Saturday, December 31, 2011

10-9-8-7-6- . . . . Counting Down To The New year

We waved goodbye to 2011 with our version of oysters rockefeller. Oven roasted bivalves topped with sautéed spinach, a flavored butter of parmesan cheese, crushed red peppers, hot sauce, lemon juice, wine, garlic parsley and shallots. They are topped off with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and popped in the oven until the butter melts and the tops are just browned. A new house favorite.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thick Pork Chops For A Winter's Night

Not quite photogenic, but this dish was a real winner. I actually followed a recipe (okay I added a pinch of cayenne the recipe didn't call for) a straight forward creation by Tyler Florence for Thick pork chops with spiced apple and raisins. Brown sugar brined pork chops, quickly seared and baked in the oven are topped with a warm compote of apples (you know we have a few of those around) and unexpectedly, raisins. Warm, wintery, hearty and delicious.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spaghetti With Braised Kale

This time of year kale is one of the things at the farmers market that is truly beautiful not just a reminder of what spring vegetables can be. In the winter our little market thins out. Fewer ingredients and more options for a breakfast snack. But the kale, chard, arugula and broccoli still call out from the stands.
Tonight I took beautiful kale and braised it in olive oil. The dish started as many or most of my dishes do with olive oil in a hot pan. I stirred chopped garlic and shallots in the hot pan for just about 30 seconds. I added the shredded kale to the pan and sautéed five minutes. Next went in a cup of water and I covered the pan and let the kale simmer for about 10 minutes until it was nice and tender. Then I added the drained pasta and some of the cooking water to the pan, gave it a good stir and topped James' dinner with a drizzle of olive oil and parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It Grows On Trees

From our new bedroom window I can see our apple tree brimming with big, red and yellow apples. Now James will happily eat an apple a day of sweet crisp apples like Fuji or Pink Lady. Though their variety is as of yet unidentified these are certainly cooking apples. Not too sweet and a bit mealy at this point I am trying to come up with recipes to make use of our bounty (aside from tossing them to the happy cows that graze along our fence). So far I've made apple cake, apple sauce, and I'm looking at a New Year's morning with apple muffins or apple pancakes. But for now there is an ever growing bag of apples waiting for me.
Tonight I opted for a savory dish. If pork chops and apple sauce are a famous combination, I pondered, why not pork stew with apples. I just happened to have port stew meat in the freezer. AFter a very quick internet search I happened along on a "harvest" stew and based on dinner on this recipe.
I started with hot oil in a pan and browned the pork. Next I added in chopped onions and garlic, crushed red peppers, shopped rosemary, fresh thyme, and plenty of chopped sage. When the onions were softened I added in chicken broth, brought the whole pot up to a boil and then let the meat simmer for about 20 minutes, covered. Next I added in cubed butternut squash, apples and potatoes and again let the pot simmer, this time uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
In the end we had a warm, cozy stew that was a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy and just right for a foggy cool winter day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Quick Sauté

Shrimp are fast, delicious, and easy to cook. I'm not sure why I don't make them more often . . . Tonight I started heating a pan and added in butter and olive oil. After the butter had finished foaming I tossed in chopped shallot, oregano, crushed red peppers, hot sauce, and plenty of garlic (seem like my usual recipe for seafood). Next the peeled deveined shrimp went in and started to pink up. When I turned the shrimp I poured in a splash of Guinness left over from our christmas cake and I let the mixture bubble until the shrimp were cooked through. I finished the sauce with an extra pat of butter for good measure. Perfect with bread or rice or even on a toothpick. Dinner in seven minutes or less.

Monday, December 26, 2011

House Favorite, Local Treat

Grilled oysters. James' specialty.
We usually pop them on the grill and invite a few hundred of our closest friends for a feast. Tonight it was just us two and a little drizzly so I moved our BBQ inside and roasted a dozen big, beautiful, local oysters in the oven. After about 15 minutes at 450 they had popped open enough for me to pull off the top, flat shell. I dressed each oysters with a pat of flavored butter. Tonight I made a combo of butter, salt, pepper, crushed red peppers, hot sauce, cayenne, lemon juice, chives, plenty of garlic and parmesan cheese. I drizzled them with a bit of olive oil and popped the tray back into the oven for about 5 minutes until the butter melted and the cheese was starting to toast. We ate our oyster treat with plenty of garlic bread to soak up the flavorful butter. James said "Wow."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Local Dinner With Christmas Duck

Our first Christmas in the new house. I wanted something memorable and still manageable --given the state of our not so, let's say, elegant kitchen. One quick trip to the weekly farmer's market brought home a treasure trove of ingredients: wild arugula, fingerling potatoes, baby turnips, cauliflower, pomegranates, shallots, and a fresh Muscovy duck. After pricking the skin all over with a fork I popped our duck in the oven, seasoned with salt and pepper; the cavity filled with shallots, garlic and thyme. He roasted for about 2 1/2 hours at 400º with me turning him breast side up or down every 45 minutes. I really wanted to cook the duck slowly -- more like 5 hours at 300º or 350º. With just one oven and a cake to bake I had to sacrifice a bit of the slow cooked taste for a nice early Christmas dinner. That's what I get for laying in bed watching Christmas movies instead of jumping up and baking. For the last hour of roasting I tossed the peeled turnips and halved fingerling potatoes in with the duck to roast in the rich fat. Just before the duck was cooked through I coated the skin with a delicate honey lemon glaze. I used that same glaze along with a dash of balsamic vinegar and, yes I admit it, a drizzle of duck fat instead of olive oil to dress the salad.
Along side the duck, offering a bit of creamy sauce to the dark meat, a cauliflower and endive gratin. The vegetables baed for more than an hour (I started them raw) in a cheesy mornay sauce brimming with nutty gruyere and fresh marjoram.
Though I am not really much for tradition, every year I make the same cake for Christmas. A gooey, spicy gingerbread from a recipe by Claudia Flemming, former pastry chef during Tom Coliccio's reign, of Gramercy Tavern. Flemming's recipes are simple, straight forward and brimming with flavor. Flavored with Guinness stout and molasses James is always happy to see this cake on the table. It's so easy and quick I am always happy to make it -- but I save it for once a year . . . most times.
Merry Christmas Honey.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Old Favorite For Christmas Eve

I finally made it home today. And so, coming so close to the holiday I wanted something simple and still special for James' dinner. We love crabs. It's crab season. Christmas and crabs.
I marinated halved and cracked crabs in a paste made from toasted fennel seeds, parsley, crushed red peppers, garlic, thyme and olive oil. After a couple hours in the fridge I popped the crabs in a 400º oven for 15 minutes. For a holiday twist after five minutes in the oven I added in a handful of fresh clams to pop open in the oven and share the flavorful marinade.
For dessert, still waiting for James is a simple apple (from our tree), raisin, and cranberry crisp. Just waiting for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Picture From Home

Friendly hellos along the back fence.
I can't wait to get back.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Basque In Bakersfield

Noriega's might be the most unlikely James Beard award winner ever. Deemed an "American Classic" by the esteemed New York organization, the Bakersfield, CA dining hall has been serving three meals a day (except Monday) since the late 1800's.
Before lunch is served at noon or dinner at 7pm, diners (and a few boarders who still call the Noriega hotel home) gather in the bar drinking house-made wine, cocktails and the Basque classic Picon punch (a combination of brandy, grenadine and bitter orange liquor) waiting to be called to one of 3 long, long tables. More than a dining hall, and not quite a restaurant Noriega's is essentially an elaborate dinner party orchestrated by co-owner Linda McCoy. Greeting friends and strangers with the same warm manner the proprietor sized up the crowd and seated her guests where she thought everyone would most enjoy the meal. "I'm going to put you next to someone interesting," she assured me and scooted me along to a table beside people she determined to be interesting conversationalists. She was right.
When you arrive at the table it's already laid with an assortment of sides; family style to be passed around and shared. You get to know you dining companions while passing bread and serving each other the light cabbage and pasta soup. For the first course the table was already groaning with pickled tongue, marinated carrots, beans (good in the soup), salad, Basque-style cottage cheese, and tangy blue cheese.
Noriega's make one menu a meal. Sunday evening brings hearty beef stew (more of a pot au feu or pot roast than anything I recognize as beef stew) and baked chicken with glistening, crispy skin.
Dishes just keep coming out: spaghetti with a Basque-syle, slightly sweet tomato sauce, cauliflower drenched in tangy mayonnaisey dressing, and delicious dark golden brown crisp french fries. I'm sure no one has ever left Noriega's hungry.
To be honest the food is good but maybe not great. But from the cheerful bar to the dark skinned thick eye-browed fellows speaking Basque at the end of the table the Bakersfield institution is by far the most fun and the most food you can have for $20.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Motel Snacks

I've been gone along time. I've been half way around the world on a job. James is at home and has run out of meals I packaged in the freezer. Instead of dreaming of sugarplums I'm daydreaming about what I am going to cook when I get back to my little kitchen on the pasture. A kitchen that used to seem woefully inadequate is starting to seem like a distant dream compared to the motel mini-fridges and supermarket salad that have dotted this job. Stay tuned for roast duck, multi-layered lasagnas, cioppino, and chestnuts roasted on our new wood stove.