Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Art of Simple Food and Camping

I want to be one of those really sturdy types of people who simply THRIVES in the outdoors, but the truth is, I find it a little challenging. All that dirt! All those crazy yahoos camping way too close to our camp site as they knock back cheap beer after cheap beer, followed by the sound of a sorority girl puking not too far from our tent - kind of a buzzkill! And then there was the constant soundtrack of classic rock blaring from the neighboring campers...I mean, whatever happened to campfire songs under the stars? HOW ON EARTH IS ONE SUPPOSED TO FOCUS ON THEIR SCRABBLE GAME STRATEGIZING WITH THE NEIGHBORING CAMPERS SITTING ON THEIR DAMN WHOOPEE CUSHION REPEATEDLY???

If we wanted dirt and noise pollution, we could've stayed in Oakland and camped in the back yard! But what can you do but make the best of it? We played a lot of Scrabble under the light of the moon, we splashed in the Russian River with two dogs, and we made ravioli with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil using our brand new camping stove. And we figured out how to set up the tent! And we didn't burn anything down!

It was fun while it lasted, but I could hardly wait to get home and cook something fresh (not to mention, take a shower and sleep in comfort again!). Since I've been enjoying the Alice Waters book The Art of Simple Food so much recently, I decided to enjoy it a little more. Dinner on Sunday night was a frittata with chard and onions, and green beans with almonds, garlic and lemon juice. Another delicious meal.

Simple food really is an art, and I've yet to find anyone who explains this art better than Ms. Waters, so I strongly suggest you add this cookbook to your own collection. I think you'll be glad you did, whether you are a beginning cook or a seasoned pro. I wish I had some suggestions about how to make your next camping experience more idyllic, but I guess I'm not the expert on that matter yet. But I'm determined to keep trying, oh yes I am....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Eat, Drink, Camp

Stumbled upon a couple of interesting articles today, about a couple of my favorite things - food and drink!

I've mentioned Mark Bittman here before; his writing and his recipes have been a great source of inspiration to me and have greatly influenced my food choices as of late. Here is a link to a talk he gave called "What's wrong with what we eat". Good food for thought, as it were.

Boy do I love a good margarita, and oh how I hate a margarita that is slushy, watered down, too sweet, or made with cheap tequila. What can I say, I'm a bit of a snob that way! Here's a good article in today's SF Chronicle entitled Mastering the Margarita, suggesting that there just might be as many opinions about a good margarita as there are brands of tequila. I tend towards the "premium tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and salt" variety, but this article features some recipes that seem worth trying.

And with that, I'm off for a weekend of camping near the Russian River. There won't be fancy food and there won't be margaritas, but with any luck there should be abundant sunshine, bright stars, and the company of a few of my favorite beings. That's my idea of a perfect weekend.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stuffed Squash with Quinoa Pilaf

Well I'm no Tartine Gourmande, but Bea's recent post inspired me to try out this recipe, and oh, it was delicious. (Note - the recipe I linked to above is actually from 2006, but she referenced it in a posting from last week that included several recipes for stuffed squash.) I made a few modifications, and the recipe lends itself very nicely to using whatever you have on hand. The original recipe called for prosciutto, but I omitted that and added breadcrumbs. I also used a quinoa pilaf instead of the rice that the original recipe called for. I think toasted walnuts or pine nuts would be a good addition to this as well. As always, I say use your imagination and creativity, and use what you have on hand.

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

For the quinoa pilaf, first, dice half an onion and slowly saute it over medium heat in a small bit of butter. If you like, add a teeny sprinkling of brown sugar to help the caramelization process along. When the onions are golden brown, add about 3/4 cup of quinoa and stir it all together for a few minutes. Add a little salt, a little dried thyme, and then add enough stock or water to cover it by about an inch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, put a lid on it and let the quinoa cook for about 15-20 minutes until the broth is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Now, stir in about 1/4 to 1/3 cup chic peas.

For the squash: Scoop out the flesh, set it aside and dice it. Cut the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside. Dice one big fat clove of garlic. Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the garlic and along with it, a small pinch of dried coriander and dried cumin (I like to toast the spices whole and then grind them). Now add the squash and cook for about 5 minutes, and then add the corn and cook for another 3 minutes, and finally, stir in about 1/2 cup sungold cherry tomatoes, cut in half. Remove from heat, stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (I used Panko in this case), a light sprinkling of parmesan and a smattering of chopped fresh parsley. Now, combine this mixture with the pilaf, and wow, it's good enough to eat just like this, but trust me, it gets better!

Spoon this delicious stuffing into the squash, place them into a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil. Pour about a half an inch of broth or water into the bottom of the pan. If you find you have extra stuffing left over, place it in a separate baking dish. Top everything with salt and pepper and a little more breadcrumbs and parmesan, and bake for about an hour.

This dish would be especially satisfying in the winter, but here in the Bay area, sometimes summer feels like winter, so this dish was perfect for a day like today, when the sun barely managed to squeeze through the clouds.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Week in Pictures...

... and a few words. It's been non-stop action for about the last ten days or so. I saw, heard and played tons of music, from improv to country, and I ate a lot too. Oh, did I eat. I even cooked a little.  Too much to write about in great detail, but here are a few highlights:

Finally got to dine at Pizzaiola, courtesy of my fabulous employer.  Oh, that pizza.   Maybe you oughta try it for yourself since words seem to be failing me tonight.

This pasta was so good I had to enjoy it twice.  My friend Adam  made it for me one night, inspiring me to make it later in the week for my sweetie and the lovely Sabine, who adorned our table with this beautiful flower arrangement.

The pasta recipe came from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, a book that I've had for awhile but not used nearly enough yet.  The pasta was a very flavorful, earthy combination featuring summer squash, walnuts, buttered cabbage and fresh parsley. 

Adam added toasted breadcrumbs to his version so of course I had to do the same, and fortunately I made a huge batch of it so I get to enjoy it again for lunch tomorrow, which will be here too soon... which is why I can't even stop to tell you about my recording session with Edith Frost... or the amazing set that Joe Rut played tonight at the Bazaar Cafe.... there is more, more, more, but my brain is too tired for many more words tonight, and the land of dreams is beckoning, so off I go until next time. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Few Good Blogs

I love reading food blogs as much as I love writing my own (sometimes even more!). Here are a couple that have inspired me recently, and if you're obsessed with food like I am, I bet you'll enjoy them:

First, there's the Gluten Free Girl - you don't have to be gluten free to love this blog. Shauna James Ahern has a way with food and a way with words that flows as beautifully as the photographs she takes. With each posting, you get the feeling you're being invited into her kitchen to share a little slice of her life, and what an inspiring life it is.

Cafe Fernando is a blog I've discovered only recently, and I'm especially fond of the current posting featuring David Lebovitz's recipe for Vietnamese coffee ice cream. Cenk Sonmezsoy resides in, and is a native of Turkey, and his blog features recipes highlighting the cuisine of his homeland, and much, much more. Many lovely photographs and great recipes for delectable baked goods.

Fresh Approach Cooking always features tasty recipes that seem to be simple enough to allow the flavor of the food to shine brightly. And Rachel's writing is funny and unpretentious. I'd love to meet that woman and share a meal knock back a few cocktails.

La Tartine Gourmande is just pure joy. Here again, the recipes are simple enough to highlight the star of the show - the food! But wow, what creative approaches Béa Peltre takes in seemingly all that she does. I love her writing, and good lord, the photographs! The photographs are so stunning. How can you not be in love with food when you look at those gorgeous photographs?

So my friends, next time you find yourself aimlessly surfing the internet or looking for some culinary inspiration, do visit these blogs. I think you'll be glad you did!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Armenian Cucumbers

Armenian cucumbers are in season, and, like so many simple things in life, this makes me very happy.   I'm not even going to post a recipe because my favorite way to enjoy them is to simply eat them whole, one perfect bite at a time.   They are so crisp and refreshing and cool in the heat of summer, and they don't need peeling.   Perfect for those long, hot, lazy summer days...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Summer Fruit Tart

It had been so long since I'd done anything inspiring in the kitchen, that I needed to make up for lost time.   So why not spend half a day and a little too much money making this incredible fruit tart?

I'm not much of a baker, and not all that into things like pies and cakes, but when a co-worker brought this tart into work, I was blown away by the fact that it somehow managed to taste and feel light, which is a perfect thing in the heat of summer.  And of course, I had a new tart pan waiting to be used, so this tart seemed like the perfect thing for a 4th of July barbeque. 

You'll definitely need some patience and some fine, fine music to keep you company in the kitchen when you make this.  My soundtrack of the day was James Brown, and it was a perfect way to pass several hours in my kitchen.  Not to mention that the tart was a huge hit at the barbeque!  Even my highly skeptical french friend, an experienced pastry baker, gave it a thumbs up.

This recipe came from my co-worker's partner, and I think she got it from a magazine called Cuisine at Home.  She suggested using much more lemon juice than the original recipe called for, and I heartily concur.

For the crust, process in your food processor with the pastry attachment:

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used a combo of white and whole wheat)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 t. salt
Minced zest of 1 lemon

Then, add and pulse:

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk (but be sure to save the white, because you'll use it later)

Pulse until the mixture resembles crumbs.  Don't worry about it holding together, because you're now going to press it into your tart pan.   Make sure to lightly butter the pan, and have the oven pre-heated to 400.   Bake the crust until golden, and cool completely.

Now for the filling, combine:

1 egg white
1/2 cup lemon curd (I used this brand - no preservatives and totally delicious!)
3 whole eggs

In a separate bowl, combine:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 T. cornstarch
pinch of salt

Now mix the flour mixture into the lemon curd mixture and set aside.

Over medium heat, combine:

2 cups milk
1/3 cup honey

Bring the mixture to a simmer, and then slowly mix it into the lemon curd mixture.  Now pour the whole mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly, until it's thick and bubbly.  This should take less than 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the stove and:

2 T. butter, cubed
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons, or to taste (original recipe called for juice of 1/2 lemon)

Stir it all up until it's smooth, and pour it into the cooled crust.

Cover gently, making sure not to touch the custard with whatever you use to cover it, and refrigerate and let set for 4 hours. 

Now it's time to make the glaze.  Melt about 1/4 cup apricot jam and whisk in the juice of half a lemon.  Gently glaze the tart and then it will be time to gently scatter the berries over the top of the tart:

1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
1/2 pint fresh blackberries

Dab the top of the berries with a little more glaze, garnish with sprigs of mint, and it's time to serve!  Do your best not to dig into the tart before it's time to go to the party.  This may be harder than you think!