Lezlie’s Cookbook

My Jack o’Lantern 2011

“What’s For Dinner?”

While also working in the arts as a designer in fabric, poet, and scholar, I am also a personal chef.  While I tend to pick & choose my events (and clients) I specialize in non-traditional weddings (such as Pagan Handfastings, other spiritual tradtitions or weddings held in parks or retreat centers, or same-sex weddings), meetings, workshops, the occasional festival, the Pagan fire festival rituals & other spiritual events, as well as all sorts of other events – such as house concerts and retreats.  I also love packing a basket for that romantic dinner or a day spent hiking. (One of my favorite gigs was a request for a gourmet dinner for two in a travel basket for a couple celebrating 35 years together.)
I am at doclezlie_at_gmail(dot)com (often checking my inbox  in the AMs).

For larger events and weddings/handfastings, I have a list of available staff (bar, servers), musicians, a seamstress (for that gown!), florists, a specialist “indy” baker, a music director, a rental agency for table linens and extra tables & chairs, and an event planner that I work with. For weddings, I also keep a list of licensed clergy of several traditions who are flexible and creative in creating the ritual/ceremony.

Please note: I am sorry, I cannot both design your gown as a fiber artist and cater your wedding, there just are not enough hours in the day for that!

For those with a strict budget, I will work with your volunteers, but do require a day of training in order to assist in creating a smoothly run event.

I have sample menus from past events, but I don’t really do “set” menus.  I enjoy working with my clients on an individual basis, taking into account food preferences, budgeting, and being really flexible. It’s more interesting for me and better all around for the client. 

My specialty is utilizing sustainability farmed, local, and organic (with the exception of specialty cheeses). My style is basic Mediterranean and for summer gatherings, my signature dish is Paella de Valencia on the grill with a 2nd (or, the primary) vegetarian paella upon request.

My business is called “What’s For Dinner?” and I hope I can meet your culinary needs. Yours, Lezlie

Let’s talk Pumpkins…

Sooooooo. You got carried away and there are 6 .. .no 8 … no wait, there are 10  fat, orange pumpkins on your front patio in varying stages of carved and uncarved Hallows’ glory(12 including those two little ones behind the mailbox).  Now what?

Well … there are quite a few things you could be doing with those beauties… first of all, take a good look at them and compost the worst of the lot.  By now, ole Jack is fully cooked inside from the heat of candles, covered with wax, and probably growing fuzz.   No, don’t just toss them in the pile or into your city pick-up “yard debris” or “green” can, look carefully at that beautiful Jack o’Lantern.  Place most decayed Jacks  on the compost pile with some reverence, after all, he’s the spirit of the dying year and the winter to come.  (… Count Draculas, diverse pumpkin-ish monsters, assorted ghouls, and Jills, of course…)  If you are of a mind, write a wish for the New Year on biodegradable rice paper inside and/or arrange pomegranates, apples and the leftovers from your Samhain festivities around “Jack” as an offering to the faeries and the ancestors.  If you live in a rural area where you can easily find one, a place near running water, a hollow tree, or secluded crossroads is also a good place for ancestor offerings, all being sacred to several deities honored at this season.

You can still create beauty with ole Jack though: put him in the garden (preferably in the vegetable plot, but anywhere will do), fill the cavity with potting or good, composted garden soil and place two or three spring bulbs inside.  As Jack decays and melts into the soil this winter, a secret is hiding inside: spring beauties will emerge at as the weather warms and the sun returns.  This is a wonderful lesson in the cycles of nature that even the toddlers in your life will understand and participate in enthusiastically.  Bless with the watering can and a little plant fertilizer designed for spring bulbs.

If your pumpkins are uncarved or otherwise still fresh (or, mostly: carve away the bad spots and see what’s left), a pumpkin is a wonderful vegetable to work with in the kitchen.  All of these will be easier to do if you (using a sturdy potato peeler) scrape away the tough outer skin.  (Get a helper or two for this if you have a plethora of pumpkins to peel).  The flesh ranges from the lighter shades of orange in the average Jack o’Lantern pumpkin to a deep, rich almost red flesh of the The Hubbard varietals (or, Boston marrow) and all shades in-between.  Here is a page full of photos and descriptions: Haunted Bay http://www.hauntedbay.com/thelab/pumpkin/pumpkinvarieties.shtml.

You can dice up the flesh of your pumpkins into one inch pieces and freeze them just the way they are for use later.  Or, you can cut Jack into pieces

Jill o’Lantern

and roast your him in the oven, steam in the crock pot, or in a vegetable steamer on top of the stove and then puree your pumpkins and either cook it now or store in one & two cup containers in the freezer for later.

Some folks like to cut fairly large pieces, season with salt, fill with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and clove, a touch of ginger and have it for dinner, right now.  Or, as an alternative: do up a South Western pumpkin treat with ground New Mexico Hatch chilies, a little brandy, lots of butter (or, ghee), a touch of pomegranate molasses (available at ethnic food suppliers), a little nut meg and as much anise seed and salt and pepper to taste.  If you eat meat, use a small “mini” pumpkin, hollow out, and fill with a mix of unseasoned sausage, bread crumbs, diced mushrooms, and season with fresh or dried sage, rosemary, thyme and fennel seed.  Top with a misture of bread crumbs and diced roasted “pepitas”: pumpkin seeds.  Cook for about 45 minutes or until brown on top & the pumpkin “bowl” is fully cooked and soft when a knife it inserted into the flesh.  Either enjoy it now, or cool and freeze to enjoy later.  (These little stuffed pumpkins make a great “party” treat or potluck entree.)  You can make an ova-vegetarian alternative with corn, cooked black beans or frijoles refritos, and breadcrumbs, seasoned well with salt, pepper, spice with a chili mix,  bound together with an egg.  Proceed as above.  (Proportions are to taste.)

For a really quick meal, roasted pumpkin, using one of the recipes above (or, your own) stored in a microwave container and frozen is a solution for those too-busy-to-cook evenings or a take-it-with-you meal.  I’ve done this for long car trips when I know I will arrive late, hungry, and I know that the hotel I’ve booked has a microwave in the room.  I put the microwave container with the fully cooked pumpkin in the car where it will thaw as I drive and heat it up at the hotel with an old movie or a good book and relax from the day.

I am going to recommend a book that I’ve found to be a pretty little book and both a terrific holiday gift and a useful cookbook: Holiday Pumpkins  by Georgeanne Brennan and Jennifer Barry.  I have tried nearly every recipe in this book, and found them all to be excellent done up as written or as templates to create your own variations and even invent new dishes.  In addition, there are chapters on craft ideas, holiday decor for all your harvest feasts from Mabon to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and, even Yule.  An entire section is devoted to children’s activities.  I really recommend the  Pumpkin Cheesecake in a Gingersnap-Walnut Crust for a scrumptious finish to your harvest celebrations.  

OK – recipes (what you came for, I know.. I know…):

My Pumpkin Pie.

It’s rich, sweet and and luscious.  Don’t eat it if you are on a health regimen. The real secret is the crust (if you don’t have a good recipe, here’s one – these days I use a food processor):
Crust
1 part shortening (recommended: butter, very cold)
2 parts flour
Salt to taste
Three tbsp. cold water

The top is called a “lid”; the bottom is a “coffin” or “shell.”
Keep the room and your work surface as cool as possible. One cup fat + 2cups flour makes a two crust pie.  With that in mind, measure by proportions.  You can use margarine, but it will not be as tasty. Get out your rolling pin, and flour it, then set aside. Cut the flour into the shortening with a pastry cutter (or, two butter knives.   One in each hand, make a slicing motion away from each through the flour and shortening. )  Work the dough until it starts forming pea sized crumbly pieces.   Put away the cutter, and continue with a fork or a wooden spoon. Add the salt and cold water. Mix gently until the dough forms a ball – handle as little as possible in order keep your crust tender and flaky.

Divide into two balls about the size of your fist. Place one on a well floured surface – a cutting board or a marble pastry board.   Roll it out starting from the center, and working to the edges –  turn it over once or twice to make sure it doesn’t stick to the surface – until it’s a little larger than your pie pan.  This takes practice. Don’t worry about perfection, press in small bit of dough in to any bare patches – decorate the edges with a fork or with your fingers – this is also an over flow lip.  Set aside as is for a custard or one crust pie, or roll out the top crust, and make your filling.

Use cookie cutters to make shapes like autumn leaves,  Jack o’ Lanterns or whatever strikes your fancy and lay on the top of the lid in various patterns – especially around the steam vents.   Brush all with milk, fill, and bake.

For small, individual “tarts”, make smaller crusts; do everything else the same. For turnovers or pasties, measure with a saucer and cut in circles.  Fill with a sweet or savory filling. Seal with milk on your fingertips, poke the top with a sharp knife to make a steam vent and bake on a cookie sheet. For those cinnamon and sugar “cookies” from left over dough, sprinkle the rolled out pieces with cinnamon, nutmeg & sugar.  Bake on a cookie sheet when you bake your pie, being very watchful because they burn quickly.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

This is a single crust pie.  Bake and puree a pumpkin – I like “sugar pies” or ‘jack o’ lantern” or “golden harvest” varietals for pie making.  Some of the others are too “squashy” in flavor and texture for pie.

½ & ½ about 1+ a tad more cups
½ cup heavy cream (or, just use milk if you don’t like it to be this rich).  You should have about 2 cups liquid total.  To make a “mumpkin” pie, substitute ¼ cup maple syrup for  ½ of the cream.   Note: Do not use low fat or canned milk. This pie should be very rich and creamy.
Two eggs
One cup packed brown sugar
1 cup of fully cooked pureed pumpkin.  (OK – You can use canned, but it’s cheating.  Really.)
1 tsp. ea. cinnamon, nutmeg
½ tsp. ea. ginger, all spice
¼ tsp. cloves
pinch salt
one teasp. maple syrup, dark molasses,  or vanilla (don’t use all three, just decide which “background” flavor you like best. Experiment.)
one or two tblsps. brandy

Put everything into a food processor or a blender and whip the living daylights out of it until it’s frothy and bubbly.  The cream will thicken a little bit — good! — you want that. If you use a mixer, do the eggs first, then add pumpkin, then milks and creams, finally add the sugar and flavorings. Pour  into a waiting pie shell and bake at 350 for a good hour or until a knife comes out clean from the center.  This pie is very rich and creamy.  If you use only egg yolks, it’s almost a brulee.
Let it cool really well before cutting, serve with ice cream or whipped cream.  Good pie for holiday parties!
Note:  For a savory pie: You can substitute  pureed yams, sweet potatoes or any yellow squash for interesting side dishes or vegetarian meals.  Don’t use the same kinds of spices & sugars, but go for the “savory” flavors of cardamom, caraway, or cumin & garnish with a layer of toasted nuts. Serve hot.

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Scampi Nephrops norvegicus – a slightly controversial delight…

Nephrops norvegicus is a crustacean native to Europe and is a kind of lobster.  There is a close native from Chile sold in SF Bay Area shops as Langostino” which is tiny in comparison, and not nearly as sweet.

Sometimes known as “Norway Lobster” and “Dublin Prawns”, this delicacy is not easy to find here in Western America.   Many restaurants have a “cheat” made of local Pacific or Gulf “copper” prawns which is a pretty good substitute, but not the real thing.  One can obtain scampi frozen from specialty shops or order it through a fishmonger.   The flavor of  Nephrops norvegicus is closer to crayfish or Main lobster than to shrimp.  In California, there is a native crayfish (“crawdad” or “Shasta Crayfish”:  Pacifastacus [Hobbsastacus] fortis) which can be used with modifications to the recipe to account for its sharper flavor.  However, Shasta Crayfish is also a threatened specie (habitat degeneration), so I do not recommend its use.  What are the chances that you have, without traveling to Italy, tasted the “real thing”?   Even in the famous North American “Little Italies” or San Francisco’s North Beach, it’s pretty slim.   American-Italian households and restauranteurs use a prawn, large or small, cook it quickly in a mixture of butter, white wine, and garlic  and serve it with pasta, rice or crusty bread.  It’s a fine way to enjoy prawns, and many recipes are available.

Nephrops norvegicus

In my maternal grandmother’s kitchen, something very like Nephrops norvegicus was served as scampi, the individual critters were called scampo.  Traditional to Italy, some food writers claim the Adriatic genus is meatier and sweeter, and some claim that the Caribbean lobsterette is a close enough relation to be scampi.  Other writers claim that real scampi can only be found in the Adriatic and Tirrenean Seas surrounding the peninsula of Italy.  This would certainly be the region from which Italian chefs would  procure their scampi, so there there is merit in this claim.   Elizabeth David has a good, fairly traditional recipe for the grill: Scampi alla Griglia (Grilled Scampi) using a northern variety from the North Sea.

My grandmother, who claimed Rome as her ancestral home, bought  frozen (very) large freshwater prawns from a fishmonger near the Pike Place Market in Seattle, which has since disappeared.  They were huge even cleaned and de-veined, as big as my (adult) hand from wrist to middle finger tip and a bit more, and I have never seen them since.  Now my grandmother was many things, but a good cook she was not.  In fact, she was a terrible cook.  So really bad, that my grandfather, out of sheer self-preservation, hired a cook at the earliest possible opportunity during their marriage.  She did have some very good traditional recipes that she inherited, she simply could not prepare them, being of the school that if a little olive oil (or garlic, or salt, or sugar…) is good, then half the bottle is much better!  Luckily, my mother did cook somewhat better, and could follow a recipe, and I inherited the recipes and worked with them over the years to create some pretty good dishes.  Using fresh lobster, very large prawns, or crayfish, this is grandma’s  basic recipe:

  • 1 – 4 lbs of scampi, lobster, langostino, or very large prawns (gamberino, if you can find them) – or, if you are very lucky, Nephrops norvegicus.   Adjust amount to the number of people you are serving and the variety of crustacean.  Plan on the equivalent of 6 large prawns or one Maine lobster per person.  OK_ it’s not at all traditional, but our lovely Dungeness crabs (Metacarcinus magister) are terrific prepared in this manner.

Note: Adjust all ingredients to the amount of shellfish.  Your finished sauce should not be “soupy” nor should the shellfish “swim” in the bowl, but there should be plenty of sauce to soak your croistinis and some left over for your pasta.

  • Approximately cup light white wine – or – Marsala (very dry) (Not both)
  • One-half pound (yes, you heard me) butter
    • Substitution: combine extra virgin olive oil with a nut or nutty-flavor oil (such as walnut, hazelnut, or avocado; do not use peanut, grape-seed, or canola), season well, add small amount of butter added for flavor.
  • three cloves garlic, finely minced
  • one tsp. anise seeds
  • pinch nutmeg (to taste)
  • tablespoon thyme
  • about 12 saffron threads
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • finely chopped flat leafed parsley and basil for garnish
  • A hardy pasta such as linguine or tagliatelle
  • Parmesan or asiago (or both) grated

If yo are using pre-frozen shellfish from a fishmonger – or, from the freezer – it is improved by a gentle marination in white wine, salt, garlic, and thyme for about an hour.  (Please avoid farmed shellfish – there are sound environmental reasons not to buy this stuff.)

Begin boiling heartily salted water for the pasta. (“Salty like the sea” makes for good pasta!)

Cooking: On a vary low flame infuse the oil and/or butter with the anise seed, nutmeg, saffron, and thyme for about 20 minutes.  If you are using butter, a foam will form that will eventually brown: this is “brown butter” a staple of Mediterranean cooking.  Raise heat and saute – gently – the minced garlic (add a little finely chopped spring onion if you like) until the scent of garlic fills your nostrils, but be careful not to brown the garlic.  Raise the hear a notch further to a medium flame and, very gently, cook your shellfish until just done.   Serve in a small bowl or an individual  gratin dish (example: http://www.cooking.com/products/shprodde.asp?SKU=302559) piping hot and bubbly.  Garish with the finely chopped parsley and basil.  It’s very good with criostinis or alone.

Remove pasta from water, toss with olive oil or a light dressing of your favorite pesto, and place on the table.  When you’ve finished your scampi, there will be delicious sauce left in your bowl, add the pasta, top with Parmesan, and finish your meal with a savory-saffron-y treat!  Be sure to add a good green salad on the side to cleanse your palette.

Looking into Moroccan Cuisine: Lemon-Olive Chicken Cooked Berber-style

In my Pan-Mediterranean culinary journey, I find myself attracted to the tagines of Morocco.  Succulent, slowly braised and festive, these North-African dishes range from vegan-friendly to an omnivore’s delight.  Named for the special clay pots they are traditionally cooked in over a charcoal brazier, tagines make for a soon-to-be-favorite festival “treat”.  Because of the fresh, carefully selected ingredients, this technique produces a healthful, aromatic addition to any gathering – or – just a special family dinner.  While using the traditional tagine clay cooking pot will give you excellent results (and, is preferred), I have adapted, with success, the technique to using a low fire on a home barbecue (ex: a charcoal fired webber) or on a campfire and substituting an ironware braising pan.  Tagines make excellent camp cooking choices.  Stove top, use your braising pan or a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet.  The results will be flavorful and aromatic and you can add that “taste of fire” with a little smoked salt, paprika and/or by roasting your tomatoes before add them at the last minute.

One of my favorites is Lemon-Olive Chicken Cooked Berber-style.  This tagine is equally good with duck or even beef.   It is said that a variation of this tagine is is made with lamb, by men, who arrive very early at festivals bearing meat, vegetables, olives and musical instruments.  While the large quantities of the tagine cook for a sunset feast, very slowly over a fire, the men sing, dance and play instruments all day long.

For a vegetarian (vegan-friendly) – version, omit the meat, add 3 cups of a good vegetable stock, 1/4 cup red grape juice, and 1 cup of pureed pumpkin or other yellow squash to deepen the flavors.

  • Brown a chicken cut in “Asian style” and brine for up to 4 hours, or overnight.  Brine: cover chicken with water, add: 1 cup kosher salt, 12 whole peppercorns, 2 crushed garlic cloves, one sliced onion, whole anise seed, 3 tablespoons balsamic or cider vinegar.  If you have no objections, 1/4 cup of vermouth will improve the mix.  You will need no further salt. For more guests, add more chicken pieces or combine with another poultry such as duck, goose, or game.  If you use duck* or goose, render the fat before adding the vegetables and reserve for other purposes. *Duck fat contains 35.7% saturates, 50.5% monounsaturates (high in linoleic acid) and 13.7% polyunsaturated fats.(which contains Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential oils) and is known among chefs as “liquid gold” because of the deep, rich flavors it imparts to other foods.
  • Put the odd bits (neck, tail, head, feet, gizzard, back, the knobby ends of the legs, etc.) into your stock pot with a cut up turnip, some carrots, celery, parsley, on half of a cinnamon stick, cilantro, a bay leaf, sage, mint (any variety will do),  I also especially like a little lemon balm in the mix, one whole lemon cut into quarters and a sprig or two of thyme.  Simmer up to 3 or 4 hours adding vegetable peels and cut ends as you cook, then strain out the bones, herbs and vegetables and throw into your compost heap. This will leave you with a lovely clear stock.  Return the stock to your pot and keep warm.  The “leftover” stock can be added to and kept going for several days resulting in a deep, rich stock for soups and flavorings.

 Assembling and Cooking (adjusting amounts for the number of guests you are serving):

Cup into 2″ long pieces:

  • 2 eggplants (Japanese or Italian or one large garden-variety one)
  • 2 or 3 zucchinis and/or other summer squashes ( a mix of colorful varieties makes for a festive presentation)

In addition, you will need:

  • One to 2 cups stock
  • 5 Roma tomatoes, cored and sliced into “rounds.”
  • One large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • The zest and juice of one lemon — 2 if you are using Meyer’s lemons.  Use the whole lemon if you are using Greek-style preserved lemons.
  • Green strongly-flavored olives (unless you have no other choice, do not use stuffed “cocktail” olives).
  • Chopped Cilantro – one large bunch
  • One cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • Ras al-hanout to taste. (An important seasoning mix, you can find this in specialty shops or make your own: http://www.spicelines.com/2006/10/ras_el_hanout_the_secret_ingre.htm

Ras al-hanout: I use cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, green cardamom pods, and allspice berries.  There is also long pepper (Piper longum) and galengal which are not easily obtained, but are worth the effort.  Roast over a slow fire or in an over for a few minutes – until the aromatic oils begin to “speak” to you and wake up your nostrils.  Cool and grind in a a spice grinder. Store in an airtight container, it will keep for several years.

Brown chicken in olive oil, remove from your braising pan, and de-glaze. Add one table spoon live oil and saute the onions and garlic until translucent.  You can add a small amount of ghee to give extra flavor to your tagine, but it is not required.   Reserve the lemons, olives, and tomatoes and  add the other vegetables.  Saute for a minute or so,  turning several times in the oils and return the chicken to the pan, all the stock – do not make this tagine “soupy” add just enough to cover the bottom of the pan to keep the vegetables from burning on the bottom but not enough to cover them.   (There will be lots of sauce in the end!)  Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the ras al-hanout  and paprika, add the cinnamon stick and cover.  Cook for one hour to several hours at a low flame, checking occasionally to make sure it does not burn but do not stir.  Add a little more stock if it dries out.  (This should not happen if the flame is low enough.)  Add the tomatoes and 1/2 the cilantro 15 minutes before serving and garnish with the remainder of the cilantro.  Serve with plain  or saffron basmati rice using your favorite recipe.

This tagine is a really good addition to any outdoor gathering and the “taste of smoke” improves the flavors immeasurably.

A Rainy-day Favorite:

Cream of Mushroom Soup & a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Serve with a grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough. Just like mom made it: Put some sliced cheddar between 2 pieces of bread & grill in a very hot, buttery iron fry pan.

This is probably the most decadent, creamy, silk-smooth and rich version of an old favorite you will ever see…

The World’s Richest Cream of Mushroom Soup

Fancy enough for guests, good enough for everyday.  Use your favorite white fleshed mushrooms, I prefer criminis, meadow or fresh (not canned) button mushrooms.

Quarter enough mushrooms to cover a medium sauté pan. Add an absurd amount of butter cut with a little olive oil.
Finely chop three little “cocktail” onions – these are small but very strong
Add ¼ teaspoon each of thyme and savory.
Salt to taste

Simmer on the lowest possible heat for at least one hour. When tender and very fragrant, add the “stock” from the sauté pan to a soup pot.  Reserve the mushrooms. Add 1 cup cream, ¼ cup white wine and 2 cups of whole milk, begin to heat very, very gently.  In a separate pan, make a white roux, add some of the soup stock very slowly until it’s – soupy – return to your soup pot slowly, whisking all the while to prevent lumps.  This should be slightly thicken but not “saucy”.  Add the reserved mushrooms to the pot along with any collected juices.  Simmer for another minute, and then serve with a sprinkling of garum masala and a little chopped parsley.

Harvest Butternut, Rutabaga and Brown Rice Soup

This sounds weird, but it’s really good! Perfect for a cold and busy Autumn day.   Make it in the crock-pot and keep warm.

Vegetable stock – 2 to 4 cups, depending upon how much soup you make – add more rice for a big pot
1 cup mashed butternut squash (leftovers are perfect!)
1 rutabaga chopped into medium sized pieces
½ cup brown rice, soaked overnight in stock
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt & pepper
Pepper jack cheese and roasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

Soak the rice overnight in the stock, the garlic, onions, and other seasonings. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a very low simmer, add the rutabaga and the squash and simmer all together until the vegetables are very tender.  Remove the pumpkin and rutabaga with a slotted spoon and put into a sieve or food processor. Puree until really well mushed.  Return to the soup pot, heat until gently bubbling (the rice should be very tender – if not, cook it a while longer, covered).  Serve with hot bread and garnish with toasted pumpkinseeds and grated jack cheese.

Barbecued Ribs with a Pasilla (pablano pepper) – Plum Sauce

(August 15) Hello again! Do you like to barbecue?  I’ve been experimenting with sauces this summer.  The most interesting is a combination of fruits and pasilla peppers.  Delicious over ribs, lamb, chicken, or fish.  I have not tried this as a vegetarian entree, but I think it would be tasty over one of the vegetarian sausages or portabello mushrooms. You will need:

  • about 2lbs of meat washed, cut, and ready for the barbecue

Marinade:

  • garlic
  • onions
  • 1/4 cup Marsala wine
  • salt
  • pepper

Marinade 4 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, make your sauce:

Use about 1/2 lb of nearly ripe plums. I used the little wild greengage plums that grow here in Berkeley.  You can use any plums, adjust the amount if you use big plums (e.g. Santa Rosa‘s) or little ones like the greengages or Italian “prune” plums.

  • One overripe small pineapple, cut up
  • 6-10 ripe apricots
  • 2 roasted & peeled pasilla peppers
  • 6 ripe figs
  • 1/2 cup Marsala
  • 1/2 water
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • dash of salt
  • 1/4 tsp. mace
  • 1/4 tsp brown mustard seeds

Put everything in a non-reactive pot, cover and simmer until soft. Lower heat and reduce partially covered until sauce is think, but not completely “butter”.  Some of the fruit will still be a little bit “chunky”.  Set aside and cool over night.  When the sauce is entirely cool, use an immersion blender to make a smooth and slightly creamy sauce, spoon a ladle full over your meat and set aside until time to put it on the coals.  Put the rest in a container and use as a baste.   Cook slowly over a low fire until tender and juicy.

A modest offerings for your celebrations.  Bon appetite!

Lughnasadh Bread

A version of this recipe was published in Creating Circles and Ceremonies By Oberon & Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart (New Page, 2006)

Lammas or Lughnasadh (Lugh’s Wake) is an old holiday from Celtic countries celebrating the harvest, the making of bread, ales, and whiskey.  The first harvest of the grain was seen as “John Barleycorn” in some places, as the wake for Lugh the Sun in others.  In Scotland, a cattle fair is also traditionally held at Lammastide.  Today, this fair is often held in conjunction with music and arts festivals.

In early summer I grow a little barley and wheat in the back yard or in a pot.
It’s easy to grow, and tasty.  It looks pretty with cornflowers and tall sunflowers in a “mailbox garden” or in an herb garden.  If you don’t have room to grow it, you can usually find whole barleycorn in the bulk section of any natural foods market.

*Step one: Bless and harvest your grains.  Take a handful of the stalks, you don’t need more for this recipe, and set aside the remainder for other projects or to put in vase for the table and altar.  Take the stalks by the handful and smack them none-too-gently against a winnowing basket placed on the ground, this will dislodge the grains from the hulls.  Discard the stalks – or recycle them for craft projects.   Winnowing them is a group event, use a flat basket to toss the grains in the air, the wind really will blow the hulls and chaff away.  (You will still need to pick some of the hulls out.) Soak the grains overnight so they will be soft enough to work with.

*Step two: Start your yeast using the “sponge method” (yeast, tsp. sugar, dash of salt, 1/4 water, cover with one cup flour, set aside for fifteen minutes or until cracks form in the four).  Make a hole in the four in order to pour in the wet ingredients (below, step two).

*Step three: warm a cup of water, 1/2 cup honey, a table spoon and a little more of olive oil (you can use butter or a mix of the two) and salt to taste. Don’t heat until it boils, just to skin temp. Add to your sponge.  You can add an egg as well.   Add your softened grains to the liquid, mix with your electric mixer until smooth.

Knead in 4 to 6 cups of flours, in proportions rather than exact measurement: a bit less than 2/3rds unbleached “bread” flour, the rest is barley flour and whole wheat flour.  You will find the “mix” you like best for firmness and texture with a little practice.  Knead until you’ve sung all the verses of John Barleycorn that you can remember and make up three or four more.   The dough should be firm and elastic resembling a rustic Italian bread.
This will make a good, crunchy crust “country” style bread.  You can add things like chopped olives or rosemary for interest.  Let rise for at least two hours (a second rise doesn’t hurt, either) in a warm place, covered with a damp linen towel.  Reserving a small amount, shape dough into three long “baguette” shaped “snakes”.   Braid into a ring – or any shape you like —.  Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal.  You don’t need to oil the sheet.  Decorate with the reserved dough shaped into a sheaf of grains.  Brush all over with warm salted water to brown it and after proving, place your bread into a moderate oven.  This recipe works really well if you have access to a wood fire oven or as a camp bread using the “Dutch oven” method.  When a warm, golden brown color, your bread is done.  Eat it with butter and honey while hot.

Happy Lammas!

I’m heading to a BBQ later today with friends. There will be music made by friends with guitars, fireworks viewed over the Bay, good company and lots of BBQ’d things, both meat and vegetarian.

I was asked to make a side, so here it is. I post it here to reflect the great variety and richness of the culinary traditions of this country. Where else can you have humus & pita, Mongolian spicy tofu, paella, robust artisan breads, heritage tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, and the di rigor apple pie and fried chicken next to that guy’s bag of potato chips and clam dip — on the same holiday table?

Sweet No. Indian Saffron Rice with Peaches

This is a gloriously rich and lovely side to just about any holiday meal. I found in a book on North Indian cuisine, wherein the author states: ” … the whole spices create a wonderful bouquet of flavor, but be assures that no harm will come to you if you should bite into one.” It’s just as good substituting apricots or a nice ripe guava. (I haven’t tried other fruits – let me know.)

You will need:

one or two tablespoons of ghee
2 cups basmati rice
three or four peeled and sliced fresh peaches – reserved (add a little honey if they are sour)
Almonds & pistachios for the garnish (be generous)
1/4 cup + a little more sultana raisins
1 3/4ths cup stock – vegetarian or chicken
1 cup whole milk
1 onion, rough chopped fairly fine
1 clove garlic
1 piece of fresh ginger about the size of a quarter 1/4″ thick finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp each: ground cardamom, powered saffron, salt
(***Saffron – you can use 6 threads Persian saffron properly melted before adding instead of the powdered. Add a bit more if you are using Spanish saffron***)
Cayenne – just a tiny pinch

Melt ghee and add ginger.  Saute about 3 minutes, then add the peaches and fry until they are slightly brown on both sides.  Reserve in a bowl. in the same ghee, add the nuts and toast – reserve.   Add the onions, garlic, all the spices except the saffron.  Stir around until the onions are glassy, add the rice and toast a little bit.   Add the stock, the raisins, and the milk. Cook on med-high heat until most of the liquid is gone and there are holes in the rice – this is a bit tricky, but one you have the technique down, you will have perfect rice every time – then turn off the heat – DO NOT STIR – cover and let steam for about 15 minutes.  Fluff, place in a serving platter, put the peaches all around the edges, pour any juice that has collected in the bowl over the rice, scatter the nuts over the top, and serve.

Hello  culinary artists –

I’m calling my cookbook (still under construction I just can’t keep out of the kitchen trying out new stuff to include…), “Cooking Under a Blue Moon”.  It’s a book about eating well, healthy,  and enjoying what we eat.  It’s also by a lover of cooking for those who also love cooking.  Excerpts will be found here.  I will share, on this site, tips, techniques, historical tidbits, food folklore, anecdotes, and recipes from a lifetime “rattling those pots and pans…” as the old song goes.  Also found will be the occasional book  reviews with plenty of room for comments and sharing.  Since I also love music, there will be room for audio files and videos of songs about cooking.  Here’s one I just love:

Stay Tuned!  If you have a great song to share, send it right along and so long as it’s “family friendly”, I’ll post it .

Vegetarian Paella

In honor of my friend Robin, a life long vegetarian, who passed from this world on May Day, 2010.

This recipe is vegan and contains no meat or dairy of any kind.  The cooking technique is identical and the cooking time is about the same.  Be wary of adding more ingredients (such as tofu, beans, etc.) too many “things” in the pot will spoil the dish.

Follow the cooking instructions for the Duck & Orange paella below, omitting the poultry.  Add the marinated vegetables in the last 15 minutes of cooking and serve when they are tender and succulent.  Arrange on top of the rice in a “sun” pattern starting in the middle and alternating the mushrooms, squashes, and the eggplants. You will also need to increase the amount of cumin and saffron you use.

You will need:

  • four Portobello mushrooms, sliced or quartered.  Marinate in 1/4 cup sherry, salt, pepper, & thyme – to taste
  • Italian eggplants, cut off the ends, slice length wise, and place in a container & sweat with olive oil and salt of 1/2 hour to remove the bitterness
  • Summer squash: any variety, sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
  • 1 cup shelled fresh peas (add the very last minute to keep their flavor and texture intact)

Set vegetables aside.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil for cooking – again, the jury is out as to whether you should use a light olive oil or go full out on a strong flavored extra virgin. I tend to use the latter. You don’t need the best, but for the flavor, there is nothing better.
  • About 15 halved kalamata olives as garnish
  • 1-2 cups Bomba or Calasparra rice (see note below on rice).
  • 1/4 cup pink lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup sherry (Amontillado or Tesoro)
  • one onion (sweet yellow is best) sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic – chopped
  • cilantro to taste (for the garnish)
  • the base spice is
  • one bay leaf, tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seed (whole), toasted
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (ground),
  • about 10-15 threads of saffron (azafran). I use Persian for the stronger flavor, but whatever is handy will do.
  • Melt the threads in a shot glass of very dry, pale sherry.
  • Salt pepper to taste
  • one cup quartered ripe roma tomatoes or (any sweet summer variety)
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrots
  • six sliced yellow peppers you can fire roast them first or use them fresh

Proceed as below, adding the pink lentils into the rice as you cook it.

Summer is here…

.. and, it’s time for outdoor cookery. One of my favorites is paella.  I’ve experimented with this recipe a lot and it’s not quite right yet.  Let me know what you come up with.  You’ll need a wide, shallow, flat pan – there are paella pans (or paellera) available in cooking shops.  I use a pretty good one, but any iron or heavy steel one should would OK for your first tries. Don’t use a light gauge or aluminum pan, because it will melt & also flavor the rice rather unpleasantly.  It must be flat so that the rice can cook without steaming. For a party, use a 16-20 inch pan.  Terra cotta Cazsulas are also used for some paellas, but are reportedly not as easy to use.  I prefer using these for other types of Spanish and Mediterranean cooking rather than for paellas.
Serve it in the pan and let people help themselves (the Paella de Valencia (seafood paellas) – BTW – are spectacular)!  I always make some sort of paella at summer parties because it has to have that “taste of smoke” to mellow and marry all the flavors together.   And- The Secret : never stir the rice (even a little bit) and always use a Spanish pearl-type rice called Bomba or Calasparra (this is critical).  You can use arborio or “Calrose brand short grain”, but it never comes out quite right.  Use a lot of saffron, but don’t overwhelm the dish with it.  You’ll have to experiment with what kinds you have readily available.  If you like spice, adding in some fire roasted “papas” peppers at the very end is very tasty.  Like a  lot of national dishes, there is no “right” recipe for paella, but there are certain techniques that make it a paella and not just another “arroz con pollo“.

Paella With Duck & Oranges

Paella is the national dish of Spain, it’s an art form & a great way to feed a crowd.  This is not a particularly traditional paella, but a California inspiration for a party I hosted in June for new friends without seafood.  You will need:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil for cooking – the jury id out as to whether you should use a light olive oil or go full out on a strong flavored extra virgin. I tend to use the latter. You don’t need the best, but for the flavor, there is nothing better.
  • 4 juicy oranges, quartered.
  • 2-4 cups rich chicken/duck broth (use all the leftover giblets and little bits from butchering)
  • 1/4 cup sherry (Amontillado or Tesoro)
  • 1-2 cups short grain Spanish “pearl” rice.
  • one onion sweet yellow is best – sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic – chopped
  • cilantro to taste (for the garnish)
  • the base spice is
  • one bay leaf, tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin seed (whole),
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (ground),
  • about 6-10 threads of saffron (azafran) I use Persian for the stronger flavor, but whatever is handy will do.
  • Melt the threads in a shot glass of very dry, pale sherry. (Amontillado or Tesoro)
  • Salt pepper to taste
  • one cup quartered ripe roma tomatoes or (any sweet summer)
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrots
  • six sliced yellow peppers- you can fire roast them first or use them fresh
  • about 20 pitted olives
  • one duck – moscovy-  cut up
  • one chicken cut up “Asian-style” into uniform pieces
  • Brine the poultry overnight in a mixture of water, sherry, garlic, onions, the juice and remaining parts of 2 of the oranges, and 1/2 to one full cup of coarse salt. Wash off the excess salt and set into a baking dish just before cooking.

Cooking instructions: Brown the poultry on the grill over a fairly hot flame, set aside.  Put your paella pan over the flame and heat up a but, add a *very small* amount of salt and the olive oil. Add all of the spices (except saffron), sir around until the cumin looks toasted and then add the carrots, garlic, and onion (the sofrito).  Sauté until they are glassy in appearance, then add the rice.  Stir once to cover with oil and spice, then do not stir the rice again – not even the tiniest little bit. Add:
1. the poultry,
2. the peppers & tomatoes
3. the broth & 1/4 cup sherry
and finally, the bay leaf & then the shot glass of sherry with the saffron melted in it.
Cover your grill with a lid to keep the heat down for 1 half hour to cook. test for doneness & seasoning, garnish with the remaining orange quarters (lightly squeezed over the duck), cilantro, olives, & papas & enjoy! The rice can – and, should – be chewy but not over soft or starchy and it will form a thin crunchy crust at the bottom of the pan, this is often considered the best part.  Paella is cooked uncovered, so if you are just using a bonfire on the beach, it will work perfectly and be even more authentic.  Enjoy!

Meyer Lemon Cheesecakelemon

Preheat oven to 325.

Spray spring form pan with non-stick spray – butter flavor is best.  Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit into the bottom to make it easy to remove your cheesecake from the pan.  Cover the outside with 3 layers of aluminum foil.

Crust: In the food processor, grind one package  of  mini, “Tuscan-style”  biscotti (cantucci) to make about 2 1/2 cups of crumbs. Add one stick of unsalted melted butter.  Add a pinch of salt and pulse until it forms a ball. If your crust is too dry, add more butter, if  it’s  too wet, add more biscotti.  Mush the crust into the spring form pan, just cover the bottom, but make sure it’s evenly spread with no holes or really thick spots.  “Blind bake” for 15 minutes at 325.  Cool on a rack while you make the filling.  DO NOT remove the foil.

Use all at room temperature:

Juice of two Meyer lemons plus the zest of one (or, to taste). You can use any variety of lemon, but check for “puckeriness” as Meyers lemons, when ripe, are sweet.

1 tsp vanilla extract (use the real stuff, not the “flavoring”)

1 cup ricotta

1 cup cream cheese

1/2 cup muscarpone cheese

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 egg yolks – reserve whites for something else

1 cup superfine or Castor sugar

pinch salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until creamy and smooth.

Fill the spring form pan with the cooled crust in it.  Set into a large(ish) baking pan or roaster.  Put the whole affair onto the middle baking rack of your preheated oven, fill the roaster half way up the sides of the spring form pan with hot water.  Cook about an hour – or until a knife come out clean in the center.  (Baking times vary depending upon the size of your spring form pan.)

Cool over night in the refrigerator.  Then, open the pan, remove the bottom as you carefully slide your cake onto a serving plate (this is where the parchment comes in handy!)  Top with a good cooled lemon curd  (like the one in the recipe below – sans saffron) garnish with fresh fruit or berries and a sprig of mint.

Creamy Lemon-Saffron Pie

Particularly good with Meyers lemons.

* 6 large eggs – separated – use the whites for meringue later.

  • 3/4 cup sugar (I used Caster sugar)

* 6-12 threads of saffron (depending on how much you like it) melted in a little sherry

* 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

* 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

* 1cup + 1 cup heavy cream, chilled, then whipped

* One table-spoon muscarpone

* 1 prepared crumb crust

Curd: Combine the eggs yolks, sugar, ½ cup heavy cream, and lemon zest in a double-boiler and whisk the mixture until it is smooth.   Add lemon juice, saffron & sherry, whisk into the mixture.  Add butter a little bit at a time and cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it is thickened, 7 to 9 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to come to a boil. When it starts to thicken, dip a wooden spoon into he mixture to see if it forms a thick coating on the spoon, if it does, it’s done.  (This is a bit like making a brulée.)

Pour through cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve into a bowl; chill an hour with a shield of plastic wrap over it to keep a skin from forming.  The bits of zest & saffron can stay in the curd, but any seeds or pulp will be unpleasant in the finished pie.Whip the cream into fairly stiff peaks; then whip the muscarpone into the cream. Set in the refrigerator until ready to use.  (Add vanilla if you like it.) When it comes out of the fridge, fold in 1/2 of the whipped cream, spoon into the pie shell, then top with the rest of the whipped cream.

Strings Spring Potluck Jam Brownies

1 box truffle brownie mix (Trader Joes’)

1 tablespoon (a dollop) muscarpone cheese (makes it really moist!)’

1 jar (about a cup) of Tom’s satsuma orange marmalade (use store-bought)

tsp. vanilla

Follow directions on the brownie mix, than add all of the above ingredients one at a time mixing really well with  an electric mixer. Bake about 25-30 minutes at 35o.  Cool, frost, and cut.

Valentine’s Recipe:

Sweetheart Shortbread Cookies

2 cups and a smidgen more unbleached white flour

1 cup butter

pinch salt

1/2 cup Castor (or confectioner’s) sugar

1/2 tsp lemon zest and a tablespoon orange flower water

heart shaped cookie cutter (and other shapes as you choose)

Place flour into a food processor, pulse to sift, add sugar, lemon zest, and salt, pulse until well blended. Add butter and orange flower water pulse until it forms a ball. (This will happen all at once.)  Empty dough onto a flat surface and roll out into a 1 1/2″  to 2″ layer.  Cut into hearts, big and small.  Bake 10 minutes at 350 , or until slightly brown and firm to the touch.  Cool on a rack. You can dust with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. Arrange on a plate and serve.

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7 responses to “Lezlie’s Cookbook

  1. great cooking ,and da gravy was da best,can ya do sumthin with rabbits
    and a quarter leg of bovine roast…

    • Rabbits? I don’t cook rabbits any more. The industry is appalling. For recipes concerning wild hare, there are several books out for wild game, but I can’t recommend one over the other.
      Beef- I can tackle that – check back later…

  2. Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don’t mind. Natually I’ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Superb post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Bless you!

  4. Could I’ve your facebook or twitter ? Seeking forward to the actual response ! Orange County

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