Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Eater, Uh Easter

James finally made it home -- just in time for Easter dinner. Nothing too special: brown sugar glazed ham, biscuits, warm potato salad with asparagus and leeks and sautéed peas with butter lettuce.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cookies Cookies Cookies

Somehow I ended up saying I would bake cookies for 200 guests at an upcoming fundraiser for Drakes Bay Oyster Company. This local oyster farm is caught up in a legal battle with the federal government over their longtime lease on what is now a park, The Pt Reyes National Seashore. When the park, one of the most beautiful places in the world, was created in the 1960's from what had been agricultural and grazing land an agreement was made to continue and support the farming presence as park feature and as part of the area's long heritage. Drakes Bay was one of those farms. Now their lease is up for renewal and the department of the interior -- based on what many say are less than scientific studies and  against the advice of many environmentalists and conservationists -- has refused to renew the lease. Those of us who support local agriculture and local foods are fighting to save the farm. Not only are 100 years of oyster farming in Drakes Estero at risk but, we fear, the future of the family ranches and dairies that dot the beautiful seashore as well. It's sure to be a long legal battle, these chocolate iced peanut bars are a small start.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

There's One For Everyone

Every gardener loves viburnums. It's hard not to, there are over 500 varieties. Truly something for everyone.
There are flashy flowered varieties, highly fragrant types, viburnums for sun and viburnums for shade.
My latest is this pink tinged, white flowered Viburnum Mohawk. oddly enough this deciduous shrub caught my eye with no flowers or leaves. It just had a very beautiful open form. When I looked closer I learned this variety, like the Korean spice I thought it was when I bought it, is highly fragrant. I'm going to use it in the back of the a border near the front door so we'll get that heavenly scent coming and going.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ina and Me

There are several TV shows James and I watch together but we each have a DVR list we watch while the other is away. I tend to fall asleep early while James stays up late. Most nights (or early early mornings) I lay in bed watching those saved shows while the rest of he world sleeps.
The other night I happened to watch an episode of Barefoot Contessa I had recorded by accident. Ins was making a hearty "winter minestrone." Given the rainy days and storehouse of last season's squash that seemed like a recipe worth keeping. She started with pancetta -- can't go wrong there. I added in Italian sausage I had in the freezer and browned everything together. Next BC sautes her vegetables in the same pot -- cubed butternuts squash, onions, carrots, celery, along with fresh garlic and thyme. Next goes in a large can of tomatoes, chicken stock, S&P, and a bay leaf (which I added earlier). The liquid is brought to a boil and left to simmer for 30 minutes. In Ina's recipe she uses spinach tossed into the hot liquid just a bit before serving. James and I prefer hearty kale so I added that with the liquid and let it simmer. Just like Ina I added beans and cooked pasta and to this point honestly it was like any other minestrone I ever made. Nothing too special. But then at the very end comes the lively touch that separates this recipe from everyday (and probably from any authentic Italian recipe). Just before ladling out bowls of the thick soup BC's recipe stirs in a couple TB of ready made (mine was homemade in the freezer) pesto sauce and about 1/2 cup of white wine.
I've never really thought too much about BC's recipes before. She has a fondness for mayonnaise I always found a bit overboard and most of her dishes seemed just a bit pedestrian. But his little touch not only enlivened this easy soup but is a trick I may steal for years of soups to come.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spaghetti Pie

I don't remember when I made the spaghetti that produced the leftovers for this dish. I do remember James thought it was too spicy and shied away from the remainder in the fridge. I knew I could save it. Though it may seem like a homespun recipe from Betty Crocker or Taste of Home (not that there is anything wrong with that) spaghetti omelettes are  100% authentic Italian, a common home dish especially in the South.
Basically any leftover spaghetti will do -- with sauce or without. I prefer the sauced versions. Take your  leftovers and add eggs (as many as you need to give substance and structure to your batter) and grated cheese. Parmesan is a good choice but so is pecorino or any hard cheese you may like. Heat olive oil in a pan and layer in half of your spaghetti mixture. Top the spaghetti with sliced melting cheese (mozzarella or fontina) and bits of salami or prosciutto if you like and fry until crisp on the bottom. It is a bit of a maneuver to turn these heavy omelettes but with an extra plate and a little determination you can slide or flip your omelette (a frittata they would say in Italy) and return t to the skillet to cook through.
I've seen plenty of recipes where the melting cheese goes on top and the frittata is finished in the oven. At our house the cheese is a surprise in the middle and the outside edges are crispy and delicious. Viva Italia!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Meet The Bavette

Reaching into our monthly meat CSA from Victorian Farmstead Chop Shop I found a puzzling steak: Bavette. I guess I'd heard the term before but I am sure I have never eaten it and certain I have never cooked it. How exciting. It turns out bavette, in the US more commonly called -- however unappetizing it certainly is --  flap meat is the meat that covers the animal's diaphragm, more commonly and deliciously known as skirt steak. The butcher counter darlings of the last couple years skirt (and the similar but more rare -- there is only one per steer -- hangar steak are super flavorful if a bit more chewy. I love their super meaty flavor, James delicately prefers filet.
I figured if this bavette came from near the skirt it might also carry that wonderfully rich flavor and set out to cook this little steak up for dinner. I seasoned the meat generously with salt and pepper and then seared the steak on each side in a hot pan with olive oil. I popped the meat into the oven at 425º  -- where I was already roasting potatoes -- for almost 8 minutes.
Earlier, somewhat following a recipe I found online I cooked down red wine, bay leaf, garlic and onions into a thick reduction. As the steak rested I whisked cold butter into the warm, cooked wine for a beurre rouge.
As it turns out bavette has all the flavor and none of the chewy texture James dislikes. It's a low cost cut that dresses up easily. French steak, French sauce, great dinner.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Dog and His Cat

 Scout (feline) and Spanky (canine) settle in for a lazy afternoon nap.

Monday, March 18, 2013

April Comes Too Soon

"The season is almost over," said the man behind the fish counter as I stared wistfully at the ice covered display of delicious dungeness crabs. Minutes later they were in my cart heading home to roast (marinated in olive oil, fennel seeds, thyme, lemon zest, chili flakes, rosemary and garlic) for a last minute late season crab feast.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bewitched By A Little Flower

In spite of delicious salads and stews made from fava beans. I first wanted to grow these cold hardy legumes for the flowers. While being shown the fields at a friendly CSA farm on beautiful Orcas Island James and I turned onto a field covered in beautiful white flowers dotted with black "eyes." At the time I had no idea what I was looking at. I've grown these cheerful beans every year since. I plant fava seeds (sometimes called broad beans)  in November or December as a delicious cover crop that returns nutrients to the soil, helps prepare the beds for summer vegetables, and becomes the basis for numerous delicious spring dishes. Not to mention the flowers.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mussels and Fries

A classic Belgian bistro combo familiar in restaurants around the country and in Northern France. The fries served crisp and hot next to (so they don't get soggy) mussels in a buttery wine broth, Moules Marinières. For our quickly steamed seafood I jumped off with Julia Child's classic recipe. First I brought 2 cups of wine, 6 Tb of butter, 1 bay leaf, 2 smashed cloves garlic, a couple grinds of black pepper, and several sprigs fresh thyme to a boil in a heavy enameled pot (hmm it was a Belgian pot now that I think about it). After two minutes I poured in 3 pounds of mussels, cover the pan and let the mussels steam for 5 minutes until opened. I served our tender, briny seafood in wide bowls topped with the flavorful broth. Fast, easy delicious -- no wonder it's a classic.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Milanese In A Minute

An old favorite. Thinly sliced pork (scallopini) dipped in egg, breaded in grated cheese, chopped rosemary and Panko bread crumbs -- fried in a mixture of butter and olive oil. After just a few minutes on a side James' quick weeknight dinner was ready to lay back on a bed of creamy olive oil mashed potatoes (tucked away in the freezer for just such an occasion). Crunchy, crispy, savory . . . clean plate.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Something Simple

A burger (grass fed of course) with cheese (raclette) -- on the inside. Grilled with "smashed potatoes." Easy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Me And Mario

A couple weeks ago, trapped in some distant hotel room on a snowy day I happened to catch a couple minutes of ABC's The Chew on what I assume was a particularly Italian day. Mario Batali was making a version of aglio olio spaghetti. A simple preparation with olive oil and garlic -- an easy dinner dish James always likes. Batali's version had not just chili pepper flakes but chopped, jarred hot peppers. James has been liking a little heat in his dinner lately so I carefully tucked that recipe away thinking I could improve on the classic and make James' dinner even better. Well either Mario or I got carried away. For the first time ever James declared me a bit heavy handed with the spice -- he politely kept eating between coughs. I'd like to blame Batali but for now I'll stick with tried and true just a while longer.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Greek Style Soup

I love homemade soup. It's a great place to hide leftovers or a collection of remnants in the freezer and still feels comforting and somehow special. I reached into our too small freezer and pulled out the bag of chicken parts (I save backs and necks and wings to make stock) and duck bones from a long ago sinner and started them in the stockpot with 12 cups of water, 2 stalks of celery, 2 halved onions, 2 carrots, 1 clove garlic, 2 bay leaves, and a sprinkling of peppercorns. I brought to stock pot up to a boil and let everything simmer for about 90 minutes.
This Greek style lemon and chicken soup, avgolemono, is traditionally clear broth thickened with lemon juice and egg yolks. I saved some of the meat from the stock to mix into the soup. After straining the stock I brought the soup to a simmer and added in a few cups of leftover rice (and the reserved chicken meat). Avgolemono is generally made with orzo pasta but rice is sometimes substituted and we had rice on hand. In a separate bowl I whisked 3 eggs until frothy and then mixed in the juice of two lemons. I slowly mixed in a couple ladles of hot broth to temper the eggs and then added the now warm egg mixture back into the stockpot. After 10 minutes on low -- you don't want to boil the soup after the eggs are added so they don't curdle -- we had tangy, lemony, homemade soup.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Crunchy Side Dish

I never think about celery. I use it in soups or stuffings or sauces but I never considered celery as the star of a dish. That was until today when we needed a salad and the vegetable drawers were pretty bare.  After a quick internet search I settled on a variation of a recipe from Saveur Magazine -- crunchy slices of my new hero vegetable tossed in a quick vinaigrette (1TB sherry vinegar, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup olive oil, S&P). A salad with no lettuce. Such a little thing and I feel so daring. Market driven, casual, rustic, fresh, crunchy . . . I feel positively French.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Early St Patrick's Day Dinner

It' not so pretty a picture, but it is one of James' favorite dinners: glazed corned beef and buttered potatoes. I always start the same way. First I cook the corned beef brisket and it's spices in the crockpot (on low) -- usually overnight, with 2 halved onions, 2 stalks celery, 2 bay leaves, 10 peppercorns and 10 whole cloves. That slow moist cooking makes the meat irresistibly tender. For the finishing touch since it's publication I have been using a glaze recipe from the Silver Palette Cookbook. 1 cup dark orange marmalade, 4 TB of dark brown sugar, 4 TB of dijon mustard mixed together and poured on top of the cooked meat. The beef with the glaze cooks for 30 minutes at 400º (sometimes I go to 450º to make sure James gets crisp bits of sugary glaze). Over the years I've used other jams, usually whatever homemade variety I happen to have handy -- always with stellar results. The best part of this dinner? Corned beef hash for breakfast. A reason for leftovers.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Another New Camellia

There are many things I love about our relatively new rural location. The open vista, the rolling hills, the cattle for neighbors . . . but not our maddeningly slow rural internet. It's been days since I could muster enough bandwidth to get online and post a few dithering comments.
With a little bit of upload I thought I'd introduce you to a new plant -- to me, to my garden, and probably to a lot of flower lovers out there: the white mermaid camellia. A camellia japonica with a weeping habit and delicate white blossoms opening to show bright yellow stamens, the mermaid -- although lovely covered in it's fried egg blooms -- is known more for it's unusual leaves fused together at the tips to resemble -- hence the name -- a mermaid's or fish's tail. I'm anxious to find a special spot for this beauty so visitors to our future beautiful garden can stroll by and marvel at the unusual leaves.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Fig Cafe

On the main drag through the slip of a town that is Glen Ellen, CA stands The Fig Cafe -- a casual spot from the people who brought us the beloved Girl and The Fig in Sonoma. Much like it's parent the cafe offers a menu full of local and artisan cheese, house made charcuterie, wood fired pizzas and various wine country specialties with plenty of dishes offering a taste of their namesake fruit. Though I'm sure during grape harvest and the "crush" the Fig must be packed to the rafters with eager tourists, today it was an easy going place to brunch and sip sparkling fig aperitifs.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ladies In The Yard

Two of our girls taking a minute to enjoy the afternoon together. Connie, on the left, is a Cuckoo Maran. She's "retired" now but when she laid her eggs were a lovely dark brown. Among chicken and egg enthusiasts contests for the darkest and most beautiful Maran egg (they can be a dark chocolate brown) are a highlight of fairs and bird shows. On the right is one of our Buff Orpingtons, a heavy breed known for  their calm and friendly personalities. They are so alike it's hard to name each one. James calls them "the Honeydrops."