Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Tart

I was doing some baking today. To be honest it was for a party we are having in January. I have been baking like mad trying to ready everything that can be done in advance. Today's chore: 3 dozen brandied sour cherry and pear tartletts. I'm not sure how it happened but even after finishing and freezing (unbaked) all of my party goods I still had enough filling left over for a full sized tart and thought I could just barely stretch out a crust from the pieces I wasn't willing to roll a third time. I froze the leftover dough and I was going to grate it into the tart pan. That is until a certain pup who shall remain nameless -- thought it looked too delicious to look away while Mommy was downstairs chatting with Daddy. Dog thief.
Anyway I made a quick recovery (can't waste that filling) by whipping up a sweet pastry dough (Nick Maglieri's pasta frolla) -- super easy to make and to roll. In the food processor I combined 2 1/3 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, and 6 TBs sugar and then added in one stick of cold butter cut in chunks. I pulsed until the butter was the size of peas in the flour and added in two eggs and pulsed again until the dough came together. After chilling for an hour in the fridge I rolled out two circles to fill my tart pan and baked the filled tart for 45 minutes at 375º.
Waste not want not. I made James a quick tray of pie crust cookies with the leftover sweet dough. I cut the rolled dough into squares, sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar, and baked for about 10 minutes along with the tart. Just right with a cup of tea.
Tonight someone else is having the party but we are bringing the tart. And at home, a little lagniappe for my honey as they say in the Crescent.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back Home In My Kitchen

James has a knack for getting me just the right kitchen gifts. Things that are fun, have endless uses (the kind of things I wonder how I lived without), and look great besides. Under the Christmas tree this year was a super heavy Le Creuset square grill pan. In my favorite color (and Julia Child's) -- flame. It's just the thing for toasting grilled cheese sandwiches and paninis, "grilled" chicken, and for nights like tonight when steak is on the menu but the weather outside is far from summer BBQ ready.
I stayed inside and, following a recipe from meat guru Bruce Aidells. I patted a mixture of brown sugar (1 tsp), Spanish paprika (2 tsp), kosher salt (1 tsp) and black pepper (1 tsp) on the outside of my already super delicious Hearst Ranch grass fed sirloin steaks and laid the steaks in my new -- preheated -- grill pan for nearly 7 minutes on each side.
Meanwhile I heated 1/4 cup of olive oil in a pan and added in 2 sliced shallots, 3 minced cloves of garlic, 1 TB of capers, and a heavy pinch of rubbed sage. The vegetables cooked around for a bit (about 3 minutes) -- just until soft -- and I added in 8 chopped piquillo peppers (Spanish roasted peppers with a distinctive fruity taste), a tsp of Dijon mustard and 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce. The "sauce" simmered for about 12 minutes while the steaks were cooking.
The potatoes, for whatever reason I really can't say, I decided to oven braise in olive oil. I've never done it before. I sliced the fingerlings in half and put them in a small oven proof dish along with 2 peeled cloves of garlic, a sprig of rosemary, a sprig or fresh oregano and a couple peppercorns. I poured olive oil over the mixture until the potatoes were just about submerged, covered the dish with foil and popped it in a 450º over for about 35 minutes. The potatoes came out super tender and lightly perfumed with the herbs. They just needed a sprinkling of salt and pepper to come to the table.
An easy dinner made even better with a bright orange Christmas gift. Thank you, honey.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Tray Gourmet"

Rolling down Hwy 128 through the Napa Valley, James and I pulled over into Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's refresher) the endlessly revered burger stand. Delicious. Far better than In and Out (but twice the price), crispy on the outside, moist inside and topped with super fresh lettuce, onions, tomato and -- of course, Gott's special sauce.
The garlic fries -- I can't believe I am saying it -- actually have too much butter. The thin fries don't hold up to the San Francisco style sauce. We should have gone with the sweet potato fries (and an espresso milk shake). A great excuse to go back again . . . and again.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hotel Crab Picnic

Crab season goes on. James and I traveled down the coast and turned inland through the beautiful Anderson Valley, home to scattered wineries and Lemon's Market a small grocery store with plenty of meats, fresh caught fish (sometimes from the owner's fishing trips) and -- during the season -- cases overflowing with local cooked crab.
We drove by and saw the "Fresh Crab" sign, spun the car around and loaded up on meaty, delicious crab, cocktail sauce and fresh bread.
Back at the friendly Boonville Hotel we laid our dinner out on an old copy of the Pt Reyes Light and picnicked hotel style.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Marshall Store

BBQ'd oysters are a specialty of West Marin I am told, and the legend of their creation is doubtlessly told and debated heartily along the shores of Tomales Bay.
For me the only debate is where to go to eat them.
I love the oysters at Tony's Seafood, a paper plate shack along the bay. Tony's sauce is sweet and, as James says, "ketchupy." The Marshall Store (a no-frills eatery along the same stretch of road) variation is more like a warm cocktail sauce spicy with peppers, Tapatio hot sauce, and a hint of horseradish and doused with melted butter and oyster liquor. The oysters come off the grill extra tender after essentially poaching in their own liquid. The garlic bread is just right for dunking in the flavorful juices.
Oysters may be the star here in Marshall but during the winter months you don't want to miss the dungeness crab, fresh from local waters. As good as the crab available in fish markets can be, fresh from the water dungeness crab is something altogether different, something etherial, something not to be missed.
Swing by The Marshall Store sometime between November and maybe as late as April if the weather stays cool. They'll be happy to see you.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Breakfast, Delivered

A soft knock at 9:30 and in came a tray of local cheeses, dried and fresh pears, "coastal" quince paste, warm pecan coffee cake, and fresh apple juice. Mmmmmm

Friday, December 24, 2010

Waiting For Santa At Manka's Inverness

Dinner at Manka's.
Everything was perfectly delicious.
Creamy, satisfying pumpkin soup topped with chestnuts and black truffle butter. Alluringly aromatic.
Fire grilled Dungeness crab with tangy Meyer lemon aioli. Maybe the most delicious, savory crab I've ever tasted -- including those I make at home. The fire, I am told, is the key.
Endive and celery root salad crowned with lively jewels of deep red pomegranate.
A second helping of fatty, hearty, soulful cassoulet.
Bloomy, perfectly ripe triple creme (especially made for Manka's) cheese with local honey and meaty walnuts.
English toffee, peanut brittle, and powdery "snowball" (Mexican wedding cakes) cookies along with a creamy, nutmeg flavored, egg nog.
Back at our cabin, cookies for "Santa."
Merry Christmas one and all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Eve Eve At Mankas

Manka's Inverness is a place so special and so quirky I hesitate to tell friends about it. I don't want to hear judgment on the mostly charming inefficiency or field cautious stares brought on by the extravagance of cabins at Manka's. I want to keep it our little secret. A place where perfect happiness thrives. A place where the fireplace is always lit and the soaking tub always extra warm. Onetime hunting cabins in the West Marin "wood" welcoming guests with luxury rustic chic and delicious, beyond locavore, thoughtfully prepared meals. Unlike the endless tasting menus in the dining room, tonight's in-room "fireside" dinner was a tasty cassoulet (slow cooked beans, slab bacon and duck confit with plenty of garlic) followed by ginger cake with warm caramel sauce and fluffy, softly beaten cream.
We came North to find Christmas and were rewarded.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Veggie Chili With Friends

It's been raining all day (well all week really) Winter weather calls for warm, comforting, easy cook dinners. I whipped up a big pot of veggie chili (made diet friendly for our friend's Eat To Live plan) with chopped peppers, onions, carrots, celery, leeks, lentils, canned beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable broth and plenty of spice. Everything bubbled together in a big pot until the lentils were tender. Something warm for a rainy day.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Home At Last

I made the stuffing for Thanksgiving this year, and before baking I tucked away a bit in the freezer for a night like tonight. I opened a pork tenderloin up and spread it thinly across my board (not quite butterflied -- it wasn't that professional -- but that idea). I laid on the cornbread fruit and nut stuffing, rolled the meat around jelly roll style, covered the tip (and the open seam) with a few sliced of back, tied it up like a roast (or a handy porky package) and baked in a 350º for 50 minutes. Each slice had a beautiful mosaic of stuffing and juicy, tender meat. Welcome home Honey.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beach Break

I've slipped out for a little beach job -- no cooking (plenty of eating though) -- but I'll be back soon (December 21).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Little Tree That Could

On our back porch, in an unlikely spot because we have no more room in the yard we have a Meyer lemon tree. Sweetly perfumed thin skinned Meyer lemons are a cross between lemons and, some say, tangerines and some say oranges. In either case they are fairly delicate and don't ship all that well so some parts of the country still may never get fresh Meyers.
In years past we've gotten maybe six lemons from this sturdy little potted tree. But this year we have a fruit explosion -- almost 4 dozen lemons on a tree barely four feet tall.
I had to come up with a worthy project to honor our faithful tree and settle on an old-fashioned lemon marmalade. I zested 16 lemons and painstakingly cut the zest into think strips. I then took a dozen completely peeled lemons and chopped the pulp in the food processor. I added the pulp and zest to a bowl with an equal amount (by measure) of water and let that sit overnight in the fridge. In the morning I added the mixture to a pot with a measure of sugar to equal the water I added the day before. I brought everything u to a boil and let the pot simmer for 30 minutes. I ladeled the marmalade into waiting jars sealed them in the canner and stored them on the shelf for special presents and James' toast.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Karen Cooks For James

It's good to have friends.
Today at work I happened to run into an old friend (and her lovely husband) in her new career -- as on set caterer. In spite of the fact that I have "given up eating" for a try at "the bean diet" sweet Karen ( took pity on sweet James and sent home a care package of Caribbean chicken and a night off for me.
It's good to have friends. Thanks Karen and Austin.

The Bean Diet

Our friend Eric has been following the Eat to Live program and doing really well. It's basically a nearly fat free, grain free, vegan diet. Having Eric and Shari to dinner last night was my "Top Chef" challenge of the week. And cooking beans it was no "quickfire."
I went for a Moroccan style stew to try and get as much spice and flavor as possible. I mixed chickpeas, butternut squash, chiles. cumin, saffron, onions, tomatoes, tomato paste and cinnamon in the crock pot and let it cook for hours. Even though I soaked the chickpeas they just weren't softening up. As it came closer to dinner I bailed on the slow cooker, actually fished the semi cooked squash out of the stew and poured the rest into a pot to bring to a rapid boil. Bean lesson of the day -- soaked or not, in the crockpot start beans (especially these fat free ones it seems) the night before. About 1/2 hour before dinner I stirred in some preserved lemon, chopped olives, and sliced zucchini to finish up our make-shift tagine.
For James I added a fennel spiked couscous, but the best dish of the night was my take on Dr. Fuhrman's diet friendly salad dressing -- 3 peeled oranges, 3 TB balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup raw cashews blended together over greens and steamed beets.
The bean diet might be in my future.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Baked Chicken on Bread

I had a bag of cubed bread staring me in the face from my over-exuberant stuffing making (and bread cubing) on Thanksgiving. I couldn't bring myself to just throw it away and when I saw this recipe in Food and Wine (based on Zuni Cafe's delicious chicken specialty -- a restaurant favorite for both me and James) I figured it was worth a try. I mixed bread cubes, chopped chard, golden raisins, capers, S&P, and thinly sliced garlic and shallots with olive oil. The recipe called for 1/4 cup -- I thought that looked dry and used more, but don't it was too much. On top of the mixed greens and bread I put 4 chicken thighs seasoned with salt and pepper. I placed parchment paper over the chicken and put the lid on the casserole and baked for 35 minutes at 350º. I increased the oven temperature to 400º, uncovered the chicken and cooked for 10 minutes more, until as the recipe said the chicken was golden brown and cooked through. My chicken wasn't quite golden brown so I popped the broiler on for just a few minutes (maybe a few too many) for color.
Not exactly Zuni, but not bad.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Elusive Macaroon

For years I have feared the macaroon. These delicate French sandwich cookies seemed the provenance of esteemed chefs and professional bakers. Too exacting for me.
Today, prepping for a party we are giving just after the holidays (macaroons, says Martha Stewart, can be frozen for up to 3 months) I decided to try.
I pulsed confectioners sugar (1 cup) and almond flour (3/4 cup) in the food processor and sifted 2 times. I beat two egg whites until foamy, added a pinch of cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks formed. I sprinkled in 1/4 cup of superfine sugar and beat, adding in a few drops of red gel color and 1 TB of strained raspberry purée, to firm peaks. I sifted in the sugar and almond mixture and folded it into the pink batter. I piped the batter into 1 inch circles, I let the batter sit for almost 20 minutes, I preheated the oven to 375º and dropped the temperature 50º just as the tray went in, I rotated the tray after 5 minutes. The result? About 5 of the -- let's just say way, way more than 5 -- cookies I made are just about perfect. Lovely round discs with no peaks, no cracks on top, and a delicate shine across the surface.
They all taste fine. The raspberry flavor is bright and unexpected. But it's the look I am after.
Practice. Next try coconut.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Persimmon Bread

Another persimmon from Grant. Can't let that go to waste so I mixed up a quick persimmon bread dessert from James Beard's recipe.
I sifted together 1 3/4 cup flour, 3//4 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1 1/4 cup sugar. I made a well in the center of the dry ingredients and added in 1 cup persimmon purée, 1/2 cup cooled melted butter, 1/3 cup scotch whiskey, and 2 eggs. I mixed that all well and then stirred in 1 cup of raisins and 1 cup of chopped dried apricots. It a baked in a 9 in loaf pan for a light winter dessert treat. Nice for breakfast toast too.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Black and Brown

The crock pot is the place for beans. No need to soak. Just toss them in, add seasonings, turn the pot to low and forget about it. I had a bunch of little chores to finish around the house so I let dinner bubble away while I went about my business. I combined 1 pound of black beans, 2 chopped red peppers, 4 cloves of minced garlic, 1/2 tsp chili powder, about 1 TB chopped canned chipotle chiles with the sauce, 1 TB cumin, and 1 chopped onion with about 6 cups of vegetable broth ( I was trying to make a veggie version) and turned it to low.
Just to make the complete appliance dinner I popped some brown rice in the rice cooker. When James was ready for dinner all I had to do was put dinner on a plate and top with a little cotija cheese and chopped onion. Modern convenience on a slow cooker Sunday.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Hanukah

Because there is nothing James likes quite so much as fried potatoes and it's that time of year I grated some potatoes and made a batch of latkes (potato pancakes) for his dinner. Tradition be damned I wiped them up in the food processor. I grated 3 russet potatoes and 1 onion, Then in a bowl I mixed in two eggs and about 3/4 cup of mazoh meal (I just happened to have it otherwise I would have used flour) and a good bit of salt and pepper. I shallow fried the little pancakes in peanut oil until browned on both sides and served them with a dollop of homemade applesauce (4 chopped peeled apples, 1/4 cup of sugar , 1 tsp of cinnamon and 3/4 cup water cooked in a covered saucepan for about 15 minutes and then puréed),
A holiday about fried foods -- that's a holiday I can get behind.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe

I have a little trick I use for a finishing touch. Sometimes, instead of making a cheese or cream sauce I cut the rind off a nice soft washed rind cheese like brie or camembert and cube the soft center. Then I add the cheese along with sautéed vegetables and spices (tonight it was blanched broccoli rabe with oregano, garlic and chili peppers and some chopped ham) to the warm drained pasta and stir until the cheese melts in. It works great for adding a creamy finish to risottos too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

I still had some butternut squash left in the fridge that I didn't use for Thanksgiving and figured I should use that up, and that I could make a fairly quick tasty dish with out too much effort by starting with a great ingredient and two appliances. I tossed the cubes of squash in olive oil, salt and pepper and popped them in a 400º oven to roast. Meanwhile I started a risotto on the stove with pancetta, onions, fresh sage, and garlic using the remainder of my turkey stock as the liquid. I stirred and poured, stirred and poured until the rice was just about fully tender and then added the roasted squash, a handful of parmesan cheese, a knob of butter and a drizzle of heavy cream.
Not bad for a weeknight.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just Potatoes

I had planned an Indian style dinner of tandoori chicken and these spiced potatoes from December Bon Appétit magazine. After a long day and his fatherly duties at dog obedience class James just wanted the potatoes.
Following the printed recipe (as closely as I ever do) I heated canola oil and dropped in 1/4 tsp each, cumin seed, fennel seed, whole fenugreek, and mustard seeds. Those spices cooked covered for about 20 seconds and then I added in a pinch of crush chiles and stirred for another 20 seconds. The potatoes, cut in 1/2 inch strips went in while the pan was still on high until they just started to crisp and brown (about 5 minutes). I added salt and 1/2 tsp of turmeric, covered the pan and cooked the potatoes on medium low for about 12 minutes.
Crispy, shallow fried, spiced potatoes.