Monday, May 31, 2010

As American As . . . Burgers And Fries

Picnic weekend. Sliders and Fries.
A house specialty.
I'm not sure why little burgers are so much better than full size, some days. I think it's the brushing with shallot butter -- James always likes onions on his burger -- and the thin slice of pickle I put in the meat before broiling the mini burgers quickly in the oven. I guess I could do those same flavor additions with big burgers but somehow it's not the same.
I toast the rolls. We use King's Hawaiian dinner rolls. I've thought about making my own but these soft little wonders are just so perfect. The perfect size, the perfect texture, just sweet enough.
While the rolls are toasting I melt butter with chopped shallots until the shallots are just soft. I put a teaspoon of the melted shallots on each roll, along with some mustard and a leaf of crunchy lettuce. The burgers are just beef with salt and pepper and formed into rounds of about 2 inches across.
I add a thin slice of cheese just as the burgers finish broiling (about 5 minutes total) and pop the butter flavored burgers onto the rolls and bring 'em to the table.
Fries? Cook's Illustrated super easy almost magic start heating the oil and the fries at the same time recipe. (For future reference it's 2 1/2 pounds of yukon gold potatoes sliced in 1/4 inch sticks --it won't work with russets or sweet potatoes -- and 6 cups of oil added to a deep pan. I use our pasta pot). Cook over high heat until the oil comes to a boil -- about 5 minutes, continue to cook without stirring for 15 minutes. Stir the potatoes, scraping up any that are sticking and cook for another 5 to ten minutes until the potatoes are crisp. Strain onto brown paper bags and salt before serving. Don't forget to strain and save the oil for next time.)
Oh yeah, those are our home grown potatoes.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Our Friends Eric and Shari

Another lazy holiday weekend evening. Friends for a barbeque.
As always I thought I'd be home sooner, but as I dashed in the door at 5 PM with friends coming at 5:30 and no appetizer planned I dashed for the pantry and lo and behold two jars of ready to eat treats just waiting for crackers or crostini. Last fall when our garden was spilling over I canned up jars of "hot" (not really too hot) peppers and "pickled eggplant". For just such an occasion. I tried not to look too proud when our friends noticed the custom labels. Add some crackers, cheese, olives and a couple slices of salami an there was plenty to munch on while we got down to the work of what I'm calling "audience participation dinner."
While I was in santa Fe I bought a bag of blue corn flour, thinking I would give it as a gift. I never did so today seemed like a good time to use it up with a batch of homemade warm tortillas. I poured enough boiling water into the flour to make a thick, but not sticky dough. Eric rolled the dough into balls, Shari flattened them and I laid them on the waiting heating iron pans to cook through. Not the prettiest tortillas I've ever seen -- none of us will be mistaken for Jane Russell in "The Outlaw" but they were warm and chewy and all together not too bad for a first attempt. I started thinking about tortillas because, having a stock of chickens in the freezer from our poultry CSA, I had zeroed in on a grilled chicken recipe from Rick Bayless that coats the flattened (spatchcocked actually) birds with a mixture of chili powder, orange juice, oregano, cinnamon, clove, and apple cider vinegar before grilling them over indirect heat for 45 minutes. In the last 10 minutes I added some lightly oiled and salted green onions to the flaming side of the grill. Bayless serves his chicken with a tomatillo salsa. We had fresh avocados, which James loves, so I whipped up a quick guacamole with chopped onion, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and lime juice.
More homegrown showing off. These lima beans and wax beans are from our garden. I blanched the beans until tender, added some thinly sliced red onions (also from our garden) and dressed the mixture in red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar (2 TB each) and about 1/4 cup of roasted walnut oil. Salt pepper and a handful of chopped fresh mint finished off this easy summer salad.
Speaking of salad. Since the grill was going I decided to give a grilled romaine salad a try. I brushed the quartered heads with olive oil and salt and tinged the leaves with the flames for about 20 seconds on a side. A feta cheese vinaigrette (3 oz feta cheese, 5 TB olive oil, 1 tsp oregano, 1 TB water, 2 1/2 TB red wine vinegar all whirled in the blender until creamy, it's a food and Wine recipe) along with oven roasted cherry tomatoes I had made earlier in the day. My favorite dish of the night. My favorite dish for quite some time.
Dessert? Well it was sort of a barbeque. I blended up a quart of blueberries, lime juice and some simple syrup and poured it into popsicle molds. Done.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dinner With Shelly

I just didn't want to do anything too elaborate -- after all it was just a holiday weekend dinner with a close friend . . . and I had plans during the day. First off a springtime version of our house favorite appetizer: rosemary crackers, fresh ricotta, prosciutto, and cherries (we usually do fresh figs but have to wait a bit for those to be in season) sprinkled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, coarse salt and fresh chopped mint. Good but not great -- I think I will try it with the dark red deeper flavored cherries next time, or maybe roasted apricots.
A home variation of a Chez Panisse favorite. Marinated rounds of goat cheese (I left them to soak in olive oil sprinkled with fresh thyme and rosemary), rolled in fresh bread toasted crumbs and baked for 6 minutes at 400º until the cheese was just warm and soft. I placed the warm cheese on a bed fo lettuce fresh from our garden dressed with red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar (1 TB each) and walnut oil (1/4 cup).
Whole grilled shrimp. I rolled the shell on shrimp in butter melted with chopped shallot, basil and parsley and tossed them whole on the hot grill until they were just a bit browned and cooked through.
This one is staying on the make-ahead salad list. Blanched asparagus covered by a cucumber salad with wilted green onions (you soak them in the water from cooking the asparagus for 30 minutes) chervil, mint, tarragon, and chives dressed in a light red wine vinegar vinaigrette flavored with dijon mustard. Easy, beautiful, and summer fresh tasting.
For dessert an old standard. I call it California upside down cake. Really it's fridge fruit cake -- whatever is left in the fruit bowl at the end of the week -- today it was white peaches, nectarines, and apricots. I was wishing I had a handful of slivered almonds to sprinkle in with the fruit. First I melt a stick of butter in an oven proof pan and add in 3/4 cup of brown sugar and leave over medium low heat until it just starts to bubble. Then I arrange the sliced fruit on top and cover with a light cake batter, an adaptation of another Chez Panisse recipe.
For the batter. Cream 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar with 4 TBs of butter. Add in two egg yolks 1 at a time. Mix together 1 3/4 cup (less 1 TB) cake flour (or 1 1/2 cup regular flour), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp of either nutmeg of cinnamon, to your taste, and a pinch of salt in a separate bowl. Alternate mixing in the flour mixture in 3 additions with 1/2 cup of milk mixed with 1 tsp vanilla extract. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites to firm peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the already mixed batter and spread the lightened batter over the fruit and sugar in the baking pan. Bake about 1 hour and 10 minutes (check after an hour) at 350º.
It's really good for breakfast too.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Clam and Potato "Stew"

In the never ending search to expand on our house "signature dish" -- spaghetti with clam sauce -- I've been trying out a few recipes for the tasty, tender mollusks. This one couldn't be easier. Based on a quick tapas style stew I saw on Mark Bittman's, New York Time columnist and "America's Best Home Cook", blog I set out to make another hurry up dinner starring James' favorites, Manilla clams.
I cut two peeled potatoes into 1/4 inch dice and tossed them along with one smashed clove of garlic and a handful of parsley stems and woody sprigs into my cazuela (any excuse to use a new pot) along with 1 cup of white wine. I put that, covered, over high heat for 15 minutes. Bittman's recipe makes a parsley pesto to sauce the clams, but I had a perfectly good lettuce pesto left over from a a dinner a little while back and used that instead. When the clams were cooked and the potatoes(home grown All Reds) tender (about 15 minutes) I stirred in about 1/2 cup of the pesto and served right from the pot with plenty of crusty bread.
"This is really good," James mumbled between bites.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Restocking The Garden

There is always something to do in the garden
We've got a few somewhat shady spots in the yard. In the winter I fill those spots with kale and chard and broccoli -- things that like and can take a good bit of cool weather. This summer I am going to try lettuces and leafy greens in those cooler spots and see if we can grow our fresh summer salads.
For a little variety in my first summer batch of seed starting I picked "little gem" romaine. I've never grown them before but they are a favorite of super chef Thomas Keller and make frequent appearances on his restaurant's menus and in his cookbooks. I just had to try a few rows. Chicory and extra peppery wild arugula have the kind of bitter bite James loves in a salad or a sauté so I like to keep a steady supply going. While I was starting seeds I tossed in a few beans I had left over from last year's seeds, they love the summer heat, and some mini white cucumbers that sounded interesting in this year’s seed catalogues.
Fingers crossed for summer salad.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yard To Table Dining

We just walked in the door from our weekend get-a-way and the fridge was pretty empty, but there is always the garden. I had a few baskets of potatoes dug up and stored before we left along with some garlic. There was a bit of prosciutto in the fridge and some cheese from our car snacks on the road home. All I had to do was find some lettuce for salad, and while I was out side I found a couple handfuls of peas ready to pick and mix in with the potatoes. Harvest dinner. . . Roasted Potatoes with prosciutto, garlic, peas (I added the peas to the roasting pan about 3 minutes before the potatoes were ready and just before the cheese) and cheese. Homegrown hashbrowns.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tony's Seafood

More Marin food travels.
There is something I love about Tony's Seafood. I don't think it's the food. The slightly battered seaside roadhouse has been serving up fresh seafood (well some of it) since the late 40's.
There is a trick to Tony's. Don't waver, stay strong, only order two things. The barbecued oysters, a bit tangy a bit sweet and covered in melted butter and chopped garlic come steaming hot off the grill 5 to a flimsy paper plate. The cracked dungeness crab -- when they have it (it's not really on the menu but ask for it), pretty much late November to late May, is perfectly cooked, expertly cracked and delicious.
You can look at the specials or the rest of the menu but pretty much it's a non chain Long John Silver's -- a seafood denny's at best. Stick to the real deal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ad Hoc . . . Finally

Anyone who knows me knows how I revere (to put it mildly -- worship maybe) Thomas Keller. When holidays roll around James feeds my obsession with signed cookbooks, products and tidbits he finds about the chef's coming and goings. Last November we snagged reservations to the new Beverly Hills outpost of Bouchon, Thomas Keller' bistro style eatery. But I have been dying to try one of the stand alones -- The French Laundry, Per Se. Ad Hoc is on that list.More from the weekend food journal.
Ad Hoc is Keller's family style casual restaurant serving one pris fixe 4 course menu per night, and a 3 course brunch on Sunday. The menu for dinner is posted online (or recorded on the restaurant's phone message), brunch is pretty much a secret until you walk in the door. We scored big with chicken fried steak and eggs.
To start there was a parfait of citrus yogurt, house-made granola, and fruit salad with simple syrup alongside mini soda breads with swoon-inducing compound honey butter.
The star of the show: flaky, crisp, crunchy, deeply browned chicken fried steak. Thinly sliced flatiron steak elevated these beauties from the more run of the mill roadhouse version with tenderized round steak (still pretty good). Next to the steaks, gently scrambled eggs -- soft and moist and a great counterpart to the crisp steak. Beautiful green asparagus (what did they do to make that so delicious?) and white cream gravy finished this family sized platter. My only complaint? We could have used a bit more of the delicate gravy but only because it was so delicious.
For dessert? Individual banana cream tarts -- custard and banana purée with thinly sliced bananas in a crisp and crumbly pastry crust topped with vanilla flavored chantilly cream. Soft as silk and twice as light I can't imagine how they created this etherial texture . . . but I'm going to try.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Outstanding In The Field

About two months ago I got an email that tickets for the "North American Tour" of Outstanding In The Field dinners were about to go on sale. I waited by my computer until the appointed time arrived and bought two tickets for a "farm dinner" at an undisclosed location in Marin County.
Outstanding In The Field is the brainchild of former chef Jim Denevan. The dinner events pair a host farm or ranch and a guest chef who, using ingredients so local they are sometimes grown inches from where the table is set in one of the farm's fields, create a multi-course dinner for more than 100 people seated at one long, long, long table. Their mission, says OITF's website, " is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it."
Our chef was to be Thomas McNaughton from Flour and Water in San Francisco. Perhaps I haven't been paying as much attention as usual but I hadn't heard of chef McNaughton or his restaurant, but the idea of a food adventure in beautiful West Marin was just to much to resist. James and I started to plan a food-centric get-a-way.
After we bought the tickets we were told that the dinner would be held at Devil's Gulch Ranch in Nicasio. Devil's Gulch grows pigs, sheep, chickens, and rabbits (they are well known for their rabbits served at Chez Panisse among other high-end restaurants) along with about 14 acres of wine grapes. James and I, by sheer coincidence had actually visited the ranch before. But enough back story -- bring on the dinner!
As guests arrived a very busy kitchen team turned out these lovely little toasts as appetizers. Pork and rabbit rillettes with pickled carrot, green garlic aioli and peppercress and rabbit paté with seared rabbit loin and cherry. I've been reading up Chef McNaughton and found that he prides himself on using the entire animal and his restaurant makes a variety of salamis and cured meats. James and I usually shy away from rabbit but this, well, as they say -- when in Rome, or in this case when on the ranch . . . besides the rillettes, a potted as opposed to cured meat, were honestly one of the best things I ate all night.
Before sitting down we had a short tour of the farm and met these future rillettes. Devil's Gulch allows their pigs to graze and finishes the meat on bread, milk, and grains instead of the more commercially popular corn mix."I don't believe in the other white meat," said Mark Pasternak, Devil's Gulch's owner, on our tour explaining that he preferred pork with plenty of fat.
Our long and winding table in the vineyard.
Rabbit terrine with shaved spring vegetables. This was a very lemony terrine and at first bite I wasn't sure I liked it. But it quickly grew on me with every taste next to the crisp purple carrots, colorful radishes, and vibrant green English peas. I think this was James' favorite dish of the night. He loves licorice (that's how I show James I love him -- I let him eat licorice -- I HATE it -- anywhere near me) and the hint of tarragon in the vegetables really won him over.
Grilled Salinas Valley asparagus, taggiasca olives, agretti, sea beans, tuna conserva and pancetta vinaigrette. I'm not a big fan of tuna. When I read this entry on the menu I can't say I was excited, even though I love asparagus and olives. But this -- to me -- was the best dish of the night. The thin slices of tuna were meaty and super moist, the olives, sea beans (an ingredient I've only seen on top chef and had never eaten before, also called sea asparagus) and agretti (another sea vegetable I was told at the dinner -- no one at our table knew what they were. I have since learned both agretti (also called Roscano or saltwort) and sea beans are intertidal plants that grow, not as seaweed in deep water, but in salt water and brackish marshes) added a very delicate hint of salt to the grassy, butter asparagus while the creamy sauce, spiked with tender bits of pancetta, enhanced the flavors of each ingredient while making the dish much more than a sum of it's parts. So delicious our little family style table section asked for seconds.
The pork entree came out on two separate platters the first was a mix of sausages, pork belly, and roast cuts served with spring shallots, wild ramps, and a ragù of fresh garbanzo beans followed by a platter of gently cooked pork leg.
Damn thee modern days -- I ran out of battery power before I snapped a picture of dessert. It was lovely and fresh strawberries in a lemon verbena syrup served alongside Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc with a hazelnut and black pepper tuille -- I'm gonna try that one at home.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles

Every gets carry out sometime.
I was running pretty late getting home -- I had to run an errand unexpectedly and it hit me. A special treat for James. I was driving right by one of his favorite places and really the only place we ever carry out from . . .
Although there is debate over who first combined sweet fluffy waffles with crispy salty fried chicken, even in calorie conscious LA Roscoe's is an institution. It's where I bring out of town friends, stop for some home-style comfort, and yes where I go for take home treats.
Some reviews will say these aren't the best waffles in town -- I have to say it's kind of the only place I ever eat waffles, and true they likely aren't much better than the the make it yourself kind found on every cheap hotel breakfast bar these days. I suspect the "butter" is margarine, the batter from a mix, and the syrup more Log Cabin than maple. BUT, The chicken is crisp, just salty enough, deeply golden brown and impossibly juicy inside (especially the dark meat). The kind of chicken I could never make at home. My fried chicken will always be, at best, second best to Roscoe's and I've come to terms with that. It's the best fried chicken in LA -- and the combination of sweet syrup with soft waffles, the same salty sweet combo that makes glazed ham a holiday centerpiece, is irresistible. Roll the chicken in the soft waffles for an American take on Peking Duck. Don't think, don't wonder, just eat.
Roscoe's has expanded over the years, I hear they are opening a branch in Chicago, but the original on Gower right in the middle of Hollywood will always be my favorite. Dark, a little grimy, and still a great place for celebrity spotting. I'm not even ashamed -- we love Roscoe's.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Think of Something Quick

Driving home, nothing in the fridge, where will "food from nothing" take us today.
Hmm I think there's some bread in the freezer. Hmm I think there's a jar of beans. Chorizo in the fridge? We always have eggs. Done.
I warmed olive oil and sautéed chorizo and chopped onion with a few cloves of garlic and a sprinkle of roasted paprika. In went a jar of beans to simmer in the flavored oil and an egg to poach in the tasty red fat. Two slices of toast, a sprinkle more of paprika and . . . "this looks like something I like," said James.
I've gotta go shopping.

Monday, May 17, 2010

All Straw No Hay

Straw and Hay. Paglia e Fieno. Usually a mix of spinach and plain pasta with a light (or not so light really) cream sauce dotted with ham and fresh peas. Well, no cream, no spinach, but a nice handful of peas fresh from the garden so I pressed ahead. I had a package of mortadella in the fridge, untraditional but a nice mild porky flavor so I sautéed that -- along with half a finely chopped onion in a mix of butter and olive oil until the meat was just a bit crispy. I tossed in the peas and let them cook for a minute or two and stirred in the remainders of a carton of ricotta left in the fridge. This is one place where American style ricotta -- more creamy and soft than the drained Italian style I usually buy -- might have made a better sauce. I went ahead and stirred the ricotta into the mix and turned off the heat. When the pasta drained I added it along with the mixture from the pan, about 3/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid , a good handful of cracked black pepper and salt, and nearly 1 1/2 cups of shredded parmesan . . . and stirred and stirred and stirred until the heat and the motion came together into a delicate cheesy sauce.
All hay, no straw, no complaints.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pan Roast Sunday

I think this is my new favorite way to prepare chicken -- after all these years of baking, broiling, roasting and grilling I've finally discovered the pan roast.
Sauté some vegetables in butter and olive oil -- today I used leeks, squash, and thick slices of radicchio along with some last cloves of fresh garlic. Sear the chicken pieces (in more olive oil and better) until they are golden brown with salt, pepper, and spices -- today I used fresh rosemary. Lay the chicken skin side in a roasting pan on top of the vegetables and bake for 25 minutes at 450º.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pizza Again and Again

With dough in the fridge, a late night pizza dinner is just a pre-heated oven away. James started the oven (and brought the dough to room temperature) while I drove home from work. All I had to do was stretch the dough and top with sliced new onions (this year's crop practically right from the ground), fresh garlic, thin bits of yellow squash and prosciutto, all seasoned with marjoram, thyme, pepper, and plenty of olive oil. After about 15 minutes at 500º I topped the vegetables with shredded fontina and mozzarella cheeses.
Quick dinner, happy James.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Potato Pizza

Start in the morning, finish at night.
I got up early today and quickly mixed up a batch of pizza dough (Jim Lahey's no knead version) which I let rise for 2 hours at room temperature and stored in the fridge while I was at work. For the topping, determined to work my way through the "My Bread" cookbook, I chose Lahey's version with thinly sliced potatoes, chopped onion, and rosemary.
I sliced peeled potatoes on a mandolin about 1/16 of an inch thick and left them to soak in salted water for about 12 hours in the fridge while I was at work.
When I got home all I had to do was pre-heat the oven to 500º. Let the dough come to room temperature. Pat the potatoes dry and mix them with ample salt, pepper, rosemary, chopped onion, and olive oil and spread them across the dough I had stretched in a oiled 13x17 baking pan. After 25 minutes in the oven the potatoes were tender but crisp on the edges and the crust was golden brown.
Lahey's version is simple, just the seasoned spuds and olive oil. The big man is a big fan of cheese so I tossed a few handfuls of grated Fontina on top about five minutes before the pizza came out of the oven.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

House Standard: Ground Beef Spaghetti

Ground beef spaghetti -- a house favorite that's always the same and yet always a little different.
It always starts with olive oil, garlic and onions in a frying pan. Usually there are dried spices too -- oregano, crushed chile, cracked fennel seeds. Today I added in some chopped pancetta, because I could. I always let the meat brown in the oil and when inspired toss in an "extra" or two, for tonight it was sliced mushrooms and some bitter dandelion greens. I let the mushrooms cook down with the meat and added the greens just before I mixed the pasta into the skillet so they were still crisp. A couple TBs of tomato paste cooked into the meat gave a bit of sweetness and a bit of the depth of flavor I sometimes get (when I have it to add) by adding red wine to the meat as it cooks.
When the spaghetti was cooked and drained I added the mixture in the skillet to the pasta along with about a cup of the starchy pasta cooking water and a big handful of parmesan cheese. Since I had a nice tub of ricotta in the fridge I aded in a few TBs for a nice touch of creamy texture.
A basic recipe that never feels basic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pork Chops and Dandelions

Not one of our more appetizing pictures but a really good method for keeping pork chops from drying out. I rubbed the thick chops with olive oil and breaded them in a combination of S&P, oregano, crushed chiles, parmesan cheese and dry bread crumbs. I sprayed a little more(yes spray oil) on the outside of he meat before placing the chops on the grill (I kept the gas grill lid closed) over medium heat for about 5 minutes (a little less) on a side. The result was tender and moist inside with a bit of crisp crust in every bite.
That's a (very) bitter dandelion salad on top.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chicken Pan Roast

Something quick, something easy, something without a lot of pans to wash. Pan roast to the rescue.
I browned pieces of chicken in hot olive oil-- just a couple minutes -- and set them aside. To the same pan I added slices of summer squash and potatoes, a lemon cut in 8 wedges, 2 cloves of garlic (sliced), S&P, and about a TB (maybe even more) of dried oregano. I stirred those around in the oil just enough for the lemon's edges to start turning golden brown, then nestled the chicken, skin side up, back in the pan and popped everything into a pre-heated 450º oven for 25 minutes.
When the chicken was cooked I sprinkled the pan with crumbled bits of tangy feta cheese and put it under the broiler just long enough to melt and toast the cheese before serving.
"This looks like something you'd get in a restaurant," James said between bites.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What Wes and Eric Had For Dinner

The boss comes to dinner -- circa 2010. How to master the art of looking prepared yet causal Have everything ready without seeming like you made an effort at all. How to, in short, be the perfect hostess -- more June Cleaver than Lucy Riccardo. Start with cheese.
At the risk of alerting the authorities I'll point out a delicious Alpine style saucisson sec a French friend carried lovingly (and illegally I might add) in his suitcase for us. Wild boar with just a hint of spice and a healthy (as in heavy not good for you ;-)) dose of tasty fat. "This is the real thing," he assured, "Not what you get in a supermarket."
I pared that treat with a selection of cheeses, A slightly peppery sheep's milk Manchego from Spain, Petit Basque -- also sheep (not such great planning there I guess) but smoother and nuttier, always a great paring with saucisson, Humboldt Fog, a soft goat cheese with a center line of ash from Northern California, and Pt Reyes blue a cow's milk treat from Marin County, CA. Alongside this selection I offered a few loaves of homemade bread (Stecca from Jim Lahey's killer cookbook, My Bread), and piping hot gourgères -- the French bits of magic that turn flour, water, butter and eggs into airy puffs just begging to be filled with a thin slice of saucisson and cheese (they made killer hors d'oeuvre mini BLTs!) or popped in your mouth warm from the oven.
Now onto dinner -- served family style.
I tried to come up with sides that could be made in advance and tucked away to serve at room temperature leaving just one or two things to finish while guests are watching . . . you know -- just to prove you really made it all. A killer plan for easy hostessing.
The farmer's market is full of irresistible spring veggies so I shopped and then decided on our dishes. What could be simpler than quickly blanched asparagus served room temperature with hazelnut dressing and finely chopped eggs -- from our "girls" of course
This delicious tangle combines arugula, parsley and grilled apricots (I did that earlier in the day and had them waiting to toss the salad) with a rosemary vinaigrette and serves the crisp veggies on a bed of thinly sliced prosciutto. Salty, sweet, crunchy all at once and all I had to do was toss it together before bringing the salad to the table.
Here is the super simple, prepped in advance, star of the dinner show -- a salt-crusted sirloin (Chateaubriand cut -- extra thick), impressive, easy, and can be prepped an hour before roasting -- gave me just enough time to get the kitchen cleared up before guests arrived.
To assemble I coated the steak with pepper and seared it on all sides in a pan with hot olive oil. I let the meat cool for about 15 minutes while I made up a paste of kosher salt and water (might have been better to use egg whites). When the steak had cooled down I fully covered the meat with the salt paste -- I used about 4 cups of salt but I probably could have gotten away with less. After 25 minutes at 425 degrees and 30 minutes resting time (before cracking the crust) the grass fed steak, which can be tough or even dry, was perfectly cooked and tender.
That's our friend Eric cracking the crust before serving.
And the beauty on the plate, thinly sliced and served with a delicate butter lettuce pesto.
I just had to show off our home-grown potatoes with another make ahead dish. Crisp tender green beans, and steamed potato wedges tossed together (while still warm for maximum flavor) in olive oil with plentiful chopped herbs (thyme, chives, parsley and mint).
Dessert went by so quickly I barely got a picture. This is all that's left of a blood orange crostada I made with the fruit from our front yard tree and had waiting in the freezer for just such an occasion. We served the ruby colored tart with vanilla gelato and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. Another make ahead success.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring Risotto

Spring is finally here and the farmer's market is offering crisp stone fruits, fat purple asparagus and the season's first corn.
Somehow when I looked into our fridge tonight I swear I heard it whisper risotto. Seemed like a perfect way to showcase the season's finest -- and it couldn't be more simple.
I finely chopped half an onion and started two TBs of olive oil and two TBs of butter to warm in a frying pan. When the butter was melted and had just started to foam I added the onion along with S&P and two sliced garlic cloves and let the vegetables soften over medium heat.
Meanwhile I brought a pan of water to a boil and added in the asparagus to blanch for about three minutes (these were pretty large asparagus). I set the cooked asparagus aside and saved the cooking water to use as liquid in the risotto along with a bit of chicken broth I had in the fridge.
Back to the frying pan, in went 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice which I stirred around and let absorb some of the hot oil. We didn't have any wine open so I added about 1/4 cup of marsala to the pan and cooked it down before starting to add the liquid -- about a 1/2 cup at a time. After every addition I gave the mixture a couple stirs and let the pan bubble gently over med low heat, tasting for doneness and for seasoning along the way. When the rice was just about tender, I added kernels I cut off two ears of corn, along with the last of the broth.
Just before serving I stirred in a couple more TBs of butter, S&P, the asparagus, and a good sized handful of both parmesan and gruyere cheese.
Spring on a plate.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"It's Okay. Won't Be On My List Of Favorites"

Not exactly what every cook wants to hear. Stewed cauliflower and beans with prosciutto and Spanish style spices. Hmm, what was I expecting I guess? Better luck tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Now I'm Really Home

"Spaghetti or Risotto?" I said as I popped in the door from work.
"Well, you know I always like bacon and garlic," James offered when I asked "Red or White?"
Looking at chopped slab bacon (no pancetta in the fridge) and loads of chopped garlic slowly heating in some olive oil, I thought --why not a "favorite things" pasta? I tossed in crushed red chiles, a pinch of oregano and a hefty dose of fennel seeds and let the spices flavor the oil. Next I peeled a potato (fresh from our garden) and added it in small dice (less than 1/2") to the pan. The potato cooked and became just a bit crisped as the pasta boiled.
When I drained the spaghetti I forgot to save a bit of the cooking water, so I added the drained (hmm, I really need a two part pasta pot) noodles to the sauce pan along with a lightly beaten egg and parmesan cheese (another big man favorite) to stir up a light sauce.
James' Favorite Things Spaghetti -- Spice Infused Carbonara with Potatoes? You decide.