warm summer soba salad (gf, v) + buckwheat by Annie Jefferson

The word 'soba' means both 'buckwheat' and 'noodle' in Japanese. In traditional Japanese diet, soba noodles are led only by rice as a go-to grain of choice. Buckwheat is a seed, not a grass or a grain. It got it's name in part because of how the seed was utilized - as wheat. It's history is long, with first evidence around 6000 BCE in China, and incredibly, it's the world's highest elevation crop, cultivated in the Yunnan province on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, which - 14,800 feet in elevation - is called 'the roof of the world'.

Their ability to grow up in the sky adds to my existing sense that there's something special about buckwheat. To me, buckwheat noodles feel like the earth. Unlike regular white wheat pasta, their dark speckled grey hue is the color of something found in nature, like sand or the branch of a tree. Their flavor is nutty and earthy. Their texture firm, but yielding. I love the delicacy of their flat edges, the lightness of each noodle. They are grounding to all senses. Actual buckwheat flour has a consistency that makes me want to swim in it, and a color that I want to decorate my whole house in. The seeds are shaped like perfect little triangles and often used for porridge.

The hand production of soba noodles is a labor of patience and repetition, a lesson in mindfulness and following instincts. Masters of the trade are trained in precision and take great care to 'adjust their dough according to the humidity in the air, according to the variety of buckwheat, according to the grind of the flour.'

In "The Art of Homemade Soba Noodles" (Saveur, Francis Lam, February 2016), artisan soba maker Sonoko Sakai describes her house as a 'buckwheat monastery'. At her Los Angeles residence, Sakai 'teaches the meditation of noodle making... work(ing) in elegant, nearly ritualistic movements...and committ(ing) herself to the intimacy, the humanness, the smallness of a simple craft that you make, serve, and watch disappear over and over again.' Making soba noodles by hand involves many steps of kneading, forming, rolling, flattening, all requiring great attention to detail and extensive practice, eventually establishing a somewhat meditative state, where the mind is at rest and the body performs the ritualistic work without prompt.

'Soba saved me', Sakai says of the passion she found after leaving behind a career as a producer and buyer in the film world.

This salad is light and refreshing, a lovely choice for a summer day. The noodles are tossed in a combination of coconut oil, miso, sesame oil, maple syrup, and tamari, and then folded together with spring onions, sweet peas, arugula and fresh herbs, topped with lime juice and sesame seeds. It's easy to make and will leave you feeling fresh and maybe even zen.

A note on soba noodles:

Most soba noodles that you'll find at the supermarket are made of both wheat and buckwheat. I find my 100% buckwheat flour noodles at my local Asian grocery. Sometimes farmer's markets carry them. You can also make your own. All buckwheat noodles tend to be darker in color and stronger in flavor. Do be aware of the ingredients when you buy, especially if you're following a gluten-free diet. When you get the full buckwheat experience, you are getting loads of protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium 

INGREDIENTS
1 pack soba noodles
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tamari
1/2 cup sweet peas
1 large handful arugula
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade cut
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
juice of half a lime
optional: avocado

METHOD

Heat a large pot of water for the noodles. In the meantime, add the coconut oil to a saucepan and once hot, stir in the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until softened. Whisk in the miso paste. Add the green onions and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sesame oil, maple syrup, red chili pepper flakes, and tamari.

Once boiling, add the soba noodles to the water. They should only take 4 minutes to cook. With 1 minute remaining in cooking time, add your sweet peas (if frozen). Drain and rinse under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking. Transfer the noodles and peas to the warm saucepan and toss with the miso sesame mixture. Fold in arugula, basil and cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with sesame seeds and lime juice.

Serve with sliced avocado and fresh basil leaves.

coconut 'mac-ao' ice pops + superfoods by Annie Jefferson

'Superfood' is a term used for foods that contain relatively high quantities of nutrients or minerals...to take it one step further, foods that, in theory, have health benefits with the potential to help protect from or heal disease. 

Scientifically, there's zero certainty around superfoods when it comes to their ability to visibly boost health or protect from disease. Dictionary definitions of the word include noncommittal language like 'may help' or 'considered to be'. Nutritionists and medical practitioners are wary of the word, and in the EU it's actually illegal to market products as 'superfoods' unless a scientific research-backed medical claim is provided. Blueberries, one of the original 'superfoods' - praised for its high antioxidant content - were actually disproven as such because of how the body processes the antioxidant properties, which are rendered inactive after digestion. 

None of this sounds very good, so what's the fuss about? There's inarguably a great seduction in the concept of superfoods - that there's a list out there of food items, many sourced from exotic places across the globe (where anything must be possible), and that you can buy at your local Whole Foods with the promise not only of glowing skin and increased energy, but longevity and disease prevention too. At a time when more than ever before we feel disconnected from our bodies - with the answers to our health held only by the few in white lab coats - buying into superfoods is an appealing opportunity to take control of our bodies back. Especially when the solution doesn't come in the form of a pill in a bottle, but a product straight from the earth (!).

The concept becomes less appealing when you look for the supportive evidence, and some express concern that the inclusion of 'super' encourages the over-consumption of one food, when we know that the key to health is variety and balance. For sure, classifying foods this way and then tossing the word around is, although perhaps not dangerous, certainly an example of oversimplification. 

I argue that whatever the controversy, the concept of superfoods can be helpful to us simply by urging the connection between sustenance and body, food and medicine.

To the popsicles. No they won't solve all your problems, but they're a great step toward awareness of how food can be used as medicine, and to cooling down if where you are is nearly as hot as it's been in LA!

MACA ROOT

Maca powder comes from the maca root plant. The plant originated in the Andes and has been used for centuries as a source of nutrition and enhanced fertility in humans and animals. Maca is rich in sterols, which are similar to steroids in their promotion of muscle tissue regeneration and stress alleviation, as well as adaptogens, which helps your body achieve hormonal balance. Consistent consumption of Maca therefore has the potential to manage tension and stress, support hormonal health and fertility, and encourage overall energy, vitality and positive mood. Maca has also been reported to increase libido, though supporting studies are hard to come by.

Maca's taste is malty, earthy and nutty, with hints of caramel and butterscotch. It's important to either buy Maca whole and cook it, or buy the gelatinized powder version, which has gone through a heating process that removes any anti-nutrients found in raw cruciferous vegetables. 

RAW CACAO

Cacao in its purest form is made from raw (not heated over 115 degrees) cocoa beans, which have not been processed or refined. In this natural state, cacao's nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body. Cacao is known for its high levels of antioxidants - which protect cells against disease -, theobromine - a stimulant that encourages positive mood and energy -, and as one of the highest food sources of magnesium - a mineral in which many adults are deficient, and which plays an important role in healthy sleep and overall calming of the nervous system.

Raw cacao has a bitter, chocolatey flavor, and when paired with nutty Maca, the two synergize together perfectly. In popsicle form, this essentially achieves a healthier, subtler fudgsicle. 

For variety and aesthetic factor, I added a top layer of coconut milk and chia seed. These too are lauded as one of the life-saving superfood. Aside from looking like perfect miniature beach stones, these teensy chia seeds are a big source of Omega-3, fiber, protein and antioxidants. They are a go-to for those of us looking to add protein to a plant-based diet.

In the end, these foods are absolutely super! But so are spinach and lemons and black beans and apples, and plenty of other ordinary foods that fail to make it onto top 10 lists. Leave the labels aside, but take with us the reminder to connect our foods to our bodies, and look to food as a source of medicine (and also disease). I hope at the very least you find these popsicles are a cool summer treat that makes you feel healthy and connected to your body, and of course that you all experience better energy, fertility, libido, sleep quality and cure of ailments from head to toe!

COCONUT 'MAC-AO' ICE POPS
Makes 8 popsicles

INGREDIENTS
20.4oz or 1 1/2 cans coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 teaspoons raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon gelatinized maca root powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon himalayan pink sea salt, divided
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 medjool dates

Optional: 2 tablespoons each hemp seeds and sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

METHOD
First make the top layer. Measure out 1/2 can or 6.8oz coconut milk. If your coconut milk has separated, you may need to warm it over low heat to help it come together. Stir in the chia seed, vanilla extract and raw honey until incorporated. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow the chia seed to expand.

Meanwhile, make the maca and cacao layer. Warm the remaining 13.6oz/1 can of coconut milk in a saucepan over low heat. Add the maca powder, raw cacao, cinnamon, cloves, sea salt and coconut sugar. Stir until dissolved. Transfer mixture to blender and add medjool dates. Blend on high until no more date pieces remain.

Pour the chia seed coconut mixture into the bottom third of each popsicle mold. Place tray in the freezer. Wait 1 hour, or until completely hardened. Remove from freezer and pour the maca and cacao mixture into the remaining two thirds of each mold. Place popsicle sticks into each and return to freezer to harden. 

At this point, you can either let your pops continue to freeze for several hours or over night, or you can remove them from the freezer 2 hours into the hardening time and add the hemp and sesame seed mixture to the bottom of the pops (if you do this, be sure to leave half an inch or so of space at the top of each mold). Mix together hemp and sesame seeds, and maple syrup and using a small spoon, evenly place the seed mixture at the top of each mold. Press down firmly to make sure it is packed together. Return to freezer. 

*The chia seed layer adds variety and texture to the pop, but to make things even easier, if you prefer, you can always skip the chia seed layer, and go all maca and cacao! Just increase the ingredients by about one third each.

olive oil zucchini bread + ancient grains by Annie Jefferson

The notion of choice in flour as a central determinant in the flavor and texture of a dish is a relatively new one when it comes to everyday home baking. We talk often about white wheat versus all-purpose white flour, bleached versus unbleached, enriched, self-rising, sifted or not. We talk about the protein content of different types of flour - bread, pastry, cake - and how it affects the composition of a pound cake or a croissant or a country loaf. But that a particular flour has the potential to actually play the role of manipulator of flavor - such as a spice like cinnamon - and texture - like poppy seeds - isn't an idea that's played with as much outside of professional kitchens.

This week I've started working with feedfeed as the editor of their Ancient Grains feed. From the more commonly recognized barley, spelt and farro, to the lesser known Kamut, teff and sorghum, ancient grains are a grouping of grains and cereals that date back to prehistoric times and have managed to remain relatively whole and untouched by the modern food industry, especially in comparison to certain other wheat and corn varieties. Ancient grains have been making the rounds in recent years - showing up in supermarkets, recipe books and pantries - and for good reason. Not only are they less processed than their modern counterparts, they’re also naturally free of or low in gluten, which appeals to a rapidly expanding gluten-sensitive cohort. Even more enchanting are some of the stories that accompany these grains, like the idea that you can work Kamut, a grain found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, into your next lunchtime salad.

This recipe takes advantage of the generous zucchini, which comes hot into the summer months, producing more of itself than we know what to do with. Recipes for zucchini quick breads tend to be similar - flour, sugar, egg, oil, and of course zucchini. This one uses extra-virgin olive oil in place of standard vegetable oil for its peppery fruitiness, ground ginger and nutmeg for their warm spiciness, lemon zest for brightness, walnuts for crunch, and finally einkorn and spelt flours because I promised ancient grains, and these are great and forgiving ones to start out with when it comes to baking.

While incorporating ancient grains into everyday cooking presents loads of new and exciting options for salads, soups, risottos (even popcorn!), the options multiply when you consider the possibilities of the grains in their milled state. In order to get the most out of it, flour needs to be understood in a much broader way than just one of the obligatory building blocks of baked goods or pasta or pizza. If we think of flour as its own special ingredient deserving as much thought and experimentation in a recipe as a spice, and each type of flour with its own unique and characterful personality, baking becomes much more interesting. Ancient grains have lots to offer in this department: wheat flour varieties include einkorn, Kamut, spelt and emmer. Teff, sorghum and amaranth are examples of non-wheat ancient grains - grasses or pseudocereals - which can be ground into flours and used in baking.

So far, I've discussed Einkorn here as it relates to gluten/modern flour intolerance, and I've used spelt flour in this millet and sea salt banana bread and this meyer lemon poppyseed cake. Both flours are great in place of white or wheat flour in baking - and can be substituted 1:1 in most cases - whereas other alternative flours, especially the non-wheat varieties, will require recipes specifically developed around their unique compositions. Spelt flour generally has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and is very light and tender as opposed to regular wheat flour. If all-purpose white flour is tasteless and lacking when it comes to flavor, Einkorn instead has a unique and robust richness, as well as a light nuttiness. As a result, this zucchini bread is light, tender and moist in texture, and rich, sweet and nutty in flavor. 

I will be incorporating ancient grains more and more in the coming months, so check back and please share your own experiences baking with alternative flours below! 

OLIVE OIL ZUCCHINI BREAD
Recipe adapted from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories

makes two 6-by-3.5-inch or one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan

note: this recipe yields a quick bread that's slightly less sweet than you may be used to; feel free to up the sugar content by 1/3-2/3 if you prefer sweeter

INGREDIENTS
3 cups grated zucchini (from 1 pound zucchini)
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 1/3 cups natural cane sugar, divided
1 cup (about 153 grams) einkorn flour
1 cup (about 153 grams) spelt flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Grated zest from 2 lemons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour your pan(s).

In a mixing bowl, mix the grated zucchini with 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer and place the strainer over a mixing bowl. Fill another smaller bowl halfway with water and carefully set the water bowl directly on top of the zucchini to help press the water out of the zucchini.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest, grated ginger and vanilla until well blended. Slowly beat in the olive oil in three stages, whisking after each to ensure it is thoroughly combined.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no white clumps remain. Working in handfuls, squeeze the remaining water out of the zucchini. Add to the batter and stir gently until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the loaves. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.

warm farro with wild mushrooms and melted shallots + seavey vineyard by Annie Jefferson

I spent this past weekend at my family's vineyard in Napa Valley. I've been coming here since I was born. I learned to swim in the pool here, to listen for rattlesnakes near the big rocks by the winery, to cook with my Grandma, and eventually to pay attention to the flavors that followed the grapes from our land to the bottle. It's such a special place, and one that has only occurred to me in recent years to be so much more than just my grandparent's home.

Seavey Vineyard is a family-owned vineyard and estate winery nestled in the hills of Conn Valley that hand-crafts small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Napa's mountain region is home to some of the most under the radar and exciting winemaking right now. Relatively untouched by tour buses and bachelorette parties and Instagram hashtags, the wineries here tend to be more rustic and unassuming than their more popular peers down on the valley floor. Seavey is exactly that - rustic and unassuming - and so much so that you might drive right by it if you miss the rusted, red mailbox at the head of the driveway that announces your arrival.

My grandparents bought the property from my Mom's high school geometry teacher in the late seventies. In pursuit of a shared dream, they set about reviving the century-old vineyards and renovating the old stone dairy barn into a winery and tasting room. The first vintage was released in 1990 and Seavey has since been producing age-worthy, Bordeaux-style wines using old world winemaking techniques and gentle extraction methods, such as whole berry fermentation, to help reveal the complexity of flavors, colors and textures in each grape. Every extra effort exists, in the words of the winemaker, to help the land express itself through the wine.

Seavey Cabernet grapes, photo taken right before 2015 harvest

Seavey Cabernet grapes, photo taken right before 2015 harvest

Traditionally a red wine so robust as a Cabernet Sauvignon will be paired exclusively with red meat. It's been suggested that a grilled marbled ribeye and a deeply tannic Cab are the perfect pairing. Bold for bold, red for red, like for like being one of the most straightforward rules of wine pairing. When I was asked to develop a recipe pairing for Seavey, which is known for its big, bold Cabs, and specifically for a vintage described as 'fierce',  'masculine' and displaying 'muscular intensity', I knew this wasn't going to be all layer cakes and lattice pies for me.

I'm a very rare meat-eater. Not only this, but I literally never cook meat and don't claim more than the most elementary understanding when it comes to technique. I do, however, love wine and love drinking wine with plant-based foods. When I started my research for this recipe, I was surprised that many experts warn against pairing Cabs with anything but meat. 'Save the entrée salad for another night', they say. This seemed anciently outdated and unnecessarily limiting to me, and unsurprisingly, since my family eats and grows a lot of plants, Seavey agreed.

Modern California cuisine, after all, is all about openness and flexibility, including greater flexibility when it comes to wine pairing. The idea that a wine is so drinkable that it can be paired with either a salad or Mexican food very much reflects the thinking of the 1970s vegetable-driven movement in California towards seasonal, local and fresh ingredients. I wanted the style of this recipe to reflect the region and have a shared sense of place with the wine, so I decided to consult our family friend and alum of Chez Panisse, who served as executive chef at the Berkeley restaurant at the time of its great influence on California cuisine. 

Jean-Pierre Moullé was the perfect person to ask for advice. As a chef, it's customary to start a menu with the food and then select the wine accordingly. But, after years as an accomplished chef, when Jean-Pierre met his future wife Denise Lurton, who is part of the Lurton winemaking family in Bordeaux, her father insisted that all meals begin with the wine selection, and the dishes that follow serve only to encourage the character of the wine. And so, as Denise and Jean-Pierre describe in their beautiful, dreamlike book on French-inspired cooking and good living, Jean-Pierre became an expert in reverse pairing.

French Roots by Jean-Pierre Moullé & Denise Lurton Moullé

French Roots by Jean-Pierre Moullé & Denise Lurton Moullé

Jean-Pierre suggested a farro salad with roasted vegetables and fresh greens to pair with Seavey's full-bodied 2013 Caravina Cabernet. Farro, with a nutty heartiness and a satisfying chew, seemed like a logical starting place for a dish that was trying to be a match for the 'muscular' wine with mouth-coating tannins that it's paired up against. We toast the grain in the oven to bring out an extra layer of nuttiness before boiling it until al dente. Then, wild mushrooms - shiitake and maitake - chosen for their rich umami content, are browned in butter over high heat, tossed with shallots and garlic, and deglazed with a splash of white wine. The dimensions of flavor added to the mushrooms - including a spoonful of maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne - reflect the nuanced complexity of the wine, which brings hints of plum, spice and sweet floral notes. Fresh herbs, lemon juice and grated parmesan added while the ingredients are still warm help bind the dish together and add layers of acidity and freshness. Both the dish and the wine light up the tastebuds at the back of the mouth and have a soft finish.

Seavey Vineyard and Francie Pie hope you enjoy!

WARM FARRO WITH WILD MUSHROOMS AND MELTED SHALLOTS

INGREDIENTS
1 cup uncooked farro
salt for cooking water
3 shallots, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into bitesize pieces*
olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
white wine
salt & black pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
juice of half a lemon
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan

*I used equal parts shiitake and maitake. You can use whatever wild mushrooms you come across - chanterelle, oyster, porcini, crimini, etc. Avoid cultivated white button mushrooms. Whatever you find, cut them into pieces if they are too large for a bite, but not too small, as mushrooms have high water content and so shrivel up when cooked. As you'll see in the recipe, I like to cook the maitake separate from the other mushrooms. This is because they have thin, tender petals, and crisp up beautifully if given enough space in the pan. I also like to add sweetness and heat to them because it brings out their rich umami flavor. If you can't find maitake for this recipe, feel free to cook all your mushrooms together.

METHOD
Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Rinse your farro under cold water and drain. Spread farro on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes until fragrant and golden brown. 

I like to cook my farro like I cook pasta. In my experience this protects it from overcooking and becoming sticky. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Remove farro from oven and add to boiling water. Turn heat down to medium and boil farro until al dente - tender, but not mushy. Drain the farro and spread it on a baking sheet to dry and cool. You may also soak your farro overnight in the refrigerator and follow the same instructions, reducing cooking time to about 10 minutes.

Heat two frying pans with a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter over high heat. Add the maitake to one pan and the shiitake to another. Allow the mushrooms to cook in the pan untouched for 5 minutes or so. If they begin to burn, turn the heat down slightly. As soon as the mushrooms release their liquids add another tablespoon of butter to each pan, followed by half of the shallots and garlic to each. Stir until incorporated and then let the mushrooms continue to cook, stirring only occasionally so that they can brown and crisp. Your mushrooms should be slightly shriveled and browned with bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add a generous splash of white wine to each pan and allow the liquid to cook off, scraping the bottom of the pan with your spoon as you go. Add maple syrup and cayenne to the maitake. Stir. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste to both pans of mushrooms.

Combine warm mushrooms and farro in a serving bowl. Add chopped herbs, lemon juice and parmesan. Stir to incorporate. Add freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve while warm with 2013 Seavey Caravina.*

*Seavey suggests decanting the wine at least one hour before serving to let it open up.

the layer cake: milk bar edition by Annie Jefferson

I moved to New York City the same year the Momofuku Milk Bar did. It was 2008 and me and their soft serve were braving the chaos together. For my birthday that year my mom sent the Milk Bar's dulce de leche layer cake to my East Village apartment and my friends and I had never seen such a thing. The cake was short-lived because our 21-year old stomachs were able to take down multiple slices at a time, but I never forgot it. The Milk Bar cakes became more and more popular over the years to the point where it eventually became assumed, even expected, that one would be provided at every birthday dinner for every 20-something on the island. The cakes even started coming in plus size for weddings. And the bakery embraced its growing popularity, publishing recipes and offering classes to spread the word about their famous cakes.

When I moved from New York to London, there was no longer a Milk Bar to visit, and I'm not sure what the Brits would make of these mega cakes made of layers stacked upon naked layers of cake and frosting, sweetened milk and cake crumbs, gooey curds, sauces, candy and sprinkles. Moving from London to Los Angeles last year didn't solve the problem, seeing as there's no Milk Bar here either. So, I figured the time for a reunion was nigh when my best friend and 2008-birthday-cake-eating-partner visited LA from New York to turn 30 a few weeks back.  

The Momofuku Milk Bar was started by James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef award-winner, Christina Tosi. Like many of us, it took trying multiple paths - for her, electrical engineering, applied mathematics - before the Virginia-raised chef was able to realize that her hobby - baking - was actually her life's passion, and her lifelong preference for junk food and casually throwing together unlikely flavors - 'mayonnaise and brown sugar with Doritos' - was her ticket to novelty and success in the pastry world. As Tosi told the New York Times, “I was never raised to take myself so seriously when baking...certain parts of me aren’t fussy enough to make those plated desserts. It doesn’t speak to me, that delicate dreaminess. I just didn’t have it.”

This approach worked for David Chang, the man behind the Momofuku empire, who saw Tosi's talent when she was showing up each day to her desk job - writing Momofuku's food safety plan - with a different chocolate chip cookie sandwich or brownie topped with crushed potato chips that she'd made in her free time. Chang was intrigued, and after putting her in charge of just one dessert to be served at his Ssam Bar, it quickly became clear that the empire would need to make room for a full pastry division. It was confusing for everyone when an ice cream and pastry shop opened up in a tiny alcove on 13th Street attached to Ssam Bar, an Asian restaurant, but the ice cream made with cereal infused milk was good enough for people not to question it. 

Since then, Milk Bar has expanded, opening locations all across New York City, and in Washington, D.C., Toronto and soon in Vegas. Tosi has published two books and won multiple James Beard awards, all the while standing firmly behind her quirky, messy, whatever the opposite of 'delicate dreaminess' is, approach to baking. And we and this recipe thank her for it.

I say that this blog is a direct reflection of the way that I eat, so while most days - and most posts - are conscious of using whole and natural ingredients, as with life there are times for experimentation and special occasion. This cake is one of them. It's rich in flavor and impressive in appearance, yet it's playful and doesn't take itself too seriously, kind of like Christina Tosi. 

I changed the traditional dulce de leche recipe slightly to incorporate coconut at several stages and cream cheese frosting to balance out the otherwise unrelenting sugar. I also doubled the recipe for the milk crumbs because they're easily the best part! I can't wait to play around with these little crumbles and use them in other recipes. You will end up with extra by using the doubled recipe below, but you can just zip-lock baggy and send them with your friend for a plane-ride-back-to-New-York-snack, as I did. 

The cake appears impossible to make at home, but with a few tools and special ingredients it's really pretty simple. There are multiple elements to a Milk Bar cake: cake, soak, filling, crumbs, filling, repeat. This behind the scenes gallery from Serious Eats has lots of helpful photos and descriptions of each step. As you work through the recipe below, especially the assembly portion, I would suggest using the visuals in the gallery as a guide. Once you've made the cake one time, take a page from Tosi's book and come up with your own flavor. I'm thinking dark chocolate cake with halva filling and sea salt crumbs for the next DIY Milk Cake!

COCONUT DULCE DE LECHE MILK BAR CAKE
Adapted from the Momofuku Milk Bar recipe

Makes 1 (6-inch) layer cake, 5 to 6 inches tall, serves 8-12

EQUIPMENT
1 quarter (9in x 13in) sheet pan
1 (6-inch) cake ring
2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long (I got mine from Blick art supply store)

INGREDIENTS
1 recipe coconut dulce de leche cake (below)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (65 grams) canned coconut milk
1 cup (275 grams) dulce de leche (you can use any brand, or opt for homemade, even vegan)
1 recipe dulce de leche cream cheese frosting (below)
1 recipe milk crumb (below)


COCONUT DULCE DE LECHE CAKE

INGREDIENTS
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (275 grams) dulce de leche
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (110 grams) coconut milk
1/2 cup (75 grams) grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon (4 grams) vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (185 grams) cake flour (here is an easy cake flour substitute using cornstarch from The Kitchn if you don't have cake flour in your pantry)
1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (4 grams) kosher salt

METHOD
Heat oven to 350° F. Grease and line with parchment a quarter sheet pan, and set it aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the dulce de leche, and cream on high for another 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl again. Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating on medium-high for 1 minute after each addition. After you add the last egg, beat on high for 4 more minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.

On medium-high speed, pour in the coconut milk, oil and vanilla very slowly. It should take 3-4 minutes to add these liquids. Don’t rush this process - you’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for that liquid. There should be no streaks of fat or liquid and the mixture should look smooth and not curdled. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If you see any lumps of cake flour in there while you’re scraping, mix for another 30-45 seconds.

Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger. The cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests.

Allow to cool completely. The cake can be made several days ahead of time. I stored mine in tightly wrapped plastic wrap for 2 days in the refrigerator. 


DULCE DE LECHE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

INGREDIENTS
1 stick (226 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (226 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons (35 grams) dulce de leche
1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
2 cups (375 grams) confectioners’ sugar

METHOD
Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream together the butter, cream cheese and dulce de leche. Gently stir in vanilla extract. Then slowly add confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as you go. Continue to mix until fluffy.

Set frosting aside in a sealed container in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the cake. Just be sure frosting is room temperature at the time of assembly.


MILK CRUMB

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (80 grams) milk powder + 1/2 cup (40 grams) 
1/4 cup (80 grams) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (24 grams) cornstarch
2 tablespoons (50 grams sugar)
1 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
8 tablespoons (110 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 bars (180 grams) coconut white chocolate, melted (I used Lindt brand)
1 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

METHOD
Heat the oven to 250°F. Combine the 1 cup milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Toss with your hands to mix. Add the melted butter and toss with a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

Spread the clusters on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes. The crumbs should be sandy at that point, and your kitchen should smell like buttery heaven. Cool the crumbs completely.

Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than ½ inch in diameter and put the crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 cup milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Pour the coconut white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed. Stir in shredded coconut. Then continue tossing them every 5 minutes until the chocolate hardens and the clusters are no longer sticky. The crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.


CAKE ASSEMBLY
Put a piece of parchment paper onto a flat surface. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the existing parchment from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. the remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer. Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring

Layer 1: put the cake scraps together inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer. Dunk a pastry brush in the coconut milk and give the cake a good, healthy bath of half the milk. Use the back of a spoon to spread one-half of the dulce de leche in an even layer over the cake. Sprinkle one third of the milk crumbs evenly over the dulce de leche. Use the palm of your hand to anchor them in place. Next use the back of a spoon to spread a third of the frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs.

Layer 2: using your index finger gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall-high enough to support the height of the finished cake. set the less perfect of the remaining 2 cake rounds on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer 1.

Layer 3: nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting and garnish the frosting with the remaining milk crumbs. Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, the cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).

crispy rice spring salad with lemon zested vinaigrette by Annie Jefferson

The mark of a paella that’s good enough to reserve a place in your mental drawer of fried Spanish rice dishes is how much you get of that caramelized to a golden crisp, glued to the pan, nutty crust around the edges. The mark of the universal popularity of such a cooking outcome is the number of cultures around the world that have designated to it a special word.

Referring to those crispy rice edges, the Spanish word socarrat comes from the verb socarrar, meaning ‘to toast lightly’. In Chinese the word is guoba meaning ‘pan scrapings’. In Persian it’s tahdig meaning ‘bottom pot’. In Korean it’s nurungji for ‘scorched’. In Baghdadi it’s hkaka, which refers to the sound of a spatula scraping the rice from the bottom of the pot. In the Philippines, it’s customary to actually disable the automatic shutoff button on rice cookers in order to get the coveted dukot. The list, I’ve discovered, goes on.

Whatever the name, evidence suggests that everyone everywhere is on to the same thing – the brittle, glutinous, crackly portion of an otherwise not dish; the exciting byproduct of a traditional method of cooking; the sideshow that’s a bigger crowd-pleaser than the show itself. It’s a similar thing that has us hooked on the crackling of pork, the sear on a cut of meat, the crispy edges of a pan of lasagna or the thick crust on a loaf of bread.

All are examples of the results of the chemical changes that take place when foods are exposed to high temperatures, collectively referred to as the Maillard Reaction. Much of the appeal here is due to the deepening and complicating of flavors, which takes place as sugar and protein compounds shift, but an entirely separate variable also joins the team when this type of transformation takes place.

Texture isn’t talked about as much as flavor and smell when it comes to food, yet it’s tightly wrapped up with these concepts. Chef Daniel Patterson of San Francisco’s Coi sees texture as ‘the delivery mechanism for flavor’. Texture can also be seen as a way to trap and transport aromas to the mouth - think about the holes in a loaf of sourdough that trap warm, yeasty fragrances. And while much of our perception of texture takes place on a subconscious level, we’re nevertheless extremely sensitive to and particular about the feel of food in our mouths.

As humans we’re born with a ‘deeply ingrained need to chew’ as food scientist, Malcolm Bourne observes in his book Food Texture and Viscositya fact which becomes apparent when you consider how much chewing infants do – on toys, chewing rings, fingers. We’re wired to start chewing almost immediately and as a result we develop a long history of close familiarity with different textures – creamy, chewy, springy, gritty, spongy, slimy, etc. – and very specific preconceptions about which foods should fall into which categories.

A well-crafted dish will speak to this range of experience and offer contrast between, for example, things that crack and things that flow, things that linger and things that dissipate quickly. This salad attempts to do just this. It will make you chew like an infant all over again. The inspiration for the paella-less fried rice comes from Jessica Koslow – owner of Los Angeles’s famous eastside brunch spot Sqirl – and her Crispy Rice Salad, which is served at breakfast with ‘the works’ – a fried egg and sausage.

Here, I wanted to pair the pop of the ‘socarrat’ fried rice with some items from today’s farmer’s market haul – the smoothness of the butter leaf lettuce, the starchy chew of the sweet English peas, the snap of the root vegetables and the delicate give of the dill. The creaminess from the vinaigrette helps bind it all together, giving something in common to each of the otherwise disparate ingredients.

And once you’ve mastered this crispy rice technique, you can use it for anything – as a garnish for creamy soups, atop a morning yogurt bowl, baked into chocolate chip cookies…as with the names around the world for ‘crispy rice’, the list of possibilities goes on.

CRISPY RICE SPRING SALAD
Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup long grain brown rice (here I’ve mixed in some daikon radish seeds for variety)
1 cup vegetable oil (or other high smoking point oil for frying)
half a small red onion
1/2 lemon and ice water to bathe onion
2 cups mixed variety beets, scrubbed
half a fennel bulb, shaved
1 1/2 cup fresh English peas, shelled (2 pounds peas in their pods will yield 2 cups shelled)
1 head butter leaf lettuce, leaves washed and dried
1/2 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped

METHOD
Rinse rice under cold water. Transfer to a large saucepan of boiling salted water and cook until tender, 25-30 minutes. Drain any remaining water, return rice to the pot, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. Spread the rice out in one layer on a large baking sheet, and let it stale for several hours or overnight in the oven. Drying out the cooked rice is a critical step in achieving desired results in fried rice.

Once rice has dried out, pour vegetable oil into a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. You want the oil at 350° F, which you can determine either with a thermometer or by inserting a wooden spoon, which will bubble around the stick when oil is ready for frying. Cook rice in four batches until puffed and golden, about 1 minute per batch. Remove from the oil using a fine mesh sieve and allow to drain on a paper towel. Season with salt and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place whole beets on a piece of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Wrap foil into a sealed pouch with a small opening at the top. Through the opening pour a small amount of water. Wrap pouch up securely and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until slightly softened but still firm. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, using a mandolin on the thinnest setting, shave beets into thin slices. Alternatively, slice as thin as possible with a sharp knife.

Using the same mandolin setting, slice onion. Transfer to a bowl of ice water with lemon (this helps to remove the pungency of the onions).

Shell and rinse peas. Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly blanch the peas for about 1 minute. Transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave little slices off of the fennel bulb.

To assemble, toss all ingredients with vinaigrette, recipe below.

 

LEMON ZESTED VINAIGRETTE

INGREDIENTS
zest of half an unwaxed meyer lemon
juice of 1 meyer lemon
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
fresh ground pepper

METHOD
Whisk lemon, zest, honey, yogurt and vinegar together in a small bowl. Continue to whisk as you slowly add the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

the perfect snacking cake + einkorn flour by Annie Jefferson

This is the perfect snacking cake. Not too sweet, not too rich, and on the cakey rather than dense end of the spectrum with cornmeal for crunching and a sturdy brown crust. It picks up, transports, and slices beautifully. It's extremely versatile, flexing to accommodate rhubarb in the spring, cranberries in the winter, and sliced peaches or berries of any kind in the summer. It would welcome on top a drizzling of vanilla glaze, a sprinkling of chopped pistachios, or the zest of an orange. It serves well for breakfast, brunch, dessert or simply to have around for midday (or late-day or early-day) snacking. 

The perfect snaking cake is inspired by the Blueberry Cornmeal Cake from Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe in Santa Monica. Have you been? I went for the first time a few weeks ago and spent the whole brunch flipping through the cafe copy of the Huckleberry cookbook. I looked up just enough to notice that the line was out the door from start to finish and that every single thing arriving at the tables looked good. I knew about their Blueberry Cornmeal Cake long before that day and ordering and eating it was the first thing I did when we got there, even before brunch came. 

The Huckleberry recipe - found both here and here - includes, in addition to a load of sugar and butter, one and a half cups of all-purpose white flour. It's really delicious. I'd recommend coming to LA to try it. But for our purposes, for a snacking cake to be a snacking cake, it has to feel okay to go in for a second or third slice without feeling sick or regret.

Although - as with everything - there are exceptions and special occasions, it's increasingly clear that all-purpose white flour is not a solution for everyday cooking. There's a lot of confusion and misinformation these days about wheat and gluten and what, if any of this, is making us unwell. The current thinking is that gluten itself is actually only harmful to the very small percentage of population with celiac disease. For the rest of us who are suffering, we're likely experiencing the inflammatory and digestive issues associated with sensitivity to the modern, mass market brand of wheat.

For thousands of years before us, wheat was a - if not the - nutritional staple, the opposite of making people sick. It was fresh and organic, made from whole kernels and stone ground in small quantities to nourish communities. Modern wheat, however, through a process of 'refining' the berries by stripping them of their nutritious bran and germ and then 'enriching' the flour by adding back the smallest amount of nutrients, is a far cry from from the wheat our grandmothers and certainly their grandmothers were baking with. What we consume today is a dramatically altered - some say 'mutant' - form of wheat that has evolved over the last several generations with the advent of industrial milling, genetic modification and so-called 'high-input' farming to maximize yield and minimize costs. "It ain't wheat" in the words of Wheat Belly author, William Davis, and it's no wonder we are sick. 

Back to the cake. I'd been reading about einkorn flour for some time, but I hadn't tried baking with it until now, and I'm sure it would have taken me much longer to do so had my boyfriend's mom not showed up with a bag of the stuff, sensing that my first attempt at recreating this cake using almond and spelt flours fell flat. Einkorn is the world's most ancient wheat, sometimes called 'man's first wheat', and it's one of the only strains that hasn't been hybridized, meaning it's never undergone the artificial process of selection based on desirable characteristics, such as with high gluten content in modern wheat. As a result, einkorn is as wild as it gets when it comes to wheat, and people seem to be reporting much more positive digestive responses than with regular flour. This makes sense since the low gluten content is easier on digestion, and easy digestion allows for greater absorption of nutrients, with which einkorn is packed.

This cake adapted well to einkorn flour and I was pleased to see what a perfect 1:1 replacement it was. We opt for natural cane sugar in place of white sugar and replace the butter with solid coconut oil to maximize snackability. The greek yogurt adds a density and a volume that really helps both sturdy and fluff up the cake. But really, this cake is about celebrating the magic of the einkorn flour - if you've worked with einkorn recently, let me know about your experience below!

BLACKBERRY CORNMEAL SNACKING CAKE

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil, solid
3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups einkhorn all-purpose flour*
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups full fat greek yogurt
1 cup blackberries, or other fruit
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350°F. Line and grease a 10-inch round cake pan.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, beat together the coconut oil, maple syrup and salt until thoroughly incorporated. Add the eggs and egg white, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl well. Stir in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. Stir into liquid ingredients until only just incorporated (batters with einkorn flour can get gummy). Fold in greek yogurt.

Scoop the batter into the pan, pour over the blackberries (or your choice of fruit), and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 15-30 minutes in the pan.

Remove the cake: place a flat plate on top of the cake and pan. Carefully invert the cake onto the plate by flipping both upside down. Then lift the pan off the cake. Gently pull the parchment from every nook and cranny of the cake, being careful not to break the cake. Rest your serving plate on the bottom of the cake and turn the cake right-side up onto the plate.

*If you are trying to stick to a gluten-free diet, a combination of gluten-free flour and/or almond flours should work here. 

mexican molletes by Annie Jefferson

Think of Molletes as the Mexican answer to the cold cut sandwich. They're a simple staple found in food stalls and coffee shops across Mexico. They're best made at home, however, thrown together in minutes using three main ingredients - bread, beans and cheese - and grilled under the broiler until the cheese is toasted and bubbly. The word 'molletes' is actually Spanish in origin and refers to a flatbread made out of an oval-shaped loaf of bread and traditionally served for breakfast with olive oil and rubbed garlic. In Mexico, it refers to the grilled bean and cheese sandwich that belongs in your Mexican food repertoire immediately.

Last summer I served last-minute molletes at a picnic using french bread - in place of traditional Mexican bolillo - because that's what we had lying around. It was truly a successful marriage of cuisines, with crispy-soft baguette being the best of sandwich breads and beans and cheese the most accommodating of ingredients. I also put them together like a sandwich, rather than open-faced as is typical, with two slices of bread and grilled on each side, like a panini. Immediately this turned them from a snack into the main course, and served alongside guacamole, pico de gallo and salad greens, they were easily one of my favorite meals of the summer.

IMG_6580.jpg

Traditionally molletes are made with refried pinto beans. Here we use black beans, dried, soaked, simmered with aromatics and seasoned with spices, which takes some time and planning, but is well worth the effort. I cook black beans from scratch at least once a week and love getting lots of flavor and heat into them as they soften. See the spices below and play around with the ingredients using what you like. Sometimes I'll throw in a tablespoon of soy sauce or maple syrup to add a range of flavors, and always a splash of apple cider vinegar. However you go, it's important to get some acid and fat in there at some point. For the bread, I used what I and LA Mag agree is the best baguette in Los Angeles, from the Rose Cafe in Venice. And rather than traditional chihuahua cheese we use simple cheddar for it's sharp flavor and divine melting power, but again, you can use whatever cheese you like.

This sandwich works so well because of the crisped up crunch of the bread crust and the pack of rich, savory flavor in the middle. It's served hot and melty, but this is tempered by the fresh sides - guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled onions, etc. The best part is using an unexpected medium - french bread - to deliver familiar Mexican flavors to your mouth.

MEXICAN MOLLETES
Makes 4 sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
1 loaf of french bread, or bread of your choice
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups refried beans (recipe below)
cheddar cheese, shaved or thinly sliced

METHOD
Remove the ends of the baguette with a sharp knife, and cut the remaining into four equal pieces. Cut each in half lengthwise and lay out the four pairs open face in front of you. Spread a thin layer of butter on each. Next, spread two spoonfuls of beans on each piece of bread and then layer several slices of cheese on top. Place each top piece back on top of its pair, so that you have four sandwiches. 

Heat a large cast iron over medium low heat and melt a knob of butter, swirling it around to cover all surface area. Working in two batches, place two sandwiches at a time in the pan and place a second cast iron on top of the sandwiches to press them down. Heat for about 4 minutes, checking for burning, and then flip. Cheese should be all the way melted when they come off the heat. Repeat with the other two. Alternatively you can use a panini press. The molletes will keep warm and melted in the oven.

Serve immediately with condiments, such as guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled onions and hot sauce. You can also cut each sandwich into two or three pieces to make them more bite size.
 

BLACK BEANS

INGREDIENTS
1 cup dried black beans
sea salt
1 small onion, halved
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 celery stick, cut into large pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons coconut oil, olive oil or butter
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon paprika


METHOD
Pick through beans and rinse under cold water. Place beans in a large bowl and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans in a colander until the water runs clear. Place in a large saucepan and once again add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Add a pinch of salt, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, bay leaf and lemon. Stir to combine and allow to come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about an hour, stirring when you think of it.

After an hour or so, remove aromatics and stir. Continue to cook without the lid until most of the water is absorbed. Once the majority of the water is absorbed, add apple cider vinegar and allow to cook off for about 5 minutes. Stir in oil or butter, then spices and taste for salt. Remove from heat and allow beans to rest with lid on for about 20 minutes before serving.
 

tahini thumbprint jammies by Annie Jefferson

This recipe applies the classic peanut butter and jelly pairing to the cookie form, reimagined with the subtle roasted sesame flavor of tahini and fresh fruit jam. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is one of the most loved dishes in modern American culinary history. It’s one of the first food combinations that you encounter as a kid and likely one of the first that you yourself create, thanks to the fact that no cooking is involved and the ease of pre-sliced, bagged bread. Everyone has a favorite version that sits close to their heart. I like mine on buttered sourdough with a sprinkling of sea salt, browned and pressed on a skillet like grilled cheese.

The PB&J has experienced such longevity for good reason – fat plus sugar is hugely appealing to the human palate. Peanuts contain lipids – fats – which are responsible for the legume's rich and salty profile, and jam is sweet from the high sugar content required to successfully preserve fruit. When sugar and fat show up together like this, our tastebuds register it as instantly satisfying.

The pairing also appeals for reasons far more primal than its perfectly complemented flavors. Taken together, peanut butter and jelly cover all three of the macronutrients that we require for optimal survival: fat, protein and carbohydrates. In his book The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them, self-taught chef Justin Warner argues that all dishes can be deconstructed into a few foolproof laws, with fat and sugar – ‘The Law of Peanut Butter and Jelly – being one of the most fundamental. Why? ‘Fats and sugars contain the most caloric bang for the buck,’ writes Warner, ‘and our taste buds have evolved to help us find them…consider also that wild nuts and berries were probably what we ate before we developed tools to kill animals’. We're intrinsically drawn to a pairing like peanut butter and jelly because in its simplest form it represents a quick path to caloric nourishment. 

If the combination makes so much sense for us from both a nutrition and flavor perspective, then why as adults do we seem to massively decrease our peanut butter and jelly sandwich intake? PB&J feels very much like a kid’s food. An easy solution designed for the relentlessly picky eater. Theories suggest that we are fussy eaters as children perhaps not because our palates are immature, but rather that such discerning behavior evolved over time as a survival mechanism. Bitter and sour flavors and odors tend to be more indicative of toxins and poison, to which children are more vulnerable, whereas sweet foods instead signal high caloric energy, which is required for development and survival. Kids, then, are pretty smart to keep demanding the familiar sandwich.

However, as we get older we become more open and adventurous in our eating, and less averse to different ranges of flavors. Perhaps peanut butter and jelly feels bland or unsophisticated in comparison to the exotic spices and leafy greens and dark chocolate we come to love as adults. We learn to require a degree of complexity in order to feel satiated. At the same time, food becomes increasingly intellectual and tied up with associations based on years of food experiences. Beyond childhood, ‘taste becomes more a matter of our minds and memories than our physical reaction to sweetness or bitterness.’ As adults, our cravings and responses to foods are far more nuanced. Bagged bread, Jiffy peanut butter and sugary jelly isn't necessarily going to cut it anymore.  

Enter this cookie: adult taste bud tested and approved. It has the familiar PB&J duo of sugar and fat – bringing you right back to summer camp picnic table lunches and after-school snacks at the kitchen counter – but as the kind of anti-sweet of all nut and seed butters, the subtle bitterness of the tahini introduces a welcome complexity. That said, this recipe would do just fine with peanut butter thrown in instead of tahini. With subdued levels of sweetness, the cookie feels more like a snack than an indulgent dessert, but packs enough of a sugar hit to appease taste buds, young and old.

TAHINI THUMBPRINT JAMMIES
Makes 16-20 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup (70 grams) raw, unsalted almonds
1/2 cup (50 grams) rolled oats
1 cup (125 grams) whole wheat flour
1/3 cup (100 grams) natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil (50 grams), melted
1/4 cup (75 grams) honey
3/4 cup (215 grams) raw tahini paste, well-stirred
1 tablespoon (14 grams) toasted sesame oil
5 tablespoons jam
sesame seeds for sprinkling
powdered sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine almonds, oats, flour, sugar, sea salt and baking powder in food processor. Pulse until you have an incorporated, smooth grain. In a separate bowl, combine vanilla, coconut oil, honey and tahini. Stir to incorporate. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients as you continue to pulse the food processor until the mixture begins to form a dough.

Pour dough onto a surface and knead several times to smoothen it out. If the dough is dry, use wet hands to knead, if too moist, use floured hands.

Form dough into small balls (about 2 tablespoons each). Press your thumb into the center of each and place on the baking sheet. Scoop a small teaspoon of jam into the well of each cookie. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. They should be golden brown but still soft to the touch when you remove them. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes (the jam is very hot!) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve.

bursted tomato popovers by Annie Jefferson

Before moving to Los Angeles last year, I had been living in London for 4 years. Lazy Saturdays wandering the markets and too many rainy hours passed in the pub for Sunday roasts gave me time to wrap my head around the nuances of British cuisine. Many British classics are centered around meat, whether wrapped around a scotched egg or baked into a shepherd's pie or tucked inside a Cornish pasty. And often the meats are of the gamiest variety - hare, pheasant, partridge - that many Americans faced with the option would choose a cheeseburger. I learned about the vegetable side of things - aubergine, courgette, marrow, rocket - and the sweeter side of things - pudding, treacle, biscuits. I learned some non-meat recipes, like cream scones with clotted cream and nut roasts and the perfect vegetable curry. Here now in Southern California, drinking cold pressed juice and eating $14 avocado toast, these delicacies feel far away.

I wanted to make a traditional British dish, lightened up both for the season and the California palate. The most rudimentary of British comfort foods is the toad-in-the-hole, a homely and hearty meat 'n batter dish meant for keeping warm and padded in the colder climes. Traditionally a toad-in-the-hole is made with whole sausages baked into a deep dish of Yorkshire pudding and topped with gravy. It's a cheap and easy way to make any cut of meat - good or bad - stretch further by adding a filling batter and fatty gravy to it. Toad-in-the-holes have been made for centuries across England with anything from pigeon meat to rump steak, as well as any kind of banger - sausage - you can dream up. One thing I've learned is that the composition and cooking technique of the Yorkshire pudding batter is something Brits are very specific and polarized about, kind of like the American divide over cornbread

The inspiration for this dish comes from photographer and cook Marte Marie Forsberg, whose hazy photo collection documents the dreamlike beauty of slow life in the English countryside. My life in England was not nearly as slow or dreamy, but I miss it every day and find myself strangely relieved whenever it rains in Los Angeles.

This recipe takes the toad-in-the-hole and freshens it up using spring produce in place of sausage and a batter version that doesn't require a cup of pan drippings - Yorkshire pudding is traditionally served alongside a roast, and baked using drippings from the meat. We also opt for buttermilk over regular milk for its tangy depth. Forsberg makes a full pan-size version and sautés her vegetables with onions to get the flavor of the onion gravy in there. Here we add a teaspoon of caramelized onions to each cup, and rather than one large dish, we bake these puddings into individual muffin size making them perfect for an appetizer or side dish. In this form, they're similar to a popover, which is the American version of Yorkshire pudding.

The magic of the Yorkshire pudding - slash popover - is the impressive puff and rise produced by the egg-milk-flour batter. They blow up like balloons in the oven. The trick is maintaining high heat exposure throughout the cooking process. The little puffs get their height by heating the oil-filled muffin pan at a high temperature before adding the batter, then quickly putting the pan back in the oven before it's able to cool down too much. To achieve maximum pop-over, you can invest in a popover pan, made of separate metal cups held together by bars, which increases the amount of surface area exposed to the heat. Long ago the pans were made of cast iron, which is the best material for holding heat, and I've read oven-glass cups also do the trick. I settled on a lower rise in favor of my jumbo muffin pan...and jumbo popovers.

Once you master the art of the popover, you can add anything to the center - like chocolate or cheese! - or nothing at all and enjoy them on their own in all their puffed up glory.

BURSTED TOMATO POPOVERS
I used a 6-round jumbo muffin tin here. The quantities below would also be enough for one large 9-inch square pan pudding or a 6-round popover pan. For a 12-round regular size muffin tin, double the recipe below (you may have batter leftover). 

INGREDIENTS
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons buttermilk
6 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus 1 teaspoon per muffin tin
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (light spelt flour will also work)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
olive oil for drizzling
salt and pepper to taste

METHOD
Heat oven to 400°F.

Start by making the batter. Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, water and oil in a medium bowl. Combine salt and flour, and slowly whisk dry ingredients into wet. Let the batter stand for 30 minutes.

Melt butter in a medium cast iron over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add garlic and a pinch of salt, stir, and turn the heat down to medium. Continue to stir until onions are caramelized - sticky in consistency and deep brown in color.

Meanwhile, toss your halved tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread in a baking pan. Roast tomatoes for 15-20 minutes in the oven, or until soft, wrinkled, and the pan is pooled with syrupy juice and seeds. Remove from oven and let rest.

Once oven has come to temperature, pour 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil into each muffin round and heat the muffin pan for 10 minutes in the oven. After 10 minutes, remove pan and add batter to each muffin round so that the well is 1/3 full. Quickly add a spoonful of caramelized onion to the center of each round, and a spoonful of tomatoes on top of the onions. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and raised over the lid of the muffin round (the time will vary depending on your pan, so watch carefully around the 20 minute mark). Top with a teaspoon of pest (recipe below) and serve warm.

PESTO

INGREDIENTS
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced and mashed with the back of a knife
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

METHOD
Bring a saucepan of water to boil and fill a medium bowl with ice water. Once boiling, add basil to water and count to 5, using a spoon to make sure all leaves are submerged. Remove the basil from the hot water with a slotted spoon and immediately transfer to the ice water. Drain the basil and push down on it to remove any excess water.

Pulse walnuts in a food processor and until ground into small pebble-size pieces. Add basil and salt and process until finely chopped. With your machine still running, slowly pour in the olive oil and continue to process until the mixture is puréed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in mashed garlic and parmesan until thoroughly incorporated.

mixed berry tart with lemon coconut curd by Annie Jefferson

Spring is here and this tart wants to make sure you don’t forget it and accidentally make another apple pie. It’s bright and nutty and subtly sweet (and vegan and gluten-free) and really lovely to look at, with that particular brand of crust that’s flaked with the textures and shades of brown that you only get when you force seeds, nuts and grains to behave like flour and butter.

The shell is made of oats, flax seed and almonds, the lemon curd of coconut milk and maple syrup, the berries are berries and there are four beautiful varieties of them. They feel extra precious at the beginning of these warmer spring months.

It’s hard to ignore, however, that berries aren’t cheap. And when you’re making a tart like this, you need a lot of berries and they need to look fresh and lively (a.k.a. not frozen). Learning what’s behind a carton of berries made me much more accepting of their price tag and, along the way, much more respecting of these delicate little flavor bombs.

The life of a berry is touch and go from seed to mouth. Berries are one of the most perishable crops, largely due to their comparatively high water content (between 85% and 92%), paired with their very delicate, relatively unprotective skin. Berries, like many fruits and vegetables (for example, avocados and bananas), will continue to ripen even after harvesting through the production of a naturally formed chemical called ethylene – a ‘fruit ripening gas’ – which is responsible for them going from ripe to spoiled within hours. Ethylene is also known as the ‘aging hormone’ in plants. Produced by a plant when it is sick or injured, it’s the same chemical that causes them to die.

Let’s back up even further. What’s taken place in the life of a berry before the moment you hand over your cash at the market to bring it home where it will continue it’s ripening stroke rotting process on your kitchen counter?

Great care and attention is required in the cultivation of berries. Their growing requirements are extremely sensitive and their behavior unpredictable. Mild rain or extreme heat will destroy them, especially when ripe and even when covered by protective tents. As harvest approaches, growers will keep close watch on the weather and if skies suggest rain, they will pick the berries immediately to save the crop. Too delicate to be harvested by a machine, each berry must be picked by hand. Growers wear heavy gear in hot summer temperatures to protect themselves from stings from bees and raspberries alike.

Once picked, berries can survive for about one day at room temperature, so must be transported quickly, yet often across far distances. National Geographic followed the journey of a strawberry 3,200 miles from the west to the east coast, with fuel bills in the several thousands of dollars and truckers paid by the mile, all racing against the biological berry clock while the little guys sat carefully tucked inside the refrigerated trailer of a truck, suffocating from their own aging gas. This all brings us back to you handing over your cash where we started above

Some foods, it seems, are naturally resistant to the artificial rhythms of industrialized agriculture. Berries, brightly colored compared to the leafy background against which they grow, are meant to stand out and be visible in their natural environments – a pretty intelligent evolutionary mechanism for getting animals to eat and spread their seeds (in biological terms, this is called ‘dispersal’). Given their rapid deterioration once removed from their place of growth, it’s fair to conclude they are intended to be eaten at the source, probably somewhat immediately rather than trucked across the country.

As with everything, your local farmer’s market will have the freshest, least-traveled and least-aged berries. If you sense your berries have started to go off, the berry experts out there suggest a hot water or diluted vinegar rinse to revive them.

As much as the berries take the tart here, the crust is also a treasure for any baking repertoire that seeks healthy alternatives. The recipe is extremely versatile and lends itself to experimentation. I’ve had success with ground pecans and rice flour, also with butter in place of oil for a non-vegan crowd. It presses beautifully into whatever form and crisps up quickly in the oven.

The coconut lemon curd is also a really simple go-to. At first I was inclined to use honey for sweetness, but the maple syrup mellows out the tartness of the mixture, along with the creamy coconut milk. You can put this in/on everything: spread it onto a layer cake, bake it into a loaffry it into doughnuts, fold it into greek yogurt or just eat it on its own with some whipped cream (and berries) on top.

IMG_5320.jpg

TART SHELL

INGREDIENTS
1 cup raw almonds
2 1/3 cups gluten-free oat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil, softened
3 tbsp maple syrup, plus 1 tablespoon
1-2 tbsp water, as needed
1 tablespoon almond milk (or soy)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 375° F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable base (8-inch will work fine, but you may have leftover dough from this recipe) and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Grind almonds in a food processor until crumbed into coarse, small pieces. Then add oat flour, cinnamon, flax and salt, and continue to pulse until incorporated. Add coconut oil, maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of water, and continue to pulse. You should have a crumbly mess of damp pieces of dough, which should stick together when pressed between your fingers. If it doesn’t, add 1 more tablespoon of water and continue to mix thoroughly.

Pour the dough evenly over the base of the pan and begin pressing down with your fingers from the center of the pan towards the edges and up the sides, ensuring as much as possible that you are forming an even layer of dough. With the pad of your pointer finger, lightly press the lip of the crust into each flute of the tart pan so that your dough mimics the shape of the pan. Using a fork, poke the base of the tart several times to allow air to escape during baking.

Whisk together the almond milk and remaining maple syrup in a bowl. Carefully brush the mixture over the top edges of the crust (this will help the exposed crust get golden and shiny).

Bake for 12-14 minutes until dried out and slightly darker in color. Don’t worry if it feels soft to the touch, it will continue to firm up as it cools.

COCONUT LEMON CREAM FILLING

INGREDIENTS
1 cup canned coconut milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD
Whisk coconut milk, maple syrup and lemon juice and zest in a large saucepan. Turn heat to medium-high and once warmed throughout, stir in sugar. Then add cornstarch and still constantly for 4-6 minutes while the mixture thickens. If you don’t continue to stir, you will end up with clumps of cornstarch. Once the mixture has thickened to a creamy, thick yogurt consistency, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before applying to tart shell. The mixture can be made several days ahead and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will firm up once cooled, so when you’re ready to use it, let it fully come to room temperature and then whisk it until it returns to a creamy consistency.

ASSEMBLY

INGREDIENTS
4 cups fresh mixed berries, rinsed and drained (1 carton of each will do)
1 tablespoon honey
water
1 teaspoon lemon juice

METHOD
Place your tart shell on a serving platter. Spoon the lemon curd into the center and using the back of a spoon spread it out in even circles to the edge of the tart. Continue to smooth until you have a flat surface.

Arrange berries on top of the filling, either randomly as shown above or patterned. I like to fill in any blank spaces so the tart feels full to the brim with fruit.

Whisk together honey, lemon and water in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, paint the mixture onto the top of the berries, covering all surfaces until shiny.

onion oil pancakes with maple soy dipping sauce by Annie Jefferson

Scallion pancakes are a thing most of us have accepted as restaurant food, best enjoyed on Chinese porcelain or out of a take-away cardboard Oyster pail...not freshly fried up on the cast iron in your home kitchen. These folded little art forms are so intricately layered, only someone native to their cuisine could possibly hold the secrets to their perfect croissant-like composition.

My scallion pancake memories have been boxed up and tucked away, frozen in a childhood corner of my mind along with the woody smell of oolong tea, the sound of single-use chopsticks being snapped apart and rubbed together, and the pastel chalkiness of the little after-dinner sweets from the candy tray by the exit of our local Chinese restaurant. My dad has been fluent in Mandarin for as long as I can remember. With years of research trips to Beijing and Shanghai under his belt, he eventually could no longer politely avoid such delicacies as grilled scorpions and roasted dog and fried fish lips, and so by comparison he felt easily at ease at the friendly little Yangtze River restaurant near our house, which boasted, among other American Chinese food dishes, the best Lo Mein in town.

While I'd fumble with my chopsticks, peeling plump dumpling dough away from pork fillings and pushing aside the latter, and slathering sugary plum sauce onto Moo Shu pancakes, he would find a way to talk to the waiter in strange, undulating tones, but with a clear - even to me - sense of mutual understanding. I made sure the understanding was especially clear when it came to one thing: Con You Bing.

The literal translation from Chinese is 'onion oil pancake' and you can make them at home. As the name suggests, oil and onion - along with flour and water - are the main ingredients of this savory, unleavened pancake. Traditionally, Con You Bing is served alongside a hearty and saucy meat dish or as a street food-style snack served - often for breakfast - with dipping sauce. It's the Chinese take on the flatbread, and many cuisines across the world have their own versions. In India it's the Paratha, in Korea the Pajeon and with the the addition of a little leavening it's the Middle Eastern pita, the South Asian naan bread or the Italian pizza.

Word on the web is that the best scallion pancake in Shanghai comes from a small stall on Nanchang Road owned by a hunchbacked old man named Mr. Wu who, starting at 5am each day, turns out hours upon hours of individual fried cakes, each with the most perfect crisp to cloud ratio. His secret is finishing off the pancakes with a couple minutes in a high- heat kiln, achieving that ultimate combination of crunchy golden crisp on the outside, and soft airy cloud on the inside.

What I love about the scallion pancake is this tension between fresh and the opposite of fresh...rich, dense, heavy. It's fried to a brittle crisp, but it's also soft and tender. Salt dominates, but there's a lingering sweetness. It's a dough, but the fresh greens taste like spring. Scallions are a young form of the regular onion we're familiar with - they're just picked before they can fully develop a root bulb. Spring onions, green onions (what we use here), young leek and young shallots are all part of the Scallion family. The fresh bite of this baby vegetable is an important key to the complexity of the otherwise simple flavor profile in this dish. Note that we discard the dark green ends, as they can have a bitter flavor

Another key lies in the importance of the gluten development of the dough. Here we use hot water dough, which actually destroys the gluten composition, resulting in less of a stretchy, fluffy dough (for example, like a hole-filled loaf of bread) and instead more of a tender chew (similar to a dumpling dough). Both resting times - before and after creating the individual pancakes - are also critical to allow the little gluten that does exist to relax and to end up with that thin, flaky dough.

Finally, Mr. Wu-like patience in frying time is your ticket to that perfect crisp to cloud ratio. So, hunch yourself over that frying pan and get Con You Bing-ing!

IMG_4262.jpg

MAPLE SOY DIPPING SAUCE

INGREDIENTS
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon maple syurp
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon garlic, finely diced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

METHOD
Start by making your dipping sauce. Simply whisk ingredients together until fully incorporated and you have a thick brown sauce. Allow to marinate while you make your pancakes.

 

ONION OIL PANCAKES
It can be challenging and take a few practice runs to get your dough right with scallion pancakes. Here is a video from chef Martin Yan showing his process. Kneading and resting is a critical step.

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon red hot pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 scallions, thinly sliced with dark green ends discarded
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup toasted sesame oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 scallions, thinly sliced with dark green ends discarded
vegetable oil for frying

METHOD
Start by making the chili scallion brushing oil. In a large pot combine the red pepper flakes, garlic, scallions, ginger, and oils. Over medium-low heat and stirring occasionally, bring to a low, bubbly simmer. Cook gently for 15 minutes (the temperature shouldn't rise above 250 degrees). Set aside to cool.

Make the dough. Using your fingertips, mix together flour, salt and sugar at the base of a large mixing bowl. Slowly add boiling water, continuing to stir with your fingers as you go until a wet, shaggy ball of dough has formed.  Knead the dough with the palm of your hand at the base of the bowl for 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until the dough forms into a ball that stays together and doesn't stick to your hands. Return dough to mixing bowl, cover with a cloth and let it rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

After resting, take the dough and pull / roll it into a long rope. Divide the dough into 3 equal sections. Take each section and roll it into a flat rectangle, getting as thin as you can using a rolling pin. Brush the chili scallion oil onto the flattened dough, getting as close as you can to the edges. Sprinkle additional chopped scallions on top of the oil.

One by one, starting from the long edge, roll each piece of dough into a tube. Then starting at one end, roll into a coil, like a cinnamon roll, and tuck the opposite end under the roll. Allow to rest, covered with a cloth, for another 30 minutes.

Coat a frying pan with vegetable oil and heat over moderate heat. Using the palm of your hand (not the rolling pin), gently flatten each coil into a pancake. Cook pancakes about 6 minutes on each side, shaking the pan as you go to ensure even dispersement of oil and peeking underneath to check for burning.

lara's birdfeeder granola by Annie Jefferson

In college we used to make fun of my friend Lara because she’s from Colorado and she’s really laid back and wears loose jeans, loves hiking and also granola, which somewhere along the way became the ultimate hippie truism. Turns out, joke’s on us because granola is great. And while we’re sitting around nursing our wounds from our 20’s, Lara’s still out there hiking and eating granola. So, this one’s for Lara.

This is my absolute favorite granola recipe. It produces slightly sweet and slightly salty, crunchy yet mouth-melting knots of grains and seeds, many of which are the building blocks of the delicacy known as birdseed. It’s the unexpected variety of grains and seeds that elevate this granola, not just with their impressive nutritional profiles, but also the great range of both flavor and texture they bring to each cluster.

Granola is a combination of grains, nuts and seeds, dried fruit if you please, sweetener and some kind of liquid binding agent. During the baking process - without which in its raw form it would simply be a muesli - the whole mixture bonds together to create crunchy clusters of varying size and consistency, depending on your method and ingredients (tips on how to get that large chunk below).

You don’t need a recipe or even a special trip to the store to make granola. Just stay close to the ratio below and add whatever you want within the categories. Here are some ideas:

Grains3 cups
oats, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, rye, barley, rice, millet

Sweetener1/2 – 3/4 cup
honey, agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar, brown sugar, date sugar, blackstrap molasses

Nuts: 1/2 – 1 cup
walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, cashews, pistachio, marcona almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts

Seeds: 1/2 – 1 cup
sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flax, poppy, hemp, chia

Liquid1/4 – 1/2 cup
vegetable oil, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, applesauce, egg white

Dried fruit1/2 – 1 cup
cranberries, golden raisins, cherries, apricots, figs, mangoes, apples

Spices, etcto taste
ginger, cardamom, clove, vanilla extract, chile powder, cacao nibs, chai, rosemary

The key to this particular recipe is the special blend that forms the base, made from a combination of buckwheat groats, quinoa, and millet, and flax, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Together these nuts and seeds round all the bases when it comes to nutrients and vitamins – the perfect proteins will keep you full for hours. I always keep a reserve of this mixture in a jar – I’ll often soak it overnight and cook it as oatmeal the next morning.

I like my granola with a lot of textured grains and seeds, but I prefer to eat it with fresh fruit rather than directly mixing in dried fruit, so you won’t find any of that here. And I like my granola a 3 out of 10 when it comes to sweetness (with store-bought granola being a 10 on the sugar scale…you may as well buy a candy bar). If you're vegan, the egg white can be omitted (just increase your other liquids by 1-2 tablespoons), however it’s one half of the secret to getting those large chunks to stick together. The other half is resisting at all costs the temptation to touch or stir the firm sheet that’s forming as it bakes in the oven and rests afterwards. Hands off!

If you succeed in hands off, you'll be impressed by the large sheet of granola that forms, how satisfyingly it breaks into bite-size chunks, and the clusters that feel like they dissolve in your mouth. Give it a go, top it with greek yogurt and fresh fruit and your favorite nut milk, and be sure to thank that hippie granola girl Lara in Colorado as you crunch along.

INGREDIENTS
1/3 cup millet
1/3 cup red quinoa
1/3 cup buckwheat
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw walnuts, halved
1/2 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup unsweetened coconut shavings
1 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup raw honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white

METHOD
Measure and mix all dry ingredients (grains, oats, seeds, nuts, spices) in a large mixing bowl. Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat. Once melted, stir in the honey and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. Then stir in the egg white until everything is combined.

Pour mixture onto baking sheet. Spread it out to form a compact rectangle. Press down firmly on the mixture with the back of your hand or a spatula.

Bake the granola at 300°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour without stirring. With 20 minutes time remaining, remove tray and press coconut shavings down firmly onto the top. Continue baking for remaining time

You will know when it’s done when your kitchen smells like cookies and the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest without breaking for an additional 20 minutes. It will continue to firm up as it cools, so don’t worry if it feels a little soft when it first comes out.

Once cool, break the granola sheet apart with your hands or use a spatula to assist. Store in an air tight container in a cool, dark place.

kumquat day by Annie Jefferson

When life gives you 4 pounds of kumquats, make cake, curd and marmalade all in one day. Kumquat day.

My boyfriend’s parents cook on a farm near Santa Barbara and sometimes deliver us truckloads of beautiful, organic surplus produce. Today it was gigantic dirt-covered red beets, bright green shishito peppers, perfectly polished mouth popping baby tomatoes, and more fresh green herbs than I could possibly figure out what to do with before they begin to wilt.

Among the loot was also a massive bag of kumquats. Kumquats are a small citrus variety that taste like a lemon, an orange and a lime all at once. They’re the only citrus whose skin is tender and sweet enough to eat, and you must eat the skin! Unlike other citrus, the rind of the kumquat is the sweet part and the inside the tart part.

A single kumquat tree, depending on its size, can produce hundreds, often thousands of the little fruits every year. And so you have people like me, whose lives have suddenly, without warning, been thrown into kumquat production overdrive.

I started with a curd. I once had to make a vegan version of lemon curd for a cake recipe and I actually prefer it and have stuck with it ever since. The coconut milk makes it as creamy as you'd want a curd to be and the mixture thickens up flawlessly with a few spoonfuls of cornstarch. Curd made with kumquats is slightly more puckering than with lemon, and the flavor is really discernibly unique. You can strain out the rinds halfway through the recipe for a more uniform curd, but I love the little flecks of orange and the added texture.

I ended up swirling some of the curd into a loaf cake and jarring up the rest to give away to some curd-deprived vegans (with this recipe you’ll end up with a little extra).

The flavors here aren’t all soft and sweet like you’d expect from a typical loaf cake. You get hit with the unexpected tangy bite from the kumquats immediately. It’s evened out by the sweetness and nuttiness of the cake, but it’s there and it’s interesting. Mixing curd into the center ensures the whole thing is full of moisture – it’s like a built in spread.

IMG_5396.jpg

I’d never made marmalade with kumquats before, but with over 3 pounds to go, it seemed like the right thing to do. The great thing about marmalade is that because citrus peel naturally contains high levels of pectin and marmalade by definition includes the peel, you don’t need store-bought pectin to help it bind together. The little bits of kumquat get softened into a perfectly tender, almost Sour Patch Kids-like chewy consistency. I added the seeds from a whole vanilla bean for a smoother layer to the flavoring – I often find marmalade too one-dimensionally tart – and for the little black flakes that get set into the gel. I love this recipe, I doubled it this time and I’ll make it again and again.

Were I to make a FOURTH kumquat dish, I would have reduced the marmalade into a glaze and made a kumquat drizzle cake, but – I’m happy to say – kumquat day is over.

 

KUMQUAT CURD CAKE

KUMQUAT COCONUT CURD

INGREDIENTS
1 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 a lemon
30 kumquats, seeded and halved
1/2 cup coconut sugar (regular sugar will work too)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD
Heat coconut milk, lemon juice and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once warmed but not boiling, add kumquats. Stir and simmer, allowing to infuse for 10 minutes.

Transfer kumquats and liquid to a food processor and pulse until kumquats have been chopped to small flecks of orange. Return mixture to saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add cornstarch one tablespoon at a time, constantly stirring for 6-8 minutes until the mixture thickens to a creamy consistency. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Allow to cool as you make the cake batter.

LOAF CAKE

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup (120 grams) spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup (170 grams) canola oil
1/2 cup (120 grams) greek yogurt
1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
2/3 cup (135 grams) natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 4 kumquats
2 eggs
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Combine flours, baking powder and sea salt in a bowl. In a second bowl, whisk together oil, greek yogurt, honey, kumquat zest, vanilla extract, and sugar. Whisk in one egg at a time until fully incorporated. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until combined.

Pour half of the cake batter into the bottom of the pan. Spread two thirds of the curd over the top of the batter, taking care not to let the curd touch the edges of the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the curd and smooth out the top. Pour the remaining curd over the top of the batter. Using a butter knife, neatly swirl the curd back and forth across the pan, again being careful not to let it touch the pan. Sprinkle sugar in the raw over the top of the loaf.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to fully cool before cutting into the loaf, as the curd will pour out of the middle unless given time to firm up.

 

KUMQUAT + VANILLA BEAN MARMALADE

INGREDIENTS
1.5 pounds kumquats, rinsed, seeded and cut into quarters
3 cups water
1 pound granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and seeds scraped out

METHOD
Rinse, seed and cut kumquats into quarters. It helps to use a sharp knife to both cut the kumquats and poke out their seeds.

Combine kumquats, water, sugar, scraped seeds and shell of the vanilla bean in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes without reducing heat. Continue to boil until the mixture reads 220° F on a cooking thermometer. As a note, I’ve made marmalade without a thermometer and it’s turned out fine…just be sure you get the mixture boiling long enough before turning down the heat.

Return mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until it has transformed into a thick gel like consistency. Allow to cool before storing in clean jars. Marmalade will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator (or longer if you use a preserving technique).

sesame roasted kabocha squash with herbed green chile sauce by Annie Jefferson

The farmer's market is only just beginning to feel a bit leafier, a bit brighter, more vibrant and varietal. As we ease closer to spring, crisp salad greens, dark pink rhubarbs and delicate fresh peas are bravely cropping up. It was while I was stuffing a bag with some extra bouncy arugula that I noticed this old soul at the edge of one of the stalls.

I love squash - they arrive with discolorations and scars, endearingly squat and a bit crooked, reminding you of their long journey to your table. Although harvested in the fall, these hardy vine fruits (the presence of seeds prevent them from being classified as a vegetable) live comparatively long lives and store well through the winter, after which they're named. While summer squash are eaten at a still tender, young age, winter squash are harvested at full maturity, once the skin has hardened into a tough, protective rind, allowing them to be stored for consumption during cold winter months when little else is growing.

This particular squash is a red kabocha. Sweeter than its more common green sister, the red kabocha has a light, meaty interior and when cooked is likened to chestnut in taste and texture - tender and sweet, earthy and starchy. As with all winter squash, the kabocha is a warming and grounding choice, not surprising as it's been on this earth for a long time.

Dating back to Mesoamerican times, the squash is one of the oldest documented food crops. Along with maize and beans, it's one of the three pillars of the ancient agricultural technique called Three Sisters, or companion planting, whereby the three crops are planted close together in order to benefit from each other's growing structures and nutrients - a maize stock provides the pole for the beans to climb, the beans provide the nitrogen in the soil for the squash and maize to grow, the squash spreads out over the ground blocking sunlight and stopping weeds, and so on and so forth. The logical simplicity and timelessness of this technique suggests a degree of authenticity that should be paid attention.

Companion planting is an example of an integrated farming technique, and it has become trendy in recent years thanks to people like chef and farmer Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York State and author of The Third Plate, in which he explains his take on what he call's "whole farm production" where the farm functions as an ecosystem with everything taking on a purpose greater than itself.

IMG_3332.jpg

I picked up this little guy without quite knowing what I'd do with him. Red kabochas are a small squash variety, so feel free to use two, or a larger butternut or acorn if you want to make this dish go further (just be sure to increase the recipe accordingly). As a winter crop, we tend to associate squash with hearty meals, like butternut soup and pumpkin pie, but this is a freshened up, bring-on-spring take on the winter squash.

The squash is marinated in a sesame-orange vinaigrette before being tossed in sesame and cumin seeds and roasted at high heat in the oven. The chimichurri-esque sauce is a blend of fresh herbs, fiery serrano chiles, and crisp garlic and shallot to contrast the sweet density of the squash. The cashew cream balances out the bite with a smooth, creamy tang.

This dish is packed with surprises of both the flavor and texture variety - from the pop of the nutty cumin to the crispy caramelized corners of the squash to the team of zesty herbs that come alive in your mouth, all intended to both wake up your tastebuds and SPRINGTIME.

ROASTED KABOCHA SQUASH
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS
1 large kabocha squash
1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of half an orange
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs thyme, leaves torn from stems
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons pepitas, chopped (for garnish)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine oils, orange juice, vinegar, sugar, pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic, thyme and squash. Stir until all surface area of the squash is covered with marinade. Let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Warm a small skillet and toast sesame seeds at medium-high heat, keeping a close eye and shaking pan frequently until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add cumin seeds and toast until fragrant, about 1 more minute. Let seeds cool for several minutes.

Discard excess marinade from the squash bowl. Pour seeds onto squash and toss until fully covered. Remove thyme sprigs. Spread squash and garlic pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes. Flip slices and continue to roast until squash are tender and golden brown, about 15-20 minutes more.

HERBED GREEN CHILE SAUCE

INGREDIENTS
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 small shallot, cut into large pieces
4 fresh serrano chiles, seeds of 2 chiles and stems removed
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed* and roughly chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons salt

METHOD
Roast unpeeled garlic and chiles in a skillet over medium heat, turning frequently, until soft and browned, about 10 minutes for the chiles and 15 for the garlic. Remove the peels of the garlic peel once cooled. Cut two of the chiles in half and remove seeds (this is to control the heat of the sauce, but if you are a heat-lover, feel free to leave in all the seeds). Roughly chop garlic and chiles.

Combine garlic and chiles with cilantro, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, shallot and salt in a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Let the sauce stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

* Don't throw these away! They are still flavorful and there is so much you can do with unused stems. And they're really quite nice to look at. Think salsas, marinades and sauces, an added layer of flavor to soup stocks, chopped like chives in an omelette, or to add an extra crunch to a sandwich or taco. 

CASHEW CREAM

INGREDIENTS
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

METHOD
Place cashews in a bowl covered with water and soak for 4 hours or up to 12. Drain and rinse. Add cashews with lemon juice and water in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust for salt.

not-so-chiquita banana bread by Annie Jefferson

Last week I listened to an episode from one of my favorite radio shows about the troubled state of the banana and its surprisingly dark history. The sadness of the story stayed with me - I found myself wanting to stay a little longer in the world of the banana rather than just moving on to the next.  The next morning I made my version of the classic banana loaf using three overripe bananas that had been neglected in my fruit bowl for I'm not sure how long. As it baked in the oven, here's what I learned about the fruit we love so much, but know so little, and how its bread friend became such a lasting hit.

Our old friend Miss Chiquita, in all her cheery tropical intrigue, hides behind her colorful skirts a dark history when it comes to the yellow rinded fruit berry that's become so commonplace on the American kitchen counter. As with much of the food we consume here, the supply chain is hazy and there is a great chasm between the grower over there and the eater over here.

Together with Dole, Del Monte and Bonita, Chiquita Banana makes up 80% of banana sales in the US, and these sales are huge - bananas are the most profitable supermarket item, more so than apples and oranges combined. And when a big bunch of ripe bananas is waiting for you week after week on the shelf of your local grocery store for 58 cents a pound, any understanding of the great complexities of such a species or where it comes from is easily glossed over.

In the Southern half of the world – where bananas are grown – the banana as we know it is in grave danger. The variety of banana we eat today is called the Cavendish. There are thousands of other banana varieties, but because of its relatively superior transportability and longer shelf life, the Cavendish is the only one that’s mass produced and exported. This is an example of a monocrop, whereby acres and acres of land are artificially groomed to produce the same exact crop year after year in order to maximize efficiency and profitability.

Bananas are by no means the only example of this kind of singularly focused mass production. Monocultures are the underpinning of the modern industrial food system: wheat, corn, oats, oranges, even livestock all follow this model. Many argue that agriculture was never meant to function in such a narrowly focused state, and the result has been a system that spawns sickness, abuse and destruction.

The banana story is no different. One of the results of this lack of diversification is soil that becomes stale and resistant over time, leading to greater vulnerability to weeds, pests and pathogens. Enter the Panama Disease, a fungus that wiped out the once ubiquitous Gros Michel banana variety – which was slimmer, creamier and more flavorful than today’s banana – and which now threatens, in spite of the widespread use of pesticides, to extinguish the Cavendish we love so dearly. It was a similar monoculture disaster that caused the great Irish Potato Famine of the mid-1800s.

The banana was handed this same fate when in the mid-20th century, the United Fruit Company saw the lucrative potential in its large-scale export. But the banana story takes an even grimmer turn when you learn about the far-reaching impact of United Fruit on the fragile economic and political development of certain Latin American countries, as well as the on the lives of banana growers around the world. Oh, and United Fruit is now called – you guessed it – Chiquita Banana.

If Miss Chiquita is the offender in the great banana crime, then banana bread is the accessory. The first banana bread recipes date back to the 1930s when handy kitchen cabinet leavening agents – baking soda and powder – were popularized in the US. Banana bread grew in popularity in the coming years, aided by what Michael Pollan calls the post-war white flour industrial complex, where, after dwindling demand during the war years, big flour companies met the postwar market with heavy marketing pushes to get America baking again.

Pillsbury initiated the great Pillsbury Bake-Off competition, Betty Crocker invented the ‘just add water and two of your own eggs’ cake mix, and Chiquita Banana, seeing an opportunity for the banana to ride the flour wake, published its first recipe book in 1949, featuring the banana bread front and center (along with some other questionable things, like the Ham Banana Roll).

And so, bananas across America were ripened to a brown rind, flour sifted to a soft grain, ovens set to 350 degrees and kitchens were flooded with steaming loaves of fresh baked banana bread, each promising to be more ‘moist’ than the next

That banana bread took hold as it did isn’t such a long shot when you think about it. Banana bread is so lovable – the homiest of comfort foods, both familiar and accessible. It’s easy to make. It’s hard to make the stuff taste bad. And bananas themselves are loved for good reason. These little packages are filled with a firm, velvety meat that’s lightly sweet with hints of pineapple and brown sugar, and a lingering vegetal flavor, almost like green bell pepper. They’re versatile for their stable structure and moisture content, used in anything from baking to smoothies to sandwiches. They even have a specific use for when they've suddenly become overripe.

But can we still eat bananas (and their bread) in good conscience? In the long term, banana companies need to promote greater genetic diversity among banana varieties. In the meantime you can look for Equal Exchange bananas at the supermarket, which ensure not only that farmers are fairly treated and compensated (fair trade), pesticides and fertilizers are controlled (organic), but also that growing practices follow the principles of “agro-forestry“, which intersperse banana crops with cacao and citrus trees, for example, (a.k.a. polyculture) to protect the natural ecosystems of the farms, thereby controlling disease and preserving the species.

In appreciation of its struggle, this recipe is here to celebrate the great banana, its journey to our hands and the growers that protect and nourish it.

Sometimes straightforward, no frills recipes are the best kind. This one has a few upgrades that lighten up the traditional blueprint. Opting for greek yogurt for extra moisture and a bit of zing, honey and brown sugar for more natural layers of sweetness, and spelt flour for it’s high-protein, low-gluten nuttiness, this recipe won’t have you feeling like you’re cooking from the Chiquita Banana Recipe Book. The quarter cup of millet brings a satisfying crunch to an otherwise homogenous texture, the flaked sea salt an unexpected hit of savoriness, and the open-faced, halved banana up top gives the old loaf a bit of a face lift that will either impress or appall anyone alive in the 1950s.

NOT-SO-CHIQUITA BANANA BREAD

INGREDIENTS
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup raw honey
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup full fat greek yogurt
3 medium, very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup millet
1 extra banana
flaked sea salt for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat oven to 325° F and grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Layer a piece of parchment paper at the bottom of the pan.

Using a whisk, beat together coconut oil, honey and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, stirring as you go until well incorporated. Stir in mashed bananas and greek yogurt, whisking until well incorporated. Stir in vanilla extract.

Mix dry ingredients, including millet, in a separate bowl. Lastly, switch to a big spoon and stir in the flour, just until combined. Stir in millet.

Pour the batter into your greased loaf pan. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Slice the remaining banana in half length-wise and gently place both sides open-faced on top of the loaf.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top and passes the toothpick test. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and on a wire cooling rack for another 20 before serving.

SOURCES
The Splendid Table, NPR
USLeap: Bananas, International Labor Rights Forum
Cooked, Michael Pollan
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, Dan Koeppel

the architecture of a good stock by Annie Jefferson

Stock is unique in that by itself it represents both its own recipe, as well as a foundational ingredient for other recipes. Stock is a critical opportunity to achieve an excellent rather than average final (second) dish. It’s so nice to have it around, it’s hard to mess it up, and it’s something you can really personalize. It brings a richness and depth to soups and stews, and adding your own stock to dishes makes them so much more yours.

The idea behind the word ‘soup’ is about soaking. Soaking and slowly cooking ingredients achieves several goals that have been around since the beginning of cooking: softening to make digestible foods that would otherwise not be, while also opening up new flavors through various combinations of food, which come alive in direct contact with water. And – a friend of scraps and discards – it’s a cheap process, constituting the basis for the ultimate peasant foods…think France’s french onion, Poland’s borscht, Italy’s minestrone or Brazil’s feijoada, originally made by slaves from their master’s leftover ingredients. The concept of soup is one of the most ancient when it comes to cooking…and without stock there would be no soup.

Stocks typically include a mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery), often other vegetables, and then meat and bones if you’re doing the meat thing. A stock should act behind the scenes – it shouldn’t itself be too distinguishable so as to interfere with whatever you end up using it for. That said, the more you make it, the closer you get to your personal brand of stock and the more you can adapt it to your taste. For me, I go heavy on the garlic and chile since these are flavors I always want in my dishes, and an extra layer of them in whatever I’m cooking is very welcome.

Some stock recipes suggest roasting the vegetables first, some sautéing them first, some just go straight to boiling…I say try it all and see what works for you. No matter what, your kitchen will smell like Thanksgiving all day. This post is jam-packed with information, but if you aren’t an experienced stock queen, it will help you to be able to make the stuff without even thinking about it.

Traditional vegetable stock ingredients include onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, garlic and herbs, such as bay leaves, parsley and thyme. The great thing about a stock is that you can really use up whatever cuts and trimmings of aromatics you have lying around the house. However, while I’m usually all for changing things up and using whatever’s on hand, this rather limited list is for good reason…a few considerations when it comes to choosing your vegetables:

When it comes to squash…
For example, acorn squash, butternut squash, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkins
Many of these tend to be too starchy for broths, but small amounts of the peel can add nice flavor. Cucumber and zucchini won’t bring much but a slight bitterness...there are better uses for the crispy, fresher vegetables  in my opinion.

When it comes to bitter greens…
For example, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, bitter greens, kohlrabi, rutabagas, etc.
These will leave your stock noticeably bitter. Best to avoid.

When it comes to root vegetables…
For example, carrots, celery, fennel, parsley, dill, coriander, parsnip
Carrots and celery are fundamental to stock for their sweetness and bitterness, respectively. Use parsley, parsnips and fennel liberally, but be wary of the lingering intensity of other members of this family.

When it comes to onions….
For example, onion, scallion, shallot, leeks, garlic, chive
All great for stock, adding a hint of sweetness and pungency. Although it will make your broth darker, you can add the skin of onions, which contains more far more antioxidants than the onion itself.

When it comes to vegetables with a darker skin…
For example, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes
Tomatoes are great for stock, but avoid the seeds as this brings bitterness. Everything else in small quantities, including potatoes and potato peels, which will cloud the water if used too liberally. However, some like the starchiness of a bit of potato thrown in.

When it comes to mushrooms…
For example, white, oyster, portobello, cremini, shiitake
Mushrooms are your ticket to depth in a stock. They contain high levels of glutamates, which is part of the flavor profile of MSG and a property of the sixth taste, umami (Japanese kombu works well too). In this recipe, we used rehydrated shiitake mushrooms because of their intense savory flavor.

When it comes to herbs…
For example, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage
Great in modest quantities, depending on your taste

Finally, as with anything that undergoes a cooking process, there are some important science principles that will help guide your stock recipe.

Get a fine chop on your vegetables
This increases the amount of surface area touching the water and facilitates an easier infusion of flavor to broth.

Treat your aromatics first
Either sauté or roast. Starting by sweating the onion, celery and carrot one way or another helps them develop a sweetness and adds a more layered flavor profile to your stock.

When adding water, be sure it’s cold
The goal in a stock is to find the best way to extract flavor from ingredients, not to cook the ingredients themselves. When we cook ingredients, we’re locking flavor inside them. The goal of stock is the opposite. Starting with cold water that heats from the bottom up allows all the compounds, which dissolve at a different temperatures, to have a chance to add their flavors at the temperature that’s best for them.

Be gentle with it
Get a gentle simmer going on your stock. It’s a delicate process and a high heat will boil out the flavors that are working hard to come through. Again, we are extracting, not cooking! Also, avoid stirring as much as possible as this will break down the vegetables, making them mushy.

With that, give it a go, and then try your stock with coconut black lentil soup or caramelized onion sweet potato puree, and see how the whole dish becomes your own.

HOMEMADE VEGETABLE STOCK
Makes 2 quarts

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped into large pieces
8 medium cloves garlic, crushed
1 small fennel bulb, cut into large pieces
4 medium carrots, cut into large pieces
6 celery stalks, cut into large pieces (leaves retained)
8 ounces shiitake or porcini mushrooms, dried, rehydrated and chopped
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh, flat-leaf parsley
3 fresh bay leaves
1 tablespon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
small pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup soy sauce (optional)
4 quarts water

METHOD
Warm oil at medium heat at the base of a large pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fennel and mushrooms. Heat until they begin to soften. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Cover with 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, mostly cover with the lid and return to a gentle simmer for 1 to no more than 1 1/2 hours.

Pour the contents of the pot through a fine mesh sieve. Stock stores for 3 days in the fridge or several months in the freezer.

spiced cardamom cornbread by Annie Jefferson

The topic of cornbread is a loaded one here in the land of liberty. Cornbread is really quite a simple comfort food, but for something so unassuming, people tend to be as culty about it as they are barbecue or pizza crust or foie gras. Showing up on dinner tables since pre-colonial times and made with as few as three ingredients, this baked yellow corn cake nonetheless carries weight as one of the historic North-South debates in the United States, up there with slavery, abortion and Donald Trump.

As a Yankee born, London-based ex-pat turned Angeleno transplant, I think I can help us all get along. Clearly I have no loyalties, so this recipe steals the best from each side, and throws in a neutral party – cardamom – to help turn this cakebread into the Civil War peace treaty we never had.

The great cornbread debate centers largely on two ingredients: sugar and wheat flour. The southern version calls for little to none of either, the northern for a lot of both. In the south it’s cooked in a skillet and cut into wedges, in the north a baking pan and cut into squares. In the south – buttermilk, in the north – sweet milk. Above all, in the south cornbread is considered a savory bread side, in the north it’s a sweet cake. There is rarely compromise from either side on these rules. In fact, they are devotedly defended by their proponents.

On one thing the two sides agree – corn. Like many staples in our diet, corn has been around since before the arrival of the Europeans. The crop originated in the South Americas, harvested by the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs, before making it’s way up north where it was eventually cultivated by American Indians. At this time cornbread was made of water, cooking fat and coarse cornmeal ground using shallow bowls carved into the top of large boulders and a stone as a pestle. Today, cornmeal comes in a lot of varieties – fine, medium or coarse, stone or steel ground, blue, white or yellow. I like it coarse and stone-ground, which means it’s ground with the germ in tact, making it a whole grain and retaining it’s fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as a nice crunch.

This recipe has equal parts stone ground cornmeal and flour, with only just amounts of sweetness, using honey to help lighten the sugar load. And of course there’s cardamom. This bright and perfumey spice – traditionally used in savory and Indian dishes like curries – brings a lovely complexity to an otherwise straightforward flavor palate. Subtly sweet, herbally floral with a tinge of anise, cardamom’s flavor is hard to pinpoint. People say you either love it or hate it, but used in moderation (think chai tea if too dominant), it has the potential to elevate the flavor of a simple recipe to become distinct and memorable, and to bring along the haters too.

The most authentic cardamom flavor can be found in the whole pods. These little capsules are an aromatic wonder and much more potent than the pre-ground spice (often cheaper, too). Lightly toast the pods, peel back the shell to reveal a delicate bundle of black seeds, and grind them to a powder (a spice grinder makes this a lot easier, but mortar and pestle will do). When I did this my house exploded with this bright and flowery scent.

Along with the cardamom, a dash of cayenne, though barely noticeable, gives a gentle boost to the other ingredients. The result is a moist, slightly sweet and crunchy golden cake with a lingering flavor intrigue that makes you pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth.

Being the moderate that it is, this dish swings both ways when it comes to sweet and savory. Brush on some salted honey butter (recipe below) to make a sweet snack, or serve alongside a warm, hearty soup or stew, like this spiced coconut lentil soup.

This is the beauty of a dish like cornbread. It’s great versatility makes it conceivable in so many ways – with jalapeño, bacon, or scallions, blueberries, chocolate or nuts mixed in  – and for so many purposes – cubed into croutons for salad or stuffing, baked into french toast, dried and crumbled into breadcrumbs, or submerged in cream for bread pudding. For something so delicious, surely we all can get along.

SPICED CARDAMOM CORNBREAD

INGREDIENTS
1 cup coarse, stone-ground cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cayenne
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp raw honey
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup almond milk
3/4 cup greek yogurt
butter for pan

METHOD
Preheat oven to 400°F and put 10- or 12- inch cast iron skillet in oven to warm.

In a large mixing bowl, stir the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt.

In a separate mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to combine vegetable oil, honey, beaten eggs, almond milk and yogurt and stir just until incorporated. Add melted butter on a low speed. Fold dry mix into wet, stirring until just combined.

Once it’s as hot as possible, remove the skillet from the oven and swirl around a nob of butter until all surfaces are covered. Pour the batter directly into the skillet. The sides of the batter will sizzle and begin to brown.

Bake in 400°F oven for 20-25 minutes, checking for doneness. Watch the cornbread towards the end, you want it to be golden brown and starting to show some cracks. Remove from oven once done, let cool for 5 minutes, and for 5 more on a cooling rack.

SALTED HONEY BUTTER

INGREDIENTS
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 tbsp raw honey
1 tbsp coarse sea salt

METHOD
Using a hand or standing mixer, whip butter and honey together until smooth and fluffy. You can also do this with a fork if you don’t have a mixer handy. Gently fold salt in a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Serve at room temperature with an extra drizzle of honey and a few extra grains of salt on top.

basil nut smash by Annie Jefferson

I’ve been RAW for 7 days now. I was prepared to say the struggle’s been real, but the truth is it hasn’t been that real. I haven’t felt hungry or deprived. I haven’t gotten sick of spinach or nut butter or smoothies. I haven’t (like my boyfriend) lapsed into an irritable bordering on violent state of angsty teenage-hood in the absence of meat. I have, however, massively missed cooking. I’ve missed the smells of food cooking in the kitchen – mostly of simmering onions and boiling pasta. I miss the warmth of soup. I miss crust. I miss the transformation of food that takes place when we invite our dear friend HEAT along to the party.

The idea behind an all raw diet is that when food is cooked above a certain temperature (118°F) vital protein nutrients called enzymes become inactivated. The theory also goes that when you cook the enzymes out of your food, your organs have to work extra hard to create their own enzymes to help your body digest what you’ve put in it. This is why you may have heard promises of a big energy rush on a raw diet (my vegan chef friend told me I’d be touching god come day 7).

As with any restrictive diet, there are plenty of articles that counter these arguments. These go like…enzymes found in plants are for plantsnot humans – they work on photosynthesis and germination, not human digestion. Even better, if by eating raw we protect those delicate little plant enzymes by not exposing them to heat, as soon as they come into contact with our stomach acid – with a pH so high it can burn holes in wood – they’re destined to meet an untimely death regardless. And then there are the benefits of cooked foods – the good nutrients that are released during the heating process, as well as the bacteria and parasites that are killed off with heat.

Sorry – it ain’t simple. To me, the key is that when you’re eating raw, you’re not getting anything that’s been processed in any way – microwaved, pasteurized or genetically engineered – or anything with saturated or trans fats, added sugar, sodium or calories. So when you’re eating all raw, sure, you’re getting blasted with a lot of good stuff, but more importantly you’re not getting any of the bad stuff.

My takeaway from this experience is much bigger, though. Going raw made me fall in love with cooking all over again. It breathed new life into my curiosity about the endless possibilities when you throw heat into the mix, and it was a lovely reminder to take the heat down a few notches when I do cook. Above all it confirmed for me just how important cooking is as a social and cultural institution, how fundamental it is to being a human being. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the fact that as humans we can cook. And so we must.

…back to RAW. This pesto recipe has been my saving grace these past days. It's raw and it’s vegan and it can be added to so much more than pasta: salads, grain bowls, grilled bread, omelettes, pizza, soup, the list goes on.

I’m not a big fan of the word ‘pesto’, so in hopes of finding a replacement I looked into the etymology – Italian roots, shortened form of ‘pestato’ which is a conjugation of the verb ‘pestare’. When I searched ‘pestato’, google images turned up a bunch of Italian looking guys with beat up faces. Turns out ‘pestato’ just means crushed or clobbered or mashed. So, here it is – a basil nut smash, with a hint of pummeled Italian man.

Next to basil, pine nuts are the most recognizable ingredient in the traditional recipe that comes to mind when we think of pesto. But for the sake of flipping the bird to tradition, we’re using walnuts and cashews here. Walnuts crumble beautifully and cashews add a lovely rich creaminess to the recipe. I always throw in a handful of fresh arugula for a peppery bite.

Of course you can add parmesan to the mix. Just throw in 1/4 cup of good quality grated pecorino (and take the added salt down to 1/2 teaspoon or none at all). But you’ve really got your flavors covered here, so I suggest you try going raw on this one.

The key here is the process so that you don’t end up with one homogenized emulsion of green sauce. We want our pesto chunky and substantial and bright, hence resisting tossing all the ingredients together in the food processor and hitting hard on that grind button. Hand chopping takes time, but it’s worth it for this one.

BASIL NUT SMASH

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup raw, unsalted walnuts
1/4 cup raw, unsalted cashews
1 1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh arugula
large pinch coarse sea salt
juice & zest of half a lemon
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

INSTRUCTIONS
Roughly chop walnuts and cashews in food processor until you’ve achieved small, crumb-size pieces. Some larger are OK.

Finely chop arugula and basil by hand. A sharp knife is necessary and a mezzaluna or pizza cutter really helps to get a fine cut here. It helps to do a little at a time so you are evenly cutting your greens without chopping some into oblivion.

Finely chop your garlic cloves. Run the side of your knife over the chopped bits to help release their liquids. Continue chopping until you achieve a mince.

Combine nuts, greens, garlic with remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add a splash of olive oil just before serving and save by refrigerating in a jar.