Artichoke risotto for Spring


Artichokes were the first new spring veggies to show up at the market this year. Now, they’re everywhere you turn and prices finally have fallen to reasonable levels.

As much as I love these edible thistles, I blanch at the thought of paying $3 per globe, no matter how large and picture perfect. Besides, I really do prefer them smaller, when the stems are more tender and each one is the right size for an individual serving.

At the very beginning of the season, it’s enough to simply steam artichokes with a little garlic and lemon until the base of each leaf is soft enough to scrape the flesh off with your front teeth. The bottom and stem become nutty and sweet.

In the last few weeks, though, I’ve found so-called baby artichokes at the market for as little as 3 for $1. This is the perfect time to cook them in a special dish to celebrate the return of sunny skies and warmer weather. Continue reading Artichoke risotto for Spring

Chocolate and olive oil, oh my


Almost anything goes with chocolate, it seems.

Last weekend at the San Francisco Chocolate Salon, I tasted delightful chocolates combined with Guinness, jackfruit, bacon and genmai tea – in separate confections, thank goodness. Even the Van Gogh vodka infused with dusky Dutch chocolate, which I sampled with some trepidation, was lovely.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that dark chocolate and peppery extra virgin olive oil make such a stunning marriage in the almost flourless cake from Fran Gage‘s just-released book, “The New American Olive Oil” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009). The single-layer cake is at once dense, moist and amazingly light, with the silky smooth texture of velvet. Just enough of the oil’s pungent bite hovers in the background to highlight the chocolate’s subtly fruity character. I may never go back to butter. Continue reading Chocolate and olive oil, oh my

Lemons preserved in the Moroccan style


I can’t cook without lemons in the kitchen. A shot of fresh juice or dusting of lively zest is often just what a recipe needs to sharpen flavors and make a dish memorable.

Thick-skinned Eurekas from the grocery store will do, but the fragrant Meyer lemons more commonly grown in backyards are my favorites. Strictly speaking, they’re not lemons at all, but a cross between a sweet orange and a lemon, bringing the best of both citrus fruits to the table. The juice is a little softer and the aroma more intoxicating than ordinary lemons.

So, when my friend Sheila generously offered me a bag of Meyers from her hyperproductive tree, I leaped at the opportunity. I wasn’t counting on such a large bag, though, and when I got it home I began to worry that some would rot before I could use them all. My freezer was already stocked with lemon juice. There was lemon marmalade in the pantry and limoncello in the fridge. What should I do with the unexpected bounty?

Why, preserve them Moroccan-style in salt and their own juice, of course. Continue reading Lemons preserved in the Moroccan style

A touch o’ the green – kale, that is


Chances are you’ve never heard of colcannon, much less ranked it high on your list of favorite Irish foods. It certainly wasn’t part of my repertoire until recently, when I began looking for new ways to cook the kale that floods local farmers markets during the winter months.

For the record, colcannon is a traditional Irish peasant dish dating back at least to the 18th century. It sounds a little odd: A concoction of mashed potatoes and cooked cabbage or kale with a little onion thrown in, and perhaps some bacon if you’re flush.

On the plate, however, it’s a revelation. The greens bring pleasing texture and a new layer of flavor to often stodgy mashed potatoes, while onions contribute sweet and savory notes. The bacon – well, what’s not to like about bacon? It’s the spark of salt and fat that brings the dish to life. Continue reading A touch o’ the green – kale, that is

Quick and easy dinners


Every home cook needs a foolproof dish to pull out of the hat for an almost effortless dinner when life spins out of control. That was the premise of a chain letter I found in my inbox recently. Although I usually resist getting caught up in this sort of thing, the request came from a good friend, who argued that everyone needs more ideas for easy meals.

I sent off this recipe for deviled chicken thighs that has become a staple at our house and eagerly waited for other people’s ideas to flow into my email. Only a handful of the 36 I was promised ever showed up. And only a couple of those matched my personal interest in food made with mostly fresh ingredients. I know I’m a bit of a food snob, but I don’t like to cook with a lot of processed food. Continue reading Quick and easy dinners