Friday, July 31, 2009

Gourgères: A Girl's Best Friend

I always wanted to be one of those girls who casually produces a tray of cheese puffs, tea breads, or cocktail nibbles when neighbors pop by. The problem is -- it's not the 1950's, it is LA -- neighbors just don't pop by, and sadly, that kind of kitchen magic only happens in old movies -- unless you have a freezer full of gourgères. Cheesy, airy, bites. Gourgères --a classic French (Burgundy) treat usually made with rich Gruyère cheese -- is one of the few foods, along with peas and popsicles, that don't suffer from a stay in the freezer. Perfect for busy nights, making ahead for parties, and unexpected guests.
Bring 1 cup water (or 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup milk), 6 TB butter, and a large pinch of salt to a boil. Add a heavy 3/4 cup flour and stir with a wooden spoon over low heat until dough pulls away from the side of the pot and batter has dried out a bit -- about 2 - 3 minutes total. Put the cooked dough in a bowl, let cool 5 minutes then beat in 3 large eggs, one at a time, each until fully incorporated. Stir in a good pinch of black pepper, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and about 3/4 cup of shredded cheese. To shape you can put the dough in a piping bag and pipe out tablespoon size mounds on lined baking sheets -- or make free-form puffs by dropping batter off a tablespoon. In either case space the dough about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with another 1/4 cup shredded cheese and bake about 20-25 minutes (check after 20 or so) at 400º. Serve hot or cool and freeze to reheat at 350º (about 10 minutes) as your super-hostess secret weapon.
Once you've got them down there is no end to the kitchen wizardry that starts with gourgères (well, Pâte à Choux pastry to be exact). Blue cheese, herbs, sausage or crisp bacon are great batter additions -- or when they are hot and ready you can slice and fill with mushrooms, ham, smoked salmon or whatever strikes your fancy for lighter-than-air mini cocktail sandwiches. Leave out the cheese, pepper, and nutmeg -- maybe beat in an extra egg and you have fluffy cream puff shells. Make the batter with all milk fill with ice cream and dip in chocolate sauce . . . profiteroles.
Homemade kitchen magic from flour, water, butter, and eggs.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

One Year Older And . . .

Another year, another birthday dinner.
Last night we celebrated His Highness' . . . -- well let's not get specific about years -- birthday with a menu of all of his favorites -- guacamole with melted cheese topping, homemade gingerale -- well more like gingerade (a little strong but not a bad first effort), Brazilian style collard greens, corn with feta mint butter, garlic bread, and oven-grilled peppered New York strip steaks with horseradish chive sauce.
The guacamole was recipe I found online -- a basic chunky guacamole (red onions, cilantro, jalapeño, mint -- that was new to me, red peppers instead of tomatoes -- sigh, the saga of James and tomatoes, garlic, lime juice, S&P) -- the something extra in this recipes was the idea to melt a cup of shredded Oaxaca cheese and pour it on just before serving. Dinner could have stopped right there and it still would have felt like a birthday. The corn was an idea from August's (09) Gourmet Magazine. I've done similar dishes with chile and parmesan or chile and lime. You just toss the boiled or steamed corn in a bowl with a flavored butter with crumbled feta and chopped fresh mint. For me. I liked the idea but it was a bit too minty. Next time I'll keep the feta, reduce the mint, and add a little cayenne or crushed red pepper. Collard greens are one of James' favorite vegetables. Instead of stewing we like them quickly cooked with garlic in a little hot oil until the edges turn just the tiniest bit crispy and brown and splashed with lemon juice just before serving.
I know it's grilling season but for a birthday I wanted to make the extra effort and makes steaks James' favorite way. Pre-heat the oven to 500º with a cast iron skillet inside -- when the oven is hot put the skillet on the burner and lay in steaks that have been thoroughly coated with cracked pepper and coarse sea salt (about a 50/50 mix). Brown the steaks on all sides -- about 2 minutes each -- add a knob of butter on top of each steak and place back in the oven in the skillet to cook through. Remove from oven and let stand about 10 minutes before serving. James really prefers filet mignon but I only had two left in our freezer store of Hearst Ranch grass-fed beef (and we were having a guest) so bone-in strip steaks were the order of the night. the horseradish sauce was creme fresh (3/4 cup), horseradish (about 1/3 cup), chopped chives (1 bunch), Dijon mustard (heavy 1/2 tsp), dash of heavy cream, S&P.
Garlic bread as an afterthought, I admit -- Tuesday night's episode of Hell's Kitchen has the teams making garlic bread appetizers for a group of hungry firefighters. It seemed out of character for HK's usual menu but it did look good. I had a half a loaf of homemade bread in the freezer, so I thawed it out, sliced it in half, added a paste of parsley, garlic, butter, S&P slathered it on and toasted it up. I meant to sprinkle a little parmesan cheese but no one seems to miss it.
Happy Birthday Honey!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wrong Noodle

A quick sort of Sicilian style dinner. I browned some garlic in plenty of olive oil added some roasted tomatoes -- part of the never-ending front yard harvest cauliflower florets (1 head), 4 anchovies marinated in chili oil and about 1/2 cup of hot water, covered and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Then -- a last minute idea I added a handful of golden raisins and cooked until the cauliflower was tender but not mushy (about 10 minutes more). Then I stirred in plenty of black pepper and chopped parsley.
When the pasta was cooked I added it to the pan with the cauliflower and let it soak up the sauce for just a minute and gave it all a good stir around. Add some freshly grated parmesan and "eccola": Whole Wheat Penne with Cauliflower, Roasted Tomatoes, Anchovies, Raisins and Toasted Pine Nuts.

Monday, July 27, 2009

No, It's Not One Of Ours!

I usually go to the little farmer's market about a mile away from our house on Saturday mornings -- or sometimes to the Atwater market on Sundays (LA is lousy with farmer's markets). They are sleepy (at least early they are) easy in and out markets with plenty of places to park (at least early they are) But this week I had a lazy Saturday and decided to brave the crowds at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. Near endless rows of ripe fruit, vibrant vegetables, nuts, eggs, cheeses, raw milk, shellfish, and even meats -- not to mention bakeries and a slew of food vendors if you come to socialize and maybe not cook. It's an admirable selection and to get near it -- even early -- I only had to dodge several chef's and wanna be chef's rolling carts, double strollers, chatting friends stopped in the middle of the road to share coffee and samples, promoters offering free bags, and a questionable fellow making balloon animals. Are organic dried garbanzo beans, Meyer lemons, Reed avocados and local walnuts really worth it? Well, probably.
One nice thing about having so many choices is that dinner just appears as you are walking by the tables. I spied this roasting chicken and then the vegetables and sage within a few steps and there you have it, Monday night comfort food: Herbed Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Carrots, and Sweet Onions

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pizza Sunday

James hardly ever asks for anything. But yesterday he said -- "Honey can we have pizza sometime?" So I figured there is no time like the present. I pulled out a trusty dough recipe ( I have two I particularly like -- one from Carol Field's The Italian Baker -- one of my favorite bread books of all times and the other, No Knead Pizza Dough from NYC bread savant/ carb idol Jim Lahey), sauteed some onions in the last scraps of pancetta, chopped red peppers from the garden, sliced crimini mushrooms, and cooked up some ground beef with garlic, crushed red peppers, fennel seeds and tomato paste. Next time I have to remember to split that dough into two balls so I can use my pizza stone. When I rolled it out I realized it was just too big and I was either going to have to re-roll (really don't like to do that -- I think it makes the crust tough) or use a sheet pan instead and well, truth be told, I'm a little disturbed by the eerie similarity to Hamburger Helper Pizza Bake . . . . visible shudder!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Soup and Salad

Watermelon Arugula Salad and Roasted Tomato Soup with Parmesan Cheese Wafer.
James has been picking tomatoes out of our front yard every day -- we pick them a little orange still and let them ripen to fully red (or yellow or green as the case may be) by the West facing window by our kitchen table.
We've had trays and trays of tomatoes. I've already canned stacks of whole tomatoes for this winter's spaghetti sauces, bottled up quarts and quarts of tomato purée, and sun dried 3 oven racks full. And still, the tomatoes keep coming. I'm always happy to have a few for lunch with a little fresh mozzarella, but the big man doesn't like fresh tomatoes. He'll eat them in spaghetti sauce or puréed on a pizza or cooked down into a stews so when I can't keep up with the growing pile it's time for a tomato heavy dinner recipe.
For this simple soup (a recipe I saw in August's Gourmet magazine) I roasted plum tomatoes in the oven with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sautéed some onion with oregano, added in chicken broth and the roasted tomatoes, simmered, puréed, strained, and finished with a little cream. The crispy parmesan wafer really made it -- shredded parmesan mixed with a spoonful of flour, spread thinly on a silicon baking sheet and baked for 10 minutes -- hmmm crunchy, salty, cheese. Delicious. The salad is just a quick toss up of arugula, watermelon, red onion and feta cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette. Next time I'll add a bit of chili and maybe some walnuts or pine nuts for a little crunch. I think it' s going to be a summer of watermelon salads.

Front Yard Folly

How Our Garden Grows
Not too long ago we had a fairly normal --although very small -- front garden. A visit to the county fair, a friend's trip to an organic tomato farm, and running out of room
in the backyard changed all that in a hurry.
We got the idea to make a fence of tomatoes.
James started off looking for cattle or hog panels (found them in Acton but weren't really sure how to get them home) and ended up with green wire fencing that stretches across the front to hold our -- grown from seed -- San Marzano tomatoes
James loves corn. We don't really have
enough room for corn but I had to give it a try and in went Country
Gentleman and Stowell's Evergreen -- two heirloom sweet corn varieties. Corn was too much of a temptation -- once it got about 10 inches tall I attempted a "three sisters" garden adding beans (Signora della Campagna, Maraviglia di Venezia, Painted Lady Runner Beans) to wind their way up the corn stalks and squash (Marina di Chioggia Squash, Jarrahdale Blue-- a New Zealand Heirloom-- and Rouge Vif d'Etampes Pumpkins -- a French heirloom) to keep the corn's "feet" nice and shady.

I liked the idea of creating a formal garden arrangement with the "wrong" plants so . . . mirrored on both sides went Persian and Lemon cucumbers (on the trellises), Jimmy Nardello Frying peppers, and Violetta Eggplant.
A row of marigolds (for pest protection) and delicious alpine strawberries covered the front with basil, thyme, oregano and other herbs tucked in for good measure.
If you thumb through the organic gardening classic Carrots Love Tomatoes you'll quickly find that corn and tomatoes are not the best of garden companions -- against the best advice available we forged ahead but put in a row of Snow White carrots for luck.
A story like this wouldn't quite be complete without a before picture -- so just in case you're curious, here's our front garden before vegetable madness made us the house with the front yard corn.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Super Quick Friday Night Shrimp Supper

Louisiana "Barbecued" Shrimp with Asparagus and Cucumber Salad.

Pretty handy use of the mega-harvest of backyard cucumbers. Another summer weekend is here so nothing too fancy and nothing that takes too much time -- add a couple slices of warm bread and it' s dinner.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Sprouts and Homegrown Potatoes

I'm starting to get bored of California summer. The stone fruits have come, grapes have started, figs are here . . . So, when I saw brussels sprouts at the farmers market last Saturday I grabbed them up like they were some kind of winter secret. Now what to do with them? Usually I'd pull out the maple syrup and give them a good turn in butter and maybe a pinch of cayenne -- just seems out of place when we are running the air conditioner. I decided to give them a quick shred and toss with Parmesan -- anything with cheese can't be bad, right?
For the potatoes -- part of what was our most disappointing potato harvest to date -- I like to try to do something special (or at least memorable) since they did come out of our yard. While I was in the shredding mode I did the potatoes too and tried to do a leek (another farmer's market purchase) and potato rosti -- not so pretty but pretty darn tasty.
A few months back while passing the time wandering through Eat Wild and Local Harvest I ordered a freezer load of grass fed, grass finished, certified humane (and an assortment of other foodie buzzwords) California raised beef. Since I still had no dinner plan at 3:30 this afternoon I pulled out a Flat Iron "Steak" -- quick thaw, quick cook for a winter tastes in summer dinner.
There it is, blog day one, Peppercorn Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Chimichurri Butter, Leek and Potato Rosti and Shredded Brussels Sprouts