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Ingredient of the Week: Dried Chili Peppers

Banner Dried Chili Peppers (c)2012

February has arrived, and with it, a longing for spring. Here in Colorado, the ground hog always sees his own shadow, and we’re sentenced to 6 more weeks of winter. On the sunny, mild days one could be convinced spring is around the corner, but we know better. March is our snowiest month, averaging 17 inches in Boulder. Too bad I don’t ski.

Fresh produce is at its leanest right now, and many months will pass before a peppery radish, sprightly green bean, juicy peach, or ripe tomato graces the table. The farmers market has gone into hibernation until April. Hearty, rich, comfort food is wearing on my palate. I begin to crave bold, punchy flavors. Subconciously, I reach into the pantry for crushed red chili pepper to sprinkle over pastas and soups. The spicy heat stimulates my palate, and I feel the warm summer sun shining on my shoulders, if only for a moment.


Cook in the Moment: Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper

Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper (c)2012

Each week I contribute to the Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder website expanding on one of the 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. This week I cooked and photographed a recipe for Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper. For the full article with tips on making gnudi (including 3 lessons I learned), click on the icon below.



Gnudi is winter comfort food. Countless variations on these ricotta dumplings can be found in cookbooks, but I was drawn to a recipe for gnudi in Jamie magazine for its simplicity. If you’ve never made fresh pasta at home before, gnudi is a great way to get your feet wet. You get the experience of making dough by hand without the need for special equipment. For this recipe, ricotta and Parmesan are rolled into a dumpling with chopped Swiss chard. After a good night’s rest in the fridge the gnudi are cooked in simmering water for about 3 minutes, then served with a generous drizzle of oil infused with the flavors of garlic, rosemary, and Aleppo pepper. In his recipe, Jamie Oliver used fresh red chiles, but since they aren’t in season right now I went for my favorite dried chili peppers. If you use a lot of crushed red pepper at home, consider trying something new by seeking out Aleppo crushed red pepper flakes. Grown in Syria and Turkey, the Aleppo pepper is more fruity and earthy (reminiscent of the flavor of cumin) than regular crushed red pepper. Because of this earthy character, Aleppo pepper shines when paired with woodsy rosemary. Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper is good for a simple family supper (get the kids involved in shaping the dough) or a special occasion. It perfectly illustrates the image of ricotta as both comforting and luxurious.


10 Ways Tuesday: Ricotta

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

1.  Ricotta Crostini

My craving for ricotta all started because Nicole from Cooking After Five posted this picture of Toast with Ricotta, Sliced Bananas, Walnuts, and Honey. Crostini, whether sweet or savory, for breakfast, lunch, snack, or supper, is the easiest, simplest way to enjoy ricotta. To me, there is something decadent about spreading toasted bread with thick and granular ricotta. The texture is also great for toppings, which cling to the crostini rather than flying this way and that while you try to get it in your mouth. Try my Ricotta Crostini with House-Cured Salmon, Lemon Zest, and Dill or keep things simple like the Frankies by spreading ricotta on toasted bread and topping it with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, and a drizzle of olive oil.


Ingredient of the Week: Ricotta

Ricotta (c)2012

How did a byproduct of the Italian cheese making industry become a pantry staple? Ricotta, which comes from the Latin word recocta, meaning “recooked,” is made from whey, the milky liquid left behind when the curd is formed during cheese making. As The Cheese Lover’s Companion describes the process, whey is heated, allowing protein particles to rise to the surface, and the solids are skimmed off. These solids are strained and placed into a mold to drain off more liquid. In the book, Milk, Ann Mendelson writes that the best ricotta comes from sheep’s milk whey, and that cow’s milk is “the blandest and least interesting.” There is hope for those of us who don’t have access to sheep’s milk ricotta. For the most nuanced flavor, seek out full fat ricotta (cow’s milk is widely available), which is much thicker with a drier texture and a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. Avoid ricotta combined with whey (especially fat-free), with its wet, creamy texture and complete lack of flavor.


Cook in the Moment: Coffee-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chili Spice, Crème Fraîche, Lime & Cilantro

Coffee-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chili Spice, Crème Fraîche, Lime & Cilantro (c)2012

Each week I contribute a column to the Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder website expanding on one of the 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. Below is the original article from this week, and my recipe for Coffee-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chili Spice, Crème Fraîche, Lime & Cilantro.

This week at La Domestique is dedicated to the coffee bean. Good for more than your morning cup of joe, coffee can be used in cooking and baking in both savory and sweet applications. One of my favorite ways to cook with coffee beans is a technique for coffee-baked vegetables I came across in the January issue of Food & Wine magazine. Reading the article, An Intimate Look at the Creative Life of Chefs, I was intrigued by a recipe for Coffee-Baked Squash with Crème Fraîche. Chef René Redzepi of Noma and Daniel Patterson of Coi (whom the magazine refers to as “two of the world’s best chefs”) spend a weekend developing new recipes with seasonal ingredients. While brewing his morning espresso, Chef Daniel Patterson gets the idea to roast delicata squash buried in coffee beans for a deep, earthy flavor and subtle hint of freshly brewed coffee.


10 Ways Tuesday: Coffee

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

1.  Café au Lait

My absolute favorite coffee ritual during winter is the French café au lait. I’ve got fond memories of working as a late night/early morning baker, enjoying my breakfast after pulling the last of the pastries from the oven. During that moment of peaceful quiet, just before sunrise and before the bakery opened to customers, I would dip a freshly baked croissant from the oven and dip it into a steaming bowl of café au lait. As I understand it, the French traditionally pour strong brewed coffee into a small bowl and top it off with an equal measure of hot milk (no foam). It’s a satisfying breakfast that warms me to the core on frigid winter mornings.

2.  Candied Espresso Walnuts

It was love at first site. Something different. Something special. This recipe for Candied Espresso Walnuts over at Bon Appétit took me by surprise. Walnut pieces are coated in a mixture of sugar, ground espresso, espresso powder, cinnamon, and salt, then baked for just 5 minutes. You could get creative and add chocolate or do a savory version with spicy, smokey chile. Party food, most definitely.


Ingredient of the Week: Coffee

Coffee (c)2012

Coffee, it’s a pantry staple. The coffee plant is a small tree cultivated on plantations across tropical areas of the globe: Hawaii, Cuba, Jamaica, Indonesia, Africa, and South America (the largest producer). Bringing coffee from the tree to the cup is a labour intensive process that starts with harvesting the ripe coffee cherry, the fruit surrounding green coffee beans. It’s a seasonal ingredient, and lucky for us all, as one harvest ends (north of the Equator) another begins (south of the equator). Most coffee is painstakingly harvested by hand, since machines cannot discriminate between an underripe coffee cherry and a perfectly ripe one. Also, machine harvests require flat terrain and trees planted in straight rows, which can be a challenge, especially in higher altitude plantations. After harvest, coffee beans must be prepared for roasting, another long process. I won’t go into detail here, but basically the coffee cherry is dried out and every bit of casing is removed, leaving just the green beans.


Cook in the Moment: Winter Grapefruit Salad with Citrus-Ginger Vinaigrette

Winter Grapefruit Salad with Citrus-Ginger Vinaigrette (c)2012

Each week I contribute a column to the Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder website expanding on one of the 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. Below is the original article from this week, my recipe for Winter Grapefruit Salad with Citrus-Ginger Vinaigrette.

During the dead of winter, citrus season brings a bit of sunshine into the kitchen. The ingredient of the week at La Domestique is grapefruit, a bitter-sweet offspring of the pomelo and sweet orange. Though there are many ways to enjoy grapefruit, it really shines in a winter salad. Most often you will find grapefruit paired with Haas avocado in a salad this time of year, but I’ve decided to go a different route with my recipe for Winter Grapefruit Salad with Citrus-Ginger Vinaigrette.

I’m craving fresh produce in the form of leafy, refreshing salads right now. Inspired by the chicories in season, I picked up a couple heads of Belgian endive. Their leaves, tightly closed like tulips, have a delicate flavor and firm texture. Red leaf lettuce provides a dramatic, dark background to the ruby red grapefruit segments. Balance is important in making a good salad. I like pickled hearts of palm for their subtle tang, pine nuts for crunch, and feta for its soft texture and salty bite. Pomegranates are still lingering at the market, and the seeds make for a celebratory garnish. Spicy ginger in my orange vinaigrette is a zippy partner to the tropical grapefruit. A touch of honey is the final note to balance the bitter flavors of grapefruit and winter greens. It’s a generous salad that makes for a healthy yet filling lunch.


10 Ways Tuesday: Grapefruit

Cutting Grapefruit into Segments (c)2012

It’s 10 Ways Tuesday and I’ve got creative ideas for cooking with grapefruit:

1.  Cocktail

Let’s start this list off with a cocktail, shall we? Grapefruit juice was made for cocktails- it’s not just sweet, but a fantastic combination of bitter, tart, and floral. According to Saveur, the Paloma is one of the most popular cocktails in Mexico. It’s a mixture of tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and soda with a pinch of salt. I love bubbles so a sparkling wine, grapefruit juice, St. Germain (elderflower liqueur) cocktail would be my preference. In Canal House Cooking Volume 6 you’ll find several variations on the grapefruit cocktail, my favorite being the Italian Greyhound, a mixture of gin, grapefruit juice, and Campari.

2.  Broiled Grapefruit

Everyone’s doing it, so I had to put caramelized grapefruit on the list. As you can see over at Bon Appétit, Grapefruit Brûlée is as simple as slicing a grapefruit in half, sprinkling the cut sides liberally with brown sugar, and popping it under the broiler for a few minutes. Use the sweeter, ruby red grapefruit variety for best results. This is an old school brunch item treat, originally served with a maraschino cherry. For something unique, try Yotam Ottolenghi’s version with star anise.


Ingredient of the Week: Grapefruit

Grapefruit (c)2012

I spent last week in the desert, literally. The husband and I set off on a spontaneous trip to Arizona for some sun and a change of scenery. Having never visited the Grand Canyon state, I was in awe of the desert’s striking beauty. The sun rose and set, casting shadows over giant saguaro cactus and painting the desert shades of red and purple. Prickly cactus, short and tall, round and flat, jutted from the sandy soil. Succulents like aloe vera, reached towards me with long, spindly arms. We drove from Phoenix to Sedona to the Grand Canyon, stopping to take photos or sit quietly on the rocks. The wind whispered legacies of Native American tribes: Navajo, Hopi, Yavapai, Apache. Visiting the ruins, carved out of the cliffs, we wondered what became of these ancient people. Theirs was a time before written history, a time as old as Stonehenge.


About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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