Sunday, May 3, 2015

Jam Crostata

Sometimes you need an elegant, but sturdy dessert. Usually those two words wouldn't go together, and yet that's what I was looking for. Something a little more special than cookies, but not as fussy as a cake, and certainly not requiring decorating. A dessert that wouldn't fall apart if looked at cross-eyed. For a few years, I had been making a jam crostata that was delicious and everyone loved, but like most of my cooking today it needed streamlining- two rests in the fridge and rolling and measuring and cutting of the pastry is just NOT in my timetable these days. So, I had some rules going in working on this recipe. It had to come together in the amount of time it took to preheat the oven. It required no rest in the fridge, no rolling out or cutting out of the pastry, and above all- it had to look beautiful and not be fragile. Yes, it requires a piece of equipment you may not have, but a false bottom tart pan is a wonderful addition to your kitchen and won't put you out more than about 10 bucks.

This tart is easy to put together (you can even feed a toddler dinner while you bring it together...seriously, I've done it!). Sturdy enough to eat out of hand, but also with a fork on a lovely plate. Sturdy enough to transport. And yet, with minimal effort, elegant and special, fancy but not fussy. And since it uses jam, you can make this anytime of year.

You do have some decisions to make around flavors. Raspberry pistachio is what I have pictured here, because I have lots of raspberry jam, and we can't get enough of pistachios. My favorite combination though is apricot pistachio. But try strawberry hazelnut, or blueberry walnut, or peach almond. To thin out the jam a little, use what fits for your flavor profile- a complementary liqueur, lemon or lime or orange juice, or even water if you don't have something that will fit. In the pastry, known in Italian as a Pasta Frolla, add extract and/or citrus zest to also fit your flavor profile. Although at the bare minimum and regardless of other flavors, be sure to add the vanilla extract. And if only adding vanilla, then double the amount. Although special extracts or liqueur will amp up the flavors in this- if you start with good butter and good jam, you'll be all set.


  • 1 cup + 2 TBS flour (5.75 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (1.75 ounces sugar)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 TBS unsalted butter, cold, cut into 6 chunks
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond or other extract (optional)
  • 1 tsp citrus zest (optional)
  • 1 cup jam
  • 1 TBS liqueur, citrus juice or water (i.e. Amaretto, Frangelico, lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup nuts, roughly 

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • In food processor, buzz flour, sugar, baking powder and salt to together with a couple pulses.
  • Add butter pieces, and buzz, using 9 or 10 pulses, until crumbly
  • In a small liquid measuring cup, beat together egg, extract(s) and zests.
  • With motor running, pour liquid into food processor, until incorporated, but do not let it become a ball. Do not over-process.
  • Remove pastry from food processor and dump into tart pan. Remove 1/3 cup of pastry and set aside.
  • Press pastry into tart pan evenly.
  • Combine jam with 1 TBS liquid of choice
  • Spread jam onto pastry in tart pan
  • Sprinkle top with reserved pastry, crumbled, and the roughly chopped nuts. (see below for photo before baking)
  • Bake crostata for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Let cool completely, then remove outer ring from pan, and cut into wedges.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Grilled Lamb Chops with Broken Olive Tapenade

Every year my mother and I split a whole lamb from Brookfield Farm in Walpole, NH. We divvy up the various packages of chops and ground lamb. She keep both legs for Easter, and I get both racks, because one rack is perfect dinner for two. Honestly, I really do get the better end of this bargain, because I am of course at Easter enjoying the roast legs! Although since I do my own frenching of the racks, there is just a little bit of extra labor in involved there. But the chops may be the best part. I enjoy the simplicity of cooking some up for simple, but crazy tasty dinners. For blade or shoulder and round bone chops- I usually braise those. But loin chops were made for fast grilling, and the wonderful flavor of lamb turns a quick grilling night into a special meal quite quickly.

So here's a great recipe to kick off spring grilling in a fancy way. You can make the tapenade in advance. You can also set the chops to marinating early in the day, well before grilling. And honestly, even though at least a couple hours in the marinade is nice- it's not going to ruin the dish if you're only putting the chops in the marinade while your charcoal gets going and you're chopping olives. This is a pretty forgiving dish, except for the actual grilling, when you need to pay attention and be swift.

For the tapenade, be sure to choose a sturdy, but not too woody green olive. I used castelvetranos, but picholines or manzanillas would also be great choices. It's called a "broken" olive tapenade, because the olives are chopped, but not pulverized into a paste like more common tapenades. You may think jarred olives aren't as flavorful as the ones you can get at your local store's olive bar. I buy olives in plastic tubs from the refrigerator section, from olive bars and in jars. Depending on the brand and store you're at, it can be a toss up as to what's best. I keep jarred Pastene brand olives in my pantry and fridge, because it's nice to have them around for quick dinners or emergency snacks for unexpected guests. If you have some leftover tapenade- it's great in a grilled cheese!

Serves 4 


For the lamb and marinade 
  • 8-12 loin chops total (about 3 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • lots of freshly ground black pepper
For the Broken Olive Tapenade
  • 1/2 cup chopped green olives
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • pinch red pepper flake
  • 2-3 TBS parsley, minced
  • 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp fresh thyme, finely minced

  • Combine lamb chops and marinade ingredients in a baking dish. Let sit at room temperature for up to an hour before grilling, or refrigerate overnight, taking out of the fridge an hour before grilling.
  • Combine all tapenade ingredients. Set aside.
  • Prepare your grill for direct cooking, building a medium hot fire, or setting your gas grill to medium-high.
  • Oil grill gates, then grill chops for 3-5 minutes a side, until reaching an internal temperature of about 120 degrees. This will give you medium-rare chops, which is the ideal temperature for lamb loin chops. You can cook them longer if you prefer, but they will be a little tough.
  • Serve chops with tapenade and enjoy!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Smoked Salmon (Lox)

Last Christmas was to be our first one as a family of three waking up in our home on Christmas morning. We spent a great deal of time planning the day's menu, which starred a rabbit guazzetto upon polenta studded with taleggio for Christmas dinner. But the Christmas breakfast was to consist of homemade seeded rye bagels with smoked salmon that we would cure and smoke ourselves.

You see, last spring, Matt built a cold-smoker. I laughed at him when he explained the contraption he was rigging up using a Weber Smokey Joe and a bargain-basement domed smoker and a dryer vent tube. In fact, I laughed a lot. That was wrong of me. Very wrong. For the grand total of about $20 in parts, we had a cold smoker. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, Matt smoked cheeses, nuts, and lots of grains for brewing beer. As the weather became colder, we turned our eyes to cold smoking some salmon for our Christmas breakfast spread.

First some terminology clarification was in order when I started my research. Lox (often called Nova Lox), Gravlax, Smoked Salmon- what's the difference? Lox and Gravlax are both cured salmon. The Swedes do Gravlax with a particular spicing including juniper berries and dill and is unsmoked. Lox is cured, then cold-smoked. You can hot-smoke salmon of course, but you will get an entirely different product that way- it's cooked salmon with the wonderful smoky flavor of your hardwood of choice- but is not particularly well suited for application upon a bagel.

After researching the bejesus out of various lox recipes, some that called for ridiculous processes and precious little salt (curing is preserving here folks, you need more than a 1/4 cup of salt for a pound of salmon!)...I called my best friend and chef genius Kiran. His advice, combined with my real-life-not-a-commercial-kitchen-with-a-prep-cook-situation (I do have a drunk monkey toddler wandering through my kitchen on the regular) along with what I had already learned from my weeks of recipe scouring created the process and recipe I offer here.

Is it traditional? No, not really.

Does it take 3 days? Yes, but you're not really actively doing much to it. (Don't be deterred by the many steps listed below, I've been thorough in describing the steps, but nothing is terribly complicated)

Is it ridiculously scrumptious, silky, properly seasoned, and worthy of a holiday breakfast or brunch? You bet your bippy it is.

It should go without saying that the better quality salmon you start with, the better quality lox you will end up with. It should perhaps also go without saying, that you also want quality fish for safety reasons. Also, for food safety, you should only cold smoke fish if you can maintain an ambient temperature of below freezing. Which although it is April in New England- we're still able to achieve that by smoking at night. This will probably (hopefully?!) be the last cold smoke of fish until next fall for us.

***No cold smoker, weather already too warm even at night to cold smoke fish, or don't want to wait until next winter? Follow recipe up through rinsing and drying step and then let sit in fridge for about a day before slicing and eating. Will still be very tasty!***

  • 2 TBS fennel seed
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1.5 TBS cumin seed
  • 1/2 TBS black peppercorns
  • 2 pounds kosher salt
  • 1 pound granulated white sugar
  • 2 pound filet of salmon (you will want to buy a filet that weighs a 1/4-1/2 pound over 2 pounds, because you will trim off the side to make a more uniform piece- see photo below- I use the trimmed piece to make salmon cakes)
  • Place fennel seed, star anise, cumin seed and peppercorns in a coffee grinder and buzz a few times into seeds are cracked and broken up, but do not grind too much. You want bits and pieces, not powder. You can also do this st with a mortar and pestle, it's just much faster with a grinder.
  • In a large bowl combine the broken/cracked spices, salt and sugar and mix well.
  • Lay out your salmon filet on the board and trim away the side piece that fans out, so you have a filet of more uniform thickness all around, a solid rectangle.
  • Prepare a half sheet pan in the following way:
    • Lay out one long piece of plastic wrap lengthwise, and two pieces of plastic wrap going the other way, making a sling.
    • Lay a rectangle of parchment paper atop plastic wrap sling.
  • Pour a bed of the salt mixture (more than a third, less than half) on parchment paper.
  • Place salmon filet, skin side down on salt mixture.
  • Pour remaining salt mixture atop salmon, covering evenly.
  • Tightly pull plastic wrap sling around the salt covered filet, first one way then the other
  • Wrap two more pieces of plastic wrap, one each way, again pulling tightly. Place salmon back onto sheet pan, skin side/parchment side down.
  • Place a second sheet pan atop the tightly wrapped salmon, placing weight atop the second sheet pan, and place whole contraption in fridge. (I used a few cans of tomatoes and a stoneware baker as weights, but anything heavy that distributes weight evenly over whole filet will do.)
  • 24 hours later, flip salmon over, replace weights
  • 24 hours later again (total 48 hours of curing), open package up over sheet pan for easy clean up and remove salmon from cure. The salmon will have shrunken some, and be very firm to the touch.
  • Under cold water, gently rinse salt mixture away from salmon's flesh and skin (there will likely be a few pieces of the cracked spices that are very much adhered to the salmon's flesh, that's ok).
  • Thoroughly dry salmon with paper towels. If ready to smoke, proceed with smoking instructions below. If you are not smoking the salmon at all or not smoking for a few hours, place salmon on a rack set into a pan, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge for a few hours until fully dry, flesh will be a touch tacky. Then seal in a ziplock bag. Proceed with smoking instructions below or consume within a few days, or cut filet up into smaller pieces and freeze, well wrapped.
  • Prepare your cold smoker using a fruitwood, like apple or cherry. 
  • Cold smoke salmon for 90 minutes. (photo of salmon on smoker without lid for illustrative purposes only- you need the lid on through the smoking process!)
  • Place salmon in a ziplock bag or two (the smoke aroma will be intense at first, and you don't want your whole fridge to smell smoky). 
  • Allow salmon to rest for a day to let smoke mellow.
  • Slice and eat within a week, or freeze in small portions. Thaw in fridge overnight. I like to freeze in 4 ounce portions, unsliced, to maintain texture. 4 ounces is generally enough to cover two bagels.
***Slicing tips: Use a carving knife, with a very sharp edge. With knife at an angle almost parallel to salmon, slice slowly with a back and forth motion to remove paper-thin slices.