remaining onion-cream mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.

3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let the casserole cool for 10 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Cowgirl Creamery Cooks. All opinions are my own. 

Gemelli with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula and Breadcrumbs

Tomato Pasta Plate x

Posted by Lynda Balslev

Are you looking for an easy and healthy weeknight meal? Here is a fresh, family friendly recipe that may be prepared in 30 minutes with rewarding results. I make this recipe frequently, especially when I have tomatoes on hand – which at this time of year is all the time. This pasta dish makes use of the plethora of end-of-season grape and cherry tomatoes that I can’t help but collect at each market visit. (It’s a weakness.) A little slow roasting heightens their flavor, coaxing out natural juices and sugars, while deflating the impossibly pert tomatoes to a more relaxed version of themselves. It also gives me an excuse to purchase more.

Gemelli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula
Serves 4.

1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Handful of thyme sprigs
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound pasta, such as gemelli or fusilli
2 large handfuls of arugula, about 3 cups

Heat the oven to 400°F. Scatter the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the tomatoes. Roast in the oven until tomatoes are softened, about 25 minutes. Remove and reduce oven heat to 350°F. Discard the thyme sprigs. Peel the skin away from the garlic and finely chop the cloves. Transfer the tomatoes and garlic to a large serving bowl.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the same baking sheet and stir to coat in any remaining olive oil. Return the baking sheet to the oven and briefly bake until the breadcrumbs are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. (They will brown quickly so watch them carefully.) Remove and immediately transfer the breadcrumbs to a small bowl to prevent further cooking. Cool slightly, 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in the 2 tablespoons cheese.

While the tomatoes are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; drain. Add the pasta to the tomatoes, along with the arugula and 1/3 cup cheese. Toss to combine. Drizzle with a little more olive oil if desired. Season with black pepper and taste for salt. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the pasta. Serve immediately.

Plums (and a recipe for galette)

Plums Lynda Balslev tf

Posted by Lynda Balslev 

When life hands you plums…make a galette – or a crostata, depending on which side of the alps you sit. These free form tarts are refreshingly rustic. Their simple duty is to showcase seasonal fruit with little to-do. Big on flavor, short on fuss, with lots of crumbs welcome. My kind of dessert.

plum crostata tastefood

Plum Galette
Makes 1 (10-inch) galette

Dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Filling:
2 tablespoons almond meal
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 pounds plums, halved and pitted, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Whipped cream

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Add half of the butter and process until the dough resembles coarse meal. Add the remaining butter and pulse until the pieces are pea-sized. Transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle in the water while stirring and fluffing with a fork. Stir and toss until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to 24 hours).

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Whisk the almond meal, 1 tablespoon sugar and the cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll out the dough into a 14-inch round. Spread the almond meal over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Arrange the plums in a concentric pattern over the almond meal and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Fold the dough in over the outer edge of the plums. Brush the crust with the cream. Slide the galette with the parchment onto a baking sheet (or a pizza stone preheated in the oven). Bake until the crust is golden, about 45 minutes. Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.