Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Zucchini Pizza

I gave James a break from the diet detox with this crisp crust zucchini pizza.
I stretched the dough thin across an oiled baking sheet and covered the crust with bits of prosciutto, thin slices of mozzarella, and chopped garlic. In a separate bowl I sliced two zucchini into thin strips (avoiding the seed in the center) with a vegetable peeler, mixed in a good dose of olive oil with oregano, crushed red peppers, salt, pepper, and freshly chopped mint. I spread the tangle of zucchini across the waiting dough, drizzled on a bit of olive oil and sprinkled on a handful of shredded parmesan cheese. Twenty minutes at 500º was all it took and James' dinner was served. For now, I'm sticking with soup.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

After The Battle

Even though I can't declare battle squirrel 2010 an outright victory we had a large enough pile of small white peaches to share some with friends have a bowl in the fridge, and make a batch of this delicate white peach and lavender jam. I got the idea from Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard's Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving, a worthy kitchen companion. But, the ladies' recipe calls for pectin and I prefer a more cooked thick old-fashioned style jam. So I combined my usual recipe with some of Topp's and Howards' ideas and came up with this floral scented golden jam.
I pitted and coarsely chopped enough peaches to fill a 6 quart container and covered the fruit with 6 cups of sugar and let the fruit sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day I covered 12 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers with about 1 1/2 cups boiling water and let sit for 20 minutes (the dogs got a quick walk while that was steeping). Into my largest pot went the fruit mixture, the lavender water (strained of the flowers), and 6 TBs of lemon juice. I brought the pot to a boil and let it simmer until the fruit was soft and a drop placed on a plate left in the freezer for 15 minutes firmed up to a consistency I liked for our latest batch of jam. I poured the mixture into sterilized jars and sealed as usual.
Preserving the taste of spring, one jar at a time.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chicken and Broccoli

I've been doing a week long detox -- more on that later -- and James have been very supportive. trying to look earnest as he shares my soup dinner saying -- "I don't feel deprived at all." Last night grilled chicken and steamed broccoli was on my menu so I tried to spice it up just a little for James without, honestly, making too much more work in the kitchen. I breaded his chicken cutlet in panko bread crumbs, S&P, and parmesan cheese and pan fried it in a mixture of olive oil and butter. When the chicken was crisp I quickly sauteed some corn kernels in the fat remaining in the pan to use as a combo sauce/ salsa on top. That, along with some butter on his broccoli, was James' "share my diet" dinner.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Zucchini Goat Cheese Soup and Le Bootcamp

Here's a refreshing summer recipe that wasn't in any way my idea. I try to keep it a secret --especially from myself, but I have gotten really fat. It's no secret to James who has always been thin. Last week while flipping through Bon Appetit magazine I happened on an article about an internet subscription program called Le Bootcamp, devised by French "celebrity coach" Valerie Orsoni with recipes developed by her father, chef Edward Orsoni. Chef Orsoni may not be a household name but the recipes printed with the article actually looked good, and -- even better -- seemed like things James might like too so I could think about trying the plan without facing the chore of making two separate and, worst of all, totally unequal dinners every night. I did a little investigating when I got home and decided to give the subscription plan a try.
I just finished day 6 of the week one detox -- mostly fruits vegetables and a surprising amount of yogurt. This pale green soup was my dinner recipe.
I coarsely chopped up 4 zucchini and one onion, added a pinch each of thyme and oregano (my additions) and covered everything with about 4 cups of chicken broth (my variation also) and brought the pot to a boil. I allowed the vegetables to simmer covered for about 20 minutes until very tender. I them combined the cooked vegetables with their liquid and 4 ounces of herbed goat cheese in the blender and pureed. Done.
The original recipe called for Boursin cheese. Aside from the fact that Boursin harkens back to days of giant shoulder pads, melba toast and episodes of Dynasty better off forgotten, our store doesn't carry it. I glanced at the Alouette (maybe today's version of the spreadable cheese) and finally decided that fresh goat cheese (about the same fat and calories) was a better substitute and shuttled away from the brand/name processed food section of the store. The goat cheese gave a subtle summer tang and the kind of creamy mouth feel usually reserved for recipes loaded with cream and butter. It's a genius idea I'm going to try with other soups and sauces. This soup, although maybe didn't inspire the same enthusiasm James exudes for pizza or his favorite spaghetti with clam sauce, along with a side of vegetable rice and toast my detox recipe passed muster with the big man. Might even make a return appearance for company.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Real Freezer Dinner

This time we had to have the real freezer dinner. Our fridge just suddenly died and as things were slowly melting, in spite of the bags of ice sweet James keeps bringing home, it seemed better to eat the stores than throw them away. With his wife out of town, our friend Eric was happy to come and help whittle down the freezer stores -- and to take home the leftovers since we had no fridge and no where to store them.
I didn't cook at all. I popped the semi frozen empanadas on a baking tray and popped them in the oven along with a couple bags of frozen fries (yes now you know, even I have them around sometimes). I thought chili might be a nice side so I took out a freezer container of black bean chili and heated it up. Dinner, such as it is, was served. The new refrigerator comes today.
Thanks for the photo Eric!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Battle Squirrel 2010 A Draw

Each spring the peach tree in our yard becomes a battlefield. As the flowers turn to young green fruits I ready the arsenal -- bird netting, shiny cds, plastic barn owls. And still they come. My fuzzy tailed adversaries jump from our fence into the heart of my prized tree, take one bite from each young peach they find somehow more alluring than another and leave the fruit to spoil on the branches. This year team squirrel was joined by my dog Lucy who loves to run down to the tree, pick a low hanging peach and run back to the comfort of her upstairs dog bed and happily chew. At least she eats the whole peach.
When I could battle no more, rather than declare a full retreat, I picked the not yet fully ripe peaches off the tree and let them ripen in the sun close by the house in slightly less rodent friendly territory. A draw at best.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Problem With Descoware

I have a pretty good sized collection of Le Creuset enamel dutch ovens. I love the way the heavy pots heat evenly and slowly so stews simmer and conduct heat as effectively as cast iron without the extra care worries of the black frying pans (I have a few of those too). Besides, I liked that Julia and I have the same pots, the signature flame orange.
I've always thought Julia loved Le Creuset best.
Not too long ago James told me about a friend who had been collecting Descoware, gathering up little treasures on ebay. Descoware, I found after a little on-line investigation, is the American brand name for Bruxelles Ware the Belgian version of the heavy enamel cookware. Descoware, the online histories claim, was actually Julia's choice.
Although it does seems Julia used Descoware on her TV show (and it's on her stove in the Smithsonian), I do wonder which she chose first since Julia and Paul Child lived in France before Descoware was imported to the US and it seems just as likely that she could have happened onto Le Crueset, the cookware company started by two Belgian inventors. Which company had flame first, we may never know. I do know that the heavy enameled pots are unsurpassed for slow cooking of stews and braises and make me happy every time I see them.
I guess all new collectors, here in the digital age, have gotten into a little bidding trouble on ebay. It's way to easy to bid on too many things and win too many pieces. There was a pretty steady stream of boxes coming into the house for quite a while. I learned to look at all the pictures before bidding -- we got one with a pretty big chip inside. I learned that Descoware had more than one yellow. I learned there are many sizes of small covered casseroles and it's rarely the individual size I'm trying to gather. even after we had a few more bright orange pots than any normal cook would need (doesn't mean I've stopped looking at the listings mind you) I couldn't resist this strange and oblong fish cooker. I had to bid and I had to win.
Then once I had it what to do with it?
I cut some fingerling potatoes from our garden in half and tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano and popped them , in a a single layer, in a 400º oven for 15 minutes. When the potatoes were tender I moved them to the sides and laid in cubes of halibut I'd mixed with a zesty charmoula sauce (the same one I use on kebabs) and baked for 15 minutes more. A one dish dinner for my new dish.
"What came first," James asked. "The dish or the recipe?"
Hmm, he may never know for sure.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Home Grown For Home Made

When Lionel Barrymore ridiculed Jimmy Stewart for playing "nursemaid to a bunch of garlic eaters" he could have been talking about us.
Just about everything tastes better with a little garlic and though I've spent years, crushing, mincing, chopping and slicing until last fall I never grew any of my own.
I can't say that home grown garlic will save any one any money and it certainly is not instant gratification. We planted single cloves of Lorz Italian garlic, a mid-season variety brought to America from Italy by the Lorz family somewhere around 1950, way last September and just this week dug the purple-ish cloves from the ground. The seed catalogue described the flavor of this softneck variety as hot and spicy. We're waiting just a little bit longer until the bundles of cloves I tied up get a chance to cure in our dark garage. Homegrown garlic taste test to come.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reduce Reuse Recycle?

I just couldn't throw out the cooking liquid from out mussels the other day. It was so tasty and seemed like a fast track to a future dinner. Well tonight was the night. I came peeling in the door late and really hungry --- no time for lunch today. I grabbed the rice cooker and starting it going using my leftover mussel cooking liquid instead of water and tossing in a few roasted tomatoes for deeper flavor. I had a half container of shrimp ceviche left over and drained out the shrimp to add into the cooker to heat through when the rice was finished. Meanwhile I started on some side dishes -- just because I could.
I've been saving this salad recipe for years now. Not sure why it took me so long, but today I had all the ingredients in the fridge waiting to be eaten. Basically it's cubed cantaloupe, chopped salami, goat cheese, chopped chives from our front garden, olive oil, and white wine vinegar (I used white balsamic). An update on prosciutto and melon and a really great make ahead salad for a party. I'll be making this again soon, maybe with a nice sharp pecorino.
This dish combined my two favorite things -- showing off home grown produce and using up leftovers. I still had a little pesto sauce from that Mozza Caprese. Not too long ago I read about a simple vegetable preparation with sauce verte -- a caper tinged variation on pesto, and figured it was a perfect showcase our home grown squash and beans. I sliced the beans into 1 inch lengths and the squash into half inch (about) slices and tossed them in a pan with some olive oil to sauté for just a few minutes until coated in oil. I added 1/4 cup of water and covered the pan to cook for about 4 minutes until the veggies were crisp tender. I uncovered the pan and cooked for a minute or tow more, mixed in the pesto sauce and a handful of chopped parsley and brought this last dish to the table.
A note from the garden: This year, along with the usual Romanos and some purple limas, I am growing Dragon Langerie or Dragon's Tongue wax beans. It's my first time trying this Dutch heirloom variety but I am already planning a full crop next year. These creamy yellow wax beans have sketchy purple stripes and are tasty fresh from the garden as a snap bean or later when the stripes turn red as a shell bean, if you can wait that long. The yield from these busg habit, easy to grow plants is just amazing, we will have plenty of beans all summer long.
Our squash this summer, because I couldn't resist the two-toned charmer are nearly all Zephyr, a delicate flavored bush variety that makes me laugh when I walk by the compact plants.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fava Bean Purée

What was I thinking? I wanted a new way to use up the volunteer dandelions growing in the front yard (cultivated not just regular weeds) and remembered a very authentic sounding Saveur Magazine recipe for fava bean puree with sauteed dandelions. I had about a pound of dry fava beans put away away and put them in a pot of water into soak. As the beans soaked I reached in every now and again and peeled the beans whose thick skins had come away from the legume. UGH. It takes a lot of beans to make a pound and a LOT of peeling to make them edible. After nearly two days soaking the beans were mostly peeled. Some were just so stubborn I had to give up on them. Once peeled I cooked the beans until very tender with thyme and garlic and puréed them in the food processor along with a healthy dose of olive oil. The resulting purée was pretty delicious, especially topped with eggs gently fried in olive oil and a tangle of bitter sautéed dandelions but so are a lot of things that don't require a cook with a totally clear schedule or an army of volunteer shuckers. A one time only dish.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Leftovers Again?

James isn't all that crazy about brisket. He likes corned beef. He likes a pastrami sandwich every now and then. But jewish grandmother style brisket or meat slow smoked on the grill are not really on his list of favorites. And so, after for whatever reason I decided to make brisket for our friends, we had a good bit left over. Shepherd's pie? Spaghetti sauce? Brisket empanadas? I landed on a way to turn these leftovers into something James really does love. Barbeque beef sandwich minis -- BBQ sliders.
I made a quick sauce by combining 2 cups of ketchup, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 2 TB prepared mustard, 3 TB sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 TB onion powder, 1/2 TB garlic powder, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/2 TB black pepper, 1 heaping TB honey, and 1 TB worcestershire sauce in a pot. I brought the mixture up to a boil and let the sauce simmer - stirring every 5 - 10 minutes, for about 45 minutes. I added in the chopped meat and 1 TB of butter and let the meat warm through in the sauce, simmering for another 15 minutes. I served the barbeque on King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (our favorite for sliders) topped with a little chopped onion.
These leftovers might just be a new favorite around here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Leftovers At Our House

This is the kind of dinner I should remember for later in the summer when it gets too hot to stand over the stove for too long.
I cooked some spaghetti to just slightly past al dente, the way James likes it, and mixed it with some pesto sauce (leftover from our Mozza style caprese salad). I topped the dressed pasta with a thick slice of burrata cheese (also leftover) a bit more pesto and a sprinkling of micro greens from my seed starting trays. I had to thin the lettuce plants anyway so it was nice to have a tasty use for the clippings. Leftovers for dinner? Nobody would guess.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Freezer" Dinner with Friends

James and I just put in our order for a cattle share from Hearst Ranch, and so, anticipating needing room in the freezer, I invited our friends Eric and Shari over for a freezer dinner -- what I could make from what I could find. Only one problem, when it actually came down to looking there wasn't much in the freezer at all. A couple of flavored butters from or annual oyster events, some left over chilis and stews from the "fridgeventory", a random package of puff pastry, and a couple of frozen naan. Nothing very inspiring and no hoard of proteins waiting to be conquered.
I had to make a trip to Costco the other day (that's how I ended up with 5 lbs of mussels) and staring blankly at the meat case I spied a brisket. That might be fun, I thought, and compared to the whole filet roast I also thought might be "fun", a pretty good value. With no menu idea I put the brisket in the cart and headed out.
Brisket seems so American, so barbeque, so corn on the cob. I had a big jar left of that delicious Chilean Spicy salsa I made the other day and thought that might be a good combo. I decided to smoke the brisket with a rub of Pimentón, onion powder, salt, sugar, cumin and pepper to echo the flavors in the salsa. At least we'd be clearing some space in the fridge.
What to serve with brisket -- it just seemed too dull, too 4th of July to go with corn on the cob and cole slaw but that's always what leaps to mind with brisket.
I've been flipping through Saveur magazine and in spite of the 6lbs of meat covered in dry rub in my fridge I keep turing my head towards rustic French dishes, crispy Fougasse and vegetable ragouts. It didn't seem to go together but I decided why not. A quirky dinner best appreciated by friends.
We are cheese lovers as are our friends Eric and Shari. When I saw burrata at Costco (why don't I go there more often) I immediately imagined this riff on nancy Silverton's Caprese Salad from Mozza Restaurant. Oven Roasted cherry tomatoes, pesto sauce brightened with a finish of lemon juice and creamy soft cheese.
I've never made fougasse before, or eaten it. Something about Saveur's picture of the herb and olive topped bread made the recipe impossible to ignore. Besides I am getting a little weary of no-knead style breads (although there are a few to come). It was nice to have my hands in dough again and these crisp breads, although I don't know if they even vaguely resemble the authentic variety, were perfect with our array of cheese, olives, and thinly sliced salumi.
The main course. I really wasn't sure how long to smoke the meat. I heated the gas grill and then turned off the middle and right burner. I put the meat in a foil roasting pan over the un-heated part of the grill. Over the flames, using two more metal pans, I poured a bottle of beer in one (for a little extra moisture) and filled the other with soak mesquite chips. About 4 and half hours later (and about 45 minutes resting time covered in foil) we had smoked through, pretty tender meat ready to soak up the spicy salsa.
Well, something had to come from the freezer. Back in April James had kindly shucked and frozen the fava beans from our front yard winter crop. With the addition of some farmer's market asparagus and artichokes this vegetable ragout, also from the June July 2010 issue of Saveur magazine, seemed like perfect way to showcase our winter crop and clear a little space.
Light summer tasting potatoes? I split a little pile of yellow fingerlings rom out garden and roasted them in the oven with olive oil , salt and pepper until the cut edges were crisp and golden brown. Following a recipe I saw on epicurious, I topped the potatoes with an herb salad of parsley, tarragon (a favorite of James' but not one of mine -- I figured that was good way to keep me away from the potatoes), mustard, red wine vinegar, and olive oil sprinkled with finely chopped hard boiled backyard eggs (thanks girls!).
Dessert was another matter. I started by wanted to get Jim Lahey's chocolate coconut bread checked off as I am baking my way through his My Bread cookbook. James doesn't eat all that much chocolate -- and, as if the case with most sweet things that are bad for my pants size I have a hard time staying away from it, so . . . it seemed like a good idea to have some friends to eat it with us in case it was really really good. But can I serve toast for dessert? And, what goes with toast? I found a recipe for buttermilk pudding (another one from epicurious) that seemed like a good combo and I had buttermilk waiting to be used in the fridge. Done. But then while flipping through Lahey's cookbook, checking my ingredients I spotted sweet foccacia, now that had to be delicious and used apricot jam and I could substitute in my own homemade stone fruit jam, left over from my pop tart filling. Besides, didn't seem like a bad idea to have a backup in case that coconut chocolate bread (what the hell will I ever do with that) was underwhelming (as indeed it was) Deconstructed bread pudding? Toast and milk pudding for dessert? Different but not too bad. I suppose -- and, two more recipes down.
Now all I need is a freezer dinner to clear out from my freezer dinner.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Steamed Mussels with Pesto and Tomatoes

This is such an easy delicious idea I don't know why I didn't think of it on my own. According to Food and Wine magazine as a child chef Marc Murphy of New York's Landmarc, the author of this recipe, ate pesto smothered mussels during summers at his grandmother's house near Nice. And yet, in all my mussel eating years I don't think I have ever been offered a similar treat.
Murphy starts by sautéing (in a large pot) 3 large, thinly sliced shallots and 4 cloves of garlic, also thinly sliced, in 1/4 cup of olive oil until lightly golden, about 4 minutes. In goes 1 cup of wine along with S&P. When the liquid is boiling 5 lbs of mussels are tossed in and stirred about for a minute before the pot is tightly covered and the mussels are left to steam for about 6 minutes. Meanwhile make a quick pesto sauce of 2 cups basil leaves, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (Murphy uses walnuts but I didn't have any on hand so I used toasted pine nuts), 1 clove of garlic, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, and 2 TB of olive oil. Murphy adds the sauce along with 4 TB of butter and 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes to the steamed mussels and stirs until everything is coated with the lovely green sauce. I had softened butter so I just tossed it in the food processor when I made the pesto. The resulting sauce is so summery and delicious I saved the cooking liquid for seafood rice later this week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Asparagus Pizza

I'm not sure where I got the idea. I must have seen it somewhere but I just don't remember. But I had pizza dough in the freezer and a couple bunches of asparagus in the drawer. I stretched the thawed dough out across my oiled baking pan. Holding each asparagus spear by the woody stem I used a vegetable peeler to shave off thin strands which I dropped into a bowl along with two thinly sliced shallots, a 1/2 tsp of crushed red peppers, two minced cloves of garlic, about 3 TB of olive oil and, of course, salt and pepper.
I spread about 1/3 of the asparagus over the stretched crust and then covered that with 1/4 cup of grated parmesan and about 5 oz of mozzarella (fresh but not the kind packed in liquid -- it makes the pizza too watery) cut into 1/2 inch cubes. On top of the cheese I spread the rest of the asparagus mixture in a big delicious tangle. The pizza baked for 20 minutes at 500º.
"I can just eat one more slice," James said before he reached for almost 3 more. "It's good."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grilled Skirt Steak, Oh Well

It got even later than usual before I had any idea what I was going to make for dinner. I have been trying to clean out the freezer since we just laced an order for a share of a grass fed grass finished cow from Hearst Ranch and I have to make some room. There was one lonely skirt steak so I snatched that out and popped it in a sink of cool water to defrost.
Just this morning I picked the last of the black kale and turned that garden bed over to summer lettuces (fingers crossed) since it's pretty shady when our backyard tree is fully leafed. I really wanted to use that kale and I'd been saving a recipe for long braised and crisped kale from Suzanne Goin for just such an occasion. I thought that might make nice garnish for the steak. I blanched the coarsely chopped leaves and added them to a heavy pot where I cooked chopped onions, dried chiles and a sprig of rosemary. The kale soften and then crisped after about 40 minutes on a medium flame.
There I had chewy and crisp -- this dinner needed something smooth and buttery soft. I grabbed the head of cauliflower in the fridge, cut it into florets and tossed it in a pot along with about 2 cups of chicken broth and 2 cloves of garlic. I let that cook for about 10 minutes until very tender and pureed it in the food processor along with a glug of olive oil, a knob of butter, salt and pepper.
So far so good. Now I needed a little spice, a little sauce, a little something. Searching around the internet I spied a recipe for Chilean spicy salsa. I can't say I'd ever heard of it before but the ingredients were all things I had in the house. I put 1 bunch of cilantro, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 TB hot Pimentón (Spanish roasted paprika), 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, a coarsely chopped onion and, in my own twist on the recipe, a roasted tomato I happened to have into the food processor and whirled it into a slightly chunky sauce. Maybe the best all purpose sauce I've made in years -- I'll be trying it as a marinade and topping on a variety of dishes, from meats to fish to roasted vegetables, very soon.
The skirt steak was just coated in a little olive oil salt and pepper and grilled over high heat.
In the end the steak was a little chewy -- okay I admit it I got distracted while I was grilling, and the ale -- which I though was going to be a big winner, James declared "okay as a garnish but not that great to eat." Oh well, tomorrow is another dinner.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Welcome To Your New Home . . . Uh . . . Hive

"Are you expecting a box of bees?" said the voice on the other end of my phone. "They're here." I ran out the door to collect my new girls from Mr Cunningham at the post office who seemed like bees were far from the most unusual or frightening thing he had seen pass through his doors.
A 3 pound package of buzzing family members complete with a queen caged in the center of the box to help make this collection of unrelated bees a family. A few days during shipping with the queen safely locked away lets the other bees get used to her scent and hopefully come to accept her as the new hive's royalty.
Packed in for the journey is a can of sugar syrup to both feed and calm the hive. I guess anyone is more calm when he's full. Anyway that can lifts out to reveal the queen cage and give access to the bees.
First things first, I fished out the queen cage and removed the plastic cover that kept her companions from eating the sugar cap on her cage that would release her and the small group of attendants she traveled with into the hive's population.
With the cage placed safely between the frames of the brood box (the deep box(es) where the queen will spend her days laying eggs and adding to the hive), it was time to release the general population. the worker bees who would build the foundation the queen needs to lay her eggs. And later, depending upon their age and status in the hive, gather the pollen, raise the babies, and make honey the bees need to survive and that they share with me to gather and jar for our family's winter stores.Unceremonious as it seems I simply shake the girls out over the frames and give them time to crawl in and make themselves at home.These are all girls by the way. The queen comes already mated. Even in nature the queen makes one mating flight and then spends the rest of her life inside the hive laying eggs, oftentimes not even able to fly as she is bigger and heavier than the other bees. Males bees, or drones, whose sole function is to mate with the queen (generally the queen of another hive) have little purpose in the hive. Every now and then you'll see areas of drone comb in the hive but at least 99% of the offspring -- when the hive is buzzing along well, are female and are being prepared to take on their future jobs in the hive.I gave the girls a feeder of 1 to 1 sugar water syrup and closed up the hive to let them get used to their new home. I'll go out every couple days to make sure they have food, not all that many pollen bearing flowers around the yard and neighborhood this time of year. Besides they are pretty busy building comb, having food close at hands keeps them working and puts less stress on the hive. Unlike other bee keepers, since our girls are right in the backyard, we have devised this somewhat unorthodox enclosure. Sitting atop our retaining wall the box forces the girls to exit the hive and go up and out of their screened in porch putting their flight path high above our heads. Bees always take the same path out of the hive and fiercely protect the hive entrance so keeping that area clear is best for everyone. Their enclosure gives them a flowered covered arch in spring and gives me a spot where I can stand right in front -- behind the window screen and watch their comings and goings.
More to come on the newest members of our family -- but so far so good.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Apple Bread

It's quite a pledge to keep up, this baking my way through Jim Lahey's My Bread Cookbook. I had no idea.
His no-knead bread is so easy and so delicious it's easy to see why it caused a small scale baking revolution and delivered him the admirations of scores of home bakers like me. No one trick pony, Lahey rallies with delicious variations on his theme like crispy Stecca (Italian baguettes or maybe chewy breadsticks) and sheet pan size pizzas. I even found the carrot bread a welcome treat, especially when slathered with our homemade orange marmalade (not to toot my own horn, but let's face it that marmalade would make cardboard taste good).
This week's apple bread, while very moist and tasty enough just perplexes me. Is this the way Lahey's turns out, I wonder. And, what does he do with this? I've been giving it to James for breakfast sometimes with butter and sometimes with jam (leftover from the pop tart filling) and he seems happy enough. I think it might make an interesting sandwich with sharp cheddar or aged gouda and bacon. Fontina and apples is nice so maybe open-faced with easy melting Fontina. Oh, or how about apple bread crostini with melted Gruyere topped with endive and walnut salad? Now we're talking -- I may have to make another loaf.
If only I had a plan for Lahey's coconut chocolate bread. Oh well, that's a puzzle for next weekend.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Empanadas A Leftover's Best Friend

James is funny about leftovers. Unless it's something so delicious he can't stay away, grilled shrimp, sliders, creamy cheesy pasta -- he pretty much can open the fridge and just not see food. At first I thought it was that he honestly couldn't see it. So I switched to clear storage containers. No change. I started leaving notes pointing to the location of treats James might enjoy for lunch. No change. I had to come to grips with the fact that leftovers, even from a particularly delicious meal or a sugary cake, don't speak to James. Food doesn't whisper his name as he walks by the fridge. Food rarely calls to him downstairs. James, it seems, is not like me.
Although I didn't grow up in the depression or taking pride in the "cucina povera" of my region I have a pauper's fear of waste -- especially waste of good food or ingredients. So I am likely to turn leftover steak into a high end grilled cheese or a dinnertime spaghetti sauce. Some dishes take a little more creative effort and I often turn to empanadas to turn leftover stews into a brand new dish.
Not too long ago I whipped up turkey picadillo with -- you guessed it -- leftover roast turkey. That spicy sweet stew of tomatoes, raisins, chiles and meat is perfect over rice but just as good wrapped in flaky dough of flour (3 cups), 1 egg yolk, 1/2 cup butter, salt, and about 1 cup of milk (when I have milk I want to use up in the fridge), as I've read is the custom in Southern Argentina. No matter where it comes from, the milk makes for an easy to roll, tender dough.
Months ago, anticipating a day like today without much in the house to cook and fewer ideas, I encased that leftover Cuban style stew in flaky pastry rounds and stored them, unbaked, in the freezer to be brought out triumphantly as a brand new dish. James love empanadas.
On the side, taking a hint from the vaguely Cuban flavors we already had going, I made one of the big man's favorite salads -- fresh avocado (from our friends backyard tree) and thin slices of red onion drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Not Quite Italian

It's not very Italian I suppose but when I walked in the door from work James already had the pasta water boiling so I had to think fast.
Two big leeks were taking up way too much room in the fridge, so I sliced the white and light green parts into thin matchsticks and popped them into a pan to saute in olive oil along with some cloves of garlic confit I made a couple months back while slavishly following one of Thomas Keller's more involved, "how did I get myself into this" sort of recipes. I threw in a little crushed red chile just because I like it, along with some cooked bits of slab bacon for a little flavor and color and left everything to saute until the leeks were meltingly tender.
When I drained the spaghetti I added it to the sauté pan along with a knob of butter, a good handful of chopped parsley and, because this not quite Italian dish was starting to seem very Alsatian, a heavy covering of shredded Gruyere cheese.
Wish I'd remembered to reserve a little of the cooking water to make a cheesier sauce.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Simply Delicious

There is nothing easier.
A shrimp boil for dinner.
I had a couple pounds of "gulf" pink shrimp and some small potatoes from our yard and beer no one was drinking in the fridge (I guess that's why you don't hear people exclaim "I love Italian beer" all that often -- it was on sale).
I poured 3 bottles of beer and 3 TBs of old bay seasoning into a pot and dropped in about 10 small potatoes. I brought the pot up to a boil and allowed the potatoes to bubble along for about 8 minutes until almost tender. In went the shrimp. I brought the beer back to a boil and cooked the shrimp for about 5 minutes until just tender and pink opaque throughout. Drained the pot and filled a platter for the table.
I hear down in Key West they serve these tasty peel and eat shrimp with a lime dijon mayonnaise dip.
James abhors mayonnaise and the whole creamy white food family of related products (sour cream for one -- and I love him anyway) so for us it's a spicy horseradish heavy cocktail sauce (ketchup, hot sauce, horseradish, Worcestershire, lemon juice and chili sauce if we have it).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Homemade Pop Tarts

I'm not sure what's the matter with me. When James innocently asked the other day if we had any more pop tarts (okay the hippie organic blueberry toaster pastries I get at Trader Joe's) instead of putting a box on my shopping list . . . I decided to make my own.
You see I had this bowl of fruit in the fridge, and there was that recipe in Bon Appetit not too long ago, and it has to be better if it's homemade, right?
Besides James and I had both just read a New York Times article detailing the terrifying amount of salt in the most unexpected of prepared foods, the nutrition guilt induced by that little blue box was more than I could bear.
So I set out on my task. On closer inspection I found that every on-line recipe used prepared jam as an ingredient. That didn't help with my bowl of stone fruits waiting for a recipe so my first step was to make a batch of jam. I quartered the peaches, plums, and nectarines still left from last weeks farmer's market trip and covered the resulting 12 cups of fruit with 3 cups of sugar and let it sit, covered, overnight in the fridge. I then simmered the fruit until thick and jammy and ready to fill my waiting pastry. The apricots, peaches, and plums made a tangy sweet jam. These were adult pop tarts after all, plan for pink sprinkles aside. Step 1 done.
For the pastry I followed Smitten Kitchen's lead and went for a flaky pastry with egg and milk which whipped up in a flash in the food processor. I kept the pastry cool and refrigerated the filled tarts before baking for, as James called it, "astounding flakiness."
By the time I rolled out my first piece of dough I was feeling pretty confident -- these are just another version of hand pies I told myself and set to work making 16 evenly (sort of) sized rectangles from each batch of crust (I made two batches). I laid 8 bottom crusts out on a parchment covered baking pan, brushed each bottom crust with a bit of beaten egg, added a hefty TB of my homemade jam filling (James thought I could use less filling -- "People aren't used to so much in their tarts," he reasoned.), covered with a second crust and used a fork to seal the tart all around. I cut a few slits in the center of the top crust to keep my pop tarts from puffing up.
After 25 minutes in a 350º oven I had 16 flaky pastries waiting for glaze and a cheerful sprinkle of sugar sprinkles. I mixed powdered sugar with just enough milk to make a nice pourable consistency and drizzled until I was nearly dizzy from the site of my adorable little tarts waiting to snuggle up to morning coffee.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Really Don't Like Fish

I know it's good for me. It's every dieter's best friend. But, other than the occasional tuna fish sandwich, ahi poke, or sushi night I just can't get excited about it. I rarely cook fish and never order it.
But, I have a little (more than a little) work to do losing the pounds of "enchantment" (more like carnitas, tortillas, and sopapillas) I brought home from New Mexico and so I am trying to add the occasional fish dish into our dinner menus.
I've made this recipe before and -- with the fish hiding beneath a version of the spicy Moroccan marinade known as Charmoula -- found it pretty tasty. With Pacific halibut in season and, therefore, a pretty affordable and as a bonus locavore/environmentally sound/ Monterey Aquarium approved (blah blah blah) choice, Suzanne Goin's (one of my favorite LA chefs) kebabs seemed like the way to go, and another chance to subtly showcase some back yard produce.
1 1/2 inch cubes of fish are tossed in a marinade made of cilantro (1 bunch), parsley (1 cup of leaves), 3 garlic cloves, sweet paprika (1 TB), cayenne pepper (1 tsp), kosher salt (1 tsp) olive oil ( 1 1/4 cups), lemon juice (1 TB) and rice wine vinegar ( 1 1/2 tsp) whirled together in the food processor. Goin takes out 6 TBs for the fish and then adds the acid to the sauce readied to be served alongside the kebabs but I just throw it all in at once.
The coated fish is threaded onto skewers alternating with a fresh lemon slice (about 1/4 inch thick) and a fresh bay leaf -- for our recipe both came off our backyard trees. Using some delicious sheep's milk yogurt (my favorite) I mixed up Goin's cucumber mint sauce to use as a salad dressing and extra sauce for the fish and set out a platter with butter lettuce, oven roasted tomatoes, home-grown pickled peppers while the fish cooked on the grill and cous cous steamed in the kitchen. About 8 minutes had everything finished.
Fish for dinner . . . a summery California dinner.

Monday, June 7, 2010

One pot dinner?

I love Thomas Keller. He is probably my favorite chef and I aspire to his totally unachievable greatness.
But, one of his greatest talents is his uncanny ability to turn a one pot peasant dish into a kitchen full of dirty pans and trays and seemingly endless hands on work.
Admittedly I was particularly proud of the carrots in our yard and wanted to find a dish to highlight them. Pride, as they say, goes before a fall.
But, the asparagus in the fridge was calling my name. It was just so fresh and springy. This was no time to listen to reason or be seduced by haute French chef Daniel Boulud's one pot soup.
While mindlessly flipping through the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, looking for what the super chef might do with asparagus, I had already spied a recipe for Spring Vegetable Garbure. The photograph showed spring produce at it's just harvested best, food porn for gardeners. Didn't the carrots, potatoes, fava beans and green beans I had labored over and raised from sprouts deserve this royal treatment? I was hooked.
I didn't know at the time but a Garbure is a thick vegetable stew from Southwest France often flavored with pork, and sausage or duck confit. Keller's recipe starts with cooking down carrots, leeks, and onions (2 cups each) under a cover of pork skin -- yes the skin off a slab of bacon -- for 35 minutes. Once the fat has rendered out and the vegetables are soft he instructs to remove the pork and add in 8 cups of chicken broth and simmer for 20 minutes more. That pot is drained (into a second pot) to leave the flavorful broth that is the soup's base.
Meanwhile a host of other vegetables: fava beans, English peas, green beans, cabbage wedges, and asparagus are individually blanched in boiling water (the fava beans are peeled), shocked in an ice bath and laid on paper towels to drain. Small creamer potatoes (both red and yellow) are peeled and cut into eighths and brought to a boil along with a sachet of bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, and garlic then cooked until tender. The carrots get a similar treatment with a teaspoon of honey and another sachet. Five pots, two trays, three colanders, a drawer full of utensils and counting.
"This looks healthy," James said as he pulled his spoon through the brightly colored bowl. He nodded as I, his dinner time tour guide, pointed out the ingredients that had come from our yard. "It's good," he said reaching for another slice of the cheese toast I offered on the side. "We can eat healthy," he declared.
Now I just have to worry about the dishes. Sigh.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Baked Meatballs? Italian Burgers? Mini Meatloaf?

"Do we have any hamburger meat?" James asked, thinking about burgers for dinner.
We didn't but that can hardly stop a girl with grass fed beef in the freezer and a Cuisinart on the counter. I quickly defrosted a top sirloin steak and a lonely pork chop and chopped the meat. We also didn't have any bread, not even enough for open face burgers so I figured it had to be some sort of hamburger steak.
The first thing I did was get some tiny fingerlings in to roast seasoned with plenty of oregano, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. And, because I was just to lazy to take out another pan, I decided to roast the broccoli rabe right in with the potatoes. Cut in tiny pieces (or tiny from the ground) 20- 30 minutes at 450º would be just right for tender potatoes and flavorful crispy greens.
Once I was off to this semi-Italian start I decided to flavor up the meat to match. In went a good dose of oregano, parsley, garlic, crushed chili peppers, parmesan cheese, and some stale bread soaked in milk. I formed this mixture into patties and popped it in the oven along with the vegetables. When the potatoes and greens were cooked I turned the oven to broil to color the burgers a bit and melt a couple slices of Romano cheese on top. I tossed some grated parmesan with the warm potatoes and broccoli and popped that tray back in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt.
Italian Burgers? Mini Meatloaf? Jumbo Meatballs? You decide.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Casserole? Really?

Everyday the dinner conversation in my head goes pretty much the same way.
What's in the house? Should I use what I have or go to the store? Anything ready in the garden I could whip up and get an extra pat on the back for growing it myself -- and subtly pointing it out at the dinner table? And these days, what will make a nice picture?
Today I had a small harvest of yellow squash. I usually sauté squash with mint and garlic or roast it in the oven or even fry thin sticks like battered French fries. None of that felt right. I was looking for a little comfort, something homey.
For whatever reason I kept flashing back to squash casserole. I'm not sure, if you haven't eaten at Southern cafeterias or family gatherings that you would even know squash casserole and I can't even swear where I first saw it. It's just always been there.
We always have eggs, and I happened to have a quart of milk -- which is rare for us. Cheese in the drawer -- check. And, in an unseasonable combination of Southern summer and winter fare, I happened to have a few pints of shucked oysters in the fridge. Dinner was starting to take shape.
I sliced the squash and chopped one brown onion and put them together in a sauce pan with water to cover and brought the pot to a gentle boil. The vegetables were soft in about 5 minutes. I added the drained onion and squash to a baking dish. In a separate bowl I combined about 1 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs with 1 cup of shredded cheese. Most recipes use cheddar but were not all that crazy about cheddar so I used what we had on hand, a good sized block of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a Wisconsin artisanal cheese with a nutty Gruyère like flavor. I sprinkled half of the cracker cheese mixture over the squash in the pan and then placed the drained oysters around the baking dish, nestled in among the squash slices. I mixed together 1 cup of milk, two eggs, and 1/4 cup of melted butter and poured that over the assembled veggies and oysters in the pan and topped it all with the rest of the cracker and cheese mixture, drizzling a little more melted butter on top before baking for 30 minutes at 400º.
On the side of our side dish for dinner? A crisp salad (with leaves from our garden, back pat number 2) with creamy feta cheese dressing -- the new house favorite.
Another day's dinner done.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Bee In The Life

A couple years back, after innocently turning a nearly hidden corner behind the demonstration garden at the LA county fair I ran smack into the LA County Beekeepers.
For the next couple months all James heard were details of people I'd met with bee hives in their back yards and passages read loud from Beekeeping For Dummies. The more I read the more interested I became, bees have a fascinating, orderly life working for the common good and making our gardens possible along the way. When Christmas rolled around, the poor big man, worn down by incessant buzzing, gave me a beautiful garden hive complete with decorative copper cover, smokers, bee suits, gloves and everything a girl needs to make friends with the honeybee.
After a few months --hive all painted (thanks honey) and one very frightened postman in the recent past, our package of bees arrived. 3 lbs of buzzing Italian honey bees along with their future queen encased in a sugar capped cage. The "girls" would literally eat their queen free. At first we placed the hive up by James' cabin in the Angeles forest. Tucked away where they wouldn't bother anyone. We were in the midst of a terrible drought and there was little for the bees to drink and even less for them to eat and I made regular trips up into the hills to feed them sugar and water syrup. They were hungry and far away.
Midway through the summer we decided to bring our girls home.
Under cover of night, along with a beekeeping friend, we screened up the hive, closed in the girls and drove them home to a sunny spot in the corner of our newly replanted backyard garden. After a few stings (James is allergic), some tears, one trip to the hospital (that's a long story for another post) we moved the girls to their own screened enclosure (thanks again honey) at the end of our yard perfectly situated to have the bees fly up and over our heads onto their day's work. Success. Our hive thrived (and expanded -- I had to split a couple times with help from more friendly beekeepers) and grew crowded. We even collected and bottled our backyard honey and shared it with friends.
This picture was taken when I forgot to put a few needed frames in and the girls built this lovely free comb full of babies and honey.
Then last summer things went from bad to worse. We lost a queen. The girls rejected two new ones. I thought we were finally back on track when I got a call from James as I was out of town on a job.
"The bees are dead," he said. They weren't buzzing about as usual and James, in spite of his allergy, went down to check on them. The whole hive dead in the frames. Not Colony Collapse Disorder that everyone has read about by now. These girls didn't leave and not find the way back, they died in their home. In our yard. We searched for explanations, theorized, quizzed other beekeepers and finally settled on pesticides. Someone had sprayed something near our girls. The worker bees brought the poison back to the hive and now they were gone.
We spent the winter without girls flying around the yard. No buzzing in the neighbor's avocado tree. And then started to plan for the return.
I've repainted the hive, scraped it clean, changed the wax in the frames and am now, as an expectant mother, awaiting the delivery of 50,000 or so buzzing children . . . tomorrow.
Updates to follow.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pasta with Beans

This may be one of the least attractive and best tasting spaghetti's I've ever made.
The kale was growing pretty wild in the back yard and so I picked a big bunch and then started to figure out what to do with it. Kale, kale kale . . . I had some sausage in the fridge, It isn't quite hot out. I started to imagine kale and sausage soups with pasta, bean stews, braised kale, kale risotto -- wintery dishes to send off the last (almost) of our winter Kale.
As my work day got longer long braises and soups seemed further and further out of reach. I started to lean towards an old stand-by -- a quick spaghetti dinner.
James started the water boiling as I was driving home and contemplating our evening's dish.
I quickly removed the stems and chopped the kale. I usually just saute the bitter vegetable but today I decided to blanch it first in the water James boiled for the pasta (just about 1 1/2 minutes) and I liked the milder flavor and softer texture in the final dish. Once I strained out the kale I put the spaghetti in to cook while in a separate pan I heated about 6 TBs of olive oil, 4 thinly sliced cloves of garlic, and 1/2 tsp crushed red chiles. I added one chopped onion to the oil along with two sliced (pre-cooked Fra Mani brand not fresh) links of Italian sausage. Once the onion was soft I added in 1 jar of delicious Pocha beans (not very Italian but yummy and right on hand) and simmered them in the flavorful oil, and then added in the drained kale and let the pan cook over low heat while the pasta finished cooking. I added the drained spaghetti, along with about 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, a big handful of shredded parmesan cheese and plenty of cracked black pepper and tossed and stirred vigorously until the cheese and the hot water came together into a creamy sauce. I've been using this "cacio and pepe", sauce from nothing style technique a lot lately with consistently good results.
Not pretty but pretty delicious.
"You can make this anytime," James said.