Melt-In-Your-Mouth Easy Chocolate Terrine

terrineI hope that your Thanksgiving was a meaningful holiday experience! This year, rather than braving the airport rush to get home to our families, we chose to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with some of our Dallas closest friends. As it was a chocolate-loving crowd with gluten-free eaters, and considering I have already baked my quota of holiday pies for the decade, I chose to make something extremely different: a no-bake, decadent chocolate terrine.
This recipe had just 3 ingredients, dirtied a minimal number of bowls, and gave the appearance that I had spent all day in the kitchen crafting it. Plus, it’s gluten free and dairy free. Don’t tell, but it took me about 30 minutes from start to finish, including pasteurizing the eggs. Continue reading


Honey Ricotta Wrap with Fresh Fruit

I love this time of year. Well, the sudden availability of fresh and local summer fruits and veggies, not the oppressive TX heat. Just to be clear.

A few springs ago my husband and I visited his Aunt Sylvia, who made us some fabulous breakfast “burros”: comforting and warm overstuffed wraps filled with fresh sautéed veggies and maybe some eggs and cheese. Since then I have been hooked on tortilla-filled creations, usually with savory fillings. However, this morning I managed to wrangle a sizable amount of blackberries from the critters that like to share my garden’s efforts and decided to shape a filling combination around these juicy tart fruits.

Blackberry BowlThe Honey Ricotta Wraps were extremely quick and easy to assemble. After warming a whole wheat tortilla, I spread on some local whipped honey from the farmer’s market, followed by several sizable dollops of homemade ricotta cheese (for a creamier and even richer texture, whip it with a beater first). Then I added some sliced blackberries and peaches and topped it all with barely a pinch of sea salt to contrast some of the overall sweetness. You could use any type of fresh fruit in this wrap. I bet mangoes, strawberries, and bananas would be delicious. The finished wrap was warm and comforting, and very light but substantial enough for a meal.

I hope you enjoy!

Easy & Delicious Artichokes

To stay patient while tearing off each leaf one at a time, layer by layer, with just a little bit of flesh stolen from the heart to dip in butter and scrape off with my front teeth to remind me that this process will pay off in the end. To finally remove those flimsy, pale inner petals that only serve to prick my fingers and slow me down as I get closer to the reason for disassembling this odd edible in the first place. The anticipation building as I finally – eventually – get to the core of the thing. Then, buttery flavors dance across my tongue while pleasantly coating my mouth (or perhaps that’s the melted butter…) as I take my first bite into the firm yet tender heart of the artichoke. An artichoke experience.

Happily, it’s artichoke season.

ArtichokeArtichokes as we know them are actually the flower buds of a type of thistle. According to Wikipedia, artichokes probably hail from North Africa. They are low in calories and fat and provide decent amounts of fiber and protein for possessing relatively little edible portions overall.

I’ve eaten artichoke hearts grilled. Marinated. Breaded and fried in the Italian Jewish style. And boiled in the classical this-is-how-my-mama-made-them style. So, not surprisingly, boiled is the way I most often prepare them, because it’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require any special equipment outside of a sharp knife and a pot.

Artichokes can be prepared for cooking in several ways. They can be boiled or steamed whole, or cut in half. Some of the outer leaves and inner fuzz can be removed prior to cooking or left to deal with afterward. The stem can be removed, peeled, or left whole. The choice is yours. Here’s how I make mine:

Boiled Artichoke Halves with Lemon Butter Dipping Sauce
1 lemon, whole and cut in half, preferably organic
4-5 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 – 1 full-size Globe artichokes per person
Salted butter
Lemons for juicing

1. In a pot big enough to accommodate the artichokes you will cook, fill most of the way with cold water. Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves into the water, then add the lemons, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Set aside.

2. Chop the top 1/4 to 1/3 of the artichoke leaves off and discard.

3. Remove a layer of the outermost leaves along the base of the stem. Then, trim the stem of the artichoke if you are planning on eating it: Using a paring knife, cut off the end of the stem. Then cut the outer skin from the stem towards the heart. After rotating through to reach all of the skin, cut a shallow circle around the base of the heart to disconnect the skin from the stem. If you do not plan on eating the stem, just cut it off at the base of the heart. The skin of the stem is extremely fibrous and tough, and if left unpeeled will not make for pleasant eating.

peelingremoving skintrimmed stem4. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Using a table-teaspoon or a grapefruit spoon, scoop out the fuzzy area in between the soft pale inner leaves and the flat heart. Discard these bits. (You could also just cook it whole and deal with the fuzzy area when you expose the heart after eating the leaves, but I found it annoying to have to stop eating and carve out the center in the middle of dinner.)

halvedRemoving insidecored5. Add artichokes to the prepared pan of lemon-water. You can choose to cover the pot or leave it uncovered (I’m usually too impatient to keep the cover off, although boiling with the lid on can trap unpleasant flavors released by green vegetables when heat is applied). Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. The artichokes are done when you can easily slip a sharp knife through the heart and they dull in color; this takes about 15-25 minutes in my experience, depending on the size of the artichokes.

cookingcooking 26. Eat plain or serve with a dipping sauce. I usually serve with a mix of equal parts melted butter and fresh lemon juice.

finisNote: The exposed heart will brown extremely quickly when exposed to air. To avoid this, add them to the reserved prepared pot of lemon water as soon as you finish trimming each piece. The acid from the lemon will keep them from browning. If you are preparing these ahead and will cook them very soon, put them in a bowl of lemon water and refrigerate before use; just don’t keep them soaking too long or the artichokes may take on extra water and their texture will be off when cooked. If you are going to make them a day ahead, hit them with a spritz of lemon juice to thoroughly coat, then cover and refrigerate (and cross your fingers…).


A Twist on a Classic Potato Leek Soup

leek soupThe leeks popping up in grocery cases recently suggest the shift from winter to spring. Premature if you ask me. They also sparked memories of my family huddling around the kitchen table with steaming bowls of potato leek soup. However, I just wasn’t in the mood for a comfort recipe. Besides, as seems to be the side theme in my life right now, I was on a quest to use up more leftovers. And this time the leftovers consisted of a glut of fennel (yes, I suppose there are worse things in life). My mom’s recipe always called for ground anise seed, which has a flavor profile similar to fennel, so I figured, why not?

Fennel Leak Soup with Scallions and Ricotta
(Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Leek & Scallion Soup with Potato Gnocchi)
Serves 4-6

For the soup:

1 tablespoon olive oil
4-5 cups leeks, halved and chopped (white & green parts; about 3 large leeks)
1 celery stalk, small dice
1 medium russet potato, small dice
1/2 cup fennel stalks, sliced (from 1 fennel – these are the stalks from above the bulb, but not the fronds)
4 cups water
sea salt
fresh ground pepper

fennel stalks

Fennel stalks

For the garnish:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup scallions, finely chopped (white and green parts; about 1 bunch)
1/2 cup fennel fronds, chopped
6 tablespoons ricotta cheese (whole or reduced-fat, your choice)

1. Sauté leeks, potato, celery, and fennel stalks in olive oil in a medium saucepan until the leeks are soft.

saute veg2. Add water and bring the soup to a boil. Lower heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, until vegetables are cooked through and tender (especially potatoes).
3. Purée about 1 cup soup (or run a submersible blender through about 1/4 the soup). Check the consistency – if it is not smooth and creamy enough for your liking, purée more.

Pureed soup4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. In a small sauté pan, sauté scallions and fennel fronds lightly in butter. The green of the scallions will intensify and they will wilt but don’t let them go too long or they will brown and turn bitter.

sauteeing6. Pour soup into bowls. Top each with a tablespoon of ricotta and 1/6 of the scallion mixture. Enjoy!
platedRecipe notes:
*I leave the skin on the potato, as this is where the nutrients are. I also enjoy chunky soups. If you prefer a smoother texture, peel the potato before dicing it and purée more of it.
*Season the soup after you have puréed it to be sure you do not add too much salt. Remember that the ricotta cheese will also add some saltiness to the soup.