Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Birthday James

I love you, Honey!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Strange Snack Dinner

Today we had a shockingly small potato harvest. Small tubers and small quantity. Our worst ever. But they are still delicious and so with no idea of what I was making I started cutting the spuds up to roast and then tried to figure out what to served with them. It was already pretty late by the time we got to dinner. I just decided to make our meal a couple of snacks. Roasted potatoes, fresh mozzarella with chopped salami and arugula pesto (our house special sauce), parmesan toasts.
Full carb dinner.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Something Different With Cauliflower

Pizza, pasta, burgers, salad, stew. Snore.
I needed to shake up dinnertime a bit.
Chorizo (the dry Spanish style) is one of may favorite ways to add unexpected flavor to otherwise everyday meals. I use it the way Southern cooks use slab bacon. Not exactly as the star but instead as a crucial supporting player. Tonight I sliced up chorizo and sautéed it (well the oil was actually pretty deep) in olive oil along with thinly sliced red onions and a couple minced cloves of garlic. I cooked the mixture just until the half-moon slices of chorizo were starting to color and the oil was taking on a reddish hue. Then I mixed in one drained can of garbanzo beans, a bit of dried oregano and a pinch of crushed red peppers. I gave everything a good stir and then poured the contents of the pan (oil and all) over cauliflower I had broken into florets and spread out on a baking dish. I tossed the cauliflower in the oil so everything on the baking pan was nicely coated and popped the tray into the oven for 25 minutes at 350º.
Our dinner was a tasty, assertive combination of flavors -- not quite Spanish and not quite california -- just right over steamed balsamic rice dusted with sweet Spanish paprika.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pesto Spaghetti

Another use for the sauce of the summer -- of the year really. I quickly tossed hot, drained spaghetti with arugula pesto and topped the dish with a loose, olive oil fried egg so James could let the slightly runny yolk add richness to the sauce.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dinner With Friends

With K and D coming for dinner (one for the first time) I thought it best to rely on the tried and true -- our recipe standards. To start I whipped up a plate of our "house specialty appetizers." "We have to come up with a name for those," James says.
I spread fresh ricotta on rosemary sea salt flat breads (we like Margaret's Artisan Bakery brand), lay on a thin slice of prosciutto, a section (a half or quarter) of a very ripe fresh fig, and drizzle with olive oil and a good quantity of balsamic vinegar. Sprinkled with chopped fresh mint and flaky sea salt these are probably our easiest and most popular (James loves them) little treat to serve before dinner or with drinks.
I love having a few vegetable dishes that are equally good warm or at room temperature. It gives me a chance to prepare for guests without a lot of last minutes fuss. I quickly roasted asparagus (20 minutes at 400º) as a side dish. Those are beautiful, edible borage flowers on top. They have a very light almost cucumbery flavor.
My go-to summer squash recipe is a quick sauté in olive oil flavored with garlic, chiles and herbs. When the oil is hot but not smoking I add in the garlic and the squash and toss until the vegetable is nicely coated with the oil. I sprinkle in dried chilies, cover the pan and let the dish cook over medium low heat for about 5 minutes until the squash is tender and just a bit browned on the edges. After a few minutes cooking uncovered the liquid is reduced and the squash is tender and flavorful. Off the heat I mix in chopped herbs, usually chopped fresh mint but tonight I decided on basil and parsley since our starter was flavored with mint. Summer squash cooked this way are equally good mixed into hot pasta, spread on crostini, or served as a side dish.
I usually don't fry for guests. It can be messy and has to be done at the last minute. But, I had two birds left from our poultry CSA in the freezer, James loves fried chicken (although since we have our own flock he has shied away from eating chicken in general) and this lemon marinated Italian style chicken is unusual, easy and the taste is hard to beat. It's always a hit. I served a bit of this summer's favorite sauce -- arugula hazelnut pesto -- on the side.
As strange as it may seem, "Fridge Pie" is a regular dessert around here. When the fruit at the Farmer's Market is really beautiful I tend to buy too much. I get excited when the seasons change and the winter of eating apples and citrus gives way to baskets overflowing with plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots. Sometimes those stone fruits, along with whatever else might be inching towards the jam pot in the fridge come together between flaky pastry for a "fridge pie." Humble beginnings but still delicious enough for company.
Tonight I chopped a variety of stone fruits and a couple wayward apples and tossed them with sugar -- I used about 3/4 cup. I let the fruit sit for about an hour so the juices would come out then I drained the fruit reserving about 1/4 cup of liquid which I mixed with 3 TB of cornstarch to make sure my filling wasn't runny. I mixed the cornstarch back into the drained fruit along with a sprinkle of nutmeg and a dash of Lillet liquor for a mildly citrus, slightly floral accent. The fruit was laid in my prepared crust. I fashioned a lattice top, brushed the crust with egg wash, sprinkled with sugar and baked for 40 minutes at 400º and another 40 minutes at 350º. I tented the top with foil halfway through baking to keep the crust from turning too dark. The pie was fruity, not too sweet, and just right with a scoop of creme fraiche ice cream.
"Fridge Pie" is always a little different, but always make a great dessert.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Freezer Food: Kitchen Convenience

When I have an ingredient in the fridge teetering towards past it's prime and no immediate ideas for a dinner to use it up (or it's already made enough appearances to almost be recognizable) I whip something up for the freezer. Buttermilk becomes freezer trays full of biscuits ready for baking or marinates chicken pieces seasoned and stored for a future dinner. Milk threatening to go sour becomes a batch of gorgères for impromptu appetizers. Stone fruits are sliced into pies and tarts ready to bake for unexpected dinner company. In this case, the last of the creme fraiche (and sautéed beet greens) was stirred into the cheese sauce of this freezer filling macaroni and cheese. A couple months back I made two pans of this surprisingly light macaroni and cheese. We had one for dinner and the other waited for a night like tonight.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Clam Standard

Clams are the perfect dinner when you need something that feels like you went to a lot of trouble, something satisfying, hearty and elegant all at once. Something that feels special but cooks up quickly with minimum effort. We love clams.
Tonight, based on a recipe from Food and Wine magazine, I started a pan with 1/3 cup of olive oil heating and added in 2 larges cloves of garlic, chopped. After just 30 seconds, I added in about 1 1/2 cups of chopped tomatoes (nothing fancy, no peeling or seeding, just plain chopped) and let them simmer in the hot oil until softened up, about 3 minutes. Next I added in 1/2 cup of white wine and 1 cup of water and brought the liquid to a boil. I stirred in 1/2 cup of fregola, covered the pan and reduced the heat, allowing the pasta to simmer. When the fregola had cooked for around 18 minutes I added about 2 lbs of manilla clams to the pot, covered and cooked over medium high heat for another 5-6 minutes untill all the clams had opened. I stirred in some chopped parsley just before serving the clams, broth and pasta drizzled with olive oil.
Fregola are a hand rolled pasta specialty of the Italian island of Sardinia. The little pebbles of dough are toasted which gives the pasta a deep, almost nutty flavor. They are often cooked like a risotto or served in broth. Despite the miles of stunning coast in Sardinia little of their traditional foods are gathered from the sea. The island diet still recalls it's shepherding past (and present) with lamb and greens and delicious sheep's milk cheeses. I don't know if the clams in this dish would be served on the rocky island but the dish is simple and delicious enough to warrant a break with tradition.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Soup, Salad, Toast

Every night I open the fridge and see a two pound bag of carrots staring back at me. I try to avert my eyes, look past the lonely bag. Finally I had to face them. Carrot soup based on a Moroccan spiced recipe I found on Epicurious. I sautéed a chopped onion and a chopped leek in butter and added in the peeled, chopped carrots along with a good quantity of ground cumin and a dash of red chiles. I covered the carrots with chicken broth, brought them to a boil and then let the vegetables simmer for 20 minutes until tender. I puréed the soup and added in 2 TB of honey, almost a full TB of lemon juice, about 1/4 tsp of all spice and plenty of salt and pepper. I served the soup with a dollop of yogurt dusted with freshly ground cumin. The soup has a gentle warming flavor that would be equally at home on the Thanksgiving table or starring in a spring lunch. James, not generally a fan of cooked carrots (hence my hesitation to use them) easily finished his bowl (he almost licked it clean).
Remember that mega-cucumber harvest yesterday? Today a good number of those lemon yellow cukes became a salad with thinly sliced onion and feta cheese dressed with white vinegar and olive oil.
I've been eyeing this recipe from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook for quite some time. We have peppers growing in the yard and eggs in the coop. These savory crostini are dressed with an olive oil -- not mayonnaise -- moistened egg salad covered with thin slices of prosciutto and topped with strips of rosemary pickled peppers. I took seeded Jimmy Nardello peppers from our garden, rubbed them with a little olive oil and salt, and placed the flattened peppers under the broiler for about 10 minutes (around 8 inches from the heat) until they were just blistered. Meanwhile I heated white vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, sugar and fresh rosemary until the sugar dissolved. I let the mixture simmer for about 3 minutes. With the peppers in a jar I poured the hot liquid over top and let it cool. I used the peppers right away but they keep just about indefinitely in the fridge and brighten everything from roast beef sandwiches to summer salads.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Today's Harvest

A little computer trouble today. Morning at the genius bar. Back in three to five days -- fingers crossed.
So today all I have are pictures of the daily harvest. Tomatoes are coming on strong. Cucumbers are just started and already overflowing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Super Simple Uncooked Sauce

Every cook should have a few simple pasta sauces in his (or her) back pocket, and uncooked sauces are the simplest of all. Basically an uncooked sauce is a mix of things that taste good together stirred into the hot noodles (sometimes with a bit of the cooking water) and mixed until the heat of the pasta forms them into a simple sauce. Of course you could go even easier with olive oil, chopped tomatoes and herbs, or pesto for example. Tonight I gathered together ricotta, parmesan cheese, minced red onion, crushed red chiles, and chopped capicola (coppa) a dry-cured cold cut or pork and spices famously from the area around Naples (and in this case in the Italian deli pack from Costco).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The last of our delicious Hearst Ranch ground beef. Simply prepared. Broiled burgers with Gruyere cheese, roasted potatoes (home grown) and carrots on the side. Perfect, simply perfect.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Treat From An Empty Fridge

Flying back to town, leisurely reading Food And Wine magazine I happened upon a recipe from Mario Batali for zucchini and ricotta fritters. I had a couple zucchini from our garden still in the crisper drawer and I generally have a tub of ricotta -- so good for last minute appetizers. I shredded the zucchini along with garlic and a leek (the recipe ingredients included scallions -- and sheep's milk ricotta but we didn't have either). Then I mixed the shredded veggies with 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of ricotta, and about 3/4 cup of flour. The recipe called for lemon zest and I just forgot to add it but we didn't miss it. After being fried in olive oil the fritters were crisp outside and tender inside. A garden fresh dinnertime treat that I topped with a quick sauté of bacon, fresh corn and chiles tossed with fresh basil.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Norcal Specialty

Barbequed oysters and garlic bread at The Marshall Store, Marshall, CA.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Steamed Vegetable Salad

Vegetables tend to pile up in the drawer. They look so beautiful in the garden or at the farmer's market and I tuck them away in the crisper, usually with no idea of what I intend to make. Today I looked in and realized it was time to put those veggies to work. James and I are popping out of town and I didn't want them to wait on our return. So and unusual combo of vegetables turned into a summer salad. I steamed broccoli rabe and yellow beans and dressed them (while still warm so they soaked up the flavor) in olive oil, S&P. Then I roasted a couple of red peppers over a flame (right on the gas stove) and added them, peeled and chopped, into the bowl. Before serving I dressed the mixture with lemon juice, more olive oil, oregano, chile peppers, peperoncini, and a sprinkle of feta cheese. I cooked some quinoa in the slightly colored and flavored water left from steaming the vegetables and brought this salad of necessity to the table. A cleaner fridge and a summer salad dinner. James never suspected.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Potatoes And Eggs

A simple supper that didn't take a lot of fussing over the stove. I cut up potatoes, onions and garlic tossed them in olive oil, slat and pepper and put them in a 400º oven to roast for about 35 minutes. When the potatoes were cooked through but not quite crisped I whisked together eggs, chopped rosemary ham, shredded parmesan cheese and some finely chopped mixed herbs from our front garden (thyme, parsley and basil). I cooked the eggs in a mixture of butter and olive oil over medium low heat for soft, flaavorful scrambled eggs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bean Burgers

Not glamorous but ready in a hurry. I mixed garbanzo beans, zucchini, onion, garlic, spices and bread crumbs in the food processor and formed (okay a little loose) patties to bake in the oven -- 15 minutes on each side at 350º. I topped the warm burgers with a salad of backyard tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion dressed simply in olive oil and lemon along with thick slices of avocado.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pizza From The Past

Tonight during dinner I glanced over at James' plate and flashed back to the "ground beef pizza" served in my elementary school cafeteria. That sad little square. The loveless child of frozen pizza and sloppy joes with spongy crust, greyish meat and "cheese food" sprinkled on top.
I hadn't thought about that in years until my own version shook free memories better left untouched. To be fair my pizza was homemade, long simmered ragú dressed with thinly sliced red onion, buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. But the effect, with the crust a bit soft from too much sauce, was sadly similar.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pretty Quick Spaghetti Dinner

An uncooked pasta sauce -- briefly tossed with the hot, drained spaghetti is a great way to get dinner on the table in a hurry. Tonight I chopped up fresh dandelion, braised artichokes leftover from the other night's dinner, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella then sprinkled on minced garlic, crushed red peppers, shredded parmesan. All of that was combined with the hot spaghetti (just drained) in the cooking pot along with about 1/3 cup of pasta cooking water and plenty of cracked black pepper. I gave it all a good stir over just a tiny bit of heat until the parmesan and the water made a creamy coating for the noodles. Next time I'll toss in the mozzarella last minute -- it got a little clumpy, but otherwise pretty successful.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Crostini Summer Continues

This summer all I feel like eating are salads (tonight's was homegrown lettuce, fresh corn, cucumber and red onion) and little tastes on toasts -- crostini of many flavors.
Tonight I pulled out a recipe I've been saving for chicken liver paté from Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza (still a tough reservation to get). The rustic mixture is flavored with pancetta, capers, lemon zest and plenty of olive oil. I topped James' toasts with crisp shards of pancetta.
For some variety I went for a new twist on salt cod purée -- drizzled with olive oil, quickly broiled and topped with olive oil braised chard. A favorite at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe (a favorite of ours).
Savory and delicious. Just right for summer.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sweet Cherries

Pink Ping Pong, Snow White and my all time favorite hybid, Juliette.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dinner With Konstantine

An impromptu belated birthday dinner for our friend Konstantine.
Things to eat with toast.
Small plates, perfect for dinnertime conversation.
We started off with a caprese salad using the last of the arugula pesto and quickly pan fried currant tomatoes. I drizzled tomato flavored olive oil (left from sautéing the tomatoes) over the fresh buffalo milk cheese.
Arancini, a classic Sicilian treat. Saffron scented creamy rice (or leftover risotto) is wrapped around a tiny dollop of meat ragú. The assembled rice balls are dunked in egg batter, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried to golden brown. Equally delicious warm or room temperature, the Sicilian version is said to have gotten it's name because the golden color brings to mind the oranges trees of the island's hills. "Arancini" means little oranges. Artichokes are still at the farmers market. I braised these, trimmed but still whole, with fennel seeds, lemon juice and zest, carrot, onion and coriander. Then pan fried the cut, cleaned artichokes for crisp browned edges. Boiled down with lemon juice and olive oil the braising liquid made a quick sauce, perfect for sopping up with lightly garlic tinged crostini.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It Seemed Like A Good Idea

Every now and then (more than I care to admit) I miss the mark.
James asked for spaghetti. We had brussels sprouts in the fridge (James loves them). I saw a recipe for spaghetti with brussels sprouts and pine nuts. The recipe got high ratings online. I added in a little ham. Surefire winner I thought as I waited for James' smiling approval.
"Not my favorite," he declared between bites.
Just too "sprouty" I guess.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Recipe Of The Year

I don't know how I lived so long without Sara Foster's simple arugula pesto recipe. It's quick, easy, adaptable and delicious. It's a keeper and I keep going back. We've served it on pasta, spread on sandwiches, topping fresh balls of mozzarella. Tonight I tossed steamed cauliflower and homegrown potatoes in the sauce, made with hazelnuts instead of almonds, for a quick picnic salad.
Pesto can seem so dated, so 80's but with arugula instead of basil the whole maybe once tired idea is new again and tastes even better. Simply combine 4 cups of arugula, 4 peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup almonds (tonight I used 3/4 cup of blanched hazelnuts), 1 tsp salt, juice of 1 lemon, 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, and 1/2 tsp of black pepper in the food processor. Although Foster chops her "dry" (everything but lemon juice and oil) ingredients first, I just pulse everything together for a chunky, rich, use on everything sauce.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tomatomania: The Harvest Continues

Two new varieties for our backyard this year and both heavy producers. Green Velvet, heavy beefsteak types and, below, Landrace Currant -- tiny sprigs of sweet flavor. As pretty as they are tasty. I can hardly wait to roast them on the vine for a summer caprese salad.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Greek Standard

I always like the idea of Avogolemeno soup, a fresh Lemony flavored chicken and rice mixture that's a regular in Greek diners and I assume throughout Greece. Delicate chicken broth is thickened with a liaison of egg and lemon juice.
The other night I woke up and starting spinning the channels and found an old Food Network re-run (back from when the network was more about recipes than lifestyle). A youthful Rocco DiSpirito and a pre-iron chef Cat Cora were making dishes with citrus. Cat shipped up a pale yellow simple pot of avogolemeno. It was time to try.
I put a whole chicken in 12 cups of water along with a quartered leek, 2 bay leaves, and a peeled carrot and brought the liquid to a boil. Then the broth simmered for about an hour. The broth is strained and returned to the heat. When it returned to a boil I added in 1 large chopped onion that had sauteed just until soft in 3 TB of olive il an d2/3 cup of arborio rice. After 20 minutes on medium low (when the rice was nearly cooked) I turned the heat to a low simmer and added in the chicken I had chopped (removing bone and skin) from the bird that made the broth. Meanwhile I whisked 2 eggs with 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Whisking all the while I added in 2 cups of the hot broth (slowly so the eggs have tim to warm up) until combined and then stirred the lemon juice mixture back into the soup along with 1 TB of salt.
The soup is creamy, bright, and fresh -- a perfect summer soup.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th

Some days you just have to grill. July 4th, though I'm certain it would be a surprise to our founding fathers (John Adams, yes -- John Q Adams no, sorry Sarah), is perhaps the holy mother of mandatory grill days. Everyone is out cooking hamburgers, sausages, hot dogs, chicken. Everyone is eating outside. From my post at the grill I can see our neighbors on their deck just readying to hear the comforting sizzle of meat on the hot grates.
On our deck it's bone in ribeyes, fresh steamed corn and roasted asparagus salad. Now that's a birthday dinner!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Spaghetti

A simple Sunday supper. To the drained pasta I added a good sized handful of shredded parmesan cheese, several slices of prosciutto (chopped), lots of cracked black pepper, and about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. I gave that all a good stir until a "creamy" sauce formed, then topped the dish with a barely fried egg. The lightly set yolk, when mixed into the pasta, gave a hint of richness to this easy no-cook sauce.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stuffed Zucchini

These little round zucchini always seem like they are begging to be stuffed. Today I made a Sicilian style filling with fresh bread crumbs, currants, pine nuts, ham, salami, parmesan cheese, provolone cheese, parsley, a pinch of chili peppers, and the flesh of the squash I removed sautéed in olive oil until soft. I mixed the filling together and stuffed it into the prepared squash. I had a little extra filling so a couple of peppers found their way to the dish. Before I popped the vegetables in the oven I sautéed a thinly sliced onion until golden, deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine and finished with a knob of sweet butter. I poured the onions of over the zucchini and peppers in the baking dish and popped them in the oven for 45 minutes at 350º.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Today's Tomatoes

Black Mauri (the little one), Ramapo (the classic "Jersey" tomato) and Missouri Pink Love Apple in the front. It really does have a pinkish glow in person.
And a little early yellow crookneck squash.