Thursday, September 28, 2006

For the Love of a Perfect Dry-Farmed Tomato

Ok folks, it's summer after all. Or rather, it was, just about a week ago. And one of my favorite summer delights is the tomato, in all its glory. Well for the last couple days, I've enjoyed more than just a little tomato glory thanks to my pal Jamie for bringing me the exquisite gift of a bag of dry-farmed tomatoes.

"What is this dry farmed tomato of which you speak?" you may be wondering and well, I'm wondering the same thing. As I understand it, the fruit or veggie is grown with less water, thereby intensifying the flavor. It sure did the trick for these tomatoes. I went so far as to exclaim to Jamie that I was pretty sure I had fallen in love with this tomato, and that it was the best bite of anything I had eaten all summer. Damn, I love Mother Nature! I love Jamie!

So first, I just sliced one and ate it straight up w/ a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Perfect! You haven't truly tasted a real tomato until you've tasted one of these little jewels straight up like that, just the way Nature intended. Bellisimo!

Then, I tossed up a tasty, spicy, salty pasta w/ Puttanesca sauce (hello Miss NoNo and Martha Scarborough, this "sauce of the whore" is for you guys. I hope you also enjoy the very saucy self-portrait at the top of this page ;). This sauce is so simple! And it goes like this:

Put the water on to boil & get your pasta ready. Come on now, I know you know how to make pasta.

While that's working, gently saute a couple cloves garlic in olive oil, then stir in a couple of finely chopped anchovies and swirl it around in the pan for a few minutes. Add about a tablespoon of rinsed capers, a tablespoon of kalamata olive tapanade, as much crushed red chili flakes as you like, and a good twist of fresh ground black pepper. Lastly, toss in a couple of those lovely diced dry-farmed tomatoes and stir over medium heat for just a few minutes to warm the tomatoes.

Toss with the drained pasta, add some freshly ground imported parmesan, serve with a glass of cabernet, and give thanks for this abundance. Oh yes, I am thankful!

But wait, there's more - why not throw a dinner party and impress your friends with this sweet, savory, salty appetizer?

Slice a baguette at a nice angle. Brush the crostini slices w/ olive oil and toast them to golden brown perfection in your toaster oven. Then, spread each slice w/ a little soft goat cheese, add a dollop of kalamata olive tapanade, and top with a thin slice of your little dry-farmed tomato friends. Add a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper and just try not eat twelve of them. Go ahead, see if you can.

Awright folks, my gal pal Anita is visiting from Arizona, and we are headed to Monterey for a gluttonous weekend. I can't wait to report back about all of our adventures, culinary and otherwise!

So do stay tuned...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Soup Saves

So Friday I was bitching about being exhausted... and as the day wore on, it occurred to me that I was catching a cold. Hell if I was gonna let my ass get kicked by a cold just in time for the weekend. Obsessed with knocking it out, I decided that evening that I had to have something like hot & sour soup or Tom Yum - something spicy and pungent and warming.

After driving around in a daze trying to figure out where to get such a soup, I remembered that I already had coconut milk and ginger and miso and tamarind and various other asian condiments in my pantry. And I knew I had cilantro and chili paste and a couple limes - so even though I didn't know quite what I was going to make or how to make it, I decided to go home and figure it out.

I did a random search on blogger for "tom yum soup", and landed on the perfect entry featuring exactly the thing my body and soul needed. And I discovered a fun blog called Knitty Otter in the process! Yay for blogging and otters that knit!

Had to run to the market to pick up rice noodles, veggie stock and lemongrass, but let me tell you, it was worth the trip.

It was about 9:30 by the time I sat down to this steaming hot, citrus and ginger and lemongrass-infused, garlic and chili-spiked bowl of elixir, but wow - what a blessing. What a miracle in fact, cause it really did knock the cold right out of me.

Do check out Knitty Otter for the official recipe; below is my adaptation.

Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a big pot and turn of the heat. Add about 6 oz of rice noodles and let them soak for about 10 - 15 minutes.

In the meantime, dice a shallot, and use your handy microplane to zest a lemon and a lime. And then also reserve the juice of each. Peel, slice & dice about a big tablespoon of ginger. Take a stalk of lemongrass and cut it into several rough pieces, and whack each piece with the side of the knife to release the intoxicating aroma.

In a 2 quart saucepan, put the ginger, lemon and lime juice and zest, ginger, shallot and lemongrass. Add to the pot a generous teaspoon of chili garlic sauce (I use Uncle Chen's brand), about 2 big handfuls of cilantro, and a tablespoon of fish sauce. The recipe called for fish sauce but I used oyster sauce. Oyster = fish, right? Worked for me. Then, I added a quart of veggie stock but you could also use chicken stock. Simmer this for about 1/2 on up to an hour.

While the stock was simmering, I steamed a few sliced crimini mushrooms, some thin red pepper slices, brocolli and slivers of dinosaur kale, just until barely tender, and set them aside. Read the Knitty Otter version for variations - you can use chicken or shrimp but I just used what I had in the house.

Once the stock is done, strain out the bits and now you have your soup base - adjust the seasonings and add more lime juice if you like.

Now it's almost time to eat. Throw a portion of the rice noodles into a bowl and top with a scoop of the veggies and a ladel of the broth. Or hell, just drink the broth straight up. This will cure what ails you and it tastes so divine.

And then there was song....I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash this weekend; in particular: Unchained, American Recordings, and Now, There Was A Song. I also listened to Willie Nelson's Teatro - one of my favorites of all time - and Aretha Franklin Sings the Blues - let me just say that if you haven't heard this, you haven't lived. It's the perfect soundtrack to a Friday night.

Hooray for soup and song!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pecan Pie Redemption

Suddenly it's Friday. This week involved too little sleep and not enough nourishment despite the fact that my kitchen was abuzz with activity on more than one occasion.

The highlights: Pecan Pie Redemption! Now I know it seems I could very easily be making this up, cause I've got no photo to prove it since I seem to have temporarily misplaced my digital camera. But I made it, and it was damn good. Not exquisite, but definitely decadent. Honestly, I have witnesses. Emily joined me for the first slice, hot out of the oven, oozing with velvety chocolate and topped with my own creation of molasses spiked whipped cream with a shot of Grand Marnier.

I brought the rest of it to work where it quickly disappeared. The second pie made its way to Loretta Lynch's final audio tweaking session (otherwise known as mastering) for our upcoming new album, where it gave us just the sugar buzz we needed to make it through the night, which came after a long day in a succession of long days....can I just say one more time how exhausted I am? There, I just did.

The other highlight was a birthday party at work which allowed me the chance to make not one, but two kinds of homemade, roast-a-licious salsa, to the great joy and appreciation of my co-workers. I could do much worse than to have a day job that allows me to get my cooking fix from time to time.

Obsessiveness has its price though; I had pecan pie and chips & salsa for dinner two nights in a row.

Fortunately today I'm headed to the Townhouse for a company paid lunch. Now if I could just find time for a 12 hour nap, all would be perfect. Thank god it's Friday.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Beer Heaven

It was a beer snob's dream. I got to re-experience my days as a bartender with all the fun and free beer and none of the drunken sloppy nastiness (except on my part!).

The event: the 11th annual "How Berkeley Can you Be" festival. It took place on an exquisite Bay area summer day - the skies were clear, the sunshine bright, and the beer icy cold.

It was a real treat to hang out in the beer garden with fellow beer appreciators & freaks, the kind that can only be found in... Berkeley. Never mind that I live in Oakland.

The breweries represented were Trumer Pilsner, Jupiter, Triple Rock, Pyramid and Bison. Holy crap, that's a lot of good beer to come out of one city! There was double IPA, smooth, golden hefeweizen, crisp pilsner, smoky pale ale, spiced porter that was like biting into a slab of gingerbread, and a cocoa spiked stout, which was kind of like, the mole of beers. I can't remember them all. Just go take your own damn beer tour and try 'em.

Besides being such a treat to be able to freely swill this embarassment of riches, it was a sweet opportunity to remember how much I still enjoy pulling the perfect pint. I mean come on, you can hardly fail to make people happy when you serve 'em up a tall cool glass of hops with a big old grin (and perhaps a wee bit of cleavage), now can you?

An added bonus was that I got to talk to several people about the fine art of homebrewing...and I learned that it isn't too costly to buy your own beer making equipment...and I'm afraid a new obsession was born. Guess I better get busy collecting hops, eh?

One of the musical highlights was a great performance by B-town hip-hop/funk group Live Audio Explosion. If it was a little challenging pouring those perfect pints with my booty shaking the whole time, you can blame it on these cats. Except you'll listen to their music and then you'll be too busy shaking your own ass to complain, and you'll probably be ready for a ya might wanna head towards Berkeley.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Into each life, a little burnt pie must fall...

It's been a long week, a busy week, and thankfully, a week of good food. That is, until we got to the chocolate pecan pie...

I was so excited; finally my two Gay Husbands (among others) were coming to dinner. Usually, we do dinner at their place, cause there's more space, a lovely garden and a big, bright kitchen with a Wolf range. But tonight I convinced them to take the journey to the exotic land called Fruitvale, for an evening of gluttony and red wine.

I decided to remain on my Rick Bayless Mexican food binge, and made another pot of Oaxacan Black Bean Soup, using the chorizo variation this time. Also on the menu: chips and homemade salsa - this one featured tomatoes, jalapenos and garlic, all roasted and smoky, augmented with bright, clean bursts of flavor from white onions and cilantro. So simple, so good! Then we had tacos with roasted chicken and spinach stewed in a roasted tomatillo-serrano sauce. I think I need to add "all things roasted" to my list of addictions! The tacos also featured savory red rice, baked with with some of the roasted tomato jalapeno salsa, and little crumbled bits of queso fresco. Swear to gawd, it was all smooth as butter. Rick Bayless is ruining me and I'm loving every bite.

And then there was the pie. It's not every day that I bake a pie, let alone a chocolate pecan pie. I had to even go against my better judgment and buy a bottle of corn syrup - cause ya just can't make pecan pie without it. And so I did. Along with molasses, dark brown sugar, and a ridiculous amount of eggs. And bittersweet Scharfenberger chocolate, and fresh cream. I was so damn excited about this pie.... so excited that I forgot to turn the oven down from 400 to 350.... so excited that apparently I didn't even smell the little lovelies burning to a crisp, until Emily called me from next door and said "Hey, don't burn the pies, man" which point it was too late, and the guests were arriving. "Hello, welcome to dinner at my house, and please don't mind the smoky smell of burnt nuts!".

Fortunately, my friends are a very forgiving bunch. Dinner was so good, and the wine so plentiful, that by the time dinner was over, we all decided that it would be fun to scrape off the burnt bits and see if there was any chocolately, nutty goodness to be had underneath. And you know what? There was! It was a treasure hunt, made all the more fun by using our fingers! Miss Manners would be mortified! We stopped just short of flinging burnt bits of pecans at one another, and a good time was had by all.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Addicted to Soup...

Well, I've been addicted to worse. It's about time I got addicted to something healthy in fact, and I am thankful that now I can count soup, hiking and music amongst my healthy must-have fixes.

Since I'm obsessed with all things food AND I live alone, it sometimes presents a nice bonus for many of my co-workers at my day job. I just can't cook for one, and I can't very well consume all those pots of soup all by my lonesome!

Our office has the added bonus of having a fully functioning kitchen with a very well stocked refridgerator, so it's quite easy for any of us who feel inspired to heat up leftovers or whip up something fabulous with just a little effort (soon I will have to do a posting exclusively about the kitchen at my office, for it's pretty dang good as kitchens go).

Last week I made some completely improvised chicken soup at work and not only did folks LOVE it, they loved it despite my last minute decision to extend the broth using what we happened to have on hand, which was V-8! Who knew? I didn't, but now I do...

And then of course yesterday was Sunday, another day for me to blow off household chores (hey, I live alone, so I can!) and spend the better part of the afternoon and evening in the kitchen roasting, toasting, and simmering away the hours. Last night's soup (and today's lunch) was a very comforting Fava bean soup w/ roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic, with mint, cilantro and pickled pasilla chiles. Courtesy of Rick Bayless. See, I told you to just go get the cookbook, cause I don't think I'm going to stop making his recipes any time soon.

So that's the soup. And as for the song... I'm happy to report that a new band called the Wenches was born over the weekend. That's right folks; you heard it here first. And you can hear us live on Saturday, Oct. 28 at the Starry Plough's 5th (sorta) annual Murder Ballads Bash. You might say the Wenches are... a subsidiary of the legendary Widows. And you might just be right. You might also be wondering just what the hell I'm talking about, but just nod your head and smile, and think about that big bowl of soup. You are getting very sleepy....oh wait, that's me.

Before I sign off here, I need tips on the best places to eat and trails to hike in Monterey and Carmel, for I'm headed there in a couple weeks for a real live vacation. Anyone?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Don't Forget the Pork

Ok, so I lied. Corn has been plentiful lately, but then again, so has pork. Good thing I've gotten addicted to hiking 4 miles every day amongst the redwood trees in the lovely trails of the Oakland Hills - cause I've been living, quite literally, high on the hog.

First, there was the fabulous rock & roll wedding I went to on Saturday, where fiddle, musical saw and singer/songwriter and visual artists extraodinaire Cynthia Wigginton got herself all hitched up with drummer and visual artist and children's book author Adam McCauley. It was like a 1990's San Francisco rock scene reunion. I felt rather honored to be in such fine company.

And the food was perfectly provided by a local company called Rising Sun Catering - locally grown, lovingly prepared and simply seasoned, the star flavor was simply that of the food. There were plump, juicy grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto, lightly breaded and fried sweet vidalia onions with bleu cheese aoli, crisp baby butter leaf lettuce dressed lightly in a zesty vinaigrette w/ fresh mint and sharp goat cheese...and then there was the pork tenderloin that was juicy, tender and absolutely cooked to perfection. I have no idea what it was seasoned with; the only thing I remember is that it tasted exactly like... perfect pork. And if that weren't enough...

Sunday I shared a moonlight garden potluck at my Gay Husband (aka Martha Scarborough)'s house. Amongst other delights, the menu featured massive pork chops seasoned with the excellent secret ingredient: Mrs. Dash! I give it 3 thumbs up. Mrs. Dash - who knew the little lady could have such an impressive influence on pork?

And then tonight after spending 3 hours painting my bathroom with little more than a couple beers to "sustain me", I remembered that my co-worker Kimio had brought me his latest version of a recipe he's been working on refining: pork chops that are brined and then cooked w/ sweet peppers, onions and some kind of vinegar. Just what the doctor ordered. It's such a treat to work with fellow food freaks. Perhaps he will share the recipe with Soup and Song, eh Kimio?

Yep, what a lucky gal am I to know these fine pork purveyors!

Tomorrow I s'pose I oughta cook something healthy & low fat w/ what I've got in the fridge: broccoli, red bell peppers, a few shitake mushrooms, ginger, coconut milk and some snap peas. I think I hear the curry calling...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

All about the Corn

Here are just a few highlights from my recent culinary adventures in corn:

1. Pan seared corn w/ cilantro & jalapenos, courtesy of Rick Bayless . That was one dish I made last Sunday, the same day as making his recipe for crazy good roasted chipotle-tomatillo salsa. Just go buy the book because I'm going to keep raving about how good the recipes are, and you know you're gonna want to make them yourself (unless you want to hire me, and hey, why not?). I also made his recipes for a spicy, smoky black bean soup, and a velvety, rich and smooth as silk roasted poblano crema. Uh, I'm salivating...

2. Fish in coconut miso broth with corn, shitake mushrooms, and snap peas. I followed this recipe from Lynne Char Bennett at SF, with the addition of rice noodles in the broth, but of course I had to serve it with frosty beer instead of Chardonnay. A very comforting, summer drifting into fall kind of dish.

3. Next recipe I'm excited to enjoy is one I came upon around 10 years ago; - it's called "Indian Summer Corn Chowder" and it's bursting with flavor from corn, roasted peppers, coconut, cilantro & lime juice. Sounds good, eh? Well it will be on the menu at the upcoming Soup and Song concert series, if you're just dying to taste it while enjoying some very fine music.

Got a favorite corn recipe or favorite dish featuring corn? Drop a line. Fritos don't count.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Snappy Caesar Salad and Peculiar Pretzelmen

Alright folks, let's get back to the topics of food and music, shall we?

The Mexican spread was a big hit - my ultimate favorite was the roasted chipotle-tomatillo salsa. I took some lovely photos that I'll post in the near future.

But today, I thought I'd turn you on to my favorite way to whip up a very quick and tasty Caesar salad, courtesy of my dear friend Martha Scarborough:

Grocery list:

1 bag of organic romaine hearts
1 package Semi-Freddi's garlic croutons (use other brands at your own risk; these are the bomb!)
1 bottle Cardini's Caesar dressing

and if you desire...

1 squeeze of lemon
1 sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan (use your microplane, duh!)

I think you can figure out how to put the salad together (and if you can't, then my dear, I'm afraid there is no hope for you). You'll have enough here for one big fat salad that'll feed 4 to 6 people as a side dish. Or you can do like I do, and take the ingredients to work and make a fresh salad every day for lunch. And don't forget to share!

Now normally, I'm not a big fan of anything instant, and I am not especially fond of bottled salad dressings. But this Cardini's is damn good, and it doesn't contain anything nasty!

I am a big fan of a freshly prepared, crispy ice cold Caesar salad made with fresh lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, and the like. But for times when you're feeling lazy, hungover ( dinnertime? Well yes, it's been known to happen), or pressed for time, the above recipe works quite nicely.

"What the hell is a Peculiar Pretzelman?" you may be wondering. Funny you should inquire; The Peculiar Pretzelmen are a fabulous band of young gents and a lady, of whom I was fortunate to be entertained by last night. And I do mean entertained. No shoegazing here, just a delightful flurry of sound featuring ukuleles, buckets, horns, steel drums and some kind of squeezebox. Not only do these folks deliver an infectious sound that makes ya want to jump up & down & stomp your feet, but they do it with such style and finesse. It's a little bit fire and brimstone, a little bit twisted cabaret, and 100% fun. Rumor has it they're coming to a town near you, so perhaps when they do, you should invite them over for a bowl of Caesar salad and offer them shelter in your comfy guest room.

Until next time, rock on with your big fat salad!