Friday, December 2, 2016

James Called Me "Beautiful Spaghetti Genius"

This might be my new favorite dinner.
Somehow tonight I just didn't want to work too hard. I didn't want to wash too many dishes. I didn't want to stand at the stove.
But we were in the mood for spaghetti.
Now when I was young and impressionable I lived in Italy for a little while. That sunny year or two left me with the melodic, poetic Italian language and the vague feeling that no day is truly complete without strong coffee and pasta. I quickly adapted to a daily pasta "primo" (sometimes two) and never got the least bit bored.
Here in the states (a couple of decades later), dinners are one plate, spaghetti is the only course, and reasonable eating dictates that carbs are limited and vegetables take center stage. So, spaghetti isn't every day -- it's a special day.
I started out to make lemon chicken pasta -- kind of a scallopini on spaghetti -- but the panko bread crumbs called my name and I quickly butterflied the chicken breasts, coated them in seasoned, beaten egg, rolled them in panko and pan fried them in olive oil until crunchy golden brown. For the spaghetti I still wanted simple, but with hearty, assertive flavor. No fade into the background filler but a garlicky duet with the crispy chicken.
When the chicken was browned and tucked into a 200º oven to wait for the pasta, I cleaned out the skillet and poured in about 1/2 cup of olive oil and 8 chopped cloves of garlic and half a small lemon very thinly sliced. The garlic and lemon simmered on medium low heat for about a minute -- maybe 2 -- you don't want the garlic to brown just flavor the oil. Then I added in 1 tsp of red pepper flakes, 2 TB of capers, 8 chopped anchovy filets, a pinch of salt and a good quantity of black pepper and let the oil cook for just another 30 seconds or so.
When the pasta (17 oz package) was cooked and drained (with a bit of the pasta cooking water reserved) I returned the spaghetti to the pot along with the oil mixture, the juice of half a small lemon, about 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, a splash of pasta cooking water and a chunk (maybe 1 1/2 TB) of butter.
Everything got a good stir, until the butter melted and the noodles were fully coated with sauce.
This might be my new favorite sauce. Easily pulled together with pantry ingredients. Super fast -- the whole thing can be whipped up while the pasta water boils, and crazy delicious.
The only way it could have been better -- if I say so myself -- was if we'd had a tiny bit of parmesan in the house. Yes, so sad -- we are trying to cut down on cheese too. Sigh. I hate being an adult. But we love spaghetti.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Yesterday Thanksgiving crab feast. 
Today crab cakes with sweet corn.
Though the crab has changed I still make the recipe of my Maryland childhood. For every pound of crab I use 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 1 lightly beaten egg, 1/2 tsp dry mustard or 1 TB dijon , 1/2 - 1 tsp old bay seasoning to taste, 1 TB Worcestershire sauce, a splash of hot sauce and about 1 cup of crushed saltine crackers. Today I added corn cut from yesterday's leftover ears. 
I mix together all the wet ingredients then fold in the crab (and corn) and the crackers. Let the mixture stand for about 5 minutes for the crackers to soak up some of the moisture and then form into  cakes -- about 8 per pound of meat.
Chill the patties for about an hour before pan frying in butter or oil for 4 minutes or so on a side.
Today I was in a hurry and didn't want to wait for the cakes to firm up in the fridge so I coated each one in panko bread crumbs to help them hold together in the pan.  That last bit was only moderately successful. James didn't seem to mind.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Our Traditional Thanksgiving

James doesn't really like turkey. He figures 50 (or so or more over the years) is all any person needs to eat and so we've decided to move onto our own favorites. Okay -- if we have guests we still pull out all the stops and make turkey with all the trimmings (and I love doing it) -- a spread that could make a pilgrim blush. But, when it's just the two of us, as it is this year, we have our own tradition.
November marks the start of Dungeness crab season in Northern California. Though I grew up on summers filled with Eastern blue crab, as a Californian now I think my heart belongs to the winter crab. 
Our homemade Thanksgiving tradition is roasted Dungeness crab, crusty bread, roasted red potatoes, and because James loves it (if we can find it) corn on the cob.
To make the crab marinade, in the food processor  I blend together toasted, crushed fennels seeds (2tsp), parsley (1 bunch), thyme (3-4 sprigs), garlic (2 cloves), red pepper flakes (1 tsp), and plenty of olive oil (2/3 cup). Tossed in the flavorful mixture our crab sits in the fridge for a couple hours waiting to be roasted for just 20 minutes at 400º. I half-bake the potatoes so I can just toss them on the baking tray with the crab to soak up a little extra flavor.
To be honest I miss the big day of cooking. So this year, instead of buying our favorite bread from MH Bread and Butter in San Anselmo I added a little fun project for me and whipped up a couple toasty baguettes. Lately I've been using a simple recipe based on one from Daniel Leader's Bread Alone, at least as reported by Farmgirl Fare. Pretty easy, pretty foolproof, and still impressive.
 For dessert, though it's kind of a joke for us, sweet potato pie. James used to call me sweet potato pie and I hang onto the pie tradition I guess as a nod to the old days -- oh, and because it's delicious. Yes I know, it's uber-pinteresty and too cute for words but I still love the mason jar pie. These little jars make a perfect single serving, store easily, and can be ready in a flash when James just needs a little pie.
Pie crust? I've been making the same one for years. It's flaky, rich, and it never fails. 2 cups flour, 12 TB butter, 3 TB lard, 1 TB sugar, 1/2 tsp salt pulsed together in the food processor until -- as they say -- it resembles coarse sand. Then I sprinkle in 3-3 1/2 TB ice water and pulse till the dough just starts to pull away from the sides of the container. The dough chills, wrapped in wax paper and plastic for at least an hour.
I blind bake the little crusts in my jars for 15 minutes at 375º and then add my filling -- 3 cups mashed roasted sweet potato (I pop them in the oven the night before then peel and mash when it's time for pie). 3 eggs, 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (the extra is awesome in morning coffee),  1 cup sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, a splash of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt and 2 TB melted butter all mixed together, spooned into the waiting crusts and baked for about 25 minutes at 375º.
James may forget why I make them, but he loves that I make them.
Happy Thanksgiving 2016. Another traditional untraditional year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Friends In The Field

The perfect holiday weather.
Crisp and cool. Blue sky with a chill in the air.
The girls are happy and so am I.
Strolling through the pasture, relieved to be home, admiring the bright green grass I stopped to chat with these ladies also enjoying the fall weather.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Beautiful Apples

About three years ago I went to a grafting workshop at a nearby cider orchard and came home with what looked like two dead sticks wrapped in an elaborate bandaid.
After planting and tending and worrying, this year I have a healthy four foot tall tree with a collection of deep red Arkansas Black apples, a unique American variety that dates back to the late 19th century.
Arkansas blacks keep well and grow sweeter with storage but they really shine when added to pies and sauces for unique layered apple flavor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beans Of All Colors

We added two more beds to the vegetable garden this year. Even though I got a late start the plants grew wild and bushy (and drooping with fruit) while I was out of town this last time (James calls it "The Heart of Darkness"). So wild it's almost hard to find the edible bits, but with a little searching I have the garden I've always wanted. I can walk out to the beds, find enough beans for dinner and come in and cook them. So fresh so tender they don't need any enhancement. A little salt, a drizzle of olive oil and dinner is served.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Home Grown Pumpkins

A beautiful Speckled Hound pumpkin on the vine.
Sweet tasting thick flesh and a beautiful display, our nearly forgotten pumpkins have grown up and through summer squash, beans, tomatillos and beans (some are even hanging on the trellis). We have 5 fruits on our one little vine almost ready for soups, pie and maybe as a last minute coach for a last minute princess.
Fall looks better and seems closer every day.