Saturday, November 30, 2013

Two Kinds Of Beans

A trip to the farmer's market and a vegetable dinner wasn't far behind. A bundle of fresh green beans instead of calling out for crisp cooking and  tangy lemony vinaigrette as they do in summer seemed to ask to be slow cooked until sweet and melt in your mouth tender. I started a pot with chopped onions, chopped carrots, crushed garlic cloves and olive oil. After about 5 minutes I added in the beans and a good sized pinch of salt. While the covered pot simmered I splashed in a little chicken broth here and there to make sure the beans didn't scorch. After 40 minutes what emerged was in no way a modern dish but comfort food from years gone by before haute cuisine gave vegetables a new identity and a new resilience on our plates.
Another market treat -- fresh shell beans, right from the pod. I dropped my shelled beans into a pot of boiling salted water with a smashed clove of garlic and one bay leaf. The beans simmered for about 30 minutes until tender and creamy. While still warm, inspired by Marcella Hazan's fresh bean salad, I dressed the beans with a vinaigrette of juice of one lemon (a beautiful shiny Meyer right off our tree), 1/4 cup olive oil, minced garlic, crushed red peppers, 2 anchovy filets, chopped parsley and S&P. I tossed the warm beans in the dressing along with a handful of fresh arugula and parmesan cheese. The arugula wilted slightly and soaked up the lemony dressing making a dish as good in summer and it is in late fall -- whenever fresh beans are ready for harvest.
Two Italian dishes, two types of beans one weekend dinner from our little kitchen in the valley.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Remember Those Tomatoes?

The tomatoes are all harvested and Christmas is coming.  That mean plenty of preserving for holiday gifts and treats through the year. First up tomato jam. A tangy tasty better than ketchup accompaniment for roasted meats, grilled cheese sandwiches and the best ever BLTs. From the flavor no one will ever guess how simple these preserves can be.
For inspiration I turned, as I often do for food in jars, to Edon Waycott's Preserving The Taste, an invaluable compendium of jellies, fruit butters, pickles and more. Waycott's tomato jam uses peeled fruits. I opted instead to seed some, and chop them all allowing the skin to give texture to the final product. Searching the internet I found a host of recipes that start by rough chopping the whole tomatoes in the food processor. I gave a rough chop by hand and combined the tomatoes (Edon's recipe was based on 8 pounds but I doubled it) with 4 tsp salt, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp of white pepper, 2 tsp of cinnamon and 2 tsp of crushed chile peppers. The whole mixture cooked down for almost an hour and after a taste I added in a heavy TB of honey and a rounded tsp of saffron threads. After almost another hour cooking the jam was shiny and sticky and ready for jars.
Nothing left to do but process the jars for five minutes in a hot water bath, top with homemade labels, and wait for Christmas gift giving opportunities to come my way.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Sweets for my sweet. Sweet potato tartlettes. Happy Thanksgiving Honey!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Another Thanksgiving Eve

Another year gone by and already we are deep into the fall. Tomorrow, pretty much my favorite holiday,  is sure to be a big eating day -- even though we are boycotting turkey and the usual sides this year. Preparing for our Thanksgiving eat-a-thon I thought a light soup with fresh, crisp flavors was just the thing for stomachs in training. I made a quick stock with shrimp shells and flavored the broth with minced lemon grass, chiles, garlic and ginger. The shrimp and some nice small mussels I found at the store poached in the broth which I then flavored in the traditional Thai sweet tangy sour way with fish sauce, soy, and lime juice. Fortified with brown rice and topped with a shower of fresh cilantro this soup was an unusual welcome flavor for our table. A little something from far away before the most American of American days.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Volunteer Ear

We've gotten used to (and look forward to) the cheerful site of summer sunflowers popping up around our bird feeder. This year we had not just sunflowers but a couple leggy stalks of corn. I didn't even suspect until I went to pull the brown sunflowers (after the wild birds had eaten all the seeds) that corn was growing right under our noses, and -- not just stalks -- one lonely, feral ear of corn. A volunteer ear and a special treat for our silly little chickens.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Stew

I don't remember exactly what I did. Not much help am I? I started early in the day. I know I roasted the leftover poblanos in the fridge. I know I had plenty of tomatillos -- our best crop this year -- and chicken breasts. I remember cutting up the tomatillos and sautéing them along with garlic, onion and hot peppers in the tiniest, diet friendly bit of olive oil. Then I think I just piled everything in. Cubed chicken breast, peeled roasted poblanos, cumin, chopped cilantro, oregano, S&P, and chicken broth.  And, I can see from this picture, a can of white beans. Everything simmered for about 35 minutes. I remember it was warm and flavorful and that it felt positively virtuous. Not much of a recipe.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Our New Dinner Staple

Bean burgers. Easy to whip up and prepare in advance veggie bean burgers will be showing up at our table pretty often as we try to skinnying up our diet and cut down on meat.
To prepare this batter I tossed some cooked white beans, a couple cloves of garlic, shitake mushrooms (I like the "meaty" flavor they give a vegetarian dish), parsley, cumin, oregano, a couple carrots, oatmeal, an egg (or maybe it was two), and a handful of raw cashews in the food processor. Sorry I didn't keep track of amounts. I pulsed everything together into a thick paste which I refrigerated until very firm and formed into patties I rolled in gluten free bread crumbs for a bit of savory crunch.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Couple Nights In LA

 I'll go years without eating it, but every now and then (sometimes for months on end) I'll crave the bubbling hot, flavorful stew known as soon tofu (or soondubu). Basically a chili broth supporting soft fresh tofu and a choice of flavorings (I like kimchi for the double chili hit but pork, seafood, and dumplings are all good choices) the spicy stew is reportedly an American invention that migrated back to the motherland from Los Angeles' Koreatown. Home to the largest Korean population outside of Seoul, LA's Koreatown hosts a collection of small restaurants specializing in the perfect for rainy day (yes they even had ether in LA) food.
Although it's not generally on the most popular list, BCD tofu (pictured above) is a mini chain open 24 hours (I love this stuff for breakfast) that serves a more than respectable bowl with good collection of "pan chan" the array of side dishes traditional in Korean restaurants. Diners in every tofu house are offered a raw egg to poach in the bubbling stew. Say yes. The creamy yolk is the perfect foil to the signature Korean chile paste.
Always in competition with Beverly Tofu House across the street for best soon tofu in LA, So Kong Dong is not pretty. The absolutely no frills dining room (if you can call it that) off a constantly crowded parking lot is worth the trip for their superior broth. I like to dip spoonfuls of rice into the stunning red soup to savor every bit of delicious chile.
Since I first started skulking around Koreatown nearly 20 years ago the faces of the diners around me have changed but the food remains comfortingly familiar and refreshingly foreign.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I'm Back In The County Fair Business

After an epic jelly failure last week that I'd rather not describe I sadly thought I would have no entries for 2014's county fairs. No more ribbons for the wall. And then I started to clean out the last of the garden beds and remembered -- green tomato marmalade, green tomato jam, pickled green tomatoes (last years double blue ribbon winner). What was I thinking? I am back in business.
Updates to follow.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Legumes and Eggs

James is trying to eat less meat, gluten free, no sugar, and low fat. Makes for challenging menu planning to say the least. When we decided to have the neighbors over for dinner and a movie night I was really scratching my head and searching the pantry for ideas and landed on a long forgotten bag of Umbrian lentils. Tiny and brown, Umbrian lentils, grown exclusively in Italy's Castelluccio valley, cook to a creamy texture and nutty flavor in just 20-30 minutes. They are hand processed, grown in alternate (or maybe third) years and are tastier and more expensive than any other lentils I've cooked.
Starting from a recipe by Nancy Silverton's restaurant chef Matt Molina (Silverton's Italian home is in Umbria) I sautéed chopped prosciutto in a tiny amount of olive oil  and added in 2 small carrots, chiles, shallot, and basil leaves I chopped in the food processor along with a chopped onion and several cloves of garlic. I let the vegetables soften for about 7 minutes and then added in 1 Tb of tomato paste. After the tomato paste cooked just a bit I added in 1pound of lentils, 4 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of water.
I'm to sure why Molina instructed to add another 2 cups of broth after the lentils had simmered for 25 minutes, but I did. and then after another 10 minutes of simmering, as instructed, I added in the last cup of liquid (by now I was using vegetable stock I had saved in the fridge) and let the stew simmer gently for another 10 minutes.
Our girls are enjoying a nice long post molting vacation from laying so I had to use store bought eggs -- the horror - which I lightly fried in the thinest slick of olive oil possible. Serving family style instead of plating as Molina recommended I layered the eggs on top of the stew, drizzled on balsamic vinegar, sprinkled just a whisper of parmesan cheese and a tossed handful of bitter arugula leaves.
Rustic, homestyle Italian

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Am I The Last One To Know?

If the internet and best sellers are to be believed, French women don't get fat because between glorious meals of runny cheese and crispy duck they subside on simply boiled leeks very lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper. In between dipping into very small amounts of the cooked vegetable they -- as the reports seem to go -- drink the cooking liquid. Leeks, mild diuretics, are reported to kick start a weight loss. I'm feeling more French already.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not Quite As Light

What's that saying about the best laid plans?
I started off with soaked beans, innocent enough. Big beautiful white beans not gathered from my garden or some tony farmer's market but plucked from the bins at The Napa Valley Olive Oil Company, a ramshackle Italian grocery in St Helena.  In addition to beautiful jugs of their own olive oil this hidden gem offers a small selection of cheese, meats and imported groceries. It's one of my favorite places. They have a new, show place store in Napa but I've never been and will probably never go. I'll stick to my fantasy life of mom and pop olive oil and casual pleasantries in Italian.
But back to my simple bean dish. I cooked the beans in simmering water with a head of garlic cut in half, sage, bay leaves, onion, and a pinch of chile until creamy and tender. In a separate pot I sautéed garlic and diced onion in olive oil and that's where I veered off path. Suddenly this simple virtuous vegetarian dish cried out for sausage. There was hot Italian sausage in our CSA box this month and before I knew it I was pan frying links along with the onions. When the sausage was just about cooked through I put it aside and added a few diced tomatoes to cook down into a flavorful sauce. Next went mounds of chopped kale picked fresh from the garden (still a little wet from washing). The kale wilted into the tasty oil and I let it cook until almost fully tender (about 15 minutes) and added in the drained beans, sliced sausage and gave everything a good stir to heat through. Topped with a drizzle of grated parmesan our simple dinner was hearty, rustic and filling if not exactly spa cuisine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Turning Over Another New leaf

I can't say that I'm fatter than I have ever been but I am certainly fatter than I want to be. I'm starting a new -- going to the gym, fitting in pilates, and eating better, lighter foods. Just the opposite of how I usually feel with winter around the corner but none the less -- no time like the present as they say.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Starting Over Again

A change of season and I'm changing over the garden over again. Out come the last of the peppers and eggplant and I'm readying the beds for garlic and onions and our yearly crop of beautiful and tasty fava beans. A brand new start . . . again.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Salad For Dinner

Fresh and green and perfect for new leaf eating carefully at home diet. Spinach, avocado, home-grown cucumbers and lean chicken breasts grilled with a spicy coating of za'atar, a middle Eastern favorite blend of sumac, thyme, sesame and more perfect of grilled pita, meats, and steamed vegetables.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Peel And Eat

Created in the 50's at New Orleans' Pascal's Manale restaurant, barbecued shrimp quickly became a Southern staple. Despite the name these shrimp never come near a grill, but instead are cooked in a garlicky buttery sauce perfect for dipping crusty French bread.
Recipes varie but I generally melt a stick of butter in a heavy iron pan and toss in several sliced cloves of garlic, chopped rosemary, a good splash of hot sauce, chili flakes, two lemons sliced and juiced, S&P, and 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce. The shrimp cook until just pink through and ready to peel and eat.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fall Garden Salad

A home grown combination.
I started cleaning out the garden. Clearing vines, pulling squash plants, gathering teepees and fences and tucking them away for spring. While I cleaned I harvested the last of this year's beans. I combined those shelled beans and some of our last potato harvest into a dinner salad with Italian tuna and a fresh lemon rosemary vinaigrette. An antipasto for everyday.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Trying Something A Little Special

I try to find little treats for James when I can.
The fish monger at the farmer's market had beautiful dry scallops just waiting for my skillet. Dry scallops are shucked on the boat much like wet scallops but instead of being plunged into cold water (and often preservatives or chemical salts) they are kept dry. They don't plump up absorbing water so the flavor is more concentrated, more pure scallop.
I didn't have to do much to make these special. I seared the scallops (seasoned with salt and pepper) quickly in a hot pan with about 1/4 of cup olive oil, 3 sliced cloves of garlic and a bit of butter then removed them to a waiting bowl. Scallops cook quickly and in about 3-4 minutes even these jumbos were finished. Into the pan went the juice of 2 lemons, 2 tsp chopped rosemary, and a pinch of red paper flakes. I let the juice reduce and then added in the scallops (and collected juices) and a small pat of butter, gave everything a good toss to coat with the lemony butter sauce and served the mollusks over steamed broccoli and tiny new potatoes from our garden. Three of James' favorites on one simple but still special plate.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Long Time Away

Houses and families have their own rhythms. Unspoken schedules and systems that evolve into practice and keep what may, on the surface, seem like a very uncomplicated machine moving forward.
Traveling for work is not like vacation. You are alone. You quickly fall into patterns though unacceptable at home (eating dinner of crackers and cheese standing up, leaving laundry in a pile by the closet, stashing dirty cups by the sink) seem normal for a life on the "road."
As many times as I go away I am always surprised by coming home. I picture a joyous reunion back to the perfect life and love I imagined while I am away. Instead, "re-entry" is hard. I'm out of step with our house's normal. Each little change seems like a reason to fear I've lost my place. I struggle not to comment on those differences and have faith that James can manage without me, and remember that I should want him to -- but inside I don't. We've forgotten how to stay out of each other's way and instead of unbridled joy those first days at home are tense with awkward pleasantries, thinly veiled digs and uncertain sparse conversation.
Dinner helps make us normal. No matter the series of clumsy mis-steps that precede it I always make dinner and it becomes a window into who we usually are and will be again. After many weeks away and not wanting to impose errands as soon as I arrive, James picks me up at the airport and we come straight home. Our first dinner is always some sort of scavenger hunt. I wade through the garden, nearly neglected for the more than six weeks I've been away. Bright green tomatillos smile from behind papery husks. Ever present kale shifts in the wind. I start picking. Padrone peppers, now bright red, are easy to find.
I start by broiling the husked tomatillos, whole peppers, and unpeeled cloves of garlic until just tinged with dark spots. I purée that mixture (stemmed peppers, garlic with no skins) along with a touch of chicken broth, olive oil, and what was a last minute inspiration -- a handful of blanched almonds -- and add it to a skillet where I've softened onions, more peppers, and garlic. I wish I had cilantro. The sauce simmers for about 10 minutes before I add in seared chicken breasts to finish cooking in the tangy mixture. The chicken cooks through while I sauté that home-grown kale
"That's our kale," I say a bit too cheerfully, "and tomatillos." I like to comment on our garden. I like to think James appreciates the food he didn't fully know was there waiting. An aspect of our life together we both enjoy.
Another first dinner together. Another first step back to being a couple.