Thursday, February 25, 2010


I was in need of inspiration last weekend. Food inspiration. I think last week's cocktail party cooking extravaganza tapped out my food creativity. I had some trouble reviving it. I received new issues of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Cooking Light this week, usually the highlight of the month for me, but none of the recipes popped out to me. I scanned the food blogs, but nobody had anything new that sounded particularly delicious. So, I kicked it old school. I turned to my cookbook collection.

I don't have a huge collection of cookbooks, but I don't use them nearly as much as I should, especially when I don't have anything particular in mind to cook. I have some great baking cookbooks, my favorite being Dori Greenspan's Baking, that I turn to when looking for a good dessert. And my old copy of Joy of Cooking gets a lot of use when I have some classic dish in mind but don't know exactly how to make it, like a beurre blanc or chocolate mousse. But when I just need to find something delicious and fun to cook, I always find myself turning to my good friend Jamie Oliver. I have several of his cook book, but my favorite is Jamie at Home, which has a corresponding TV show on Food Network. I love Jamie's cooking style. Lots of fresh, seasonal ingredients in simple preparations. Jamie at Home is divided by season, which is so convenient. I won't waste time scanning through recipes calling for asparagus and fresh corn in the middle of February. And he takes a very casual approach to cooking, calling for a good glug of this or a handful of that. Not a cookbook for someone who needs exact measurements. I have horrible kitchen envy from watching his TV show, more for what's outside the kitchen than the kitchen itself. His huge garden and greenhouse, big outdoor stone oven, chickens pecking across the lawn, and a forest and stream out back where he forages mushrooms.  This all makes me long for a cottage in the English countryside. Cooking from his book transports me from my tiny kitchen in a basement apartment in a noisy city.

In the winter section of Jamie at Home, he has several recipes for one of my favorite vegetables, leeks.

I'm not a huge onion fan, but I love the sweet oniony-ness of leeks, especially when soft and braised and practically melting in your mouth. Jamie's flavors are simple, but they are bold. In his recipe for Concertina Squid, he combines the mild leeks with the sharp flavors of radicchio and fennel, and tops the roasted squid with a bold chorizo dressing. Yes, I'm starting to cook with a little bit of meat. I like using it more as a flavor cue than the star of the show.

I adjusted Jamie's recipe a bit. He called for grilling the vegetables but I brought them inside and roasted them instead. In a very hot oven, they still got the nice charred effect of a grill, just maybe lose the smokiness.

I can't take full credit for cooking this meal. Derek had to take over when this happened...

The tip of my left index finger had a run-in with a very sharp knife while chopping garlic. It is not pretty, folks. I guarantee I will always remember this meal from the scar left behind. Inspiration, indeed. Luckily, Derek is very good at following instructions. The dinner was excellent. My secret boyfriend - I mean, Jamie would be proud.

Concertina Squid with Roasted Leeks and Chorizo Dressing
adapted from Jamie Oliver
serves 2

4 small - medium prepared squid, tentacles removed and reserved
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and washed well
1 bulb fennel, cut in thin wedges, fronds reserved
1 radicchio, cut into wedges
Olive oil
1 lemon, halved
1 small chorizo sausage, cut into small pieces
1 sprig of rosemary, leaves chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (careful of your fingers)
1 Tbl balsamic vinegar

  • Preheat oven to 450ยบ
  • Toss vegetables in a large baking pan with a good glug of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20 - 25 minutes, until softened and browned in spots. Check half way through cooking and remove radicchio is soft.
  • Meanwhile, heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of olive oil, then add chorizo and cook for about 1 minute. Add rosemary and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, then pour in balsamic vinegar and juice from half a lemon. When vegetables are cook, toss with chorizo dressing in large bowl.
  • Turn oven up to full heat.
  • Prepare squid bodies by inserting a knife into body, then running a second knife over the top to create 1 inch slits in half the squid.
  • Season squid with salt and pepper and toss with a little olive oil.
  • Heat an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add a good glug of olive oil. Add squid tentacles and cook 1 minute. Add squid bodies and transfer pan to oven. Cook about 4 minutes until squid are just cooked and lightly browned.
  • Mound vegetables on 2 plates and top with squid. Squeeze the other half of lemon over each plate and topped with chopped fennel fronds.

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