Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ground Beef Spaghetti

It's not gourmet. It's not delicate. It's not even vaguely Italian.
But, some nights it's what James wants. A vaguely Women's Day dish that feels like a memory of a 1960's mid-week dinner. It's not authentic, it's comforting.
While the pasta was boiling I sautéed chopped onions and garlic in olive oil, added the beef and cooked til just about brown. We've run out of our fancy Hearst Ranch grass fed ground beef and this TJ's substitute cooked up a little bland (I usually add a healthy spray of fennel seeds in with the beef but we were out) even for Americana comfort food so I added in a bit of chopped chorizo and prosciutto to the pan. I stirred in a couple TBs of tomato paste and a splash of wine (I would have rather had red but we had white open so I winged it) and let it cook down a bit. When the spaghetti was just tender I added 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to the ground beef along with the drained noodles, tossed in some chopped parsley and gave it a stir. Quick dinner, good for what ails you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Creamy Asparagus Risotto

This is a monumental dinner. A recipe form a magazine so good I followed it as written. Okay so I didn't chop the shallots all that fine and my risotto took more than 15 minutes to be tender and 3 1/2 cups of rice is more than a pound in my book . . . but for me, that's strict adherence.
Try this one at home -- it's Lori De Mori's Creamy Asparagus Risotto from Food and Wine.
First I cut the tips off 2 bunches of fresh asparagus and cooked them in salted boiling water. After 2 minutes I removed the tips and shocked them in ice water, then drained and set aside on a paper towel. Next I trimmed the hard ends off the stalks and cooked the tender remainder in the same salted boiling water for 10 minutes. When those were tender-soft I puréed them in the blender (okay another variation, I didn't use a food processor and I didn't strain this purée because I have a super powered Vita-Mix and it pulverizes everything smoothly). then it was a normal risotto procedure. I sautéed 3 minced (sort of) shallots in 1/4 cup olive oil for about 4 minutes and added 3 chopped cloves of garlic and cooked until the shallots were starting to brown. I added the rice (the recipe said 3 1/2 cups and defined it as 1 pound -- that's way more than a pound to me so I split the difference here) and cooked and stirred until the rice was coated with the oil. Meanwhile I heated about 6 cups of broth (the recipe said 8 but I had used less rice -- and, because I couldn't throw it away, instead of just broth I mixed in the water left over from cooking the asparagus). When the rice was coated I added 3/4 cup of white wine and let it cook, stirring here and there, until evaporated. It was risotto as usual, adding stock about a cup at a time, stirring and adding more broth until the rice was just about tender. I stirred in the puréed asparagus stalks (not all quantity explanation below), and stirred and cooked about 4 minutes more. Next I added in the asparagus tips, cooked for 1 minute, stirred in 1 TB of butter, S&P, and 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese -- let sit for two minutes and served. It might be the best risotto I ever made, I am going to try this puréed vegetable method with other flavors -- mmmm, sweet corn risotto.
One problem. In my slavish recipe following I failed to notice this was a recipe for 8 servings -- way more than my traditional lunch for tomorrow left overs. As I stirred I debated . . . extra risotto for asparagus flavored arancini? I decided to try a risotto experiment. When the rice was about half-cooked I poured about half out onto a sheet pan to cool. I'm going to try and store it and pick up a similar recipe where I left off some time down the road. Details to follow. But for now, try this recipe -- quick, while asparagus is still in season.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Summer in Cape Cod

Summers on "The Cape" . . "steamers" at beach shacks, clambakes, New England's roaring rocky shore. One look at these white shells and I was a kid again and it was summer in Nantucket. I'm not sure if those memories are mine or ones I imagined were mine. Maybe it's a black and white movie I saw and wished I lived in.
I don't know that I have ever seen Ipswich clams in LA before but when I spied them as I walked into Santa Monica Seafood my dinner decision was made. Simply cooked (I used a metal basket over boiling water for about 10 minutes), just pull the sweet clams out by the siphon (the long "spout" on every clam), swish in the delicious clam broth (left in the bottom of the pot after the clams have opened -- don't forget to strain and save the clam broth for soups, stews and risottos) to remove any grit, dip in melted butter, and pop in your mouth.
On the side? Fall's last sweet corn, of course.
Summer supper swoon far from the shore.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick Shrimp

Somehow Chorizo makes everything better.
I had a few links lingering in the meat drawer. I grabbed a bit of the spicy sausage (dried style), sliced it thinly and sautéed in a bit of olive oil. I tossed in some sliced leek, garlic, shrimp, a squeeze of tomato paste, and half a can of chick peas then let the mixture cook for about a minute -- just to let the flavors meld. Next came about a half cup of white wine (next time I would use a little more). And I left the pan to cook over medium-low heat until the shrimp were just cooked through while I toasted the bread. Spanish style supper in 15 minutes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Greek Empanadas? Bitter Greens Hand Pies?

Could it be fusion? Or, just a borrowed trick?
I started out to make Greek hand pies with an olive oil crust but honestly I just didn't feel like watching something closely enough to pan fry the little pastries. So, I mixed up an olive oil/ butter empanada dough (2 cups flour, 4 TB butter, 2 TB olive oil, and ice water to moisten), for the Greek style filling. I had mustard and turnip greens in the fridge already so I sauteed some minced onion and garlic in olive oil, added in the chopped greens and dried dill (I would have rather used fresh but we didn't have any) and sautéed until wilted, then stirred in some chopped mint and fresh oregano. I let the filling mixture drain in a colander until cool and pressed out any excess liquid. Mixed (in a bowl not the colander) with an egg, S&P, and plenty of crumbled feta cheese, the filling was ready.
When the dough had rested in the fridge for a few hours I rolled it out thin and cut the pastry into approximately 4 inch circles. A hearty dollop of filling went into each one, a little water on the edges and I sealed the little pies the way I'd seen in Argentina (or as close as I could get -- sort of an LA "repulgue"). Brushed with a little melted butter (egg would have been better probably, but I had some spare melted butter) and baked for 30 minutes at 350º. They were a crispy tasty, portable, treat. I should have let the filled empanadas rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before baking -- they would have been just a bit flakier and crispier. I forgot. But it was already getting late and maybe dinner 30 minutes earlier was good trade for a bit of flake.
On the side, Greek style baked eggplant. Beautiful lavender fruits from our front garden, thickly sliced, covered with home-made tomato sauce and baked for 45 minutes (30 minutes covered) until soft and sweet.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Weekend Workload

I hate to let autumn go by (or any other season really) without a stock of preserves to casually bring out during the year . . . "oh yes, these are homemade." Usually I stay closer to the tried and true -- canned peaches for year round cobblers, tomatoes from the garden. This year I feel lonely for the unusual.
Last year around this time I made a quince cranberry compote for Thanksgiving. While it wasn't bad, it also wasn't the culinary triumph I'd envisioned. After peeling, chopping, and simmering the astringent fruit I was hoping for better. This year when quince showed up in our little local farmer's market I decided to give it another try.
Despite an ever growing stack of books on preserving there was little on quince besides jelly (and only 2 of those) so it was time for the internet. I found two basic ideas. One where the fruit is grated (peel and all) and cooked with sugar and lemon for jam, and another where peeled chunks are simmered until soft then drained, puréed, and cooked with sugar and lemon. The second method had the advantage of leaving behind the liquid to be drained for jelly. What is any normal over energetic cook to do? Try all three of course.
Despite having worries about it, the shredded method yielded a lovely, glistening orange-pink liquid. Although mild yellow when raw (like their cousin the apple), quince turn red as they cook -- the longer they cook the redder they are (think of membrillo). I'm told that even as preserves age in the jar they will veer more and more towards pink.
The simmered fruit made a less beautiful jam, about the consistency of apple sauce but still flowery and sweet.
The jelly became my nemesis. Quince are said to have ample pectin (also like apples) to set jelly with no added thickener. Unlike my usual slap dash cooking I followed the jelly making instructions to a T, cooking the mixture just to 220º (8 degrees above boiling water -- the jelly set temperature) and quickly ladled into sterilized jars (with Ball's new "platinum silver" lids -- not a fan) and sealed in a boiling water canner. And yet, 24 hours later I had enough quince syrup for a mountain of pancakes.
Back to the internet. On day two I re-boiled the un-jelled jelly with more sugar, lemon and -- I gave in -- commercial pectin. Now I have 13 jars waiting for labels.
Part two of the workload focused on the ripening hot peppers in our backyard garden. Another internet recipe but it already looks good. I boiled the peppers (with slits cut in them) in vinegar, water and spices, dried them off, and placed them in sterilized jars covered with olive oil. The directions, unlike any preserving instructions I have ever seen, said to let the jars cool in the canning water bath. On day 2 (although the oil was still a bit cloudy) we had 4 pints of cheery Christmas-colored peppers waiting for roast beef sandwiches and winter salads.
What's next? Chianti jelly to serve with parmesan cheese.

Turkey Meatballs

Nothing fancy. A little Sunday evening comfort food. Lately I've been feeling a little below par in the dinner category so I needed to stack the deck -- I dug out a never fail favorite.
I mixed ground turkey with grated onion, minced garlic, bread crumbs, an egg, parsley, parmesan and romano cheeses, S&P, and believe it or not a little ketchup and rolled little walnut-sized meatballs. The meatballs were browned in a little olive oil and popped into a bubbling pot of sauce (olive oil, onion, carrot, garlic and home canned tomatoes -- if I'd had celery I would have tossed some in) to cook through. Along side -- what could be easier -- oven roasted summer squash with plenty of olive oil and oregano and toasted flat breads topped with herbs and cheese. Sure fire winner.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

I really would have like pancetta for this simple dinner, but lately I have been a slave to what's in the fridge . . . "food from nothing" is always one of my kitchen games but for the past week or so the usual pastime hasn't been by choice.
A quick search brought out brussels sprouts, Canadian bacon, a bit of jamon serano, garlic, shallots, parmesan cheese, and about a glass of leftover white wine -- it's starting to look like dinner.
I sauteed the diced bacon in a bit of olive oil just until crisp. I drained the bacon on paper towels and added chopped garlic, shallots, with the cleaned and sliced sprouts (along with a bit more olive oil and S&P, of course) to the hot pan and sautéed until golden. Next I poured in a 1/2 cup or so of white wine and allowed the whole mixture to cook down until the wine was mostly absorbed and the sprouts were tender -- 5-7 minutes, I'd guess -- but I don't like my brussels sprouts too soft. While the wine cooked down I added the spaghetti to boiling water and when it was al dente drained reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Just before stirring in the spaghetti I added some chopped jamon serano to the brussels spout mixture along with the reserved bacon. I then added the pasta, a bit of the cooking liquid and plenty of grated parmesan cheese to coat the noodles. Next time -- thinking of adding hazelnuts for a little more crunch or maybe fried sage leaves. But for today it's a quick pantry dinner for an autumn night.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Burger Night

Another easy night -- comfort food for the big man. We're all out of our delicious Hearst Ranch ground beef so I tried to make due with a pound from the supermarket (well -- TJs, got to clear out some of that freezer so there is room for more from Hearst). With some high-end Gruyere, a little French butter, sauteed red onions, and a toasted brioche roll it made for a pretty quick, pretty decent mid-week dinner. Of course, the home-made fries (cold oil easy peasy method) don't hurt.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Steak Dinner

This is a too tired to think meal. Parmesan roasted broccoli, baked yukon gold potato (with Echiré butter I just found in America after years of searching), and grilled steak. A freezer full of grass-fed beef does make some nights a little easier.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

Traditionally the name tagine refers to both the stew and the pot it was cooked in. I was too lazy to climb up and get down my tagine but the butternut squash in the corner was calling my name . . . so I dragged out the Le Creuset and started chopping.
White sweet potatoes, home grown yellow potatoes, onions, chick peas, and cauliflower simmered in a broth of saffron, cinnamon, chili peppers and tomatoes for a peasant dish with exotic warm spicy notes. Just before serving I finished the stew with preserved lemons for a little acid and more Moroccan style. I misplaced a jar of harissa so instead made due with a squeeze of siracha (how's that for multi-cultural) and a dollop of greek yogurt.
To be honest this is the sort of thing I like more than James. He has a delicate palate and more refined tastes. I like rustic stews and whole wheat breads, His Highness will always choose white flour pastas and flaky croissants. If it were just me at the table I'd have served this with couscous studded with sweet golden raisins, but for family harmony's sake (and because I didn't want to go to the store) the stew ended up along side white basmati rice buttered and scented with saffron. Slow-cooked saturday night vegetarian fare.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Daddy's Home

James finally made it home from his job in Denver -- eating burgers and hotel restaurant food. The dogs (cat and birds too) are much happier now that he's back.
But, I've been so swamped on my job that I've hardly had time to think about dinner -- much less shop, so I needed a ready menu with little hands on time and ingredients I could scavenge from around the house.
The beans (Chinese Red Long Beans -- lima beans are coming up soon) in our garden have been growing like weeds -- everyday it seems there is another big bunch to pick. The remaining potatoes from our last harvest were wrapped in burlap in the garage. So the first thing I planned to make was long cooking but little effort needed, stewed green (well in this case red) beans with potatoes. I put some bacon (ummmm bacon!) in a cold pan and rendered out the fat over low heat -- then I stirred in one sliced onion and a clove of garlic, gave it a good stir in the bacon grease and let it cook slowly until the onions were nice and soft, added in the beans, covered them with chicken broth and allowed it all to simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes. Then I added in the half-peeled potatoes (all small new potato size), covered and cooked another 30 minutes. After the potatoes were tender I left the pot half covered for about 15 minutes more to reduce the flavorful broth.
Digging through the freezer I found a couple sirloin steaks from the mound of Hearst Ranch grass fed beef we ordered in the spring. Since sirloin isn't exactly the most luxurious of cuts I wanted to give it a little flavor punch. So, while the beans cooked I marinated the beef in a mixture of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, garlic, red pepper, S&P, and a dash of our own backyard honey. Just before I uncovered the pot of beans to cook down the broth, I laid the steaks on the grill -- they only need 6-8 minutes with the lid closed (gas grill) -- and once they were cooked allowed the sirloins to rest 10 minutes before slicing thinly and topping with a little sweet butter. This dinner needed a little bit of toasty cornbread to sop up the "pot liker" from the beans. I happened to have half a pan waiting in the freezer from the last time we stewed beans. I toasted up a few slices and served up a "please don't go away again dinner": Maple Marinated Sirloin Steaks with Stewed Beans and Potatoes and Toasted Whole Kernel Cornbread.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Carbonara al Telefono?

In Italy, "al telefono" describes a dish with melted mozzarella cheese. Carbonara is a Southern specialty of sautéed pancetta, onions, garlic, and plenty of black pepper quickly mixed into hot drained pasta with a couple eggs and grated cheese -- the cuisine of poverty at its best. While doing a quick pre-dinner fridge surf I found eggs, cheese, bacon, 1 link of fennel sausage, and some fresh mozzarella begging to be used. James is going to be out of town for a few days so it was a combo fridge cleaning/ dinner adventure. I sautéed the sausage with the bacon, the lonely slice of pancetta I uncovered, thinly sliced onions and garlic while the spaghetti cooked. When the pasta was ready and quickly drained I returned it to the still warm cooking pot along with the sauté mix, 2 eggs mixed with shredded parmesan cheese, and the mozzarella cut into tiny cubes. Then I stirred until the heat of the pasta (no fire on the burner) melted the cheese and "cooked" the eggs into a creamy sauce. Dinner in 20 minutes, try it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Greens and Beans

The big man loves bitter greens -- collards, mustard, beet, kale -- so I keep on the lookout for new ways to serve them. The greens in our backyard garden are still a little young, but the farmer's market this week had nice silver chard and leafy beets. James won't eat beets but I love them so they get double duty around our house -- greens for His Highness and a salad treat for me.
For this Italian style (Italians love greens too) vegetarian dinner I sautéed onions, carrots, and red peppers from our garden in a bit of olive oil until soft, added a few cloves of garlic, crushed red peppers, S&P, and then a small jar of our home grown, home canned tomatoes and let simmer until thick -- about 10 minutes. Then I added 1 bunch of chard (tops only -- I saved the stems for soup) and a bunch of beet greens, coarsely chopped, and let cook until just wilted --stirred in 2 drained cans of Cannellini beans, covered and let simmer over a low flame for 10 minutes.
While the stew cooked I stirred a cup of white grits (South Carolina Polenta) into boiling water and allowed to simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender and thick -- about 25 minutes. I stirred in a couple knobs of butter, a good dose of parmesan cheese, plenty of black pepper, and cubed mozzarella (not traditional but delicious), allowed it all to melt together, and served topped with the greens and bean stew, a bit of olive oil, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. James went back for seconds.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stone Fruit Hand Pies

It's been a very unusual week or so at the dinner table. James has eaten dinner out three nights in a row. I'm not sure we've eaten dinner out much more than 3 nights in the rest of the year and here it is, all stacked up. Saturday we popped over to some friends' house for carry out treats from the new Oaks Gourmet Market -- the mushroom ravioli was surprisingly good. Sunday we went around the corner with our dear friend Shelly to Little Dom's -- an homage to red sauced Italo-American neighborhood haunts from the outer boroughs. Totally inauthentic and yet not without it's charms. Monday, work ran a little late and James and our friend Eric made a run for his favorite fries (except for mine of course -- well maybe not except :-)) at The Oinkster.
In spite of the professional competition I had to make a contribution.
Saturday I made my usual trip to the Silverlake farmer's market. Instead of his weekend croissant I spied the cutest little apple hand pies at the LA Bread booth and brought a few home. I really like LA Bread's baguettes and for a while their croissants were our favorite by far, but lately (seems like since the LA Bread freezer went on the blink) they just haven't been as flaky . . . so I've been looking for other weekend treats.
When I saw that hand pie I remembered dried apricot fried pies I used to make and a bowl of ready to be pie stone fruit in the fridge. So with the ready excuse of taking dessert to our friends' house I went home to research and experiment. I went for a soft sour cream pastry dough that I thought would fold nicely around the fruit filling, chopped the fruit way smaller than I ever do for a pie, folded in sugar and spices and spent the afternoon rolling, chilling, filling, chilling again, and baking.
The result -- sweet and flaky, but not a full dessert. Maybe a snack or a breakfast treat. What these needed to go from homemade pop-tart to dessert was an interesting sauce -- not cloying or just sweet and creamy but with a hint of flavor to bring out the best in the fruit. And so was born, Basil Crème Anglais. Instead of vanilla I steeped the 2 cups of cream with a few sprigs of fresh basil from our garden.
The added in a bit (maybe 1/4 cup) of basil lemon sugar with slight half 1/2 cup of organic sugar along with the 4 eggs -- make sure to temper the eggs before adding back to the pit with the cream. I cooked the mixture until thick (4-5) minutes, strained and chilled to be ready for dessert. Okay I admit it -- one of our friends actually licked her plate.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chicken Picatta with Pumpkin Purée

Okay -- not the prettiest thing I have ever made. But when I saw james use the back of his fork to scrape up the last of the pumpkin I figured I was in pretty good shape. That's as close to plate licking as the big man gets.
Earlier this year we tried a "three sisters" planting in the front yard. First the corn. When the corn sprouted, pole beans to grow up the stalks and finally squashes to keep the corn's "feet" nice and shady and cut down on the weeds. All that was behind the "tomato fence" James helped construct, in spite of his distaste for the fruits. By now -- right smack in LA's lingering Indian summer -- we are waiting for the last few pumpkins to mature before we turn the front over to a fava bean cover crop. Not too long ago I noticed some bugs were thinking of taking up residence (they already tried a bite or two) in one of my prized pumpkins -- a grayish Jarrahdale Blue pumpkin I'd been nurturing since early spring.
It came down to eat it or have it eaten -- to turn a phrase, and so I picked my pumpkin, cut out the already tasted parts and sat down to find a recipe worthy of the garden's efforts. Based on a turkey recipe I saw on Epicurious, I started in on dinner.
I cut the pumpkin up into big chunks, discarded the seeds, and placed it in a baking dish with about a cup of water, covered tightly with tin foil. The pumpkin baked at 400º until tender -- about an hour.
Meanwhile I butterflied out a chicken breast, laid several sage leaves on top and covered both with two slices of prosciutto. I used my hand to press the sage and the prosciutto into the chicken breast, seasoned with S&P and dredged the filet in a light dusting of flour. I quickly seared the dredged filet in a mixture of olive olive oil and butter (prosciutto side down first) until cooked through. Then poured out the extra oil and deglazed the pan with a bit of port, added chicken stock and lemon juice and reduced by half. I finished the sauce with a bit of butter.
While the sauce reduced I put the cooked pumpkin (peeled) into the food processor with some garlic, red pepper, S&P, brown sugar, and a smidge of olive oil and processed until smooth (you may need a bit of water to loosen it up).
To serve place a hearty dollop of the pumpkin purée on the plate, layer on the sautéed filet, add some fresh arugula leaves dressed with S&P and balsamic vinegar. Spoon a bit of the pan sauce on top.

Pantry Soup Special

James had a little sniffle and a sore throat today so I thought it was a perfect day for soup and to use up some produce. First I sauteed some Pancetta in olive oil to use as garnish. I removed the pancetta and added in 2 chopped onions and 1 shallot (no particular plan there it's just what I had around) and a couple cloves of garlic. I sautéed those (with a pinch of dried rosemary and sage -- too lazy to walk downstairs for the herbs -- and a little bit of thyme) then added chopped, peeled sweet potatoes and apples, covered everything in chicken stock and brought it to a boil. I sprinkled in a little S&P and crushed red pepper and allowed the pot to simmer for about an hour until the potatoes and apples were nice and soft. Meanwhile I baked some cubes of rosemary bread (tossed in a little olive oil) for croutons (12 minutes in a 375º oven). When the vegetables were soft I puréed everything in the blender (I LOVE that Vitamix), returned to the pot to heat through, tasted for seasonings, stirred in a bit of cream to finish and served sprinkled with the reserved pancetta and rosemary croutons.
Sweet Potato Apple Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Rosemary Croutons.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Eggplant Again

The late sumer eggplant harvest in our front yard is booming. We grow a small lavender tinged white variety with a fairly thick skin but sweet, never bitter meat.
Martha Stewart gave me this idea for this simple dish-- I took a little bit of a run with it. I baked (450º) the whole eggplants (these are individual serving size eggplants) just until soft (about 15 minutes), took a thin slice off the top and hollowed each eggplant out -- reserving the flesh and leaving about 1/4" of shell wall all around.
I chopped the reserved eggplant and added it to a sauté pan with olive oil, garlic, some italian sausage and a few chopped tomatoes. I allowed that mixture to slowly simmer until the eggplant was tender and then added in a splash of marinara sauce and some chopped parsley and let it all simmer for another 5 minutes or so. I filled the eggplant shells (in a baking dish) with the cooked mixture and baked for 10 minutes. While the eggplant baked I whipped up a quick bechamel (or besciamella as the Italians say) sauce -- butter, flour, milk, S&P, and a pinch of nutmeg. I poured a couple tablespoons of the rich sauce over each eggplant, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked another 20 minutes until golden brown.
Stuffed Eggplant Parmesan.