Saturday, April 30, 2011

A New Favorite Toastie

Favorite sandwiches go in waves -- one specialty playing out and changing for something slightly new. There's always cheese, sometimes ham, usually a thin smear of butter. Lately James has been asking for this "toastie" -- bread thinly spread with butter and dijon mustard, avocado, salad greens dressed with a touch of olive oil, ham (lately it has been Easter ham sliced thinly but this combo was born with Leoncini baked ham) and Compté cheese, toasted for just a minute or two under the broiler. Hence the name.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal "Wedding Breakfast"

Obviously our invitation was lost in the mail. But that didn't stop us from having our own "wedding breakfast" while we watched the royal nuptials.
Our Menu, for far less than 650 guests.
Asparagus, Shrimp and Lemon Dill Butter Canapés on Black Bread
Lobster Thermador in Vol Au Vent Shells
Cheese Tartlets
Cucumber Sandwiches
Smoked Salmon Paté with Salmon Caviar
Sausage Rolls
Miniature "Royal" (From a palace recipe) Scones with Devon Cream and Strawberry Preserve

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A New Kind Of Risotto

Though I didn't quite make it her way, dinner tonight was another idea from Martha. The Living version folded sautéed Swiss chard and cooked lentils into a risotto topped with fresh radicchio.. I had just harvested winter's last collard greens from our garden so I substituted that more bitter green and used a convenient package of Trader Joe's precooked black lentils I happened to have in the fridge. Pretty much following Martha's lead I sautéed the greens in olive oil for about 4 minutes and set them aside. In a separate pan I heated more olive oil and added in two halved and thinly sliced leeks, 1 large chopped shallot, and 3 minced cloves of garlic. After about 3 minutes, in went 1 1/4 cup arborio rice and 6 sprigs of fresh thyme. I sautéed the rice until it was a bit translucent and had picked up the oil from the pan and added in about 1/2 cup of white wine. When the wine had cooked off I seasoned the rice and started to add chicken broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring and letting the rice soften as the liquid cooked away. When the rice was nearly cooked through I added in the green and the lentils and the last of the chicken broth (I used about 5 cups total). Just before serving I mixed in -- departing from martha's more streamlined version -- some soft, tangy delicious Delice de Bourgogne washed-rind cheese for a creamy texture and plated James' risotto topped with a shower of fresh radicchio, a drizzle of olive oil, and a dusting of parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A New Go To Dessert

Every now and then, though the culinary snob in me is loathe to admit it, Martha has an idea so good I have to try it right away. The April issue of Martha Stewart Living (I'm a bit behind on my magazines) held this shortcake recipe. New berries are bursting out at our farmer's market, so I knew this little cake was perfect for James' Easter dessert (told you you'd hear about it). Basically it's an almost crumbly, super short dough, topped with sugar macerated strawberries and gently elevated with a whipped cream made by infusing heavy cream with fresh basil leaves. Easy, elegant, and just a bit more refined than the usual backyard version.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"The Best Pizza Ever"

Our potatoes are pretty special to me. Not just for the effort of growing them but because James always says they are the best tasting potatoes. I'm potato proud and I like to make recipes to showcase their backyard goodness. For tonight's pizza I peeled and sliced a few of our purple vikings, a purple-skinned, bright white fleshed potato that's faint sweetness is as good mashed as it is roasted. With the thin slices I layered on red onion, prosciutto, crushed red chiles, oregano, olive oil, buffalo milk mozzarella and a sprinkle of grated parmesan. Just as the pie came out of the oven I dropped some chopped fresh basil on top.
Maybe it was the best pizza ever, maybe it's just the potatoes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Connie's Big Day

Connie, our Cuckoo Maran hen, lays dark brown, sometimes speckled eggs and every now and then delights us with an extra large double yolker. Her latest had a starring role in James' favorite breakfast of 2 slices of Neuske's applewood smoked peppered bacon, 2 eggs (today in one shell) and two slices of toast. Thanks Connie!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter 2011

I love holidays. mostly for the chance for theme menus. So, even if it is just the two of us, I make at least a little bit of a fuss. For tonight's dinner I mail-ordered a ham from our favorite bacon producer, Neuske's. I figured their ham had to be top-notch and it was. I added a little holiday topping by glazing the applewood smoked ham with a bourbon, molasses and brown sugar glaze from Bruce Aidells recipe. Most recipes I look at with at least some degree of suspicion. But, when it comes to meat, I am willing to follow Aidells almost blindly and this glaze did not disappoint. I boiled down a combo of apple juice (1/2 cup) and bourbon (1/4 cup) until reduced by half. Then I added that liquid to a paste of 1 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup molasses, 3 TB dried mustard, and 1 cup toasted and finely chopped pecans. I spread that paste on top of the already armed through ham and baed for 30 minutes at 425º. The sweet coating gave the smokey ham a boost that had James asking for seconds.
Spoonbread, basically a corn meal pudding is one of my favorite side-dishes, light lunches, or breakfast leftovers. I bring one cup each of milk, corn meal and water to a boil, stirring, and cook the meal for about two minutes until the mixture starts to pull away from the side of the pan and drop in one TB of butter, S&P. Next I mix in one cup of milk beaten with two eggs and stir everything together, off the heat. The batter is poured into a heavily buttered baking dish, dotted with another TB of butter and baked at 400º or about 30 minutes until it is puffed and still jiggles softly. Cornbread dressed up in its Sunday best.
For vegetable and salad in one I roasted some asparagus tossed with olive oil, S&P, and lemon zest for about ten minutes at 450º. I dressed a combination of greens -- arugula and frise -- with a lemon juice, olive oil, dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar vinaigrette and topped the salad with creamy, luxurious, perfectly ripe Delice de Bourgogne. The acid note in the triple cream, washed rind cheese (from the creme fraiche added in the cheese-making process) is the perfect foil for fresh spring vegetables and lemony vinaigrette.
Dessert is still waiting -- its is playoff season after all, a man can only wait so long. So, dear friends, you'll see that strawberry shortcake another day this week.
Happy Easter one and all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Whenever I see Scott Conant or some other Tv-inflated, self-aggrandized Italian food expert shudder at the thought of cheese on fish or seafood I want to scream. All over the South and especially Sicily cheese is liberally rolled into swordfish involtini, sprinkled on frutti de mare pizzas, and featured in tielle like this one, a baked casserole of potatoes, mussels, and summer squash -- a specialty of Puglia. A Southern coastal region, Pulgia (like Sicily) is brimming with culinary specialties like tangy sheep's milk cheeses and abundant fish from the local waters. Perhaps the combination of cheese and fish is seen less frequently across the boot because there are relatively few regions with both specialties. Maybe it's because cheese is a luxury ingredient (bread crumbs became traditional in many regions because of cheese's expense) and would be seen as (or actually would be) an extravagance. Or potentially it's because, as chefs profess, the assertive cheese masks the flavor of the delicate fish -- or maybe it's because these chefs have never been invited to eat a real family dinner in a real (Southern) Italian home. I am a home cook and I'll follow the lead of the Italian casalinga every time.
Whatever the reason, Italians use far less cheese than we drown our dishes in here but still the special salty favor perks up this traditional dish.
First I glossed the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil and bread crumbs. Then I layered in thinly sliced potatoes (freshly harvested from our garden), matchsticks of zucchini, sliced onions, parmesan, parsley and more bread crumbs drizzling as I went with olive oil, S&P. Next came a layer of mussels on the half shell. I tried to open them as I would an oysters but without good results so I resorted to steaming the mollusks for just a few minutes until they popped open and pulling the top shell. I topped the mussels with bread crumbs, parsley, parmesan, and olive oil and layered on the rest of the potatoes, onions, squash, and parsley -- still drizzling as I went with olive oil, S&P and adding a sprinkle of parmesan and breadcrumbs on top. I finished off the casserole with another layer of mussels, and still more parmesan, olive oil, bread crumbs, and parsley. Just before baking I drizzled in about 1 1/2 cup of the mussel cooking liquid and brought the covered pot up to a boil on the stove. I popped the casserole (still covered) into the oven for 35 - 40 minutes and then an additional 30 without the cover.
The results were tender soft potatoes that whispered of the sea, sweet mussels, and a delicate broth just right for thick slices of toasted bread.
It's not chef's food I guess. And probably not refined.
But as James said, "You can't get anything this good in a restaurant. . . I'm never taking you out to dinner."

Friday, April 22, 2011

More Fabulous Favas

I love fava beans. I love their silly black and white flowers. I love the way the stalks bend in the wind. I love their delicate flavor -- bean and spring and flower all at once.
I love them so much I force myself to go through the tedious double peeling (one thing about them I decidedly do not love) to serve James this short-seasoned taste of the season.
It was already getting late when I started dinner so I was looking for something easy that would still showcase my homegrown delicacy. I decided on a sauté, Roman style (the Romans are fava lovers too). Dinner started with some thinly sliced onions in olive oil over medium heat. After a few minutes I tossed in good sized handful of chopped prosciutto (I wish I'd had some pancetta) and let that crisp up just a bit. In went the shucked and peeled beans about 1/3 cup of water, s&P, and a tiny pinch of crushed red chiles. I covered the pan and let the skillet simmer very slowly for about ten minutes until the beans were tender.
To serve I layered the beans over some "grilled" bread (oven-toasted with a drizzle of olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove while still hot from the oven) and topped them with an egg slowly fried in olive oil and thin slices of a tangy sheep's milk cheese. It wasn't the more traditional pecorino but our Basque cheese offered the flavors of the countryside just the same.
"This is better than pizza," I heard James mumble as he got up for seconds.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oven Fried Chicken

Buttermilk is back.
I always found uses for it, but lately it's been my go to ingredient. I've been baking and soaking and whipping and mashing, all with sweet low-fat buttermilk.
Tonight it became a tenderizing marinade for oven fried chicken. I added sliced onions, garlic, hot sauce, and S&P to the buttermilk and plopped in nice fat chicken drumsticks. I let the whole package soak for about 12 hours. For the coating I used a seasoned combo of panko bread crumbs, flour, parmesan cheese, paprika, and thyme. I drained the chicken (and saved the buttermilk for some later, hold in the freezer, pork chops) and rolled the legs in the coating. I let the chicken sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes while the oven preheated to 425º. I drizzled the chicken with melted butter and baked it for 50 minutes while I roasted some rosemary potatoes. Twenty minutes before the chicken was ready I popped some broccoli spread on a baking sheet and tossed with garlic, S&P, and olive oil in the oven. When the broccoli was roasted I tossed it (following a Barefoot Contessa recipe) with lemon zest, pine nuts, lemon juice, parmesan, and more olive oil (always more oil with Ina).
Oven-ready dinner, minimum fuss -- maximum flavor, thanks to my old friend buttermilk.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Veggie Tacos

I was checking out at Trader Joe's the other day when the cashier started to rave about their new corn tortillas. "They taste like the lady handed them to you right off the griddle," she declared. She was so effusive I dashed back to get a package and then came home to dream up a use for them. James prefers flour tortillas, but I like corn better so I needed a dinner I could easily dish up two ways. Tacos, it was time for tacos.
We've been eating a lot of meat lately -- pork and ham and sausage. So I thought a lighter, vegetarian dinner might be just the thing. I sautéed red onion in olive oil and then added in chopped garlic and sliced mushrooms. After those cooked down a bit I added in a handful of chopped grape tomatoes and several diced zucchini along with a good dose of oregano and marjoram. I covered the skillet and let the vegetables cook together for about 10 minutes until the zucchini was tender and then added in chopped cilantro and a can of drained pinto beans and seasoned again with salt and pepper. After the mixture cooked for about 3 more minutes I scooped it into warm tortillas and topped them with fresh guacamole (very simple just avocado, lime juice, salt and pepper) and feta cheese.
Light, delicious, and if you ask me . . . better with corn.
I'll be buying these tortillas again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

A couple apples just past their prime in the fridge seemed like a good excuse for muffins.
I creamed one stick of butter with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Next I mixed in one egg, 1/2 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 cup yogurt. To the wet ingredients I added 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup white flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp cinnamon ( I stirred the dry ingredients together before adding them to the mixture). When the batter was just mixed I folded in two apples, peeled and chopped. I spooned the batter into 12 greased and floured cupcake tins, sprinkled the top of each muffin with more brown sugar (abot 1/4 cup total) and baked the muffins for 10 minutes at 450º and then about 6 minutes longer at 400º.
Next time I think I might sauté the apples or even shred them to make the pieces more tender, but for a hurry up pantry-ready breakfast treat these were just right -- and pretty great with a bit of peanut butter spread on top.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spaghetti With Peas, Cream and Ham

Same ingredients, different day, different dinner.
James must have liked last night's dinner because when I asked what he wanted tonight he opted for spaghetti with a "simple sauce. " "Maybe prosciutto and peas," he said. Pork and peas were on the table last night too.
Tonight I sautéed a chopped onion in butter until soft and added in fresh peas (not even our own, packaged from Trader Joe's and delicious) and a bit of water and let the peas cook. Next went in some chopped Leoncini rosemary ham (one of the many spoils of my trip to Epicure Imports), followed by a good dose of cream. I let the cream simmer for a bit and added the drained pasta to the sauce along with a large handful or parmesan cheese.
Simple spring sauce, Italian style.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Buttermilk Pork Chops

I saved a recipe somewhere that just described soaking pork chops in buttermilk for a couple hours (or even overnight) before pan frying to keep the chops moist. Since I had both chops and buttermilk I decided to give it a try. James' chops soaked for about 12 hours and then I patted them dry, seasoned each side with salt and pepper and laid them in a hot skillet coated with olive oil for 4 minutes. I turned the chops and put the skillet into a 425º oven for 10 minutes. After resting for another 5 minutes the pork was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy.
To go with his chops I stirred up some fresh peas with bacon and cream sauce topped with fried, crispy leeks and some buttermilk biscuits to share the hot oven. A perfect Sunday dinner.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stocking Up

One of my favorite weekends. LA based gourmet food wholesaler Epicure Imports opens up it's door to the public six times a year and I dash over to stock up on olive oils, vinegars, pastas, rice and more. But, best of all if the cold room where sausages, charcuterie, duck confit, sliced hams, imported butter and a wealth of cheese lay waiting at not quite wholesale prices (but still a savings). I picked up a good selection for freezer, pantry and fridge but today's real prize was an herbaceous wheel of the tangy Corsican cheese Fleur de Maquis. Crusted in rosemary, fennel seeds, juniper and chiles this sheep's milk specialty is also known as Brin d'amour -- the breath of love.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Another Sure Sign of Spring

The roses are blooming, the favas are gone and the front yard is turned over to summer's tomatoes and fall's pumpkins. Nothing left but the waiting, and watering and weeding and feeding . . . and waiting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spaghetti With Fava Beans, Lettuce, Prosciutto and Egg

A quick weeknight spaghetti with garden fresh ingredients. I melted some shallot butter and olive oil in a pan and added in chopped prosciutto. Next came shelled fava beans, deer tongue lettuce, and S&P. I let that mixture cook for about 5 minutes until the lettuce as wilted and the beans tender and then added it to the drained spaghetti along with a big handful of parmesan cheese, cracked peppercorns, and a good sized splash of pasta cooking water. I stirred that around to form a seemingly creamy sauce while I fried up a soft-yolked egg to put on top. he yolk adds an extra richness to the dish and gives our beloved girls a starring role in this hurry up dinner.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moroccan Chicken Stew

A little extra time seemed like a good reason to make dinner in advance and this stew is happy to wait in the fridge, and a good way to use a few kumquats from our tree. I browned the chicken (4 thighs) on both sides in olive oil and set it aside, and then sautéed a chopped onion in the same pan. When the onions was soft I added in chopped butternut squash (about 3/4 lb) and cooked for a couple minutes longer and seasoned the mixture with cumin (1/4 tsp), cinnamon (1/4 tsp), and saffron (a pinch). I poured in a good cup of chicken broth and brought everything to a boil. The chicken went back into the pot along with 2 ounces each of pitted prunes and kumquats seeded and quartered lengthwise and 1 heavy TB of honey. Everything simmered in the covered pot until the chicken and squash were cooked through -- about 30 minutes. When it was time to serve I just cooked up some couscous and heated up our sweet and spicy stew.
Make-ahead magic.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dinner On The Grill

I wanted something easy and light. I marinated a pork tenderloin in lemon zest, lemon juice, chopped garlic, thyme, rosemary, S&P and olive oil. After a couple hours soaking up those flavors I seared both sides on a hot grill and then finished the meat over indirect heat (covered) -- about 16 minutes total cooking time. While the pork rested, I tossed some fava beans with olive oil, red chiles, S&P and put them on the hot grill (high flame) for about 6 minutes until the pods were lightly charred on the outside. Cooked this way the beans are tender and, with a squeeze of fresh lemon, even the pods taste delicious.
Grilling season is here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Harvest

I finally had a chance to get out in the garden for a while and here are the rewards. Fava beans, kumquats, lettuces, escarole and beautiful fresh eggs.
I'm finally turning the garden over to summer. Today I put in zucchini, peppers and melons. Tomatoes, marigolds, pumpkins, and beans still to come.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Night Pizza Dinner

Sliced mushrooms, red onions, and chopped garlic topped with raclette, mozzarella, and parmesan cheeses -- and, of course, a drizzle of olive oil, chili peppers, and oregano.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Eggs For Dinner

Thanks to the girls and spring coming we have plenty of eggs so I decided, continuing my week of dinners from the garden, to bake James a little casserole of eggs. I melted olive oil (about 1 TB) and butter (about 1/2 TB) under the broiler (with the pans on the second rack down to be a bit further from the flame) and then poured in three raw eggs. I topped the eggs with finely chopped herbs (parsley, marjoram, and oregano was what I had on hand) and garlic and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. I popped the casserole back under the broiler for about 5 minutes until the eggs were not quite set. They finished cooking by resting for a minute (out of the oven) before being served. James had some buttered rosemary toast for dipping.
Fresh backyard eggs for a bistro style supper.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Sign Of Spring

I'm still trying to make dinner all week right from the garden. Tonight, spaghetti with fresh peas, lettuce, and prosciutto.
First I cooked strips of prosciutto (well Jamon Serrano -- that's what we had) in a bit of olive oil until crisp and set them aside. Next I added in a bit more oil and 2 TB of butter and sautéed 1 finely chopped red onion with salt and pepper until tender. I added in shelled fresh peas, roughly chopped butter lettuce, white wine and chicken broth and allowed the mixture to cook for about 5 minute until the lettuce was wilted and the peas were bright green and tender.
I added the vegetables to the cooked, drained pasta (back in the cooking pot) and mixed in a large handful of parmesan cheese, a knob of butter, a splash of the pasta cooking water, and half of the crisped prosciutto. I gave everything a good stir until the pasta was coated with a smooth creamy sauce and served James' dinner garnished with the remaining prosciutto.
James had seconds. I'm holding onto this recipe -- a perfect spring garden dish.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crock Pot Collards

Freezer biscuits (homemade and stored to cook as needed) and crock pot collards form our own backyard. A make ahead, late night, home-grown dinner.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Soup For Supper

I knew late days were coming so I pre-made this soup -- up to stirring in the home grown escarole -- to have dinner ready in a jiffy. I cooked lentils in water and chicken broth with chopped garlic and fresh bay leaves from our garden. In a separate pot I sautéed bite-sized slices of Italian sausage until browned. I removed the sausage from the pan and cooked minced garlic, chopped onions, carrots and celery in the sausage fat (along with a little olive oil) then added back in the sausage and the lentils in their liquid, seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked until the lentils were tender. At that point I put the soup away in the fridge until tonight when I brought it back up to a simmer, added in big handfuls of chopped escarole and allowed the soup to bubble for about 3 minutes until the greens were tender. To serve I sprinkled the soup with parmesan cheese and heated up some homemade bread from the freezer. A perfect late night dinner.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Comfort Food From The Garden

I decided not to go to the farmer's market this week, and finishing work at 7 am the morning of only had a little bit to do with my decision. We're not taking full advantage of our garden and before I turn the beds fully over to spring crops I thought we should celebrate the last of our winter crops. Tonight, Tuscan kale and a bit of burgundy chard. While looking to make the most of my late in the season but still super fresh produce I stumbled on an earthy recipe from Italian culinary matriarch Lidia Bastianich, polenta with white beans and black kale. The beans are cooked simply with olive oil and bay leaves (I did that a couple days in advance). The kale is quickly braised with chunks of bacon in plenty of olive oil, and the polenta is velvety soft and laced with easy melting nutty (I used Gruyere, Toma and Parmesan) cheese. This is the kind of simple Italian cooking where the ingredients, not technique, play a starring role. A perfect way to show off our garden's bounty.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Basketball Burgers

Sliders ready to pop in the oven.
To say James is always in the mood for burgers is a bit of an over statement. Sometimes he is in the mood for pizza. Honestly he is usually happy with whatever I decide to make but some days he has something in mind and today he asked for sliders. I figured I should go all out and whip up some bacon avocado burgers on mini King's Hawaiian dinner rolls with a big batch of yukon gold french fries. We had dinner watching UConn squeak by Kentucky on the way to Monday's finals.