Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Taste of Home

It only took me 43 and a half years, but I finally did it.  I made the family recipe for sauce & meatballs.  The same recipe that my Dad has been making for as long as I can remember, and my Grandma before him.  How did it take me so long?

It's something I've been meaning to do - in fact, truthfully it was on my list of resolutions for this year under foods I wanted to make.  I am never very big on New Year's resolutions, unless food is involved.  And after watching Dad & my brother-in-law Terry make the sauce last Christmas & taking notes, I filed them away & waited.  And waited.  Waited for the right time.  Maybe I'd do it when the little mister was out of town so he could avoid the meat-fest.  But it didn't quite work out that way.

Just before Thanksgiving, we decided to have a post-Thanksgiving potluck, and I decided it was time to make the sauce.  The mister also made one of his family recipes for fried cardoons.  The kitchen was splattered with oil from the floor to the ceiling.  We spent the better part of a day frying things and simmering sauce.  Huge messes were made, and then cleaned up, and then made again as friends showed up.  Parmesan cheese was grated.  Plates were filled.  The table was loaded up with post-Thanksgiving remnants from other people's feasts, like pie, stuffing, fresh crab, green beans, brussels sprouts.  Bottles of wine arrived and were subsequently passed around and emptied.  Nothing formal, in fact we ate on layers of flimsy paper plates. I barely remembered to take any photos.  But that was ok.  The most important thing to me was that the house was full of friends and I finally was able to recreate the taste of home, the scent of the kitchen I grew up in.  There are few dishes that can summon that experience for me, in fact I can't really think of another one. This dish that I have somehow always taken for granted as being a part of our family fabric, has somehow also remained elusive, something that other people in the family made, but not me.  I don't know why that has been the case in the past, but I'm happy it will not be the case any longer.  Cause I made it, and it was awesome!

So thanks, Dad, and Grandma, and everyone who came before who made the recipe, and the experience of enjoying it, what it is.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dum Dums for Dumb Dumbs

Dum Dums for Dumb Dumbs

Holy Hell! Fall is here and Halloween is just around the corner.  As in, tomorrow! And you know what that means - fat season is here too!  The gluttony always starts with the little mister's birthday in early October, and it kind of doesn't stop until we wake up in a bloated, sugar free and sober stupor on January 1st, cursing all that sugar and flour and boozy, carb-y good/badness!

Last year, we tried to do just a *little* something to head it off.  We tried to keep from eating all that damn Halloween candy.  And so stupidly, I realize now, we - meaning - I - bought suckers.  Not Blow Pops, not Tootsie Pops, no.  Just, Dum Dums.  I figured, it's candy, right?  It's free candy, what's not to like, you ungrateful little rascals?!  No really.  I seriously just thought that maybe if we bought something we didn't like, then we wouldn't eat it.  And I had no idea that Dum Dum suckers were SO SO LAME.  But, yeah, turns out, Dum Dums are lame.  And even if all 3 kids who showed up last year hadn't said so, all my friends verified:  Dum Dum suckers are LAME.  How did I not know this?  I really just thought that free candy = good candy, but not all candy is created equal.  And if I didn't know it before, I know it now.  When your 40-something friends chastise your idiocy in buying a candy as lame as a plain old SUCKER, well then, you might need to admit that maybe you really are the biggest sucker.  When your friends tell you that you MIGHT AS WELL PASS OUT RAISINS, it kind of makes you just shrivel.  Even if secretly, you really um, sort of like raisins.

Is there a moral to the story?  I don't know - but I guess this year we - and by we I mean I - will be buying something like Butterfingers or Snickers or Godiva Bon Bons or something.  And the little mister and I will just suck it up and try not to eat all 27 of the 30 pieces that don't get eaten by those non-sucker lovers.  Or maybe we'll just pass out 10 candies to each of the 3 trick-or-treaters!  Only time will tell!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pickle Mania

Lately I've been making a lot of quick refrigerator pickles. So much so, that puckery pickly goodness is the flavor of the month around here.  It's a darn good flavor.  I bet it might still be the flavor of the month next month, even if it will have to share space with stuff like roasted squash, savory stews, and all things baked.  There will still be room in my heart and in my kitchen for puckery, pickly goodness, because A):  it's delicious, and B):  it's versatile.  The pic you see below is what I threw together in about thirty minutes last week, and the results of said thirty minutes are still delivering the goods.

On the left we have yellow beets, followed by carrots and then cauliflower.  All three batches use a simple apple cider vinegar brine, with various seasonings.  My favorite seasoning is dill seed with crushed red pepper and a few cloves of garlic, as featured in the carrot jar.  But I am also fond of a combination of crushed coriander and cumin seeds, which work particularly well with the cauliflower.

I'm super keen on having these around to snack on - particularly as we get our end of the summer blasts of heat here in the bay area, it's been great to have something cold, salty & crunchy to snack on.  But I've also been loving dicing these little guys up and adding them to salads to add a dimension of crunch and bold flavor - they really pack a punch!

One of my favorite warm weather lunches centers around a bed of mixed greens, topped with a salad that varies - last week it was quinoa, kale from the garden, pickled carrots & red onions.

Today it was a bed of arugula & apples, topped with quinoa, pickled carrots, roasted carnival squash, walnuts, feta & croutons.  Summer meets fall in perfect harmony, I tell you.

Anyway - we're pretty lucky here in the bay area that we can get great produce all year 'round, so I expect the pickling craze to continue.  The basic recipe is below, and the pickles last easily for a month or so, except they never do, cause we always go through them before that.  Use the recipe as a starting point, and go wild according to what you have on hand, and what you feel like creating!

Oh - and giving credit where credit is due:  I came up with the ratios in this recipe based on looking at this one, and this one.  Ultimately I decided I don't like much sweetness at all in my pickles, so I consider the sugar to be optional.  And of course you can just go in all sorts of directions with the spices!  Have fun.  Happy crunching, happy puckering, happy end of summer, happy almost fall!

Quick Refrigerator Pickled Veggies

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 T. kosher salt
Sugar - optional - I tend to use about 1 T. but you could use more if you like your pickles sweeter
1 T. spices - dill seed, crushed coriander or cumin, or whatever you fancy
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 to 3 cloves garlic
Slice of lemon
Bay leaves
1 bunch carrots, or about half a head of cauliflower, or several beets sliced thin,  or a medium onion sliced thin, or whatever other vegetable you fancy, cleaned & diced, enough to fit into a 1 quart mason jar.

Pour the vinegar, water, salt, sugar (if using) &  spices into a pot & bring to a boil while you clean & trim your veggies.  Pack the veggies into a jar along with the bay leaf, lemon & garlic.  Once the brine has come to a boil, pour it over the veggies.  Make sure all the veggies are immersed in the brine.  Screw the lid onto the jar and leave at room temperature until cool.  Then refrigerate.  Pickles will be ready anywhere from 1 to 3 days to a week later, depending on how darn pickly you like them.  Even if you start nibbling at them in a few days, the ones you didn't get to yet will keep getting better over time.  Spread the pickles on a plate for an appetizer or snack, or dice them up and add to salads.  Enjoy now, enjoy later, and enjoy often!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Lentils with Roasted Tomatoes & Goat Cheese

Ah, what a wonderful long weekend it's been.  Of course, I haven't achieved a fraction of what I'd hoped to, but I got a little bit done around the house, and did a lot of good eating.  And the weekend's not over yet, so there's still hope!

I'm trying my hand at furniture refinishing, and having quite a lot of fun with spray paint, safety goggles and sand paper.  It's still a work in progress, but if all goes well, I might even post some pics.

Still, a day doesn't feel quite complete if I don't get to stop and spend at least a little bit of time in the kitchen.  And yesterday's adventure with lentils was SO DAMN GOOD that I just had to stop & share.  This recipe, modified a bit, is another winner from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty.  I've tried several recipes from that book now and have liked them all (even though several of them are a bit too labor intensive for me), but this one might be my favorite.  I especially like this because I cook lentils a lot.  They're a staple in my pantry and in my diet, and yet, it's not often that I feel SUPER EXCITED about the ways in which I use them!  Although I do have a few stand out recipes, it's often hit-or-miss.  That reminds me that my friend Sabine suggested that I compile my favorite lentil recipes, and I may just have to do that soon!

Onward to the recipe. The original recipe calls for using gorgonzola instead of goat cheese, but everyone who ate this thought the goat cheese worked beautifully.  It also calls for Castelluccio lentils, which I've never even seen around here, so I used french green lentils. Instead of adding some diced raw garlic to the final mix, I cooked the lentils with a couple of cloves of garlic, which I then removed and diced fine and added to the salad, for a more subtle flavor.  And lastly, Yotam's recipe uses a combination of herbs including parsley, chives and dill, but I just used what I had in the house, which was parsley, tarragon and basil.  I think you could almost always improvise with your choice of herbs.  Take this dish to your next barbecue or potluck and it's guaranteed to be a hit!  I think I'm going to make it again very soon.

Lentils with Roasted Tomatoes & Goat Cheese - adapted from Yotam Ottolenghii's Plenty

Oven-roasted tomatoes
5 plum tomatoes, or whatever tomatoes you like - I used a combination of cherry tomatoes from our garden, sliced in half, and beefsteak tomatoes, cut into slices.
8 thyme sprigs
Splash of olive oil
Splash of balsamic vinegar

1 small red onion, sliced thin
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 t. kosher salt, or if you're feeling fancy, you could use smoked Maldon sea salt, like I did
1 1/3 c. french green lentils
2 small cloves garlic, peeled & lightly smashed
3 T. olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
3 - 4 T. fresh herbs - I used parsley, basil and tarragon
3 - 4 T. soft goat cheese

To roast the tomatoes, preheat the oven or toaster oven to 275.  Depending on the size of your tomatoes, dice or halve or quarter them, and place them skin side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Don't worry if you've got larger tomatoes cut into slices and find it hard to place them skin side down, it'll still work out just fine.  Drizzle lightly with the olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle with salt.  Place the thyme sprigs on top, and put into the oven to let it work its magic for roughly 1 1/2 hours.  Check after 1 hour, as I found mine were nicely roasted already by that point, and the additional half hour wasn't needed.  Take out of the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the red onion slices in a medium bowl, pour over the red wine vinegar and sprinkle with the salt and toss.  Let the onions marinate while you move onto the lentils.

Bring a pot of water to boil (enough water to amply cover the lentils - 3 to 4 cups should be good), and add the lentils, the garlic and a bit of salt.  Lower head and simmer until tender but still a bit firm, about 20 - 25 minutes. Drain well, and remove the garlic and dice it fine.  Add it to the bowl of onions.

While the lentils are still warm, add them to the bowl of onions & garlic, and also add the olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and herbs.  Stir gently and taste, adjusting seasonings if necessary.

To serve, spread a layer of lentils onto a platter, and scatter some of the tomatoes over, along with dollops of the goat cheese.  Add another layer of lentils and do the same thing until all the lentils and tomatoes and goat cheese are happily scattered over the platter.  If there are any juices left in the pan from the tomatoes, drizzle over the top, and then be prepared for the entire platter to disappear very, very quickly!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On the Dressing of Salads

For a person who eats, on average, about one or more salads per day, nearly every day, you would think that the perfect dressing would not be so elusive.   But somehow, it is one of those things that I've found baffling and have been unable to pull together on instinct - until recently, that is.

I don't even know how I stumbled across this simple combination, but I think it may have started with escarole.  I've been using that as my main salad green lately.  It's extremely sturdy, and a bit bitter, and just not something I've used a lot in salads, until recently when I had such great success using it as a base for a seared tuna salad.   Ever since then, I've been buying it every week and eating salad after salad after salad using it as a base.  Usually, I've been mixing it with a bit of arugula, and dressing simply with a squeeze of lemon, a liberal sprinkling of salt, and enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the leaves after giving everything a thorough toss.   Turns out that's a pretty good formula to dress any kind of salad, and I've been enjoying some variation of it practically daily.

Today, I shoved any notion of vegetarianism aside, and had lunch at Phil's Sliders.  It was an awesome indulgence featuring the highest quality ingredients, including Marin Sun Farms Grass Fed Beef, and I savored every bite.

But then, I knew it had to be salad for dinner.  And damn, what a salad it was.  Tonight's salad was the kind of salad that I make quite a lot, but I fancied it up a bit by adding some kale from the garden to the mix of escarole & arugula, plus shaved carrots, fennel & red onions.  Topped it off with roasted kabocha squash, toasted pecans & chives dressed in Green Goddess dressing, and grated parmesan.  The perfect antidote to lunch.

The basic recipe follows, but in honor of my dear Dad's birthday, which is today, I wanted to mention that I've always envied how Dad can just dress a salad in the bowl.  He uses the classic combo of red wine vinegar and olive oil, which I love. And when we get together for any kind of family gathering, sometimes he tries to be humble and allow someone else to dress the salad. But I for one can never pull it off as well as he does, and I don't know if anyone else can either. When I try to dress the salad in the bowl, occasionally it works perfectly, and other times I find myself making so many adjustments that the greens become a soggy mess.  I have no idea why my using lemon juice instead lately of vinegar is showing better results, but I'm just going with it.

So, the points of the day are as follows:

1.  Happy Birthday, Dad!  I wish I could have made dinner for you tonight!

2.  If you're going to have burgers for lunch, it's good to have salad for dinner.

3.   Sometimes winging it with salad dressing works beautifully, and it's also great to have a couple in your arsenal to draw from when you don't feel like winging it.  I have at least one in this case, and it's a proven winner, good enough to slather over all sorts of things!

4.  If you're looking for a sturdy salad for your lunch or dinner, maybe you'll want to add this one to your arsenal.  And if you do, I hope you'll love it!

Kale, Escarole and Arugula Salad with Roasted Kabocha Squash

This is more of a guide than a recipe.  I was flying solo tonight so I just portioned out enough greens that looked like a good amount for my dinner:  a handful each of torn kale and escarole, a smaller handful of arugula, and a sprinkling of thinly sliced red onion, fennel and shaved carrot.  Put it all in a bowl and set aside to chill in the fridge.

Meanwhile, I pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees and cut a small kabocha squash in half & scooped out the seeds, and cut into slices about 1 inch thick.  Sprinkled with salt, tossed with olive oil, and into the oven it went, to roast for about 10 minutes before turning over and then roasting for another couple of minutes.   It's good to roast till it's nicely tender but not mushy.  The rind on kabocha is completely edible and quite delicious, but if this doesn't appeal to you, feel free to cut it off before cutting the kabocha into cubes.

Next up:  put the cubed squash into a bowl, and add whatever makes you happy.  Tonight I used what I had in the house which was kalamata & nicoise olives, diced tiny, and fresh chives, and toasted pecans.  All of that would have been a reason enough for feeling content!  But, I had just made a batch of the Green Goddess dressing, so I added a couple of plops, and grated parmesan all over it.  And suddenly my night got a whole lot better!

Next, it was time to dress the greens, hoping to be graced with a bit of Dad's mojo.  And it worked - a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkling of salt, and a nice coating of olive oil.  Onto the plate went the greens and their friends.  And then the squash salad was mixed in, and a few Semi-Freddi's Super Garlic Croutons were added, and life was pretty much complete.  Dad, the only thing that could have made it better would have been if you and I could have shared this together!

Happy Birthday Dad, and happy salad dressing to one and all!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Costco and Wine, What's Not to Love?

Too bad I discovered this *after* my last trip to Costco.  Before the next trip, I'll be sure to stop off in cyberspace at the Costco Wine Blog to get some tips.  The blog is 100% independent and full of great tips.

Check it out.  Happy swilling!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Sometimes Pie becomes Something Else

Let them eat pie!

That's the plan for tomorrow night, anyway.  Loretta Lynch has turned ten.  And we're launching ourselves into the next ten years with two sets of music and a whole crapload of pie.

And it was me who had the *brilliant* idea to bake the pies from scratch,  ha!  What the heck was I thinking?  I guess I was thinking that I wanted to spend more time learning about the art of pastry.  But I woke up this morning thinking that I wanted to learn more about the art of sleeping, the art of blowing off all responsibility after weeks, months of super tight scheduling, running from this to that to the other thing and then back again.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Meanwhile, the new dog, much as we love her, has had some terrible digestive issues lately that has her, and me, waking up multiple times per night, every night.  How in the heck you parents of little ones do it is beyond me!

Anyway.  I woke up today at 9, after waking up at 4:30 and 7, after having gone to bed at 1.  I was ragged and crusty.  I couldn't comprehend the thought of pie from scratch. So I turned to a few different cookbooks.  I remembered an interesting looking recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie from the Bi-Rite Market cookbook.  I opened it up & casually thumbed through it, and randomly landed on the page for Seared Saffron Albacore Tuna with Fennel-Olive Tapenade.  And I decided right then & there that I needed to make it.  It kind of became my obsession for the day.

And so I bought some perfectly nicely packaged pre-made pies for tomorrow's show, along with some local albacore tuna, escarole, olives, fennel, and local heirloom peppers.   And I came home and got to cooking fiercely and with so much joy after weeks of running, lathering, rinsing, repeating.  And then I made the recipe from the Bi-Rite cookbook, verbatim, and it was completely and utterly stellar, tender, juicy, perfectly rare fish with salty earthy tapenade and sturdy, lemony greens.  It was a home run.  I was so afraid I'd ruin the fish but I didn't.  Dang.  I feel like more of a rock star than if I'd actually made ten pies.  It was off the charts.  And I really can't take a lick of credit beyond opening that cookbook and getting struck with the fire, the passion, the mission to make this dish and the wherewithal to see it through until the end.   Although, the salad on the side consisted of tomatoes fresh from our garden and those heirloom peppers that I'd roasted, so I guess I'll take a teensy bit of credit for that.

Anyway, every bite was was dynamite. Sometimes the quest for pie leads to something else altogether. I like it when that happens.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Beet Goes On

Ah, what a feeling.  After several months of being way too overbooked, I finally, finally had a Sunday with absolutely nothing on the books but cooking my heart out.

The last couple of months have been overflowing with all sorts of activity - visits to see family & friends that took me to places like Baltimore and Canton and Yucca Valley, and a camping trip to a beautiful site about three miles from Yosemite, and a one year wedding celebration with the mister in Mendocino, where we enjoyed another lovely stay at the Andiron Inn.  All told, there was much lovely scenery, and cherished time with cherished people, sandwiched in between lots of music and work.

I've loved every moment of seeing my family and friends, near and far, but, there hasn't been much time left over to do the basic things, like... laundry and pulling weeds and just generally trying to keep the house clean and maintain some semblance of order and balance.  I've never been good at balance.  And today I wasn't either, but damn did it feel good to spend the better part of nine hours cooking my heart out.

Mostly I washed greens for salad and plucked and washed and dried basil and parsley and dill.  It takes awhile to do all that, but once washed & dried & stored in paper towels or cloth, it all keeps for quite some time and I love having fresh herbs at the ready.  I made pesto with some of the basil, and used all the herbs to make herb butter.  I made a quinoa salad with roasted corn, fennel, dried cherries, olives and dill.  I toasted a bunch of walnuts that I will use to top the salad with tomorrow when I eat it for lunch.  And then, I made this beet salad.

The recipe was posted recently in the NYT, and was created by David Tanis.  It was a lot of work, I must say.  Roasting the beets and then peeling them, prepping the mint and dill, roasting and then grinding coriander and cumin seeds, making both a vinaigrette and a yogurt sauce, cleaning the greens. 

But damn, it was so good.  And so beautiful to look at.  

Making it, and then eating it, was the perfect ending to the perfect day.   The house is still a wreck and the weeds are still growing like weeds will do, but the fridge is fully stocked and the house smells good, and for now, that's good enough for me!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Great Garden, Green Goddess!

Hi, stranger!

Long time no see.  I've been in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, and in the garden, planting and pulling weeds and tending to my worm farm, aka my compost bin. I've been building the compost heap since around March of last year, and slowly but surely, it's turning into a happy place for worms, which have been slithering around there for many months now.

I can't remember when, but quite some time ago, I found a lone worm squirming around the raised bed, and I picked the little bugger up and tossed it into the compost bin.  The rest is history.  Now, it's worm city in there.  And in case you didn't know, where worms hang out, soil is happy.  Happy soil = happy garden.  And to my great delight, that's just what we've got growing!

We planted our raised bed and a bunch of things in pots around the middle of April, with a scoop of this wormy goodness added to the soil beneath each plant, and I can hardly believe it - everything is growing like gangbusters! Just under one month later we already have not only squash blossoms, but actual squash which will no doubt grow to the size of large buildings before we know it!  And also, all 4 of our tomato plants already have blossoms, as do the padron peppers, and the herbs are going crazy and the kale is prolific.  I attribute it to the compost. And this long stretch of very sunny days has certainly helped, too.  All of it is a very happy making combination.

April 16th, 2012
May 13th, 2012

Speaking of happy making... the latest culinary obsession around here is Green Goddess Dressing.  It's something I never gave much thought to until I stumbled upon the recipe and lovely photos of it at the Tastespotting blog.  I always had a vague inkling that it was an herby, creamy sort of affair, but beyond that, Green Goddess was a bit of a mystery.  But when I saw the recipe at Tastespotting and saw that it featured anchovies, I decided I had to try it, especially since I still had some fancy spanish anchovies that had recently been given to me as a birthday gift.

As the Tastespotting article mentions, the original recipe hails from the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and that version, as well as many others, use some sort of dairy ingredient - be it sour cream or mayo.  This version uses avocado to make it creamy, and although I admit I've never tried any other version, I'm sold on this one.  It's absolutely bursting with flavor from the anchovies plus garlic and shallot, all of which add depth, and there's brightness from the herbs, plus a velvety silkiness from the olive oil and avocado.  It's heavenly just slathered on a baguette, or drizzled over any kind of vegetable or grain.  Haven't tried it on fish yet but I'm sure that'll be coming soon.  I think this might be my new favorite condiment/sauce/reason for living!

Without further adieu, here is my adaptation.  I used less considerably less honey, muscat vinegar instead of white wine, and I did what I often do when a recipe calls for raw garlic:  I poached it first for about ten minutes in boiling water, just to mellow it ever so slightly.  I hope you'll soon be slathering this on something delicious to make it even more so, and sharing it with someone you love!

Green Goddess Dressing

1-2 garlic cloves
½ ripe medium avocado
2 tablespoons Muscat vinegar (or white or red wine vinegar)
1 small shallot, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
2-3 oil packed anchovies
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
¾ cup olive oil
about ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

Put the garlic cloves in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.  Let sit for about 10 minutes, and then drain. (Or better yet - save the poaching water to use in your next batch of stock!) Run the garlic in the food processor or blender until finely chopped. You will have to keep stopping to push the bits back down toward the blades.

Add the avocado, vinegar, shallots, anchovy, lemon juice and honey and pulse until fairly smooth.

With the food processor or blender running, drizzle oil through feed tube. Add herbs and process until combined. Transfer mixture to a bowl or jar.

Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover and chill at least 3 hours (dressing will separate if not chilled).

Drizzle over everything you can think of, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

An Everlasting Meal

Lifetimes have flown by since I last wrote, including a trip to the Oregon coast complete with wet dogs, a terrible head cold, a bit of snow and a hailstorm or two.  Fortunately, there was also much fresh seafood, a fireplace and stunning ocean waves to gaze at through a 24/7 Nyquil haze...

...and many beautiful clouds, and miles of gorgeous coastline for dog romping.

Towards the end of the trip, I started to recover, and cracked a crab for the first time ever.  I didn't clean & cook it though;  that experience will have to wait for another time!

But we sure did enjoy combining the fresh crab meat with a little garlic, olive oil, parsley & white wine over pasta.  And then, inspired by my newest cookbook obsession, An Everlasting Meal, I simmered the crab shells in water with a little more white wine, garlic, celery & carrot, crushed red pepper & lemon peel, and the next day's meal was born:  a rustic soup with the crab broth, a few leftover noodles, and some toasted slices of baguette tossed right into the bowl to soak it all up.  It was not only delicious, but pretty cool to get another whole meal out of a bit of leftovers, crab shells and odd vegetable bits!

To say that Tamar Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal, has inspired me greatly is putting it mildly.  It's done more than that - it's floored me!  It's influenced me in a major way, and really changed not only the way I cook, but the way I think about cooking and food and eating.  It's not just a book with recipes, or a book about food.  It's a beautifully written collection of essays, filled with warmth and wit, and no end of suggestions about how to make the most out of the food you have.  The premise is that good food doesn't need to be complicated or fancy, it simply needs to be prepared with attention and care.

I've tried a small handful of the recipes and so far I have not been remotely disappointed.  In fact, I was thrilled  with the recipe for ribollita, which I've made twice now, and it actually tastes nearly as good as the amazing versions of this dish that I had in Italy.  I've tried on my own to replicate this dish a couple of times now but never felt I hit it just right until I tried Adler's version.  The key, at least in part, is in using copious amounts of olive oil, and bread that is perfectly stale.

One of the suggestions in the book is that you shop at the beginning of the week, roast your vegetables in batches, and then chop and slice and dice and puree them all week long to use in salads, soups, and side dishes, dressed with simple combinations like olive oil and fresh herbs, or italian salsa verde - a combination of fresh parsley, capers, anchovies and olive oil.  With a couple of hours' worth of work at the beginning of the week, you can have the basic building blocks for quite a few meals, the ends of which then become the beginnings of the next meal.  I love this concept, and for me it is a radical shift from how I usually tend to operate. I love to follow recipes, to find new recipes and new cookbooks. But I'm also loving the concept of making the best meal possible from whatever you have in your fridge and pantry.

Of course, this style of cooking isn't new - I'm quite sure this was exactly how my grandparents cooked!  But it's nice to be reminded of this.  I know this is a book I will be coming back to again and again, in fact I'm feeling pretty inspired to try every single recipe in the book, so expect more to come on this topic from me.  And in the meantime, if you love great writing and great food, you'd do well to get your very own copy.   Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

La La Lemon Love!

It's the time of year when lemon trees go wild.  I've found myself making lemon vinaigrette every week, dropping a slice of lemon into every glass of water, bringing large bags to work and when visiting friends,  and still, the lemon tree runneth over.  I made 2 jars of preserved lemons.  Still, not a dent was made.  So last weekend, I was delighted to meet up with my Food Groupies pals again to work on changing that.

Sabine brought this recipe to the group for lemon confit.  It doesn't sound like much.  Just take some lemon peels and blanch them a couple of times in boiling water in order to remove any bitterness, and then simmer them slowly in a combination of oil and lemon juice, seasoned with garlic.  It didn't seem like the sort of thing that would knock my socks off, but it's knocked them off the charts!  When we finished making this, we dabbed a little bit onto a baguette that we'd also dabbed with arugula pesto.  Then topped it with some sauteed greens.  Heavenly!  We all agreed that the combination of pesto & this lemon confit would make a perfect sauce for pasta.  And now that I have a little jar of it, and a seemingly endless supply of lemons, I'm excited that I'll get to make this a staple in my refrigerator as long as the lemons last!  A little bit goes a long way and adds such sparkle.  The other day for lunch, I diced a hard boiled egg and chopped some kalamata olives, and stirred a bit of this sparkly stuf into the combo, and used it to top a green salad for lunch...with lemon vinaigrette, of course! I think it would also be great stirred into soup, or spread on fish or chicken.

Next up, we made this recipe for Tartine Bakery's lemon cream:  lemon curd's creamier, dreamier cousin. I have recently become a very big fan of the Food52 web site's Genius recipes, and this one is no exception.  It is described as "...your new tart filling, scone spread, and trifle layer -- and the best lemon pudding you'll ever taste.", and that pretty much sums it up!

We adapted the lemon confit recipe ever so slightly, so here it is below with our adaptations.  As for the lemon cream, I wouldn't change a thing!

I am very happy to have discovered both of these recipes, and grateful for the little extra bit of brightness they bring about in the winter.

Lemon Confit

Slightly adapted from Epicurious, by Sondra Bernstein

4 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil *(you may also use grapeseed oil or a combo of grapeseed and canola, as we did.)
1 garlic clove
Pinch of salt

Using vegetable peeler, remove peel (yellow part only) from lemons in long strips.  Cut the strips into thinner strips, approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide, kind of like confetti!  *The original recipe didn't call for this, but we found the large strips to be awkward & bulky, and figured the smaller pieces would work better for spreading the final result, and we were all quite happy with that call.

Squeeze 6 tablespoons juice from lemons.

Blanch the peels in small saucepan of boiling water 10 seconds; drain. Repeat twice.

Bring the 6 tablespoons lemon juice, olive oil, canola oil, garlic, and pinch of salt to simmer in small saucepan. Add lemon peels and simmer over low heat until peels are soft, about 1 hour. Cool.

 DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 month ahead. Keep chilled and completely covered in oil. Always use clean fork to remove lemon.

Friday, February 03, 2012

From Fresh Ricotta to Stinky Kale and Fake Chicken Nuggets

This week has been all over the map.

Sunday, my dear beloved Food Groupies friends gathered again for the first time in about 4 years.  We are a small group of friends who used to meet once a month to explore fun food projects, and wow, did we ever have a delicious blast!  When we were meeting regularly, we made many fine foods and drinks, like limoncello, fresh salsa, tortillas, pupusas, sauerkraut, biscotti & more.  Not really sure why we stopped... life just got in the way.  But on Sunday we picked right up where we left off and made fresh ricotta.  And now that we're back at it, we're all so delighted and inspired to keep it going!

As I wrote previously, I didn't have many resolutions this year, but among the few that I did, making more delicious things from scratch was high on the list.  I'm happy to say that I can already check a few items off the list.  Recently I made homemade dijon mustard, and last weekend, in the company of my fellow Food Groupies, I learned how to make the most creamy, dreamy ricotta that ever was.   We followed this recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, a damn fine blog, filled with tasty recipes and witty writing.  I can't even express how much we loved this recipe, and how exquisite the results were.  We made a huge spread with Acme bread and Semifreddi's Garlic Croutons on which to spread the ricotta, and we had all kinds of treats to add, like caramelized onions, tomato & parsley relish with garlic, fire roasted jalapeƱos, blackberry jam, olive oil from Spain, and roasted garlic.  Oh MAN, it was heavenly!  Added bonuses:  Sabine made a big pot of this soup, and we drank a special bottle of wine that a friend from Italy recently bestowed upon me and the little mister.  And since little mister is more of a beer lover than a wine lover, I had no choice but to share it with the Food Groupies!

And then, then there is the matter of the marinated kale.  Lately I eat kale salad for lunch about a good 4 days out of 7.  I'm crazy.  Crazy for kale.  I never get sick of it.  It all began with this recipe, which is practically one of my all time favorites.   I'm wild for it.  And frequently, I vary it.  I add fennel or some cooked grains, substitute a chopped hard boiled egg for the cheese, or just use whatever I have in the house.  Lately I've been adding quinoa and diced roasted kabocha squash.  Sometimes lentils, sometimes not.  Anyway I love this salad but I do find it a bit of a pain to strip the kale from its stems, wash, dry and chop it.  And I'd recently read an article that says you can make the salad & marinate it well in, days in advance.  And so I did that.  Got 3 big bunches of kale on Sunday, cleaned it and prepped it all at once, and tossed it all into a big container with olive oil & lemon juice.  Had some of it on  Monday and it was fab.  Skipped Tuesday, but pulled the big container out of the work fridge  on Wednesday.  The moment I pulled the lid off, I, and the poor, poor souls around me were hit with the most rank smell, OMG.  Like stinky pickled stinky stuff. Like cabbage that's been sitting in the sink for days.  I was immediately apologetic to my poor coworkers who could smell this stink from 3 suites away!  ESPECIALLY cause I am that uptight person in the office who always gets all irritated when people pull out stinky things for their lunches!  Payback time!  But strangely, it tasted fine.  It WAS fine.  It wasn't off.  I don't really know what kind of chemical reaction happened to make it stink so bad.  But I know I definitely WON'T be marinating my kale salads more than a day in advance in the future!  And lest you might think it's a good idea, trust me.  It's not so good.

And then, then there was tonight's bachelor dinner.  Lest anyone should ever accuse me of being too much of a food snob, I will have you know that tonight's dinner was frozen fake chicken nuggets with mayo and Sriracha, with a pretzel stick chaser.  Not a vegetable in sight.  Sometimes that's about the best you can do.  I'd like to say it was comfort food but it wasn't exactly comforting.  More like a little greasy and bloat-inspiring.  But it sure did round out the week!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Move Over, Val's Granola

Oh man, I am SUCH a goner.

Do you know how many calories I've consumed in the form of this granola TODAY ALONE??

Me neither, and I prefer to keep it that way.  I usually don't deviate from my own treasured granola recipe.  It's lovely.  It's not too sweet.  It's fragrant.  It's damn good.  People love the living crap out of it!  But, truth be told, for me at least, it isn't addictive.  I love every single bite, I do!  But usually, a small portion satisfies me and then I'm on my merry way.  I like it like that.  It's a bit labor intensive to make, too, so I don't make it that often, and it is always a treat when I do.

But this stuff is as easy to make as it is to inhale. It's sweet & savory, salty & crunchy and completely addictive. Reminds me a bit of really good caramel corn.  You keep reaching your hand back into the bag for another handful, just one more handful, and then, just one more after that.  Until the bag is empty and you're turning it inside out to dump the crumbs into the palm of your hand, looking around to make sure no one sees you licking said crumbs off of said palm.

So, as much as I love this stuff, I don't think I'll be making it again any time soon, or if I do, it'll only be to give to people as gifts.  Don't get me wrong!  This here is a glowing endorsement.  I just find it prudent not to keep things that are this sweet and full of carbs around my house.  I even cut back on the sweetness, using a little less than 1/2 cup maple syrup when the recipe calls for 3/4 cup.  I've read recommendations elsewhere that suggest taming the sweetness a bit, and I think that's a good call.  Even with just under half a cup of maple syrup, this batch was still plenty sweet.  Not sweet enough to hurt the teeth, but just enough to make me want to eat the entire batch in one setting!  And I nearly did.  And I bet you will too, just as soon as you try it out for yourself.  Enjoy, and be sure to give a lot of it away to spread those happy delicious calories around!


Makes about 7 cups

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled

1 cup raw sunflower seeds, hulled - (I used coarsely chopped almonds instead of sunflower seeds)

1 cup unsweetened coconut chips

1 1/4 cup raw pecans, left whole or coarsely chopped

3/4 cup pure maple syrup - (I used just under 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar

Coarse salt

Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Place oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut, pecans, syrup, olive oil, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Spread granola mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until granola is toasted, about 45 minutes.

Remove granola from oven and season with more salt to taste. Let cool completely before serving or storing in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Happy 2012!

Happy 2012!

It's a New Year, indeed.  Hope your holidays were fab.  I enjoyed some really nice time away from work.  Spent some of it lazing around the house, some of it working around the house, enjoyed some garden time (finally cleared out the summer garden remnants and planted more kale, yay!), read a ton, and had a wonderful visit with my whole family.  Did some baking, too!  The pizzelle baking has become an annual tradition now, as has the overconsumption of said pizzelles by the baker.  Thank goodness for that other annual tradition, the January cleanse!  Although truth be told, my regimen is not much of a cleanse this year.  For this month I've cut out alcohol and am eating sensibly, avoiding most sugar, fried foods and the like.  And I'm starting each day with an awesome smoothie made in my new Vitamix blender, OMG!!!  It leaves all the other blenders in the dust.  I have wanted one for the longest time.  This thing can puree like nobody's business.  Whole fruits and vegetables become smooth as butter.  I've been using it to make shakes, juices, sauces, even coconut milk!  It's the bomb and I am so so happy that I finally get to have my very own, courtesy of my brand new Grandma.  Well, she's not exactly brand new, but rather new to me, by way of that sweet husband of mine.  And what a gem she is.  Besides being a kind and generous human being, she's also sharp as a tack.  I miss my own grandparents a lot, and didn't get to enjoy them for nearly long enough before they left this world, so it's a treat to get to have a Grandma again at this stage of life. I appreciate her very much!

Besides the magical blender, I'm also the fortunate recipient of some really great cookbooks.  The first was a gift from my friend Mel:  My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy's Undiscovered South, by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher.  Although so far, I've only made one recipe from it, I'm sure that I'll be going back to this again and again.  On Christmas, we made Polpette di Melanzane - crispy eggplant "meat"balls.  They were such a hit, even the carnivores reached for seconds!  I'm really excited to try many of the recipes in this book, like Spaghetti with Salt Cod and a Spicy Tomato Sauce, Creamy Chick Pea Soup with Shrimp and Anise Seed,  and Fresh Tuna Pizzo Style with Wine Vinegar, Garlic, and Mint.

I also got Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food: A Grocer's Guide to Shopping, Cooking & Creating Community Through Food, by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough.  Although I live in the Bay Area, I haven't been to the Bi-Rite Market proper.  I have been to the Bi-Rite Creamery and do declare their ice cream to be some of the most incredible that I've ever had!  The recipes in this book look great.  I'm particularly excited to try the Red Quinoa and Tofu Salad with Ginger and Pickled Daikon, the Winter Lentil Salad with Roasted Root Veggies, and the Curried Coconut Sweet Potato Mash.

I'm also quite excited about Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry, by Liana Krissoff.  I don't have much in the way of resolutions this year, but I do resolve to make more things from scratch, and I'm excited to fill my pantry (and my stomach!) with homemade things in pretty jars (well, the homemade things will go in the stomach, but not the jars!).  Lots of inventive flavor combinations in this book - like Strawberry and Lemon Preserves, Pickled Sugar Snap Peas with Mint, and Cardamom Plum Jam.

Yes, 2012 is going to be the year of More Homemade around here.  Here are just a few of the things I'm planning to make from scratch this year, some of them for the first time:  yogurt, tofu, tempeh, tomato paste, mustard, and vinegar, and Dad's Sauce.

I can hardly believe that it's been a whole year (and then some!) since I watched my Dad make the family recipe for meat sauce, and I wrote it down, and I proclaimed here on this very blog that I was going to make it in the coming year.  Well, the year came and the year went and I never did make it.  Not gonna let another year pass without making it!  I might even break out the pasta machine and make fresh pasta to go with it.  Of course, this will have to happen after January, which already seems to be flying right by.

Wishing you many fine meals and happy, healthy times in 2012!