Wednesday, April 28, 2010

recipe: now is the time to eat your lawn

Every spring, for the past several years, I've been telling myself: "Mark, eat the dandelions in your yard. They're so good for you and I bet they taste great. The co-op is selling them for $3.00 a bunch!" It's a fleeting thought that evaporates with the summer heat, when the dandelions morph from almost-pretty spring flora into desolate, dried-up, seed dispersing weeds. With a new baby and toddler in the house, my approach to lawn care has dropped to historically low levels, if it can be considered "care" at all. The upside is that my small city lot is, quite honestly, a dandelion farm. During times of famine, Italian schoolchildren were sent to the fields to gather wild greens, so why not harvest some from your (chemical free) yard?

This reality most certainly keeps my neighbors up at night, but they're missing out. In fact, they're likely chatting, nervously, about my lawn over a bag of pre-washed lettuce from sunny California. At this time of year, at least in MN, the dandelions are lush and tender, the flower heads just beginning to emerge. Dandelion greens are a great substitute for spinach or arugula, so you can prepare them as you would any other dark leafy green, such as chard, kale, collard green, etc. They even taste great in a salad with vinaigrette.

recipe: sautéed dandelion greens
In recent months I've resorted to increasingly minimalistic techniques to put fresh food on the table quickly, while keeping two little ones out of trouble. Consequently, this recipe doesn't break any new ground, but it will give you an idea of how easy it is to prepare utilitarian sautéed greens, which make an excellent first course, side dish, or leftover ingredient for other dishes like omelets and quiches. It's also an excuse to put down the laptop and weed your yard or garden.

Note: Like spinach, dandelion greens will wilt to a mere fraction of their initial volume, so you can cook a lot of them at once. Just make sure you have enough of the other ingredients to season them well.


  • One large bunch of trimmed, washed, and roughly chopped dandelion greens (two big fistfuls)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a skillet. When smoking, add the garlic and optional red pepper flakes. Cook until garlic is very fragrant (but not brown), about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the greens and stir them quickly as they wilt. Cook until greens are still bright in color, but quite tender (3-5 minutes).
  3. Add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar (to taste), season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.
*Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the mother of all potato recipes: tartiflette

We all know I'm a total French food dork, especially of the rustic variety. Over the years I've found that in Minnesota it's quite easy to replicate a lot of the classics with ingredients produced close to home. This is particularly true with the hearty dishes of northern/eastern France, such as Alsace-Lorraine and Savoie (as opposed to Mediterranean climes, of which MN is not).

Tartiflette, a simple, mountain-style casserole of potatoes, bacon, and cheese, hails from eastern France, mainly the Haute-Savoie. The ingredient list appears rather plain, but the results are life affirming. Dare I say gestalt?

I first ate tartiflette while living in a broom closet of an apartment in Paris. One of my neighbors, a young, wily savoyard named Sébastien, was attempting to work in Paris as a baker but he also liked to socialize. His favorite apéritif was vodka with tabasco. Our apartment building was a government subsidized community for students and young workers, and it offered very basic accommodations - most of the apartments resembled single occupant dorm rooms, with shared kitchens and bathrooms. Lucky for me, a shared kitchen meant a lot of time chatting with Sébastien about cooking, eating, and drinking while cooking, eating, and drinking. He first mentioned this dish during an animated conversation about the food of Savoie. Several days later he surprised a few friends by cooking a heroic, multi-course meal of hometown favorites, which included Chartreuse (herbaceous, jet fuel-like booze with a great story), a wild mushroom omelette, tartiflette, ham, and some sort of syrupy cake. It was an education in cold mountain culture.
I neglected to ask Sébastien to write down his recipe, but it just so happens that Anthony Bourdain has a burly, authentic rendition of tartiflette in his Les Halles cookbook. I know, I just posted a recipe based on that book, but each winter I can't keep my oven mitts off his book. It's indispensable during the dark depths of winter, when you need some epic, kill-the-pig-yourself French comfort food. In fact, his description for this recipe consists of only one sentence: "Here's more evidence that you can never have too much cheese, bacon, or starch."


  • 2.5 lbs potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb slab bacon (or strips), diced
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine (an Alsatian Riesling would work well here)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lb wheel of Reblochon cheese*
*Note: Savoyard hackers may infiltrate and tear down my blog after reading this note, but if you can't find Reblochon, or would prefer to buy a local cheese, you could use any soft rind, Brie-style cheese. And I know, the recipe calls for a full wheel, but cheese is the cornerstone of the dish. The other ingredients are quite inexpensive, so it's definitely worth splurging on a big nasty slab of goodness.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a paring knife. Remove from the heat, drain, and let sit until they are cool enough to handle. Dice the potatoes and set aside.
  2. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat and add the onion. Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, until golden brown, then add the bacon and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove the mixture from heat and place in an ovenproof dish. Place the entire wheel of cheese on top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bubbling. Serve hot with buckets of white wine or beer.
*Serves 4-6 as a first course or side.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

finally, a dessert recipe: clafoutis

In the minimalistic spirit of many other recipes on this blog, I bring you clafoutis - easily one of my favorite desserts of all time (and the first dessert recipe on HOUSEKEPT). There are only about five ingredients, all of which you should have on hand, so make it this weekend. I had the distinct pleasure of eating copious amounts of this pudding-like dish while studying in Pau, France. My host mother was from Limousin, a rustic region of France known for cherries, porcelain, and beef. At the time I was completely unaware of this wondrous dessert; that is, until my host mother prepared two of these in late spring when cherries are in season. Essentially a baked custard-like cake, clafoutis tastes a lot like a very thick crepe mixed with fresh cherries.

Clafoutis embodies what a rustic, homemade dessert should be - the effortless combination of a few pantry staples (sugar, eggs, and flour) and ripe, seasonal fruit. Because you mix the fruit into the batter, almost any fruit will work well. Countless cookbooks contain variations on the classic cherry version, but the most common other fruits would be berries, stone fruit (peaches, nectarines), or pears. The traditional recipe calls for kirsch, a cherry-based spirit, but you could also use cognac, armagnac, bourbon, or some other digestif-type booze. Now for the recipe...

After making clafoutis from quite a few different recipes, I think Anthony Bourdain came the closest to what I ate in France (though I really should ask my host mother) in Les Halles, his manifesto of a cookbook. As a stickler, he uses weight instead of volume for the dry ingredients, but you should be able to convert these quite easily. I made it with pears recently, but the same recipe works well for a number of different fruits.

  • 1.5 lbs cherries or other fruit
  • 3 ounces booze (kirsch, cognac, etc.)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 oz flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp confectioners' sugar
  1. Place the cherries in a bowl and toss with the kirsch. Let macerate for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Grease a 9-10 inch baking dish with the butter and coat with a pinch or two of the sugar. Place the dish in the refrigerator.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk, then add the sugar and beat well to fully incorporate.
  4. Mix in the flour and the vanilla, stirring enough so that all the ingredients are homogenous but without overworking the flour.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cherries and their accumulated juice into the flour and egg mixture, then pull your dish out of the fridge and turn the mixture into it. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until a golden brown crust has formed on top. Also, a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean - no wet.
  6. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, January 22, 2010

recipe: winter herbless pesto

As you may have noticed, I haven't written nearly as much over the past few months, and the recipes I've published are quite spartan. This is because we had our second child, a boy, in October, and it's hard enough to cook something healthy, much less write about it. However, I am learning a lot about (and practicing) fast, wholesome, winter meals, such as the broiled eggs I wrote about earlier this month. Some people fall to convenience foods during such times, but I choose to strip down my cooking even more.

Yesterday I think I perfected what may be the perfect two-young-children-cold-winter-weeknight-that-you-could-still-serve-company meal: pasta with an herbless pesto sauce. One of the many challenges of cooking with small children is a sudden decrease in trips to the co-op. Combine that with a lack of fresh local produce, and one begins to find new romance in the pantry. After you make this one time you'll be able to make it blindfolded, without a recipe or planning.


  • 1 pound dried pasta (whole wheat spaghetti or penne taste great with this)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/4 lb parmesan or other hard cheese, plus more for grating
  • 1 heaping cup of walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • pinch of sea salt
  1. In the small bowl of a food processor, fitted w/ a blade attachment, combine garlic, cheese, walnuts, oregano, pepper, and salt. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
  2. Turn the food processor on and add olive oil until mixture resemles an oily paste (much like basil pesto).
  3. Cook pasta, drain, and toss briefly with the pesto sauce. Top individual plates with grated cheese.
*Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a first course.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

broil your eggs for a change

The word "broiled" isn't the finest or most elegant, but the eggs that result from this recipe surely are, with very little effort. This is a great recipe for house guests, or a leisurely brunch with your mate sans children (although, kids like these eggs, too). I found this recipe in Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook, which I received as a gift from a good friend who also loves to eat. It's a very concise book that serves as a thoughtful introduction to French cooking, with an emphasis on simple, beautiful food, such as this dish.

As with most egg recipes, the key to this one is timing. The cooking times listed below work well for my oven and baking dish, but it will take you a few tries to perfect this recipe. The good news is that these eggs still taste good slightly overcooked, so don't worry if you miss the mark. It's also critical to use the best eggs you can find, since there isn't much else in the dish - 99 cent CostCo eggs will taste like 99 cents.


  • 8 very fresh, large eggs (organic, free range if at all possible)
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced with a knife (don't use a press, as it will taste too strong)
  • 1/2 cup finely (and freshly) grated super-hard cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, minced (thyme, rosemary, basil, or parsley work well)
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 8 slices of crusty bread (toasted or warmed)
  • 4 small gratin dishes (just large enough to hold 2 eggs) or a ceramic/glass baking dish (large enough so that 8 eggs are about 1.5 inches deep).
*I use a baking dish because I don't have gratin dishes, so the process and timing described below may not work as well for several smaller dishes.

  1. Preheat your oven using the broil setting (Note: my oven has a drawer-style broiler, below the main oven space. When I set it to broil the drawer and oven heat up, which is useful in this recipe.)
  2. Using a fork, mix the garlic, herbs, and cheese in a small bowl until well combined.
  3. Liberally grease the gratin dishes or baking dish with some of the butter. Pour in the cream so that it covers most of the bottom of the dish. Cut the remaining butter into small pieces and scatter these around the baking dish. Place the dish in the oven and heat until the cream begins to bubble and brown slightly around the edges, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on stove top.
  4. Carefully crack the eggs into the dish so that the yolks remain whole. Try to keep them evenly dispersed. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and the cheese/herb/garlic mixture.
  5. Place the dish in the oven and bake for about 5 minutes, or until the whites begin to set up but the yolks and tops of the eggs are still liquid.
  6. Move the dish into to the broiler drawer and cook 2-4 additional minutes, or until the top has browned slightly, the eggs are somewhat firm (it's good if the whites are a bit runny), and the yolks are still soft (some yolks may be softer than others - that's ok). This is the part of the recipe that takes the most practice, as it's really a visual judgment. Keep in mind that the eggs will continue to cook in the hot dish after you remove them from the broiler, so use a knife to see how thorough they're cooked and check them again after resting on the counter top for a few minutes.
  7. To serve, use a knife to cut eggs into sections and use a spatula to gently place them on plates with the bread on the side.
*Serves 4 people

Monday, January 4, 2010

holy f. i just read the ingredient list for Cool Whip.

Well, the planets aligned and somehow I ended up with a donated tub of Kraft (owned by Phillip Morris) Cool Whip in my fridge during the holidays. I ate this amorphous whipped topping more than I care to admit during my childhood, but I never really cared to look at the ingredient list. OMFG. Not only is it long and loaded with polysyllabic chemical compounds, but the ingredients fail to include the one substance that most quickly comes to mind. Can you guess which one?


Cream! It seems you can have whipped cream without eating cream. Of course, they did manage to squeeze in some sodium caseinate, which is a milk-based derivative, but it seems Cool Whip exists without any naturally occurring ingredients (except water).

Mmmm... Sorbitan monostearate.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

easy charcuterie: dry-cured duck breast

Do you like cured hams? I like cured hams. Prosciutto, Serrano, Bayonne. Salty, sweet, funky hams. Unfortunately for the home charcutier, a good aged ham requires about a 20 pound hog leg and at least six months of time - not to mention a climate controlled drying chamber. However, one can apply the same concept to a simple boneless duck breast, either wild or farm raised. Duck meat, especially the breast, has an exquisite earthy sweetness that shines after a good curing.

Several years ago I stumbled across a very simple cured duck breast recipe in Mario Batali's Babbo cookbook. Just pat it dry, roll it in salt and spices, and hang for about 10 days. I've been waiting for a surplus of duck to use for this recipe, but I only hunt waterfowl a few days per season, so I've never had more than one or two birds to eat. This year the waterfowl hunting gods blessed me with a very fast morning, so it seemed like a good time to cure some duck. The results were quite tasty.

I'm guessing wild goose would work equally well, perhaps even better given its larger size and thickness. In fact, Hank Shaw has a tantalizing recipe for this on his fantastic wild cookery blog.

Recipe: Dry-Cured Wild Duck Breast


  • 2 split wild duck breast (4 pieces)
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes (use less if you can't handle heat)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
  1. In a small bowl, combie the salt, pepper, sugar, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Coat the duck breast with this mixture, wrap it loosely in wax paper and refrigerate for 2-3 days.
  2. Unwrap, wipe off most of the seasoning. Punch a small hole on one end of the breast and tie a length of twine long enough to hang from your cool basement ceiling or refrigerator shelf.
  3. Hang the breast in a cool, dark, semi-humid place (an unfinished basement in winter works well) for 1-2 weeks, or until the breast shrinks to nearly half its original size and feels quite firm to the touch. When sliced, the breast should be wine colored and have a nice, hammy chew.
Serve the duck sliced very thin with cocktails on a salumi plate or as part of a creative first course - Mario Batali likes it with white beans.