Jambalaya for our times


New Orleans pulls out all the stops for Mardi Gras, which ends tomorrow with Fat Tuesday. Fabulous food is always at the center of festivities.

Still, you don’t have to break the bank with pricey Gulf shrimp, fresh oysters and crawfish flown in live from Louisiana to join the party at home. Just follow the lead of the thrifty Cajuns, who’ve always managed to make the most of humble ingredients. Crawfish, after all, were one of the gifts of the bayous to resourceful settlers centuries ago – an abundant native crustacean free for the catching.

In honor of Mardi Gras, here’s a deeply flavored jambalaya with budget-friendly ingredients perfect for our times. The shrimp you might expect at the heart of a tasty jambalaya are just too expensive for my wallet this year – unless I break down and buy imported shellfish, which are a bad environmental choice in any case. So I made chicken thighs the stars of this one pot meal, with andouille sausage for spice and a little ham for smoky depth. Continue reading Jambalaya for our times

Blood orange sorbet brightens a rainy day


The gray, rainy days of February bring at least one consolation, these beautiful, juicy blood oranges in the market. Citrus is extraordinarily plentiful this season – a friend’s Meyer lemon tree is in overdrive – but it ‘s blood oranges that captivate me.

Although their California season extends for several months in the dead of winter, we have to catch them when we can in our local supermarket. Their rind is thick and often marked with a burgundy blush. Slice them open and there’s no question how they got their name. At it’s best, the flesh is a deep red, glistening like a garnet.

On looks alone, these descendants of Sicilian orchards stand out in the market among the crates of navel, Valencia and mandarin citrus so abundant at this time of year. Yet it’s their sweet, tangy flavor, with undertones of young red wine, that brings me back.orangesliced

Blood oranges are wonderful eaten straight out of hand, slowly peeling off the segments one at a time. They’re gorgeous in salads or garnishing a dessert and I just knew they would make a fabulous sorbet. Continue reading Blood orange sorbet brightens a rainy day

Chocolate for your Valentine – Part 2


Yes, it’s the second post in a row about chocolate. What can I say? It’s the season.

There’s no better time to go overboard for chocolate than the week leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Besides, let’s be realistic here: More people are likely to consider baking for the romantic holiday than to make candy, however easy it may be.

So today I offer Espresso Brownie Bites, a cross between a brownie and a cupcake with a firm texture, dusky chocolate flavors underscored by coffee, and a fudgy ganache topping. These are grownup treats for the sophisticated chocoholic – not too sweet and just the right size to indulge oneself with minimal guilt. Continue reading Chocolate for your Valentine – Part 2

Handmade chocolate for your Valentine


Even in the middle of recession, February means chocolate. We all need our little indulgences now more than ever. Still, that doesn’t mean many of us can afford to pay $30 a pound or more for the temptations of an exclusive chocolate boutique.

What’s a cash-strapped chocolate connoisseur to do? Why, make her own, of course.

Despite what you may think, it’s not really that hard and the only specialized equipment required is a good instant-read thermometer. You probably already have one in your gadget drawer.

We’re not talking fancy molded candy here, but rustic chocolate bark in flavors limited only by your imagination. Broken into irregular shards and simply packed in an attractive box, it’s a gift fit for the most pampered Valentine. Or you could hoard it for yourself. Who’s to know?

I’ve made indulgent fudge and soft truffles rolled in cocoa many times, but I never considered making anything that called for tempered chocolate until I took a class with Anni Golding, chef and owner of Gateau et Ganache in Palo Alto, last spring. Tempering is the heating and cooling process essential to making glossy, brittle chocolate that gives at the bite with a satisfying snap. Chocolate that’s merely been melted loses its structure and the cocoa butter separates out, leaving streaks of the unappetizing gray color chocolatiers call “bloom.”

I’d always thought of tempering as a mysterious, daunting affair requiring double boilers, marble slabs, paddles and perfect timing. Golding, though, introduced the class to the seed method of tempering, which takes a little patience and care but no special expertise. Equipped with a chunk of good chocolate, a serrated knife, a microwave, a spoon and a thermometer, anyone can turn out beautiful chocolate for molding into bonbons, dipping strawberries – or spreading over nuts and dried fruit for delectable bark.

Continue reading Handmade chocolate for your Valentine