Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How These Melons Grow

This year our front yard garden is out-shinning the more expansive back yard. Our little plot, barely big enough for flowers much less intensive vegetables had been overflowing with yellow squash, tomatoes, berries and herbs. Following my own "more is more" doctrine of gardening I am trying to grow melons on a trellis to fit in a few more plants. I've tried this once before with very little success. This year I have big leafy plants without many flowers. Except for these two growing crane melons I am babying to ripeness. The Crane is a little known early 20th century hybrid from Northern california praised for it's juicy flesh and sweet flavor.
To keep the weight of the melon from pulling on the vine my Cranes are being supported by these less than flattering slings fashioned from plastic bags. It's not exactly the picturesque farmyard I dream about but we're only a couple weeks away from fresh melon and prosciutto.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Southern-Style Summer Sunday

Yesterday we got a new refrigerator -- a replacement for a faulty model we bought just two months ago, supplied by the manufacturer -- believe it or not.
As I was transferring food from freezer to freezer I came across a bag of head on shrimp I had nearly forgotten about and decided to whip them up for dinner tonight. Following a recipe by Bobby Flay of all people I tossed the shrimp in a spice mixture of pimentón dulce, chili powder, brown sugar, cumin, salt, pepper, and garlic. I sautéed them quickly in hot oil and coated the BBQ spiced shrimp with butter and scallions.
Since I was on a somewhat Southern bent I decided to add some hot skillet cornbread -- it was perfect for sopping up the sauce on the shrimp. And to finish? A cool summery peach tart.
Perfect for an end of summer Sunday.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

James Gets His Potatoes

No unusual fries tonight. After last night's "cruel joke" I fried up a little pile of baby potatoes from our garden for James' dinner. Just slightly bigger than a marble these pink tubers are just about the last of our spring potatoes -- it's nearly time to put in a new crop.
I dropped the halved spuds in hot oil (I admit it, I saved the oil from yesterday's squash) until they were tender inside and crisp outside. Meanwhile I dipped thin slices of pork cutlet in beaten egg and then in a mixture of panko bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese. The cutlets only take about 5 minutes to brown in a hot pan with oil and butter. I kept all of that warm for just a few minutes while I sautéed some spinach in the pan from the cutlets.
A super quick dinner with crunch.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Unusual Fries

We have a steady, nearly overwhelming supply of garden fresh Zephyr squash. What's a girl to do with it all?
I snatched one large fruit from the front garden, cut it into thick sticks (without the seeds), coated the sticks in a bit of seasoned flour and dropped them into very hot oil. When my squash fries were golden brown I served them alongside one of James' favorites -- sliders made with Hearst ranch ground beef.
"This is a cruel joke," James said as he bit into one of his dinner "fries" expecting potatoes. "I mean they're good, but they're not potatoes."
Maybe tomorrow, Honey.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pizza Before and After

James declared his version of a universal man truth, " A guy will never say no to pizza." Well at least my guy won't.
Still in vacation mode, I grabbed a Trader Joe's garlic and herb pizza dough and stretched it across my cornmeal dusted peel.
James knew he wanted onions on his pizza, and surprisingly enough asked if we had any potatoes. So I topped the fresh dough with thin slices of purple potatoes from our garden along with slivers of onion, torn slices of Fra Mani's mild salame nostrano, dried oregano, crushed red chiles, mozzarella slices and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
Pizza for dinner -- who would say no?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tomatoes Everywhere

This year I tried a new tomato -- well new to me at least. The Ramapo. A hybrid developed by Rutgers University and popular until it became unavailable in the 1980's, Ramapo is one of a few varieties known across the East coast as "The Jersey Tomato."
I usually religiously stick to open-polinated, heirloom varieties in varied shades of red, yellow, green, orange and black, but when I saw these newly re-introduced beauties in the seed catalogue I couldn't resist the lure of these sun-kissed red, picture perfect tomatoes.
Planted with a hopeful wish in late February we now have big bushy plants spilling over with meaty fruits just waiting to be turned into salads, sandwiches and even sauces. I may can some if I can keep from eating them right off the vine.
They are mildly sweet without too much acid. Quite simply they taste like summer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back In My Own Kitchen

We made it back home and thanks to our garden I was able to whip up dinner without running to the store. I started the water boiling and grabbed a good sized squash from out front. As the pasta cooked I sautéed thin slices of squash along with some homegrown garlic and chili peppers (dried from last summer's harvest) in a good quantity of olive oil. After the squash softened I covered it and let the slices get just the slightest golden color underneath. When the pasta had cooked I added it to the skillet along with a handful of chopped mint, about 4 ounces of fresh goat cheese (I found it in the back of the cheese drawer), and about 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water and gave it all a good stir until the cheese and starchy water had melded to form a creamy sauce. Topped with some shredded parmesan cheese that was James' welcome home dinner in a jiffy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sick Day Soup

James wasn't feeling well today. He missed our day at the San Juan County Fair and spent one of his island vacation days resting and fighting off a bit of flu.
I tossed together a quick soup for his sick day supper.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vacation Dinner

Miles away from home on the first day of our vacation.
Nothing to think about but the wind and the water and what to have for dinner.
Just off the ferry we popped into the grocery store on our beloved Island and came up with fresh dungeness crab plucked from the still icy Puget Sound waters, With onion, garlic, locally made butter, and plenty of broth that quickly became a "luxurious" (that's what James called it), easy crab meat risotto.
For a little peppery crunch I topped the rice with a salad of upland cress (watercress' dry land cousin -- quite a surprise to find in the store), Parmesan cheese (no apologies to supposed Italian purists) and tangy balsamic vinaigrette.
That's our kind of island style.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Soup

Something a little different for us. Coconut shrimp soup. A little easy Thai flavor.
First I took out a good quantity of thin rice noodles and covered them with boiling water for about 10 minutes.
I fried about 1 1/2 TB of grated ginger, 1 minced jalapeno, 1/2 tsp of red chili flakes, and about 1/2 TB of minced garlic to some oil in a pan over medium heat and stirred it around. I added in about 2 cups of carrots (bright yellow carrots from our garden) sliced into thin -- almost matchstick strips and gave it all a good stir for about a minute. Next went in 1 can of low fat coconut milk, 1 can of Thai style chicken broth (I could have used any broth or even water), and 1/2 cup water mixed with 1 TB cornstarch. I brought the liquid up to a boil and let it simmer for about 4 minutes to cook the carrots through. Then I added in several handfuls of sliced oyster mushrooms and let them simmer for about 2 minutes. Next -- with the liquid still at a simmer -- went peeled deveined shrimp, the drained rice noodles, and about 1/2 cup frozen peas. When the shrimp were just opaque and cooked through I stirred in a few quartered small tomatoes along with about 1/4 cup of fish sauce (wish I'd had some limes instead) and served up our noodle soup topped with just a few fresh cilantro leaves.
Super quick summery soup.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Burger Time?

Okay -- not so pretty. But honestly, how pretty can a bun-less burger be? Besides the star of this dish were the homemade, home-grown fingerling potato chips -- sliced thin, cooked in hot oil and salted liberally. Burger? What burger?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Pastrami Reuben

That New York trip just keeps on giving. Today with some of the pastrami from Katz's deli I made James a quick toasted reuben, pan fried in a bit of oil and butter. I layered slices of rosemary bread with butter (James doesn't like Russian dressing), mustard, pastrami, sauerkraut, and nutty, fragrant, delicious Scharfe Maxx (kind of like an extra sharp Gruyere)-- a delicious cheese from Switzerland I "discovered" at Murray Cheese in NY and brought home for James.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vegetarian Dinner For Two

I just couldn't think of what to make. My diet wanted me to eat brown rice and pesto for dinner so I was trying to come up with something we could both eat. I looked out at our yard full of yellow squash and decided on a quick squash curry -- a low key vegetarian dinner.
I browned the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in a bit of oil until the mustard seeds started to pop and added in 3 cloves of sliced garlic, a dash of garam masala, and about 1 tsp curry powder. I let the spices heat and then added in 1 chopped onion and let it simmer in the mixture for about a minute. Next came 4 sliced yellow squash, about a half dozen sliced mushrooms (because I had them in the fridge) and two handfuls of cherry tomatoes chopped roughly, I cooked the vegetables for about 4 minutes until they just started to soften. Next I added in 1/2 tsp of chili flakes, 1 TB of tomato paste, and a paste I made in the food processor of 2 TB roasted sesame seeds and 2 TB cashew nuts. I cooked that mixture for another couple minutes and added 1/4 cup of water, covered the pot and let the curry simmer until the squash was very tender -- about 5 minutes.
Served over brown rice that was a diet dinner I could share with James.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Let Him Eat Greek

This month Saveur Magazine presents an issue dedicated to the food of Greece. It's a rustic cuisine of fresh seafood, tangy cheeses, lemony sauces, and hearty greens. I'm a fan of Greek food and have been since I was a kid -- my mother used to take me to our town's Greek restaurant, Acropolis, where I learned to love feta cheese, all manner of eggplant dishes and taramasalata, the creamy dip flavored with fish roe. Aside from lemony chicken or spinach pie, I rarely make Greek food at home. So, I excitedly broke into this issue as soon as it arrived and am already planning a Greek style dinner party with the recipes. I may cook them all. But first, thinking about our Hearst Ranch beef in the freezer and how much James loves it, I decided to start these Greek meatballs which Saveur says are a typical meze (the small plates that start Greek meals) of Northern Greece -- usually served with fried potatoes or rice.
I still had some of our home grown potatoes, so I cut them in to small pieces and popped them in a 400º oven coated with lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, and salt.
The simple meatball recipe turned out to be another good canvas for our home grown produce. Our garlic, bay leaves, tomatoes, parsley, eggs, lemons, and mint all helped flavor the zesty dish. This was my first go around with Greek meatballs (unless you count NYC diners) so I'm not sure if the soft almost crumbly texture is what the recipe intended but I think it will make a pretty nice meatball sandwich topped with roasted peppers and feta cheese.
More Saveur inspired Greek dishes to come.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Try At Barbuto At Home

Our garden is full of lovely, fresh bright yellow and green zephyr squash.
Again, inspired by Jonathan Waxman and the delicious zucchini salad I had at Barbuto, I tried to make a garden fresh pasta dish for James. As the pasta cooked I mixed up an olive puree with just pitted kalamata olives, a pinch of salt, garlic, and olive oil. Thirty seconds before the pasta finished cooking I added in thin slices of squash to soften a bit in the water. I dressed the noodles with olive oil, dabs of the olive puree, a dollop of fresh ricotta, and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts and fresh oregano.
To be honest I wanted to imitate Chef Waxman further and use toasted hazelnuts -- but, oops I wasn't paying enough attention and toasted the hazelnuts a little too far and had to make a quick substitution.
Hazel or pine this dish still made for summery pasta dinner fresh from the garden.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bringing NY Home

I had just enough time before leaving for the airport to make a quick run through Manhattan's Lower East Side to grab some treats to bring home to James and share with our friends. I dashed into Russ and Daughters, home of the world's most delicious lox and cream cheese. I picked up two flavors of their delicious spread -- a goat cheese version I hadn't seen before and the tofu scallion which I love but can't explain why, along with an assortment of delicious fish -- super salty cured (not smoked) belly lox, cold smoked western nova lox made with lean king salmon, and the king of them all, buttery smooth salmon loin with the sweet smokey flavor of cherry wood.
My second stop was one of our favorites -- Katz's Deli. I gathered up some of their delicious pastrami, turkey breast, half sour pickles, and pickled tomatoes. I added a cinnamon babka, a sweet yeast cake, and a package of mini black and white cookies to my growing box.
I wanted to get a package of the best bagels in New York from Kossar's Bialys, but -- as one of the last of the old school LES outposts Kossar's is closed on Saturdays. I was planning our NY spread for Sunday morning -- that just seemed to long for bagels to wait for us. So, I made a batch of homemade bagels Sunday morning -- salt, sesame, and poppy seed warm from the oven.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Momofuku and The Siient Chef

If you've picked up any food or travel magazine over the last couple years you've likely seen some writer gushingly spewing praise New York chef David Chang and his Momofuku empire, now five restaurants strong.
Each of the Korean-American chef's tiny eateries are somewhat fusion, somewhat authentic, somewhat things I imagine the chef just likes to eat . . . and cook. Since I was in the East Village and still somewhat in a sleep deprived stupor I decide to amble over to the closest outpost. Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Inside the vaguely modern, vaguely Japanese space the music was blaring -- loud enough to wake the dead, and a good crowd was gathered even at nearly three in the afternoon.
With LA's Kogi trucks still attracting lines and inspiring imitators across the country, Momofuku has it's own Korean Mexican offering, the kimchi tamale. Filled with stewed pork and not quite enough kimchi for my taste this was a pretty interesting idea, but not one that I would walk back for.
Although I read countless tales of David Chang's near legendary pork buns, I still didn't recognize this dish when it came to my spot at the bar. Instead of meat encased in steamed dough, Momofuku's pork buns are little sandwiches. Soft springy steamed bread wrapped around two super fatty and succulent slices of pork belly with dressed cucumbers, scallions, and a light hoisin style sauce. Don't nibble, bite it all at once and the flavors meld together perfectly.
Unlike many places where patron can sit at a bar right by the cooks (sort of like a sushi bar except at the back section you are looking right into a quickly working kitchen, complete with flat tops, steamer trays, and two bubbling fryers), it seems that the kitchen staff doesn't even see the patrons. They make no notice of who is eating their food, although they chat among themselves a bit (this kitchen moves quickly so there isn't even much time for pleasantries), customers don't even get the sushi chef's stoic nod.
Right in front of my seat was this woman I'll call "The Silent Chef." As I sat eating she never once looked up from the dishes she was meticulously arranging with long metal chopsticks and occasionally with gloved hands. She never spoke to anyone in the kitchen or even seemed to turn around to get her orders. She just kept on opening a series of mystery plastic containers and layered hotel trays plating dish after dish.
Since I was at the noodle bar, I had to try the ramen. The broth was intensely flavored with more than a hint of soy and the noodles just chewy enough. The large bowl came with more of Chang's super fatty pork belly, shredded pork (like what filled the tamale but less dry here swimming in the flavorful broth), a couple slices of fish cake, and a curiously soft boiled egg with a delicate jiggly, but still fully formed shape (maybe it was a sous vide egg) which added just the right touch of silky mouthfeel to the bowl.
At first bite I wasn't sure this was much better than the ramen I'd eaten in Japan or in noodle bars across LA, but with every bite I liked it more. It was rich and porky and salty and the perfect cure for a sleepless night.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lombardi's Pizza

Another stop on the old New York comfort food circuit, Lombardi's was America's first pizzeria and is still more than 100 years after it's founding packing both tourists and locals into red checked covered tables for crisp crust pies straight from the coal fired oven.Lombardi's is certainly out of food fashion these days, these are not single serving pies topped with crunchy arugula or artisan made prosciutto but old time Italian American specialties piled with sauce, sausage, and loads of gooey mozzarella. Many pizzas at Lombardi's are probably good, but for me there is only one reason to go -- the clam pizza.
Freshly shucked clams, garlic, olive oil, herbs (kind of like the spaghetti with progresso white clam sauce my Dad used to make in the 60's), and a just a dash of pecorino cheese (honestly I would like a little more) are thickly spread on the tasty crust. It's a pizza I imitate at home for James (my version has pancetta and just a bit of mozzarella cheese) and have fond memories of when I'm far away at home in California.
A cash only tourist trap that's none the less cheerful and fun, with delicious clams.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Old Reliable Congee Village

After the red eye, and far too little sleep I'm back in New York.
A bleary eyed mid-morning called for reliable, friendly new York comfort food. Congee Village, a lower East side Cantonese eatery features a lengthy menu of decidedly not gourmet Chinese dishes. In spite of the many offerings I never look outside of the congee offerings, the soupy rice porridge eaten as a breakfast staple in Cantonese coffee shops and dim sum parlors the world over. It couldn't be much simpler (slow cooked rice with lots of water and a choice of flavorings ranging from 1000 year old egg to fish slices with lettuce and peanuts) and it's one of my favorite foods.
Today I opted for duck and meatballs -- maybe the best $3.95 breakfast New York has to offer.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cotoletta alla Milanese

Cotoletta, paillard, scallop, wienerschnitzel . . . whatever you call it these lightly breaded crispy slivers of meat (often veal but ours was chicken) are ready in a flash and just the thing for a light summer dinner.
I butterflied a chicken breast and pounded it to about 1/4 inch thickness. I briefly dipped the chicken in beaten egg (seasoned) and then in a combination of panko bread crumbs (for extra crunch) and grated parmesan cheese (S&P of course). The trick to the crispy exterior is all in the pan. Heat a good quantity of olive oil over medium heat until the surface just shimmers, then add a TB or so of butter. When the butter has melted and just starts to foam, lay in the breaded cutlet and let it cook over medium heat until nicely browned and crisp on one side (3 -4 minutes). Flip the meat, with a spatula or tongs, and cook the other side until golden brown -- about 3 minutes.
To finish and garnish our one dish dinner I mixed up an arugula and parsley salad with shaved parmesan cheese and "grilled" figs. Usually for this salad I would toss the halved figs on the grates of the grill but since I was only using one skillet I gave the figs a turn in a thin slick of olive oil (before I cooked the chicken, the figs don't need to be warm), over high heat until they just started to soften and crisp on the edges. I tossed the salad ingredients with a light rosemary vinaigrette (2 TB olive oil, 2 TB balsamic vinegar, 2 TB chopped rosemary, S&P), and topped the crisp cotoletta with thin slices of prosciutto and a tangle of the fresh bitter and sweet salad.
"If you save that last little piece for me, I'll eat it tomorrow," James said while clearing the plates. Success!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pizza Monday

Dough in the fridge, meat sauce (Mark Peel's brisket spaghetti sauce) in the freezer, cheese in the drawer. Add in a chopped chili pepper and some leaves of fresh basil, 20 minutes later dinner is served.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trying at Home

Inspired by my dinner at Barbuto I wanted to whip up a simple grilled chicken, brought to life -- the way Chef Waxman does it, with a flavor packed salsa verde.
I got the list of ingredients from my waiter at the crowded West Village restaurant: garlic, capers, anchovies, parsley, tarragon and fresh oregano mixed in the food processor with olive oil. My salsa was more finely chopped than the chef's version (I had to process again when I remembered the capers and anchovies) and didn't have quite the magic flavor punch . . . but it did liven up the quickly grilled chicken and made a nice dressing for the quinoa salad. I'll keep trying.