Thursday, March 31, 2011


Tomatomania, a massive sale of heirloom and interesting tomato seedlings, comes to LA every March and it is one of my favorite garden events of the year.
Even though I always have plenty of plants started (too many I suppose) I can never resist a few more with their colorful fruits and not quite lyrical names.
This year I was easily seduced by Green Velvet, Nebraska Wedding, Black and Brown Boar, Snow White, Pink Ping Pong, Black Mauri and Tess' Land Race Currant tomatoes to name a few. I can hardly wait for summer.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Bright Yellow Wedge

It's actually possible to walk in the door and less than 25 minutes later have hot cornbread for dinner, if James will preheat the oven for me. I just pop 1 TB of butter or bacon grease, if I have it, into an iron skillet and let it melt in the pan in the hot oven. Meanwhile I mix together 2 cups of cornmeal, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, and a couple good grinds of pepper. In a separate bowl I beat together 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk, 1 egg and 2 TB of vegetable oil. I mix the wet ingredients into the dry, pour it all into the skillet with the hot fat and bake at 450º for 18-20 minutes. Crispy, fluffy, delicious and just the thing to go with my slow cooker BBQ pork ribs. Pretty good with butter and jam for breakfast too.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wilted Lettuce Salad

I started by sautéing a pan of mixed mushrooms in olive oil and butter, having no idea what was next. I thought those mushrooms might go well with cauliflower so I steamed a head and thought again.
We still have garden fresh lettuce so I grabbed a head and let the warm mushrooms and cauliflower act as the oil for the dressing and mixed in some of our own homemade tart red wine vinegar. Next time, for a real full meal salad I will add some chopped bacon into the mushroom mixture and top the wilted leaves with shredded gruyère and soft, runny poached eggs. Sort of a wilted cauliflower lardon -- might just catch on.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Do As Zuni Does

One line in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook has been ringing in my ears. It's an offhanded quip where Rodgers (the chef/ owner of the San Francisco restaurant James and I love) mentions she uses leftover mignonette (the vinegar, shallot and wine sauce used to top raw oysters), butter, bay leaves, thyme, and "lots of lemon zest" to steam mussels. So, I figured, why not clams and why not tonight. A perfect dinner with warm bread to dip in the slightly tangy sauce.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Farm" To Table In Fifteen Minutes

Tucked away in our front yard, behind the sprawling, floppy fava beans is a tidy row of lettuces. Walking in from work I thought "Why not?" and grabbed a couple heads of sweet, tender Boston Bibb. Our front yard salads are so delicious they don't need more than a wash and a light dressing. I tossed our precious home grown greens with white beans I cooked for a polenta dish that's still unmade, tangy sheep's milk cheese, balsamic vinegar and fresh oregano leaves.
James ate his salad first.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Family Time

James and I have been running in opposite directions all week. Finally we got a chance to slow down for a pasta dinner together. James set the water to boil while I sautéed garlic and Italian sausage in olive oil. I added in crushed red peppers, oregano, chopped (cooked) potatoes and cooked until the sausage was browned. About 3 minutes before the pasta was al dente I added the broccoli florets to the pasta water and added a good sized splash of wine to the skillet with the sausage. The wine cooked down as I drained the pasta and broccoli and then added it to the frying pan along with a knob of butter. A couple stirs around the pan and a shower of grated cheese made Saturday night dinner ready to go.
Pasta for two.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Crock Pot Lentil Soup

While rushing to get out the door a crock pot can be dinnertime's best friend. I chopped an onion and a couple carrots and tossed them in the crock pot along with 2 cups of dried lentils (I happened to have yellow lentils), a heavy tsp of thyme, 3 chopped cloves of garlic, salt, and 8 cups of vegetable broth. Eight (maybe 10) hours later we had dinner.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Didn't Forget Dessert

The easiest apple pie ever. I used store bought puff pastry as the crust rolled it out and filled the pie dish. The filling was just peeled sliced apples, sugar and flour. I piled the apples in the puff pastry lined dish, put the top crust on, crimped the edges, and cut a few vents in the top. I froze the pie for an hour (a great make ahead dessert -- why not freeze if for a few days?) before I baked it for 30 minutes at 400º and then 40 additional minutes at 375º. The crust was flaky and light and the filling tasted like apples, pure sweet delicious apples.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dinner With friends

I couldn't sleep last night and lay awake watching an old episode of Two Fat Ladies. The girls were cooking for an abbey of nuns in a lush green corner of Ireland. But what really caught my eye was a dish of braised fava beans -- whole with the pods. We have a yard bursting over with fava beans, and though I love the taste I dread the shelling and peeling that comes with most "broad bean" recipes. I've grilled them whole in the pod but had never seen anyone braise them whole, and had to try it. We had friends coming to dinner and I dreamed up a simple steakhouse menu to feature my front yard beans.
I stared the recipe but sautéing chopped shallot and garlic in a good quantity of olive oil. When the shallots were soft I added in the whole favas (I tried to get the strings off the pods -- I did miss a few) a 1/2 TB of sugar, salt, and the juice of half a lemon. I cooked the beans for about 20 minutes. Then I added in about a cup of hot water, a TB of chopped fresh oregano (the recipe called for dill but I didn't have any on hand and had plenty of oregano in the garden) covered the pot and allowed the beans to simmer for about an hour until the pods were very, very tender. My TV cooks served these beans cold but I mixed in a bit more oregano and brought them to the table piping hot.
After nearly an hour and half of cooking the beans I tended so lovingly as they grew looked anything but promising. They took on a grayish green color and the beans had fallen from their pods in a slump. We were all doubtful but one bite changed our minds. These braised beans are luscious and soft and I'll be making them again.
On the side of our home grown beans I cooked up two rib eyes with a mixed peppercorn crust and drizzled a red wine reduction on top. The potatoes I steamed earlier in the day were quickly pan fried in garlic and the leftover grease from cooking the bacon that topped the salad. That gave them a little crunch and a delicate smokey flavor no one could identify but everyone loved.
No steak dinner would be complete without the classic American salad. Crisp lettuce, homemade blue cheese dressing, and crunch pieces of bacon tossed on top. Hooray for the red, white and green.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend Pizza

Everything tastes better on crispy dough. Tonight I sliced up a new flavor (nice discount coupon on the package) of Aidell's chicken sausage (spinach and feta) and tossed it on dough lightly drizzled with olive oil along with red onion, fresh garlic, chopped parsley, oregano and dried chiles. I topped the pie with mozzarella and sprinkled on a little feta too. Fifteen minutes later James was pretty happy with his dinner topped with a little more fresh parsley and fresh oregano. Pizza is always a winner.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Soda Bread

Even when there is no time to bake, there is time for soda bread. There is a more American style that has butter and sometimes eggs or the, from what I read, the more traditional Irish version just flour, salt, soda, a pinch of sugar (optional) and buttermilk. Basically a shaggy biscuit or giant scone made with baking soda instead of powder.
I use a recipe from Ireland's Ballymaloe Cookery School. It's 1 pound of flour, 1/2 tsp of baking soda, 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of sugar sifted together. I make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in about 14 ounces of buttermilk and mix the dough together very lightly with an open hand so not to compact the dough. the dough is turned out on a board every so briefly just to be patted together and then, when formed into about a 12" placed on a baking sheet. I cut a deep cross in the dough, as they say, to let the Faeries out.
We have a cupboard full of marmalade, just waiting for soda bread toast.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St Patty's Day

I love holidays, especially ones that are a good excuse for a themed dinner. Enter St Patrick's Day, a yearly favorite. When James got home from work I had a little holiday dinner waiting for him. Roasted parsnip celery and apple salad with hazelnut vinaigrette, corned beef topped with an orange mustard brown sugar glaze, and buttery new potatoes. Not quite a pot of gold, but not bad.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spaghetti with Fried Egg

How can something so simple be so delicious?
I popped a handful of broccoli from our garden into boiling water for just a few minutes, took it out and then cooked the spaghetti in the same salted water. Meanwhile I heated some olive oil, lots of garlic and a few dried chiles with the now chopped, blanched broccoli. After the broccoli had lightly sautéed and the oil had taken on the garlic's flavor I mixed the contents of the skillet into the drained pasta. I poured a bit more oil in the pan and lightly fried an egg, fresh from our hen house, until it was just barely cooked and the yolk still runny. To serve I showered the pasta with grated, tangy sheep's milk cheese and the loosely fried egg then instructed James to cut into the egg and let the yolk run and form a delicate sauce for the dish.
Homegrown broccoli, backyard eggs. Simple and delicious dinner in the city.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cheese-Stuffed Burgers

We needed dinner in a hurry. Burgers seemed a natural choice. James loves burgers.
I try to do a little something different. Tonight I molded the meat around a center core of cheese (a soft triple cream goat cheese), drizzled the top of the burger with worcestershire, dijon mustard and a heavy shower of smoked salt for a little BBQ flavor. The burgers broiled quickly while I loaded up the toasted baguette roll (homemade stored in the freezer) with mixed lettuces, red onion, avocado, and a splash of olive oil. Late night burgers at home -- better than any drive through.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wolfgang's Mac N' Cheese

Not too long ago the Williams Sonoma catalogue featured a selection of sides recipes from famous steakhouses. I was laying in bed perusing the latest collection of things I don't need when a recipe for the macaroni and cheese from Wolfgang Puck's very expensive and highly lauded Beverly Hills steakhouse Cut. Mostly I stopped to look because the recipe called for creme fraiche and I happened to have too much in the fridge -- I love a fridge cleaning recipe.
I whisked up a roux added milk and simmered it slowly with bay leaves for flavor. I whisked in the creme fraiche and grated cheese, tossed the pasta in the sauce and layered it in a baking dish with more grated cheese (WP called for mozzarella and cheddar I took the liberty of using what we had and opted for peppered cheddar, taleggio, and parmesan cheeses). The dish was topped with more grated cheese and bread crumbs.
I made two pans of this new recipe mac n' cheese and popped them in the freezer to pull out and bake on a late night like tonight. Makes good leftovers too.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hurry Curry

Dinner is the mother of invention.
I dashed in late from work and set to figuring out something for dinner. There was a head of cauliflower and suddenly I was on my way to cauliflower and egg curry. I heated some oil and butter in a skillet and added a chopped onion along with a good splash of cumin seeds. I let the onion turn golden and seasoned my pan with ginger (had to use ground -- no fresh in the house), turmeric, garlic (fresh), and a pinch of graham masala. I added in some fresh chiles and the chopped head of cauliflower along with a half glass of water and one big juicy tomato, roughly chopped. I covered the pan and let the cauliflower cook until tender about 10 minutes. Meanwhile I beat some eggs with plenty of cracked black pepper, milk, and tiny cubes of butter. When the cauliflower was very tender I poured in the eggs and stirred until they were loosely scrambled. A quick Indian style dinner served over rice.
Not pretty but quick, easy and pretty tasty.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Butternut Squash Spaghetti

I had no idea what I was going to make when I peeled and cubed a butternut squash, drizzled it with olive oil, S&P, and a dash of cayenne and popped it in a 450º to roast for about 25 minutes.
I looked around for what other ingredients we had and found a head of radicchio, a bag of hazelnuts (delicious Freddy Guy's hazelnuts from Oregon), and same grated parmesan. Spaghetti -- easy, quick and delicious.
I melted some butter and added olive oil and the hazelnuts and let them fry for just a minute. I removed the nuts with a slotted spoon and to the same fat added chopped fresh sage, sliced garlic, and dried chiles. After just a couple seconds I added in the head of radicchio, thinly sliced, a pinch of salt and just a touch of sugar since my butternut squash was not super sweet. The radicchio cooked for about 3 minutes until just wilted.
After I drained the pasta I put it back in the cooking pot and added in about 1/2 cup of reserved pasta cooking liquid, the roasted squash, the radicchio mixture from the skillet, a good sized handful of parmesan cheese, and a couple good grinds of black pepper and tossed everything over a very low flame until a creamy sauce formed but the squash wasn't broken up.
Crunchy, sweet, savory vegetarian dinner for two.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crab Cakes

Roasted crab one day usually means crab cakes are sure to follow -- that is if we have any left over. I picked (as we say back home) the rest of the crab and came up with a nice little pile of meat ready to be folded into crispy crab cakes. Being a Maryland girl I have a good bit of experience with this hometown favorite and didn't alter the recipe too much to make up for the Dungeness instead of blue crab. I mixed up a tsp of mustard and good shake of old bay seasoning, a dash of tabasco, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, an egg (I don't use eggs with Blue Crab -- not sure why), chopped parsley, and a couple TB of mayonnaise (don't tell James -- he loves crab cakes but thinks he hates mayo). The crab meat along with some bread crumbs (I usually use cracker crumbs and just the bare minimum possible) was folded into the waiting sauce and I formed the mixture into neat little cakes. For blue crab cakes I pan fry them just as is but for these Dungeness cakes I padded the outside with Panko bread crumbs for extra crunch. From what I read online it seems to be the usual method for West Coast crab.
After I fried the cakes in a mixture of peanut oil and butter I laid them on a bed of lettuce, next to fried potatoes and topped them with a spoonful of homemade tangy cocktail sauce.
"Honey," James said while still swallowing his first few bites. "You're going to have to make these again."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sort Of Goulash

Leftover steak in the fridge. A little while bubbling in a stove top sauce and it's our weeknight goulash. After perusing a Wolfgang Puck recipe I started to improvise. I sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil and added in good quantities each of caraway seeds, thyme, and marjoram with a pinch of sugar and let the onions caramelize over medium heat. I deglazed the pan with balsamic vinegar, added chicken broth, tomato paste, and both hot and sweet paprika. I gave that a stir around, added the steak (cut in to cubes) and a cube of butter, covered the pan and let my stew simmer over low heat for about an hour until the flavors had mellowed and the steak was tender. I finished the goulash with a bit of milk stirred into the sauce. James had his goulash over buttered noodles and never even suspected he had seen it once before.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Side Salad

I cooked up a bunch of roasted crabs, and they were so delicious I never took a picture. All you are left with, my friends, is this side salad made with the last blood oranges from our front yard tree.

We Call Them Toasties

I don't know why. But I do know that sometimes a man needs a little cheese on toast -- Gruyère on baguette to be exact. Just to make it seem more like a meal I added in a potato, arugula, and avocado salad. Toasties -- another house staple.

Monday, March 7, 2011


I thought I'd be a little clever. I whipped up a pizza dough and searched through the fridge for an interesting filling. I landed on radicchio. I sautéed it in olive oil and garlic with big chunks of salty Jamon Serrano. I let the mixture cool while I mixed together ricotta cheese, parmesan, oregano, parsley, a touch of cream and S&P. I spread the ricotta mixture on half of the rolled dough, layered the soft radicchio on top, sealed the edges and baked for 15 minutes at 500º. James might have suspected my fridge clearing motives, but hot pizza dough with toasty cheese is hard to resist no matter the reason.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Old-Fashioned Dessert

After last week's dessert disaster I was left with a jar of salted caramel sauce meant for the ill-fated tart. I drizzled a little on ice cream but that hardly made a dent. At the same time I needed a make-ahead dessert and was picturing something simple and plain -- a county fair kind of cake. I landed on the idea of a caramel cake -- one dessert that really is better the day after it's made (a perfect dinner party cake). Following an unusual Food and Wine Magazine recipe I sifted cake flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Then I mixed in softened butter and milk and beat until smooth. Next came a mixture of egg whites and milk in three additions and soon I had a smooth, but somewhat heavy batter. The next step was a new one to me. I beat heavy cream to soft peaks, lightened the batter with 1/3 of the cream and then folded in the rest to finish. In just 25 minutes the cake baked up soft and light with a faint caramel aroma.
The recipe has a nice caramel frosting but I just couldn't make a new caramel when I had a perfectly good sauce in the fridge (even though I've been eyeing this cake recipe since before the tart incident) -- so I punted. I creamed butter and powdered sugar in the mixer and added in caramel sauce and a bit of cream until I had a smooth -- nearly spreadable (I knew it would harden up when it was cold) consistency -- a little more pale than normal but pretty delicious. Like most Southern cakes this one is sweet (too sweet for some) so I tempered the sugary frosting with a dash of strong Kentucky bourbon.
Unassuming and sweet with a little hidden mischief. I wouldn't mind being described that way

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Night Steak Dinner

The Williams Sonoma catalogue sitting on my night stand boasted steakhouse recipes and all the utensils to cook them. It kind of got me in the mood to cook steak, and I happened to have a couple Hearst Ranch New York strips in the freezer.
I almost always cook steak the same way. I pre-heat the oven to 500º with an iron pan (this time I used my Le Creuset grill pan) inside. When the oven and the pan are super hot I put the pan on the stove over a high flame (make sure the fan is on) and lay in the steaks coated with olive oil and a crust of cracked peppercorns and sea salt. The steaks sear on each side and I pop them in the oven to cook through -- tonight it took about three minutes on a side and six minutes in the oven for these bone in steaks. I always let them rest for three to five minutes before slicing.
I generally melt some flavored butter on the steaks. But tonight, for a little something extra I whipped up a mushroom red wine sauce for the meat. I melted about four TB of butter and two TB of olive oil in a pan and added one thinly sliced leek and several sliced cloves of garlic. When the garlic started to color I added in a good quantity of fresh thyme and about 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms. I let the mushrooms soften in the butter and then poured in about 3/4 cup of red wine and 1/2 cup of chicken stock and let the sauce bubble and reduce while the steak cooked. I stirred in a dash of balsamic vinegar for a little sweetness and let the pan simmer over low heat. To finish the sauce I swirled in a drizzle of cream and seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked until combined.
The salad came straight from our front yard -- picked about 10 minutes before I served dinner and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Steak dinner --- a good way to start the weekend.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cleaning Out The Fridge

The cupboard is a little bare but there were a few things I didn't want to go to waste, mainly a big bowl of cooked greens from our garden. I especially hate to waste anything we grow ourselves. This stew wasn't so much planned but evolved in the pan as the rice cooked. I started with chopped Serrano ham over a medium flame with a bit of olive oil. I added in a sliced onion and several cloves of garlic. Next came rounds of Andouille sausage (chicken sausage --- that's why I started with the ham to get a little porky, smokey taste cooked in) and I let all that cook around until the sausage crisped just slightly. Then I added in a large handful of cooked greens, gave them a stir around and then poured in a splash each of cream and chicken broth to meld the flavors, temper the hot sausage a bit, and make a light sauce for the "stew." No complaints from James and a few less leftovers for me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sure Sign Of Spring

Fava beans waving in the front yard. Our SoCal days are still chilly but sure as the seasons change up comes our annual crop of delicious (and handy ground cover) fava beans. They leave valuable nitrogen in the soil and are so delicious in salads and dips and pastas. And just last week we used up the last of last year's crop from our freezer. Come on spring!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back To Sullivan Street

Not long ago I promised myself to make every recipe in my bread hero Jim Lahey's cookbook. I've drifted off. I haven't bought the Romertopf bakers the last recipes call for (where would I put them? I can almost hear James asking). With guests coming to dinner and (yes, I admit it) a kitchen disaster -- burned blood orange tart, I turned to Lahey to save the day. With just 3 hours until they arrived I found a simple, quick and impressive recipe for chocolate budino, a silky soft cake made from melted chocolate, butter, sugar, bread crumbs (hence the Lahey connection), and separated eggs -- started, mixed, baked and ready in 45 minutes. And, if I'd had the sense to plan -- a dessert that can be made in advance -- perfect for, on another day, low stress entertaining.
I had already made a batch of pistachio ice cream and a salted caramel sauce to go with the ill-fated tart. When our budino came to the table dressed with these heady toppings, no one knew or missed what might have been and I adopted a new last minute stand-by.