I’m way late to this party, but I had to tell you that I purchased Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain and this cake is the first thing I made. It’s what you imagine all the flavors of these ingredients might taste like, except that it’s hard to imagine that, right? That’s what makes certain recipes so compelling. Ricotta, mint, and lemon? I know what that will taste like. This combination is new. It’s great, and you can find the recipe here. (Not sure why mine didn’t get as golden – I added an extra ten minutes to the cooking time.) I suggest swapping the milk and olive oil amounts, and using a full 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh rosemary.
It’s been quite awhile since the last edition of the Sabzi Questionnaire. I’m pleased to introduce Noelle who writes the beautiful blog xo breakfast. I’ve been following her for a long time, so even though I have been racking my brain, I can’t remember how I first stumbled upon the blog. One of my favorite things about Noelle’s blog is her love the good life, which is expressed via high quality but simple recipes, which are addictive for the simple way in which they are delivered as well. Before you think xo breakfast is all simple and easy, I should tell you that Noelle is a serious baker. There is also a significant emphasis on all things French. And how could I not love a kindred cookbook lover? Make sure you check out her beautiful Instagram feed as well. I love her photos and writing.
I should also mention that beginning with this interview, there is now a new question added to the Sabzi Questionnaire. It’s about breakfast so, naturally, Noelle is the first interviewee to answer this question.
1) How did you get into cooking?
My mom (thanks, mom!). She let me use her cookbooks as coloring books and taught me the art of clipping recipes from magazines and newspapers and keeping them for forever. I started cooking for myself in college, but mostly I just baked cookies. Vegan cookies, because I was vegan in college, of course. Then I went to pastry school and worked in a few restaurants, where I learned how to shop and cook the farmers markets. When I couldn’t hang with restaurant life, I just cooked for fun. But now that I have a 23-month-old who eats like a 13-year-old, it’s feeling like a job again.
2) What do you always have in your refrigerator?
Eggs from the farmers market, at least two cartons, avocados, walnuts, whole milk, kefir, and yogurt. Oh, and butter – lots and lots of butter. Both my boyfriend and my baby eat it by the slice.
5) What is your breakfast routine?
Here is a Roger update: we decided to start him on crate training. So far, so good, but we are increasing the time very incrementally. I can’t wait for the day when we can leave him alone for a few hours without worrying. Fingers crossed!
The story of this quince jam begins with my frustration about not being able to find it in Minneapolis grocery stores. I called a local co-op and they told me they had it but it was from Mexico and $2.99 per pound. Another place (a fancier but conventional grocery store) said they were $2.99 each. A different co-op said they had a source and I could special order, but that they weren’t keeping quince in stock because they couldn’t sell them. Whole Foods didn’t have it (and if they had, it probably would have been imported too, or at least not locally grown). You know what irked me the most? The one with the quince imported from Mexico. That’s where I ended up getting them, but why on earth would an allegedly locally-focused co-op import quince when there are quince trees all over the Midwest? It makes no sense. I wanted to go and find a quince tree that I could pick but I’m a busy lady, so I bought the imported fruit.
The story actually begins much earlier, with my alleged dislike of quince jam that seems to have lasted for a great deal of my life. I would watch my family spoon it onto warm pieces of barbari bread smeared with butter. And I would declare that I didn’t like it. Part of this has to do with my preference for savory breakfasts, but it also had to do with the presence of Persian sour cherry jam (morabaye albaloo) at the table. When that’s around, don’t even think about trying to get me interested in quince. I can’t tell you how deeply I regret not eating my paternal grandmother’s homemade, rosy quince jam when I was in Iran in 2011. I made up for it on my most recent visit, though. Here is she is back in 2011, at the age of 92, putting out a plate of cooked rice for the sparrows that visit her yard every day.
Quince are widely loved in Iran, and throughout the Middle East and Asia, but they live a life of relative obscurity in North America. When I was growing up in the suburbs of Toronto in the 90s, we had a neighbor with a quince tree that was always heavy with unpicked fruit. I died of embarrassment when my parents first helped themselves to some quince and then later, wanting more, knocked on the door and asked about them. It turns out the owners of the tree had no idea the fruit was edible. They were shocked someone wanted it. I have since heard that many people have had either side of this experience. It’s a shame too because, as I said above, quince trees really do grow all over this continent, not just in the Midwest.
I finally got around to making this jam on the weekend, when Matt’s mom was here visiting us. It was the first of several weekend cooking projects, which I will share here over the next few posts. Since I’m fairly new to canning, I underestimated how many half-pint jars I would need to sterilize and ended up with some extra jam that needed to be used up. I decided to make simple butter cookies with a drop of jam. This means you get two recipes on this post today. Have you ever had quince jam? If not, I really recommend that you try it. The fruit turns the loveliest shade of pink when it is cooked. I love eating it on toasted bread with butter, or with Bulgarian feta and walnuts.
Makes roughly 7 to 9 half-pint (8 oz.) jars of jam
3 pounds quince, cored and diced (but not peeled)
4 1/3 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
4 cloves cardamom
If you have never canned before, check out these instructions. First, sterilize your jars, lids, and bands. I do this by washing them in hot, soapy water. Once you are done the preparation of the jam and are going to simmer it, do the next step: place the jars in a large canning pot, fill with water, and bring to just under a boil. Once they reach this stage, reduce the heat to keep them at just under a boil. This is so the jars stay hot when they are filled with hot jam. The lids and bands can be placed in a small saucepan and covered with water. Bring these to just under a boil and turn them off (do the lids and bands later when you are almost ready to start filling the jars).
Put the water in a large, heavy wide-bottomed pot, such as enameled cast iron, or if you have it, a copper jam pot! Bring the water to a boil, then add the quince and lemon juice. Reduce the heat and simmer until the quince is soft, at least 10 minutes but possibly up to 25 or 30. You need to decide what texture you like. I wanted a fairly chunky jam, so I used a potato masher to squash the fruit a bit at the end of this stage. Add the sugar and bring everything to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, lower the heat to medium. Cook uncovered until the jam turns a nice shade of pink, about 50 to 75 minutes. Make sure you are frequently stirring so that you don’t burn the jam. In the last few minutes of cooking, add the cardamom cloves and stir to mix them into the jam. Once the jam is ready, use a funnel to ladle the jam into your hot, sterilized jars that you have just removed from the canning pot. Leave about 1/4 inch room at the top of the jar. Use a clean cloth or paper towel dipped into hot water to wipe the rims of the jars. Seal with the hot lids and bands, place the jars carefully back into the canning pot. Bring to a boil. Once you reach a boil, set a time for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the heat off and leave the jars in the water for another 5 minutes. Then remove the jars carefully and leave them on a clean dish towel overnight. In the morning, check to see if the lids sealed by pressed down on the lid. If you hear a pop or feel any movement, they haven’t sealed properly. Put them in the fridge right away and eat within a couple of weeks. If there is no movement and the lid is totally flat and can’t be pressed down, your jam has sealed and can be stored or given away for gifts.
3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup or more quince jam
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl (or stand mixer), cream together the butter, white sugar and egg yolks. Mix in the flour a little at a time until a soft dough forms. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls. Place the balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Use your thumb to make a well in the center of each cookie. Fill the well with 1/2 teaspoon of the jam. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.
Last week I was really worried about what breakfast foods were available in my kitchen. My friend Jennifer Castle was coming to Minneapolis to play a show and she was going to stay at our place for a night. I wish I was one of those people (like my parents) who mostly eat the same thing, day in, day out, for breakfast. In my parents’ case, it is a typical Persian breakfast of barbari bread, feta cheese, honey, butter, jam, and sometimes a savory take such as cucumbers and walnuts. On the weekends they might go crazy and make eggs instead, but they eat this way every day. There is no surprise. Matt and I tend to go through stages. We’ll eat toast and a hard boiled egg for a week, Malt-o-meal for another week, a savory Persian breakfast, cereal, scones, etc. It always changes (though I haven’t been successful in suggesting we try a traditional Japanese breakfast). For a long time, we ate yogurt and granola every morning. I think we over did it, which is why we hadn’t made it in close to six months. Thus when I knew Jennifer was coming, and saw that we had just finished the scones I made earlier in the week, I thought it was time for some granola again.
The recipe comes from the book you see above, a wonderful annual project by my dear friends Erika and Mike. Every year, they create a cookbook of their favorite recipes from the past year – the ones they cooked the most often that year – and send it to their friends. It’s such a charmingly sweet tradition and a super exciting gift to receive. It also doesn’t hurt that the cookbook is designed in a really appealing way and features their dog Marcel on the cover.
What I really love about this recipe is the combination of olive oil and maple syrup. The olive oil, in particular, prevents it from being too sweet. It reminds me of the Early Bird Jubilee granola and this one. One of the reasons I always avoided granola as a breakfast food was because it struck me as too sweet. And on the whole, I prefer savory breakfasts. But this one passes the test, especially because I’ve adapted the recipe to be even less sweet. I experimented with this the second time I made it, and found that it really didn’t need any brown sugar (or sugar of any kind) beyond the 1/3 cup maple syrup.
For this particular iteration, I substituted unsalted butter for the olive oil, because I had just run out of the latter and was stuck at home and needed to get the granola made in that window of time. I really like the way it turned out but I will probably go back to olive oil. I give you both options in the recipe below. I’ve also adapted the recipe by removing the dried cherry option, which I don’t really enjoy. Sometimes I will add part of a chopped apple. It lends some tart juiciness. I’ve been eating this yogurt exclusively for a little while now and I love everything about it. I’m going to to use it as a starter for homemade yogurt in the next day or two. It felt really good to be able to send Jennifer off with a little granola in a jar too. I wish more friends would come out to the cold Midwest to visit…
Adapted from Mike and Erika’s 2012 Cookbook
Makes about 5 cups
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup pistachios, shelled (unsalted)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (NOT shredded coconut)
1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup olive oil (or unsalted butter, melted)
Preheat the oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Mix the oats, pistachios, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds and salt in a large bowl. Mix the olive oil (or melted butter) and maple syrup. Pour over the dry mixture and stir to distribute evenly. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until the mixture is golden-brown and dry, stirring every 10 minutes. I sometimes leave it for up to 40 minutes. Allow the mixture the to cool and store in an airtight container. Serve with plain full fat yogurt and, if you like, half a chopped apple. My favorite ratio is 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup granola, and about half an apple.
I find myself drawn, more and more, to the simplest parts of cooking. The fundamentals, as it were. Baking, and especially breads, is right at the top of that list. I’m not sure why it seems to difficult to master, but I think it has to do with the variables involved. I have become okay at baking a great everyday bread, but I strive to make my own starter. I recently acquired Nancy Silverton’s wonderful Breads from the La Brea Bakery, which contains what seems to be a magical starter recipe involving grapes. I plan to get it started this weekend and I will periodically report on the two-week process here. Watching Silverton prepare it on an episode of Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs was the final push I needed. She makes it look so easy and so appealing. Sure, it’s easy to grab a great loaf of sourdough baguette from my favorite local bakery but, if such a thing is possible, I think I am starting to obsess with obsessing with making my own, great bread.
In the meantime, I’m trying my hand at easier breads, like biscuits. One of my favorite places on the internet is Chowhound’s “Cookbook of the Month” project. Every month, the group (which is open to join) votes on a book to cook from and the members of the group report back on there results, offering advice, warnings, and encouragement. I can’t really keep up with it as much as I want to, but it provides great reading, even if you aren’t planning on making a new recipe several times a week, as many of the inspiring members do. This month, they (we?) are cooking from Eric Ripert’s Avec Eric, based on his show of the same name. I’ve tried two recipe so far: Pan-Roasted Arctic Char with Black Olive Potatoes (extraordinarily good!) and these Cornmeal Biscuits.
The recipe calls for the biscuits to be served with honey butter, but I haven’t tried that part of the recipe yet. It looks fairly simple, just a matter of whipping a few ingredients together. I gravitated to these biscuits because I liked that they promised to be something between cornbread and a traditional biscuit. The fact is, I was making a lentil, vegetable soup for dinner and didn’t want to go out to the store for bread. I considered making some olive oil rosemary crackers, but I think these biscuits provide a nice bit of needed heft with a light soup. Besides, I like to think of myself as the type of person who is willing to whip up a batch of biscuits at a moment’s notice, not necessarily one who perfects it each time. As we ate these with dinner, we talked about how great they would be as the base of a breakfast sandwich. So this morning, I fried some eggs and did exactly that. I suggest you do the same, soon!
P.S. He’s kind of a babe, right?
Recipe from Avec Eric by Eric Ripert
Makes 8-10 biscuits
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (or one stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
1 cup cold buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the cornmeal in a food processor bowl. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and add to the cornmeal. Pulse the cornmeal mixture once to blend. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 3/4 cup of the buttermilk and process just until the dough starts to come together, adding more buttermilk as needed. Do not overwork the dough. You will need to pulse 3 or 4 times. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Gather the dough and pat it into a rectangle that is about 1/2-inch thick. Using a 3-inch-diameter biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out 8 to 10 rounds. To ensure the biscuits rise properly, flour the cutter before cutting out each biscuit and do not twist the cutter. Place the biscuits, barely touching, on a baking sheet and bake until the biscuits are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.