Tossed.

I’m sharing this recipe partly for my own selfish ends, as I am not feeling super loquacious. I’d say it’s the change in seasons, which is perhaps a half-truth, however of late I’ve been balancing the need for some self-imposed downtime with the equally necessary and soulful need to Just. Show. Up.

For the latter, I’ve managed to keep (most) commitments and remain accountable in both my professional and personal life, as well as build in the requisite training runs that keep my brain happy.

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I like to think I am fairly skilled at feeding myself; I can put together something basic on the fly, however lately my creativity has been lacking. I spent the last two days sifting through two of my favorite cookbooks, looking for ways to incorporate fennel into my meals, as I seem to be drawn to it lately. I made a fennel, pear, ginger and lemon juice that was pretty amazing, however I was looking for something a bit more toothsome, and came across a recipe for saffron orange chicken and herb salad that intrigued me.
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I had an orange, partially zested, that was begging to be put to good use, and then picked up a couple of other things that I thought would fit nicely. The recipe involved cooking the orange, peel and all, along with a bit of honey and saffron for a length of time, then folding in the chicken and serving along with fresh slivered fennel and a bit of herbs and a lemon-garlic vinaigrette of sorts. I limit my flirtation with garlic whenever possible, so I decided to tailor the recipe a bit differently, to suit my taste, and my pantry. Given that I’d forgotten to grab some saffron, I cooked the orange with a pinch of fennel and coriander seeds. I had a bit of cilantro languishing in the back of my refrigerator, so I plucked the best greens and mixed them with some fresh mint leaves. The chicken I purchased cooked from the deli, so there was really little work to do. I added a bit of avocado and a drizzle of olive oil to give it a boost of healthy fats and needless today, it was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve had in some time.
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This is a dish that bears repeating, so I’ll share it with you, and keep it on file for those days I’m in need of a bit of kitchen inspiration. I’m going to try something a bit different here, by incorporating the method into the ingredient list. If you end up giving it a try, I’d love to know how the recipe worked for you.
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
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Fennel, Chicken and Avocado Salad with Spiced Orange Dressing
Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem recipe for Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad
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1 orange, cut into 8 slices
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
**Bring the above ingredients to boil in a small saucepan, then turn down to a slow simmer and allow to cook for ~1h, adding water if needed. You’ll want a few tablespoons of liquid with the oranges to keep from burning.
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While the orange is cooking, prepare the salad:
Thinly slice 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs (I used a mandolin) and set in a bowl. Massage the fennel briefly with ~1 tablespoon of olive oil, along with healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add ~8 oz of shredded, cooked chicken breast, a small handful (~1/4 cup each) of cilantro and mint to the bowl, leaving a few tablespoons of herbs aside for the final garnish. Slice 1/4 large or 1/2 small avocado and set aside with reserved herbs.
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Puree the orange with the juice of 1/2 lemon, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water if needed so that the end product is the consistency of a loose compote. Add ~1/2 of the compote to the salad bowl and toss to combine. Garnish with avocado and reserved herbs, and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Double Dipping.

Frequently I’ll start a conversation with my dear friend Lisa like “Hey, what should I do with this?”, to which she’ll barely glance upward as she rattles off a response. Last week’s question was answered with one word: clafoutis.
I’ve made many (well, a few) custards over the years, however I had not been acquainted with the velvety, not quite cake, yet not entirely custard concoction of French origin. An internet search yielded countless recipes, some containing shocking amounts of butter and eggs, others with lengthy ingredient lists, to more demure and simple recipes. Some called for flour, others did not. Several recipes recommend letting the batter rest overnight, which makes sense; the liquid absorbs some of the flour, improving the texture.
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I set it all aside for a bit and steeped some bay leaves in cream and milk.
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In My Paris Kitchen, David Lebovitz writes that “…we’ve become more and more dependent on recipes to tell us each and every detail, so we don’t have to think for ourselves. Or we’ve somehow become afraid to trust our own instincts”. I get that. I rarely follow a recipe verbatim, rather I use them as a template, a starting point. and then cook with instinct. It’s how I’ve learned what works, and what doesn’t.
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I imagined that blueberries would pair well with the nutmeg-like flavor of bay leaves, and I still had remnants from my last trip to the farm on hand, so I used them in my first go-round. Needless to say, it was a stunner and was enjoyed by many at a party the following night. I reluctantly deposited what remained in my dear friend’s kitchen and was already dreaming up another variation on the way home.
Blueberry and Peach Clafoutis

Blueberry and Peach Clafoutis

The next generation involved cornmeal intermingled with honey and lemon-verbena-scented custard. This batter held a coarser consistency, however once baked, the cornmeal coalesced into soft and spongy cream-soaked layer, reminiscent of graham crackers in milk. Extremely comforting. Tart blackberries complemented the wild honey and kept it bright and easy to justify eating pretty much any time of day.

Which is exactly what I did.

 

Honey Cornmeal and Lemon Verbena Clafoutis

Honey Cornmeal and Lemon Verbena Clafoutis

Enjoy, and much love.

J

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For Emily.

I’ve been remiss, again, with my posts. Life and long summer days have wrapped me in a tight cocoon and I’ve gone adrift; carried through sadness, sunshine, grief, laughter and bliss.
The loss of a loved one, followed by the loss of another have left great voids, and yet I’ve just come back from one of the best vacations in some time.
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Spending the past two weeks in the company of my teenage daughter, just she and I, has been surprisingly pleasant.
A bit of sand and surf in the mix can’t have hurt.
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In the weeks prior to our departure, I made use of summer’s finest. I set aside sweet aspirations and went straight for the savory: eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers, crafting them into an unctuous load of ratatouille, fat with flavor and richly satisfying.
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I don’t generally fare well with nightshades unless they are well-cooked. With ratatouille, the biggest investment is time; the peppers and tomatoes have ample opportunity to languish about at gentle simmer until their flavors mellow, sweeten and concentrate into jammy perfection. Into which gets folded a load of caramelized, roasted eggplant and zucchini. I use a recipe from Francis Lam as my template, following his method (nearly) verbatim, save a shortcut, here and there. I’ve been using it for years; as it’s probably the best ratatouille recipe I’ve found. Its yield is quite generous, encouraging me to divide in half and freeze some for later, however my leftovers were pulled from icy depths within about two weeks, as I found myself craving it daily.
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Ratatouille is incredibly versatile, I folded it into fluffy omelets, enjoyed it with quinoa, served it with toasted baguette, and alongside cold salmon during an impromptu picnic. I also recall serving gently warmed over salad with a bit of feta and chickpeas.
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This’ll likely eat up an afternoon, however the hands-on investment is pretty modest. Having the ingredients prepped and at the ready makes for a smooth experience.
The rest is merely waiting. And waiting. And…
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Enjoy, and Much Love,
J
Weapons-Grade Ratatouille by Francis Lam, with adaptations.
Note: this recipe yields approximately 1/2 gallon of ratatouille. I wouldn’t recommend halving it, as the effort alone is worth its yield. Ratatouille will keep well, refrigerated for ~5 days, or up to three months in the freezer.
Ingredients:
1 head garlic, minced
3 shallots, minced
1 large onion (about 12 ounces), minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 large red peppers, puréed
4 pounds of tomatoes, puréed
2 pounds of zucchini, cut into cubed
2 pounds of eggplant, cubed
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Additional 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
Method:
  1. Salt eggplant with ~1/2-1 tsp of salt, then set in a colander to drain. This will aid the eggplant in releasing some of its water content. Set aside and proceed with the following.
  2. In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-low and add garlic, shallot and onion. I used a 4-quart wide-bottom Le Cruset enameled cast iron, which I knew would handle the volume. Season with salt and pepper; ~1/2 teaspoon each, or a nice healthy pinch.
  3. Once the aromatics are glossy and golden, add the red pepper puree and another pinch of salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to simmer for a good 30-45 minutes, until the volume is reduced by about half.
  4. Next, add the tomato puree and continue to simmer, giving a gentle stir every 20-30 minutes or so. The sauce will simmer for ~1.5 hours, during which time you’ll proceed with roasting the eggplant and zucchini
  5. Preheat oven to 450. Line two large baking sheets with parchment. Pat the eggplant dry, then toss both eggplant and zucchini with a generous amount of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  6. Roast until nicely-charred, about 40 minutes. This may require shifting pans about halfway through, and may require two stages due to the sheer quantity of veggies. However, this dish has nothing but time on its hands. Set roasted veg aside for later.
  7. Once the tomato base has reduced considerably, down to a mere quart, maximum, and the olive oil has become visible on the surface of the sauce, fold in the roasted vegetables. Give the mix a few more healthy gratings of pepper.
  8. Fold in basil and thyme. Taste again and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.