Sesame Sunflower Wafers


Sesame Sunflower Wafers

Sesame and crunch animate these sensational little snacking wafers. Packed with whole grains and nuts and low on oil, they’re also downright healthy. Which is just another way of saying, “pairs well with a nice, rich cheese.”

I’m not going to lie, it’s more work to bake your own crackers than it is to buy them at the store. Make them just once at home, though, and you’re likely to find the time from now on. After you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to go from zero to cracker in about 90 minutes.

Consider this recipe yet another template onto which you can project your personal tastes. Try different seeds like poppy or caraway. Substitute the whole wheat flour with rye. And imagine the things you can do with spices or some garlic powder.

This recipe yield about 150 2-inch wafers.

Sesame Sunflower Wafers
140g all-purpose flour
140g whole wheat flour
7g baking powder
8g salt
45g raw sunflower seeds
40g toasted sesame seeds
18g sunflower oil
185g water

Weigh flours, salt, and baking powder into the work bowl of a food processor. Weigh seeds into a small bowl and set aside. Weigh water and oil into a third bowl, preferably with a spout, and set aside.

Pulse flour three or four times to mix in the salt and baking powder. Add seeds and pulse briefly three or four times to just break the sunflower seeds up a bit. Add the water and oil all at once and process until dough forms a ball.

Carefully scrape the dough out of the work bowl onto a very lightly floured board. Knead three or four times until smooth and then wrap in plastic. Chill dough in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400º and place racks in the upper and lower third.

Divide dough into six pieces. Working with one at a time and keeping the others covered, roll dough out to 1/16th-inch and cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Use additional flour for rolling only if absolutely necessary as it will both degrade the texture and flavor and make re-rolling the scrap difficult.

Space 1-inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for eight minutes, then swap cookie sheets top to bottom, turning them 180º as you do so. Bake for another eight minutes or until crisp with golden edges.

Since there will be more crackers than can be accommodated by two sheets, I stage the second batch onto parchment sheets and slide them onto the pans. It’s okay that the pans are hot for the second batch.

Cool completely on wire racks before storing in an airtight container.

Lemon Scallion Garbanzos


Lemon Scallion Chickpeas (August 3, 2016)

Bright lemon juice, pops of pungent scallion, the bitter fruitiness of olive oil, and a heavy hand of Romano cheese raise garbanzos up where they belong. Irresistible when they’re first made, like all things, they improve with time and are best prepared a day ahead.

Marinated beans like these are traditionally enjoyed at room temperature. Have I mentioned how they’re perfect for summer picnics and BBQs? You’ll be a total hero to the gluten free vegetarians right off the bat and some sort of food Jesus to vegans if you substitute a tablespoonful of tahini for the cheese.

Now don’t go ruining this edible marvel with canned garbanzos. They’re easy enough to cook from dry, all the more so with a pressure cooker. The difference in texture and flavor is remarkable and completely worth the effort.

Recipe yields enough for three as a main course.

Lemon Scallion Garbanzos
2 cups dried garbanzos
juice of a medium lemon
five scallions, sliced thinly
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek or Californian
1 tsp Greek oregano, crushed finely
a handful of finely grated Romano cheese
salt to taste

If using a pressure cooker, follow your manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, soak dried garbanzos overnight in a quart of water in the refrigerator. Simmer for about two hours until tender. In both cases, be sure to salt the cooking water with one teaspoon of salt per quart of water.

Combine lemon juice, scallions, olive oil, and oregano in a bowl and set aside while the beans cook. When the beans are done, drain them and toss with marinade. Add cheese and add salt as needed.

Greek Salad


Greek Salad (August 1, 2016)

An authentic Greek Salad is a revel in summer flavors. Sweet, tart tomatoes, floral cucumbers, and piquant peppers countered by creamy feta and succulent olives. Lacking the adornment of dressing, it relies completely upon your ability to select the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. If you’re not already familiar with your local farmers market, consider this an opportunity to change that.

Speaking of markets, if you live near any significant population of Greeks, seek out their supermarket and get your feta and olives there. Supermarket specimens of each will do, but they lack a certain something. Here in Los Angeles, I stock my Greek pantry at Papa Cristo’s.

In lieu of dressing, have your favorite unfiltered olive oil and red wine vinegar at hand as well as a bit of salt. But use them only on what’s on your plate, and sparingly at that. The idea is to enjoy each bite as an individual celebration of the vegetable. It’s all very Spartan, I’m sure.

This recipe serves four as part of a larger spread, two if just accompanied by bread and wine.

Greek Salad
1 large, ripe tomato
3 Persian cucumbers
1 ripe bell pepper of any color
2 scallions
3 – 5 thick slices of sheep’s milk feta
8 – 12 brine cured Kalamata olives
1/2 tsp Greek oregano

Cut tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers into bite-sized chunks. Trim white parts off of scallions and cut lengthwise into quarters. Thinly slice the green part of the scallion into rings. Lay the majority of the cucumbers at the bottom of a wide bowl and scatter over the scallion greens. Cover with tomatoes, then peppers. Scatter remaining cucumbers around the outer edge and lay on the quartered scallion whites. Scatter olives at the center of the salad and then lay on the planks of feta. Sprinkle over the oregano and eat!

This salad can be made up to three hours ahead and held in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap. Wait to add the cheese, olives, and oregano until just before serving.

Cretan Potato Omelette


Potato Omelette (August 1, 2016)

Straight from Crete, this omelette is a mythic meld of crisp, caramelized potatoes and fluffy eggs with a fruity whiff of olive oil. You’ll having ‘em lining up a the gates of Olympus any time you make one.

The potatoes are fried using Joel Robuchon’s fantastical method. It works for full-sized batches of potatoes as well, but you need to stick with wax, not Russet, varieties.

I adore eggs like this at dinner with a nice salad (it’s something to do while you wait for the potatoes to cook!) and a spot of Côtes de Provence. It also has a great friend in Huy Fong sriracha sauce, though I’m sure my Hellenic ancestors roll in their graves when I write it.

Recipe yields lunch or dinner for two, breakfast for three.

Cretan Potato Omelette
1 medium red or white potato, scrubbed clean
sunflower oil for frying
5 eggs
2 tbsp half & half
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

This recipe requires an 8-inch cast iron pan, and there’s no getting around it. While there are many fine manufacturers out there, you won’t find any superior to Finex. A stainless steel skillet of the same size might do in a pinch, but you’ll need to fry the potatoes in something deeper.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Cut potato into 1/2-inch sticks and put into cold pan. Pour in just enough sunflower oil to cover* and place over medium-high heat. When potatoes begin to brown, about fifteen minutes after the oil starts to boil, gently stir with a wooden spoon or tongs, turning them over carefully. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown. Remove immediately to a heat-proof plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside.

Beat together remaining ingredients until fully combined.

Oh, so carefully, pour out the oil into a heat-proof bowl and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Spread the potatoes over the bottom of the pan and then pour over the eggs. Bake for 20 minutes on middle rack or until the center is just set (175º).

Potato Omelette (August 1, 2016)Immediately run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and turn the omelette out onto a warm plate. I prefer to serve it like this, but if the bottom tears or you simply like it otherwise, just re-invert on another plate.

* If this is more than half the height of your pan, use a deeper one to fry the potatoes to prevent dangerous boil overs.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing


Green Beans with Crunchy Garlic Dressing (July 27, 2016)

After Kewpie mayonnaise and the films of Studio Ghibli, my favorite thing to come out of Japan is S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping. It’s a blend of crisp-fried garlic and mild chilis in sesame oil meant as a condiment for ramen. Much like Old Bay Seasoning, there’s nothing it can’t improve

Here I use S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping to give classic French green bean salad a Japanese kick. Like the original, the keys to success are to cook the beans until tender, dress them while still warm, and enjoy at room temperature.

If you have the time, these are even better made a day ahead. Pop into the refrigerator as soon as they’re done but give them about thirty minutes on the counter before serving.

This recipe yields enough for four.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing
1 lb green beans, trimmed
2 tbsp tahini
1 ts molasses
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 heaping tsp S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping*
1 tbsp sake
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp peanut oil
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Bring at least two quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat with a heaping teaspoon of salt. Add the trimmed green beans and cover until water returns to the boil. Once boiling, cook the beans until tender but not soft. This will take as little as a minute for small beans and up to seven minutes for larger ones, so check often. Drain and rinse for a minute under cold water. Allow to stand in a colander while you prepare the dressing.

S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping (July 27, 2016)In a bowl large enough to toss the beans, add all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Whisk until smooth, then add the drained beans. Toss gently to coat all of the beans completely.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand on the counter for thirty minutes, tossing every ten minutes or so, before serving. Garnish with sesame seeds.

* Easily located at any Japanese grocery or on the interwebs. Yes, the brand matters. Yes, it’s full of MSG. No, MSG will not kill you.

Peach Galette


Peach galette with caramel sugar and just a hint of allspice.

It’s no wonder the ancient Chinese fetishized peaches. In both form and texture, they are sensual to the point of being fruit porn. An electric bite of sweet, tart perfume and impossible juiciness that has the power to transport you to the outer reaches of ecstasy.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I anxiously await that first Sunday of the summer when the gals from Tenerelli Orchards will appear at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Theirs are the best peaches, plums, and nectarines this side of the Mississippi so far as I’m concerned.

My peach galette* is an homage to the Tenerelli’s fruit and uses only the barest amount of sugar, allowing the peaches to shine in all their summer splendor. You’ll be amazed at the sheer depth of flavor that can be extracted from fruits  baked in this manner. You’ll also be amazed at how little work goes into such a memorable dessert.

* Galette is a fancy word for a flat pie.

This recipe yields dessert for four to six on its own, eight if accompanied by ice cream.

Peach Galette
1 recipe All-Butter Pie Crust
2 large, firm-ish peaches or nectarines
2 – 3 tbsp caramel sugar or brown sugar
a heavy pinch of ground allspice
2 tbsp sunflower oil or melted butter

Preheat oven to 425º and set a rack in the middle position.

If using peaches, peel them like an apple using a very sharp paring knife. Nectarines can be baked with the skins on. Slice each fruit into sixteen wedges.

Roll dough out to 13-inches and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush lightly with sunflower oil or melted butter.

Peach galette with caramel sugar and just a hint of allspice.Leaving an inch border all around, sprinkle some of the sugar lightly over the entire round of dough. Use the rest of the sugar to create a perimeter as shown.

Lay peach wedges in concentric circles, starting from the outside with the tips of the wedges just within the perimeter of sugar. Lightly brush the peaches with sunflower oil or melted butter and then sprinkle over the allspice.Peach galette with caramel sugar and just a hint of allspice.

Fold edges like a stop sign, with the crease right at the sugar perimeter. Place in the oven immediately and bake for 40 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown and center bubbling. If the edges are dark but the center still not bubbling after 40 minutes, lower oven to 375º to finish baking.

Cool for five minutes on a wire rack before cutting and serving.

Brown Sugar Poundcake


Brown Sugar Poundcake

Poundcake is the little black dress of desserts. Enjoyed for its splendid simplicity or made part of a larger ensemble, it is always an effortless star. My poundcake light as air and twice as tasty. Cinnamon brings an exotic perfume to the classic, and European style (Plugra or Kerrygold) butter is worth the splurge when you want to impress.

I cannot help but admire a deceptively simple cake whose name enshrines an entire recipe in one word. The pound in poundcake is a reference to how much of each of the main ingredients (eggs, flour, butter, and sugar) are required. It’s another way of saying, “a cake of equal parts eggs, flour, butter, and sugar.”

That sounds a lot like a ratio. And you know I love a good ratio in the kitchen! See the one that underlies this recipe here.

This recipe yields one 10-inch Bundt or two 4-cup loaves.

Brown Sugar Poundcake
336g cake flour
18g baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional but highly recommended)
336g unsalted butter, room temperature
6g salt
336g brown sugar
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325º and set the rack in the middle position. Lightly grease your pan(s) with butter.

Weigh all the dry ingredients and butter into the work bowl of a stand mixer. With the cake paddle attachment, mix on low until the butter is completely incorporated and the mixture resembles damp sand.

Beat eggs and vanilla together in a bowl and then add to flour mixture. Beat on #2 for a minute. Stop mixer and scrape down the edges of the bowl with a silicon spatula. Beat on #4 for 30 seconds and then scrape the bowl down again. Beat on #4 for a minute.

Scrape batter into pan and smooth with spatula. Rap the pan on the counter three or four times to dislodge any air bubbles and then place in oven.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Turn poundcake out and cool, still on the rack, for at least an hour before cutting.

Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini


Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini, Soy Glazed Acorn Squash, and rye toast.

Somewhere in your supermarket, usually adjacent the BBQ sauces, is a product called Wright’s Liquid Smoke. You need to own a bottle for nights when you want something hearty, meatless, and just a little trashy. It’s like having bacon without the pig. Plus it’s kosher, vegan, and gluten-free.

All of the veg you see in the photo below I had on hand and needed desperately to use before the creeping fuzz set in. The pressure cooker delivered tender beans from dry in 45-minutes. (They really are amazing, pressure cookers.) Freshly cooked beans are vastly superior in texture to their sad, canned sisters, and make what is otherwise an obvious attempt to use up aging produce into something just a little special.

Recipe yields enough for five as an entree.

Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions
half a carrot
2 large bell peppers
2 medium zucchini
1/4 cup water
large handfull Brussels sprouts
4 cups cooked black beans
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ichimi togarashi (or ground red pepper)
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup dry Madiera
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp Wright’s Liquid Smoke
What to do with all of this random veg in the fridge?Clean and cut onions, carrot, peppers, and zucchini to 1/4-inch dice. Trim and clean Brussels sprouts then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat a large (≥ 4 quart) skillet over medium with olive oil. Add onions, carrots, and peppers along with half of the salt and stir to coat with oil.

Cook for two minutes, stir, lower heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook for five minutes, stir, and cook for another five minutes with the cover on. At this point, the onions should be clear and the carrots soft. If not cook, put the cover back on for another five minutes.

Uncover and raise heat to medium-high. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until veg pick up a little brown. Add togarashi and stir for a minute. Add Madiera and cook for a minute, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the salt and remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.

Cover the pan again and cook until it begins to boil. Taste for salt and add more if required. Stir, lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook with cover on for another fifteen minutes or until beans are super tender.

Soy Glazed Acorn Squash, a couple slices of toast, and some good hard cider make it all seem positively civilized.

Veggie Leftovers


A pot of black beans, ready to go in the pressure cooker.

Like most home chefs working on a budget in a small space, I cannot help but roll my eyes when contestants on cooking shows melt down over leftovers of any kind. It’s a freakin’ “Chopped” round in my kitchen every night of the week. Home from work with an hour to walk the dog, make dinner, and set the table. And no PA to do the dishes when it’s all over.

(Do your best to keep the kitchen tidy as you go, kids. No one wants to confront the wreck of the Hesperus in the sink after dinner.)

I may plan my bakes days in advance, but the nightly meal rarely gets such forethought. Luckily, it’s dinner, not a solution to global warming. Stock your fridge, pantry, and condiment shelf with stuff you like, and it’s just a matter of grabbing what strikes your fancy and cooking it. Someday I’ll spend the time to outline what I think are essential pantry staples for any kitchen, but for now Michael Pollan’s axiom “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” sums it up well.

On account of the utter lack of planning, most dinners in my little kitchen at The Treehouse are what I call “limited edition.” Which is to say, having made them up of available ingredients, they’re unlikely to be repeated. They’re not blind stabs in the culinary dark, though. Rather, they draw on simple techniques that allow for infinite variation. This week’s inaugural roundup of the week’s Limited Edition Dinners includes two of foolproof techniques to turn veggies into dinner and my very favorite way to prepare squash and carrots.

Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini are a riff on succotash, which is just a veggie stew at heart. The key is to develop a good base of flavor by sweating and then lightly caramelizing the onions and aromatics when you start. Freshly cooked beans (“feh!” to canned) make it a bit special, tomatoes boost the umami factor, and the aroma of smoke brings everything together in the end. Diehard carnivores will swear they taste bacon, and who are you to tell them otherwise?

I paired the aforementioned veg stew with Soy Glazed Acorn Squash. If there’s a simpler, more delicious way to prepare squash, it involves a deal with the devil. When you get to feeling experimental, try this technique with carrots or parsnips. Throw in a heavy pinch of curry powder, and you’re down a whole new path. Or vary the sweetener and try maple syrup. And five spice. Oh, my. I need to try that right now…

Finally, pilaf! Being Greek, this is my default preparation for all stove-top grains (rice, barley, bulgur, farina).  My Tomato Pilaf Salad with Sautéed Mushrooms, packed with red bell pepper, feta cheese, and olives is an easy intro into the wide, wild world of grain salads.

Now go eat something, you look thin!

Caramel Sugar Cookies


The best sugar cookie you will ever eat.

I could wait no longer to try 3-2-1 cookies with dry caramelized sugar. Stella Parks should win a Nobel Prize for bringing this technique for making caramel without melting sugar to the world. Check it out, make some (go for at least four hour-dark), and then come back. I’ll wait.

These are called 3-2-1 cookies because they use three parts flour, two parts butter, and one sugar. They’re not too sweet and rather like Scottish shortbread in texture. Though in this case I pushed the sugar a little past just one part to yield a softer cookie. It’s a ratio thing, which I go on about at length elsewhere but will spare you here.

Kerrygold is the butter I hope to find in the afterlife, and it pushes the complexity of the roasted sugar to the fore. Crisp at the edges, soft and cakey in the middle. Oh, and dead simple to make. You’re welcome.

This recipe yields 20 1-tablespoon cookies.

Caramel Sugar Cookies
225g a/p flour
6g baking powder
100g unsalted butter, room temperature
50g salted Kerrygold butter, room temperature
90g caramel sugar (see technique here)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350º with rack positioned in the middle.

Dump everything but the egg into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add egg and pulse until a cohesive ball forms. Scoop into a separate bowl, cover, and rest on counter for 20 minutes. This works just as well without a food processor, but incorporating the butter into the flour will take longer.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and scoop level tablespoons two-inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown but centers still a little soft.

Cool completely on racks. Store for up to a week in an airtight container.

The dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to a week.