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Ingredient of the Week: Leeks

Banner-Leek (c)2011

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.


Cardamom & Prune Bread

Cardamom & Prune Bread (c)2011

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!


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.


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.


10 Ways Tuesday: Dried Fruit

Dried Fruit (c)2011

I’ve got creative ways for cooking with dried fruit in winter:

1.  Chutney

In The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, Fergus Henderson writes, “There is nothing finer, after having a good stock up your sleeve, than having a reserve of chutney.” Chutney is an Indian condiment that the British have embraced. It’s basically dried fruit stewed in spices with vinegar and sugar. I found a recipe for Onion-Raisin Chutney in the bible on home curing, Charcuterie. Diced onions, dark raisins, cider vinegar, brown sugar, ground tumeric, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and ground allspice are simmered for about 20 minutes, until the juices are thick and syrupy. The authors suggest serving the chutney with terrines made from pork, veal, or chicken. This Apple-Cranberry Chutney and this Pear and Currant Chutney over at Saveur are both very festive, making for great holiday gifts.


Ingredient of the Week: Dried Fruit

Dried Fruit (c)2011

The ingredient of the week at la Domestique is dried fruit. Each December, as I prepare my pantry for winter, I enjoy stocking up on a myriad of dried fruits. Currants, raisins, and dried tart cherries are for scones, oatmeal cookies, and homemade granola. Figs are destined for baking cakes, quickbreads, and fig butter as a condiment on the breakfast table or cheese tray. Dates may be pureed in a cake batter or wrapped in bacon and served as an appetizer. Prunes bring a luscious sweetness to savory meat sauces and they really shine when poached in red wine. Apricots are a star in turkey stuffing with sage and mushrooms. All of these dried fruits can be used in salads, pilafs, or vegetable dishes. I fill glass jars to the brim with the different tones of inky purple figs, mahogany dates, festive red cranberry and golden raisins. It’s such a pleasure to look into the cupboard and see the full jars lined up, awaiting the possibilities.


This Past Week at La Domestique: Pomegranates

This past week at la Domestique we opened up the winter pantry with pomegranates. The gorgeous ruby color and Christmas ball shape of these ancient fruits make them perfect for the holiday season. Throughout the week we explored cooking with pomegranate seeds, juice, and pomegranate molasses. In case you missed anything, I’ve got a recap:

Monday:  Announcing pomegranates as ingredient of the week! Learn a bit of history behind the ingredient, as well as general information on buying, storing, and cooking with pomegranates.

Tuesday:  10 Ways Tuesday! Creative ideas for cooking with pomegranates during winter.

Wednesday:  Cook in the moment with a recipe for Winter Tabbouleh, a bulgur salad made of crisp winter vegetables garnished with jeweled pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.


Lebanese Flatbread with Lamb, Pomegranate Molasses & Winter Salad

I find myself turning to the cookbook Artichoke to Za’atar again and again for inspiration. Greg and Cindy Malouf have written a guide to “modern Middle Eastern food” organized alphabetically, by ingredient (no wonder I love it). William Meppem’s photographs draw me in towards natural light-kissed white tablecloths and plates of Arab inspired food that are quietly haunting. I’m seduced by the freshness of the green salads, the detail of each bulgur grain in a mound of tabbouleh, the beauty of a whole roast fish. The Maloufs zero in on flavors that can elevate an ordinary dish to something special. When I came across their recipe for Lebanese Pizza with Pine Nuts and Pomegranate I was excited by one subtle tip in the headnote:

“A splash of pomegranate molasses added to all kinds of ground meats will lift them to another dimension.”


Cook in the Moment: Winter Tabbouleh

Each week I contribute an article to “Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder” website expanding on one of the 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. Here is the original article for Winter Tabbouleh:

This week at la Domestique I’m welcoming the holiday season with pomegranates, a festive fruit shaped just like a Christmas ornament. One of my favorite ways to use pomegranates is in Winter Tabbouleh, a recipe I came across in the cookbook Gourmet Today. Tabbouleh is a traditional Lebanese salad made with fresh herbs and bulgur associated with easy summer cooking. Gourmet credits this cold weather version to Samuel and Samantha Clark of Moro, a London restaurant. The Clarks also share their cuisine in beautifully photographed cookbooks full of Spanish and Muslim Mediterranean-inspired recipes. In everything they do you’ll find lively flavor, a dedication to cooking with the seasons, and a love of gathering people together. Their Winter Tabbouleh is perfect for the holiday season of parties and celebrations.


10 Ways Tuesday: Pomegranate

Pomegranate (c)2011

I’ve got creative ideas for cooking with pomegranates in Winter:

1.  Dip

According to the encyclopedic Starting with Ingredients, the Turkish dip, muhammara, is named for its color resemblance to red brick. Pomegranate molasses, red bell peppers, walnuts, and cumin come together in a zippy purée that threatens to dethrone your hummus addiction. Serve muhammara with flatbread, vegetable crudités, or as a sandwich spread. For the recipe, check out Paula Wolfert’s version (from her book, The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean) over at Saveur.

2.  Pomegranate Seeds in Salad

The king of the beautifully composed salad, Thomas Keller, shares a recipe for Little Gem Lettuce Salad with Citrus, Pomegranate, and Honey Vinaigrette in his cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home. The bright flavors and colors bring a festive spirit to this refreshing salad. Lettuce wedges are glittered with pomegranate seeds then dressed in a vinaigrette of honey and champagne vinegar. Segments of citrus like orange and grapefruit are juicy and refreshing while walnuts provide crunch and tarragon lends a licorice note. I’m also into this Pomegranate, Endive, and Blue Cheese Salad over at Martha Stewart.


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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