Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Slow Cooker Brisket

I don't usually make brisket. It's generally a hefty piece of meat for two people and James claims he doesn't like it or at least that it's "not his favorite." So when a beautiful grass fed brisket came in our meat CSA box I took it as a personal challenge to make a dinner James would love and that would provide for sandwiches while I was out of town.
We are busy working in the yard, trying to get ready for the next rainstorm. I decided to use the crock pot so our dinner could bubble away with no attention from me. James loves a little hit of chili. I dug out an old food network recipe for "Southwestern" brisket and decided to improvise (or rather avoid the searing and sauce cooking that recipe called for). I sliced up two onions (one red one yellow because that's what I grabbed first) and 5 chopped cloves of garlic and put them in the bottom of the crock pot. I placed the brisket, seasoned with salt and pepper, on top and started adding the spices -- 1 TB chili powder, 2 tsp coriander, 2 tsp cumin, and a healthy dash of paprika. To balance the spice I  used about 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, a good handful of brown sugar and nearly 1/2 cup ketchup mixed with water.
"Honey, this is really good." I heard a mere 10 hours later. Not many leftovers today.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A New Spaghetti Dish

I'm embarrassed by it but I kind of like Mario Batali. Let me clarify. I kind of hate the orange clogs,  the party boy chef attitude, the over-enunciated Italian, and the occasionally supercilious manner. But, more often then not, I find his recipes are worth trying.
With our home tomato season having come to an end, even after a hefty green tomato cake, we still have a wealth of green tomatoes, ready for recipes.
James, you probably know by now, does not love (or some days even tolerate) tomatoes. I love them. I love to eat them. I love to grow them, I love to cook with them. But mostly I love to serve James vegetables from our own garden. I thought, the texture being so different, that maybe green tomatoes could slip by and that he'd probably like their tangy flavor. I zeroed in on Batali's recipe for spaghetti with green tomatoes.
Basically a nut free pesto this simple dish combines 1/4 cup each of fresh mint, dill, basil and arugula with1 clove of garlic, 5 green tomatoes, and 2 TBs of parmesan cheese (don't forget salt and pepper). I ground everything to a paste in the food processor and then -- just before the spaghetti was fully cooked -- added in about 1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil and pulsed until the mixture formed a vibrant green paste. I tossed the drained pasta and the sauce (about 1/3 of it -- I froze the rest for future green tomato dinners) in the hot pot to heat the sauce through and served James his dinner without a word about the tomatoes. green or otherwise.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sweets From The Garden

I guess somewhere I had heard of green tomato cake before but I certainly have never made one, though it makes perfect sense. I know people make pies using green tomatoes instead of apples so why not a cinnamon and nutmeg scented pound cake with chunks of the tart tomatoes inside.
It just so happens I pulled our tomato plants the other day and have a ready supply of green tomatoes. Normally I would invite friends over for fried tomato sandwiches or salads featuring the southern specialty. But, since James is not a tomato fan, and -- as always -- I'm trying to stay away from fried and delicious, I decided to try this easy cake to share with our neighbors who have been under the weather and missed their Thanksgiving feast.
Talk about things I never thought I would do. After an internet search for a recipe I felt good about, I decided on a recipe from Paula Dean. Now I must admit, I NEVER even look at her recipes except as an example of what I don't want to do and I find her completely unwatchable. But I've been in the mood for a bundt cake and I actually liked the idea of this caramelly brown butter glaze (mine came out more like candy than glaze but still sweet and tasty) so I forged right in. I mean I guess I could do worse when looking for a Southern style recipe.
The result was a spice perfumed dense pound cake style bundt with raisins and walnuts kept moist by the 2 1/2 cups of chopped green tomatoes.
"Pound cake," James scoffed as he toted the my handy locking tupperware cake carrier to our neighbors. "More like 3 pound cake." he declared.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Big On Flavor Not On Looks

Yes I know, a hot chicken mess on a plate.
To be honest the adventure of not having an oven (well at least in the kitchen I use day to day) is losing it's charm. I had no idea how much I rely on it and now I have to think about our dinners in a whole new way.  I could have roasted this bird in the other oven, walking across the yard feeling like Martha Washington's household "help" trundling off to the summer kitchen carrying pots and pans. I just didn't want to (besides I was drying yesterday's tomato harvest in there). So I started to scratch my head for a stove top, not fried, one pot easy chicken dinner. 
I figured I'd start with bacon, pancetta to be exact since it is what I had in the fridge. I tossed chopped pancetta and onion in a dutch oven with butter and olive oil and then added in a few cloves of garlic. After a couple minutes I put in the seasoned chicken -- skin side down -- and a couple of cubed potatoes. My pan wasn't big enough for everything and so the chicken didn't get quite as brown and crispy as I would have liked. None the less I let the chicken cook for around 10 minutes and then added in about 1/4 cup white wine and the same measure of water. I brought the liquid up to a simmer and let the covered pan bubble away for another 15 minutes until the potatoes were tender and the chicken just cooked through. I served the bird, savory sauce, potatoes and all over fresh steamed green beans.
"This is better than our turkey," James said recalling our Thanksgiving dinner out and knowing just how to get my attention. Looks or not I might just try this dish again.

Friday, November 23, 2012

November Tomatoes

The end of this year's crop. Today we took of the last fruits (both ripe red and green for canning and frying) of the season and pulled the plants to make room for spring's vegetables. And finally a little gift from the new girls. A little brown egg from the chickens I thought might spend their lives as ladies of leisure. Eggs . . . finally eggs.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

It was just the two of us this year.
Instead of turkey and endless leftovers, when James and I heard that one of our favorite innkeepers, Margaret Grade of Manka's, was opening her still being renovated new property, The Olema, for Thanksgiving dinner we decided to join in. The menu, so local she seems to know every purveyor's name and family, hit all the seasonal favorites --  pumpkin, crab, peppery cress, and of course locally grown turkey.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Tradition Is Born

If you've been checking here for me, you can see I have not been cooking. james and I have been traveling for two weeks literally crossing paths in airports as we head to opposite destinations.
Tonight we needed something special, a little treat.
Dungeness crab season is open here in Norcal and fish markets and grocery stores are stuffed full of fresh cooked, plump, meaty, delicious crab. The season here is so celebrated that besides local calendars boasting a plethora of charity crab feeds for every local cause (Sons of Italy, fire departments, Lions, etc) many locals include the delicacy as part of their Thanksgiving menu. Most people serve the steamed crabs cold, cleaned and cracked, along with cocktail or maybe a mayonnaise based dipping sauce.
At our house we elaborate on an idea from San Francisco chef Reed Hearon and marinate our crustaceans in fennel seeds, chili flakes, parsley, thyme, garlic and olive oil and roast them in a 400º oven. Spicy warm delicious. Make plenty of bread and potatoes for soaking up the delicious sauce.
We've decided -- this is our night before dinner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fall Harvest

Despite the morning frost with the warm afternoons our tomatoes are still hanging on. I'm trying to get every last one -- I miss them so during the winter.
Our neighbor has turned over her garden and had a picturesque collection of squash which she kindly shared with us. They are so beautiful I think I'll look at them a while before cooking them up.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Nothing Pretty About Stew

Not exactly a photogenic dinner dish. But this chicken stew, flavored with bacon and white wine, was just what today's early winter weather demanded -- and simple. I started with chopped carrots, onion, celery and plenty of thick chunks of double smoked bacon sautéing in hot olive oil. I added in the chicken (I used bone in leg and thighs)  to brown a bit and then tossed in about 2 cups of white wine, around a pound of diced tomatoes (I used yellow ones from our garden), 4 sprigs of thyme and brought everything up to a boil. The stew simmered for about an hour and a half until the meat was tender. I took the chicken off the bone and returned it to the pot along with a good quantity of cut up potatoes and shredded kale. After about 10 minutes I added in fresh green beans cut into about 2 inch pieces and let everything simmer together until the potatoes and vegetables were cooked through. Nothing much to look at but warm and tasty and right to eat by the fire.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sheep Ladies

 Time for the soon to be sheep mommies to get their shots and we're lucky enough to have friendly sheep raising neighbors who let me join in to help. One pink dot for the vaccine, one blue dot for the "drench," the sheep de-wormer. Whoever passed around the idea that sheep are docile has obviously never tried to hold 150 pounds or so of wriggling wool but they are so sweet, and so pretty with their new polkadots. I can't wait to see this year's babies.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Night Sliders

King's Hawaiian Rolls, tiny broiled burgers topped with buttery sautéed shallots. One of James' all-time favorites.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Cold Rainy Night

Rain is falling outside but inside the wood stove is roaring and I've got a pot of creamy, cheesy, polenta bubbling on the stove. On top just a simple sauté of spicy Italian sausage, kale from the garden and baby spinach. A perfect warm dinner for a cold rainy night.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Yesterday's Gravy Tonight's Soup

I don't know why I've never thought of it before. Gravy -- especially the cream gravy I make for fried chicken -- is basically a roux. Sometimes I thicken soup with a roux. Today I thickened our soup with gravy.
First I sautéed carrots, onions, celery and after a couple minutes a bit of chopped garlic in olive oil. When those vegetables softened up I added in sliced mushrooms, about 3 quarts of chicken broth, chopped turkey (I had that in the freezer) and some of the leftover chicken (without the skin) and a heavy half cup gravy. The soup came up to a boil and then simmered for about 10 minutes, One disappointment -- no egg noodles in the house. Cooked in the creamy savory broth they would have been delicious. Instead I grabbed the last of a bag of penne and tossed them in (pre-cooked) for a creamy noodle soup dinner.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

303 And Counting

The stakes are high. Four dollars in our electoral college pool still unclaimed waiting on Florida.

Yesterday was such a busy day around here. James was out on the tractor digging in a new water tank. I was trying to get the house and dinner ready (not so easy given our muddy yard and 3 cheerful dogs) for friends coming over to watch the election returns all while ordering materials for our current landscape extravaganza and checking in on the early reports form the poles. No time to blog, but we did -- exhausted -- manage to get dinner on the table for our friends.
Oddly enough I don't have any pictures in the middle but here's where it started and how it finished. It's been a good long while since I delved into Jim Lahey's bread recipes. We so love the rosemary meyer lemon bread from nearby Della Fattoria I knew I could never compete. But I had a beautiful bag of stone ground flour I bought from a family farm in Washington state and there's no time like the present. I whipped up (if you can say that about a recipe that takes 2 days) a nice crusty loaf of whole wheat bread and set it out with delicious McClelland butter and homemade tomato bacon jam. There in the distance are our mini-appetizers -- a bowl of cayenne spiced pecans and Southern style cheese straws. I figured those were a good companion for the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and kale salad that came later -- along with a neighborly pot of homegrown beans.
For dessert, since I still have apples on the tree, a brown sugar sweetened old-fashioned 3 layer apple cake from a recipe on with a brown sugar buttercream. The frosting used egg white so I took that as a perfect excuse to make a quick batch of vanilla ice cream. James said it might be his favorite cake I'd ever made -- must be the apples right off the tree.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Spanish Tortilla

Eggs for dinner.
Found in every tapas bar in Spain, the Spanish Tortilla is nothing like the more familiar to Americans Mexican breadstuff. It is a thick slow cooked omelette most often chock full of olive oil fried potatoes. I've never made one before but I've eaten plenty of them. Eggs just seemed like the right thing for dinner but with the oven still out of commission no frittatas or soufflés for us.  A stove top treat, a tortilla (equally good warm or at room temperature) seemed right -- and something a little new for James.
First I fried thin potato and onion slices in a prodigious amount of olive oil at medium heat -- a very slow bubble so the potatoes cook (and soak in the oil) but don't brown or crisp. Then you drain the potatoes and add them to 8 eggs beaten with salt and pepper. I should have had a non-stick pan for this adventure but tortillas have been everyday fare in spin long before Tfal so I forged ahead. I heavily slicked the bottom of the skillet with oil and poured in the egg mixture. The tortilla cooked for about 5 minutes -- again at medium heat -- until the bottom and edges were firm. Now the tricky part and the action that has kept me from trying my own tortilla for literally years now. First you slide the egg and potato cake onto a waiting plate (I could have used a bigger plate). Then using a second plate you flip the tortilla over so the less cooked side is down. Add more oil (the reserved olive oil form frying the potatoes) to the pan and slide your potato masterpiece back in to cook on the bottom.
I should have let my tortilla brown a little more to be truly authentic but for a fairly quick weeknight dinner and a first try -- not too bad.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Cupboard Is Bare

It might be the emptiest our kitchen has ever been. Coming back from my trip I opened the fridge. Echo . . . prosciutto, cheese, left over white wine, and a half bottle of heavy cream lingering from last week's dessert.
Prosciutto cream sauce. I started a pan with a bit of olive oil and a bit of butter and sautéed half an onion, finely chopped and a couple cloves of garlic. When the onions we just translucent I tossed in the prosciutto and gave that a few minutes to start to crisp up. Next I deglazed the pan with some of that white wine and then added the cream and let everything cook down to a sauce while the pasta boiled.
Pretty simple, but pretty delicious.
I've gotta go shopping.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sha Lin Noodle House

 For years my eating adventurer friends, Eric and Shari,  and I have been searching for a plate like these knife cut cumin sauced noodles closer to home.. The holy grail of noodle houses. I'd heard the legend but never tasted them. Of course I knew the famed noodles of China's Shanxi province, stretched, pulled. cat's ears, and like these knife cut into waiting boiling water. Stir fried or served in soup, Northern Chinese chefs work years to perfect the traditional local specialties' mix of toothsome flavor and chewiness.
 Another noodle another dish. "Dragging noodles" as Sha Lin calls them are hand stretched. Chewy springy super long noodles in a tasty broth topped with BBQ pork. Really nothing to complain about here.
 Not quite my beloved sheng jian bao, these pan fried dumplings have thick, flour, tasty skins crisped into a crunchy, bready, savory cake.
Perhaps man can't live by noodles alone. Maybe. Just in case there are these crispy nuggets of spicy salty ribs.
The search goes on for cumin noodles close to home, but for now we'll always have Vancouver.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hudson Bay Company

Every visit North of the border I make a pilgrimage to the Hudson Bay Company, the present day descendent of Canada's one time frontier trading company. Famous for their wool "points" blankets, part of the fur trade in Canada since 1780. Points -- following the French system -- designate the size of the 100% wool felted blankets imported from England.
History and tradition aside I first fell in love with the classic multi-colored stripes in the 60's. My father, a traveler and traditionalist (I had to get it somewhere), carried home a collection of these now very expensive trade goods from a family trip to Canada and Alaska that also gathered up a selection of totem pole sweaters and scores of legendary (or maybe forgotten) family stories.
I cuddled dogs, read comic books with a flashlight and slept soundly under those itchy winter weight covers.
Those old blankets are long gone now, lost in the shuffle of living and moving. So I visit. Surrounded by the myriad of items now sporting the signature stripes I gaze back through the years and for just a moment I find that carefree time hoping for snow days and never feeling cold.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

La Casa Gelato

A vancouver institution. Rain or shine, sun or snow visitors and locals alike trek to La Casa Gelato for a taste of the more than 200 flavors on offer any given day. Durian, ginger, pear and gorgonzola, maple bacon, purple yam and multiple combinations of fruit and chocolate and nuts and candy. Even late on a cold fall night the crowds were still coming in.