Monday, September 28, 2009

Before and After

Before: Sunday Morning's Harvest
After: Thai Eggplant and Long Bean Salad with Tomatoes and Peanuts
Suddenly we have beans everywhere -- beautiful red Chinese long long beans. For the longest time I was thinking we'd see a few measly beans and the vines would die out. But, after a slow start and losing a few pods to garden pests of various kinds we are getting a good handful of beans just about every other day.
The front garden is bursting with late summer eggplant. I love eggplant. Fried, roasted, baked, stewed-- eggplant also loves oil. I was looking for something a little lighter to combat California's warm September. And so, starting with a recipe I found on Epicurious I broiled the eggplant slices quickly and tossed them in a dressing of fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. The I added in the quickly boiled long beans, small quartered heirloom tomatoes (not ours -- alas -- we are between tomato harvests), fresh cilantro and plenty of chopped peanuts. A tangy summer salad served with brown rice. Just because we were in the Thai mode I whipped up some quick chicken satays with peanut dipping sauce. Another simple supper for LA's Indian summer.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seemingly Special for Saturday

"You could serve these at one of our dinner parties," James declared between bites. "This and not much else."
That's the highest complement James gives -- tempered with his regular criticism that I make too much or too many things when people come to dinner. None the less this simple dinner seemed to do the trick -- felt like a Saturday night but quick and easy enough for a Wednesday.
Saturday mornings I generally go to the neighborhood farmer's market. In spite of the recent very warm weather the cauliflower looked extra nice so I picked up a head and figured I'd come up with something. I nabbed the extra large scallops last night when work ended nearly at the doorstep of my favorite fish store. The big man wasn't hungry for dinner Friday -- so I had to use those scallops.
I thought about brown butter sauce, Coquille St Jacques (another of His Highness' favorites), but I kept coming back to that fresh cauliflower -- until I hatched a plan. Pan-seared, prosciutto-wrapped scallops with cauliflower puree and fresh arugula salad.
I broke the cauliflower up into florets (about one inch or so) and popped them in a saucepan of boiling water until tender. I drained the cauliflower (reserving some of the cooking water) and put it in the bowl of the food processor with S&P and a bit of the reserved water (very little). I gave this mixture a good turn in the processor getting it almost smooth. In the meantime I browned a little butter on the stove (when the butter was half-browned I popped in a crushed glove of garlic).
While the cauliflower was cooking I took half (lengthwise) a slice of prosciutto and wrapped it around each scallop and secured with a toothpick. I seasoned each side with S&P and put them aside until the cauliflower was ready.
In a sauté pan I heated a combination of olive oil and butter over high heat until very hot and added in the scallops. These were such big scallops that I was able to leave them to sear for about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes on the first side -- we like a nice dark sear. When I turned the scallops I added the brown butter to the cauliflower in the food processor and allowed it to run until very smooth.
To serve add a good dollop of cauliflower purée to your plate, top with fresh arugula, a sprinkle of parmesan and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. Remove the toothpicks and place the seared scallops on (or more like in) the arugula, and drizzle with a bit of the cooking oil. Dinner is served.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mussels in Minutes

Sometimes I just can't think of what to make for dinner. Sometimes I'm tired of doing dishes. Sometimes I need something fast. Those are the kind of nights I stop for fresh mussels and have dinner on the table in 20 minutes tops. Bring slivered garlic, crushed red pepper, a swig of olive oil, and some white wine to a boil. Add baby potatoes (if desired, I don't always bother) and cook covered for about 10 minutes. Pour in cleaned and scrubbed mussels and cover. Cook over medium-high heat until all the mussel open (about 7-8 minutes). Add a sprinkling of parsley and several cubes of butter cook 1 minute more, stir and serve with crusty bread.

Monday, September 21, 2009

From Airport to Entrée

I'm sure James misses me when I am away, but sometimes I think he might just be hungry. Within minutes of arriving home from the airport, before all the bags were in the house, the big man announced that he was "starving." Could he "please have some lunch?"
I hadn't shopped in a week at least, so I perused the pantry and the hauntingly empty fridge and came up with this quick cook pasta. While the spaghetti boiled I sauteed some garlic, prosciutto, and crushed red peppers in olive oil, added in the al dente spaghetti, a bit of the pasta cooking water, a few heaping spoonsful of fresh ricotta, S&P and a healthy shower of parmesan cheese. To top it all off some shaved parmesan and fresh oregano leaves from our front garden. Airport to entrée in 90 minutes flat.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What Shari Had For Dinner-- Saturday Guest

The big man hasn't been in much of a mood to venture out, so when our friend asked if we wanted to have dinner we decided to whip something up at home. Since I was in the middle of extracting honey and getting ready to leave early the next morning I opted for easy dishes that don't need a lot of cook's attention.
For appetizers I looked into the fridge and came up with a winner -- James says it's THE new house party dish. Rosemary crackers (I would have toasted up some crostini but if I have to be honest about it I burned them and didn't have enough bread to try again and still have some for dinner) spread with fresh ricotta, topped with a thin slice of prosciutto and half a fresh fig, and drizzled with S&P, balsamic vinegar, fruity olive oil, and chopped mint. Super easy and delicious.
For dinner a tomatoey mixed seafood stew cooked up with diced fennel, celery, and dry white wine. On the side a simple salad of radicchio and parsley with tangy anchovy dressing and crusty, old fashioned garlic bread for dipping.
And for dessert a puff pastry apple tart. I had some Trader Joe's all butter puff pastry in the freezer (one of those thing you buy for a rainy day that takes a long time to come). After the dough was thawed (just took 10 minutes) cut into neat circles and chilled (for 30 minutes in the fridge) I layered on thinly sliced apples, sprinkled about 1 TB of sugar and drizzled with a couple tsps of sugar. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes at 400º, serve with ice cream.
Hopefully the memory of Saturday night dinner will keep Himself going while I'm out of town and he's living the bachelor life of trader Joe's pizza and Wendy's drive through.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Simple Quick Easy

Thomas Keller's Favorite Roast Chicken recipe, as reported by Bon Appetit magazine, is so simple it can barely be called a recipe -- and yet it turns out a reliably moist bird with golden, crispy skin. Wash the bird inside and out and pat dry. Make sure the skin is dry so the bird roasts not steams. Salt and pepper the cavity, tuck wings under and truss the bird. "Rain" salt down all over the trussed chicken (about 1 TB), place in roasting pan, dutch oven or iron skillet -- and place in pre-heated 450º oven for 45-50 minutes. Add chopped thyme to the pan drippings and ladle over bird and let the cooked chicken rest about 10 minutes before carving. Slather with fresh butter and serve with plenty of high-quality mustard and a fresh green salad.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Smothered Steak and Fries

It's been quite a week (or so). Fires, insurance agents, neighborhood meetings, cleaning up (with a shovel) and worst of all trying to remember what you used to own. Those are the days that call for old-fashioned comfort food. Not modern American interpretations that pepper menus from Chicago to Savannah, but the real thing -- rich, salty, heavy, warm -- like we all wish our grandmothers used to make.
Round steak, the tenderized cut often crisped for chicken fried steak, is as handy a freezer item as a cook can find. It thaws and cooks quickly, and, in this favorite recipe leaves just one pan to clean. Dredge the steaks in seasoned flour (S&P and garlic powder for me) and crisp in hot oil (or bacon grease if you have it) until lightly browned on each side. Make sure your skillet has a tight fitting lid. Mix in one thinly sliced large onion and cook until just softened. Add 2 cups chicken broth cover tightly and simmer over medium-low heat until steaks are tender and gravy has thickened. Serve steaks piled high with the smothered onions alongside mashed or crispy fried potato rounds.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Black Eyed Peas with Greens

Super quick dinner sauté. I had cooked black eyed peas in my freezer and leftover broccoli rabe from dinner a few nights ago. I toasted some garlic in a pan with olive oil -- then added the broccoli and thawed black-eyed peas and allowed them to warm through. I sprinkled on some crushed red pepper, S&P, stirred in about a tablespoon of butter, a little hot sauce, a dash of cream, and about a TB of tomato paste. I let it all cook over medium heat until the flavors were blended (and James came upstairs for dinner) and served it over steamed brown rice -- vegetarian comfort food.

What James Had For Breakfast

I just couldn't keep walking by the two lonely bananas turning browner by the day on my kitchen counter. That's a baker's call to action. And so, in the tradition of my famous "fridge pie (all the leftover fruit mixed up with spices and sugar and baked in a pie crust), I whipped up these quick muffins.
Mix two mashed bananas (or more if you have them) into 1/3 cup melted butter. Stir in 3/4 cup of brown sugar (I would have used white but I didn't have any), 1 egg and 1 tsp vanilla. In a separate bowl mix together 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 tap baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add flour mixture to liquid ingredients and stir until just incorporated. Fold in 3-4 chopped plums (or whatever less than perfect or dried fruit you may have on hand) and about 1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds (or whatever nuts you have on hand). Pour batter into lined muffin tins (about 2/3 full -- the brown sugar makes them a little sticky so use paper liners or grease the tin well), sprinkle tops with almonds, and bake at 350º for about 25 minutes. Banana Fruit Muffins with Almonds, perfect with morning coffee.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Down Home Labor Day

Put away the white shoes for another season. Labor Day has come and gone, and with it goes the restless summer ramblings that makes us all feel like kids out of school well past our school years.
Certain days call for special foods. Thanksgiving demands pumpkin pie, Easter practically requires a ham, and no Valentine's Day is complete without chocolate. For me Labor Day has to have barbeque -- not grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, but real, slow cooked, patiently tended barbeque -- even when it's just for two. In theory, I suppose, it's the last lazy warm day with time to spare for tending cooking fires -- but it's also pretty easy to cheat. Dabbling with a recipe I found from the Bronx based owner of Mogridder's BBQ truck (not exactly down home, eh?), I cooked these sticky ribs in a slow oven (sprinkled with salt, pepper, garlic powder and cloves) wrapped in tin foil with a bottle of beer for moisture. After two hours I strained the pan drippings into a saucepan with 1 cup of ketchup, 1 cup of homemade spiced peach jam, and 3 TBs of lemon juice -- reduced the sauce down to a sticky glaze, brushed it over the already tender ribs and passed it under the broiler for convincing BBQ char.
Barbeque sides are usually simple treats, but somehow, as I am mourning the loss of a summer that never really was, tomato salad and corn on the cob seemed to mock the carefree days we missed. I moved towards fall with stewed green beans (pole beans as The Big Man would say) and new (homegrown) potatoes. These are Southern style vegetables no vegetarian would dare try -- bathed in bacon fat and rich chicken broth. A wedge of buttermilk cornbread, extra rich with plenty of melted sweet butter, stood by to gather up sticky sauce and tasty "pot liker" (hmm can it really be pot liker if you're not cooking greens?). Comfort food from the land of "meat and three" -- as far away from California cuisine as this gal can get.

10-12 Minute Pasta Bake

Summer is coming to a close, and with it goes the glorious evening light -- magic dinner hour --- that made some of these photos, if not exactly ones I am proud of, at least ones I'm not ashamed of. With September comes earlier sunsets and dinner pictures showing the dimly lit tungsten glow (or gasp -- a flash) of my nearly winter kitchen lights. But I digress, back to dinner.
This isn't 10-12 Minute Pasta Bake because it takes 10-12 minutes to cook, or stir together the sauce, or bake, or even eat. In one of my more Women's Day moments I started a little fall cleaning on my kitchen shelves and gathered up the odds and ends of pasta. Tonight I used all of the ones with a 10-12 minute cooking time (hence the name). Squid ink colored pasta rings (calamarata al nero di seppia), whole wheat penne, and a couple strands of bucatini -- some shapes His Highness would likely vaguely sneer at if just sauced on a plate but, when baked together with homegrown eggplant, browned sausage, leftover tomato sauce and shredded bits of mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan cheeses left in the fridge . . . he was going back for fourths.
From dinner diva to casserole cook in one easy fall.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Egg "Farmer's" Dilemna

Every now and then, since our girls work so hard to bring us tasty breakfast treats (and because in spite of supplying the neighbors they tend to pile up n the fridge) I like to find a way to have eggs take center stage on the dinner table, instead of keeping company with Neuske's smoked bacon for his highness' Sunday breakfast. While looking off at the cartons and picking through the vegetable drawers I remembered a Nancy Silverton recipe I saw for cauliflower frittata. Supposedly a treat the great pastry chef and bakery entrepreneur made for her appetizer tables. Nancy's (I'll call her Nancy as if all of use hen raising egg cooks are on a first name basis) recipe called for sautéing cauliflower in olive oil and butter, tossing in some onions and more butter, adding a bit or garlic and swirling in one last tablespoon of butter. Then eggs beaten with a bit of sea salt are poured into the sauté pan and allowed to just set and the whole pan is sprinkled with a mix of bread crumbs and thyme before being popped in a pre-heated 400º oven until golden. Yes it's a lot of butter (yum) but still I wanted cheese. I grated some fontina cheese and added it to the pan with the eggs instead of sprinkling with parmesan as NS suggests. And instead of Nancy's topping of aged balsamic vinegar (only because I forgot) we had radicchio and frisée salad with balsamic vinaigrette. This 15 minute dinner was such a hit it became "What James Had For Lunch." Thanks Girls!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Vegetarian Tacos

I know it's hard to believe but lately it has been so hot that I haven't been in the mood to cook or shop or do just about anything (except search for ice cream in the freezer). So lately I've been scratching my head trying to come up with dinners that use things we have in the house and don't need the oven. His highness has sworn off chicken again (I think Roscoe's is probably still the exception that proves the rule). The big man always stays away from lamb, and pork that isn't smoked or cured or stuffed into sausage never gets more then a fleeting glance so some days it feels like a monumental struggle to piece together a tasty dinner.
Tonight's refridge recon brought some corn on the cob, zucchini, tomato puree (from our homegrown tomatoes -- I pureed and froze it a couple weeks ago when we were leaving town), and a couple of lonley tomatillos. Presto change-o -- vegetarian tacos with fresh tomatillo salsa based on a recipe from LA's Lotteria Grill.
First I toasted the corn kernels in a bit of oil and set them aside, next into the skillet were thinly sliced onion which I let cook until soft and when just starting to brown I stirred in a little chopped garlic. Next I added the tomato purée to the onions and let them simmer for 10 minutes or so. Then I added chopped zucchini and let the mixture cook until the zucchini was soft and tender. Just before serving I added in the corn, a pinch of oregano, a little hot sauce, and black pepper and cooked through for a few minutes.
To serve -- spoon the filling into warm corn tortillas (for most people, but flour for James -- he just can't warm up to corn tortillas), top with mild cheese and a drizzle of fresh tomatillo salsa (4-5 tomatillos, jalapeño, 1 small onion, 2 cloves garlic, a handful of cilantro, juice of one lime and just enough water to make it salsa -- all whirled together in the blender).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe, Sausage and Fresh Ricotta

An easy quick supper. I briefly blanched some broccoli rabe in the water I was boiling for the spaghetti (the big man's favorite noodle) -- while the pasta cooked I sautéed some crumbled Italian sausage with a few crushed fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. When the spaghetti was just al dente I tossed it in the skillet with the sausage, the broccoli rabe, a little of the pasta cooking liquid, some parmesan, and a good dollop of fresh ricotta cheese -- 20 minute after work week night dinner.