10 Ways Tuesday: Leeks

Leeks (c)2011 LaDomestique.com




I’ve got creative ideas for cooking with leeks during winter:

1.  Leek Bread Pudding

Watching Thomas Keller cook Leek Bread Pudding on tv is the reason I bought his book, Ad Hoc at Home. Buttery leeks, chives, thyme, shredded Comté cheese and brioche bread baked in a hot oven until the custard is bubbling and golden brown is a temptation I cannot resist.  Don’t worry if your find the recipe too restrictive, I simply took the inspiration and ran with it. Cream, eggs, and butter meet bread, leeks, and cheese, you’ll be very happy together.

2.  Leek Fritters

Leeks love to be fried in hot oil. The delicate pale green flesh turns crispy and delicious, not unlike their cousins the onion. In Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi shares a family recipe for Leek Fritters inspired by an uncle’s Turkish roots. Leeks are sliced then sautéed in butter until softened. The fritter combines the leeks with chile, parsley, spices (coriander, cumin, tumeric, and cinnamon) and sugar. The mixture is tossed into a milky batter and the fritter batter is dolloped onto  a hot pan and cooked until golden and crisp. The author gives instructions for a yogurt sauce, but concedes that a squirt of lemon juice is the only garnish these fritters really need.

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Ingredient of the Week: Leeks

Banner-Leek (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

This post by Valeria over at the blog My Life Love Food inspired me to make leeks ingredient of the week at la Domestique. The power of the internet to connect us from places all over the world amazes me. Valeria is a born and raised Italian, but when I read her blog it’s a familiar feeling, like a visit with a friend here in Colorado. She cooks with the seasons, and last week she wrote about buying a bundle of leeks off a farmer on the side of the road. Her photographs of gigantic white stemmed leeks with fresh green tops awakened a craving in me for the sweet, delicate flavor of these cold-loving Alliums.

Leeks are akin to garlic and onions, with a mild, sweet flavor and succulent character. They grow in sandy soils and it’s very important to wash them well before cooking and get rid of the grit. Like kale and cabbage, leeks can be over-wintered in the garden. Their flavor only benefits from frost and the gardener is free to pluck them from the hard soil when little other fresh produce is to be found. Only the white base and very light green parts of the leek should be eaten, the fibrous blue-green leaves discarded as they are tough and not tasty. According to Alice Waters in Chez Panisse Vegetables, leeks keep better if the leaves are left intact until it’s time to cook with them. Store leeks wrapped in a slightly dampened towel in the fridge for about four days.

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Cardamom & Prune Bread

Cardamom & Prune Bread (c)2011 LaDomestique.com

I realized yesterday that winter has arrived in Colorado and it’s here to stay. Rather than fluctuating between 80 degree days and snowstorms, we’ve settled into a peaceful season of sunny but decidedly chilly temperatures. I haven’t seen a snowflake tumble from the sky in at least a week, but the white snow refuses to melt from the pastures and shaded sidewalks remain coated in sheets of black ice. At about four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun begins its rapid descent behind the Rocky Mountains, and within minutes night has fallen. It’s quite a shock. I’m learning to adapt to the light as it changes with the seasons; from warm and strong to gray and diffused. I’ve moved my photography set-up to a different room and found a new magic hour to shoot. I do believe this craft is about getting in sync with my environment. Rather than forcing things I must let go and allow myself to be directed by the elements I have to work with. Each day it comes with more ease, and though I haven’t found my sweet spot in this new season yet, I feel it within my reach. I cannot make summer pictures out of blue-toned winter light, but with practice I hope to capture the beauty of light as winter solstice approaches. I won’t bemoan the challenge, as it’s the constant changes in light that make photography so interesting. The sun rises and sets. The earth tilts on its axis. Each day is a new day with new challenges. C’est la vie!

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Bucherondin with Fig Purée and Pine Nuts

The best part of cooking is discovering beautiful flavors and textures. The second best part is playing with flavors and textures, being inspired and surprised. Yesterday I baked Fig-Walnut Bread from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. The recipe calls for dried figs to be plumped in boiling water, then puréed. This luscious paste is beaten into the quick bread batter, resulting in a sweet, moist loaf with the pleasant crunch of tiny fig seeds. I marveled at the deep purple color flecked with hundreds of golden seeds. I couldn’t believe how something so simple has eluded me all this time: I can make fig purée at home. This may sound silly, but I often gazed at the shining jars of expensive puréed figs in gourmet shops and it never occurred to me to make it at home. Part of the reason is that figs are not grown where I live, so I’m not used to working with them in the kitchen. By the time California figs make it to my Colorado grocery store, they always look so sad and overripe. Dried fig purée is a game changer in my kitchen. My mind is spinning with wonderful ideas of how to cook with this liquid gold.

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Cook in the Moment: Fig-Walnut Quick Bread

Each week I contribute an article to the Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder expanding on one of the 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. This week I cooked and photographed a recipe for Fig-Walnut Quick Bread from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. For this recipe, Martha Stewart cleverly uses dried figs in two different ways. Half of the figs are softened in boiling water for ten minutes then puréed before being incorporated into the batter. The other half of the dried figs is coarsely chopped and stirred into the batter at the end, just before baking. Fig chunks provide a variety of textures, lending a luscious, chewy bite and the sugary crunch of their many tiny fig seeds to the delicate crumb of the quick bread. It’s the variety of textures and depth of flavor from dried figs that makes this recipe so special. For the full article and recipe, click on the icon below.

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