Friday, May 31, 2013

Crock Pot Tacos

We were out for the day while our dinner bubbled away. I put pork and beef stew meat in the slow cooker with chopped chipotles, prepared salsa (I used Rick Bayless' Frontera brand tomatillo salsa), chili powder, S&P and chopped garlic and let the mixture cook on low for about 7 hours. When the meat was spicy and tender I layered it into warm tortillas with lettuce, cilantro, red onions and plenty of grated cheese. Nothing I like better than dinner waiting at home.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Favas Two Ways

 Every year when I harvest the last of my fava beans I try to come up with a recipe special enough for the months of waiting for those beautiful green beans.
This year I dragged my feet a bit with the final harvest and James was sweet enough to help not just cutting down the stalks and pods but shelling the beans too. Along with blind baking pie crusts and hand whipping egg whites shelling fava beans is on my list of most hated kitchen chores. Other girls may want jewels or flowers delivered, but to me help shelling fava beans is as sure sign of love as there is.
I used half of those precious beans for a fava featured dinner.
First I made a vaguely minty fava purée served on toasted rounds of homemade baguettes. Simple and delicious. I sautéed the peeled favas in about 1/4 cup of olive oil along with a couple cloves of garlic until the beans were tender, about 5-7 minutes. I poured the cooked favas into the food processor along with a small handful of mint leaves, about 2 TB of parsley and another good glug of olive oil. That smooth purée on spread toasts was topped with a sliver of tangy pecorino cheese and a drizzle of fruity olive oil.
I worried a little bit that my favas were past their prime and decided that maybe a stewed preparation was a safe bet for my beloved beans. Ful medamas is a fava bean stew eaten across the Middle East that is a particular breakfast favorite in Egypt. Usually made with dried (or canned) beans I decided to make a quick version of the classic by stewing my fresh favas, water, chopped parsley, chili flakes, cumin, S&P and a healthy amount of olive oil. The liquid cooked down and the beans were soft and savory. Traditionally ful is served with hard boiled eggs. For my modern version I dusted olive oil fried eggs with a generous coating of za'atar, a Middle Eastern seasoning mixture of sumac, sesame seeds, dried herbs and spices. I had no reason to worry.
Italy and Eqypt -- favas around the world in one dinner in our little valley.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Asparagus Risotto

Such a happy time of year -- birds nesting and the farmers' markets are stocked with cherries, apricots and bright green asparagus. I get so tired of apples and kale and chard that seeing peas and asparagus return each year is like greeting long lost friends.
Today I took my precious bunches of fresh asparagus and turned them in to a filling risotto for James' dinner.
First I cut the asparagus into 1" pieces and put most of the thicker stems (not the very woody parts I cut those off and threw them in the compost) into a pot barely covered with water and let them come to a boil and bubble away until soft -- about 5 minutes. Meanwhile I finely chopped the white and light green of one young leek, about 1/4 of a small red onion and two cloves of garlic.
I started a skillet with 2 Tb of olive oil and 1 Tb of butter. When the oil was hot and the butter melted I added in the chopped aromatics and let the onion mixture cook for about 3 minutes until just soft and translucent. Next I added in 1 1/2 cups risotto rice (I used arborio but there are several varieties of short grain starchy rices that work well) and let the rice toast in the oils for another 3 minutes or so. When the rice was shiny I added 1/2 cup of champagne. Now usually I would use white wine but we didn't have any handy and I found several bottles of bubbly on the shelf so champagne risotto it is. I let the wine cook down until almost gone and then started to add the chicken stock about 1/2 cup at a time. Each time letting the stock cook down until just about gone and then adding my next ladleful. While the rice was cooking I puréed the cooked asparagus in the blender. After 15 minutes I added in the pieces of asparagus I had not boiled in the saucepan and kept adding stock for about another 7 minutes until the rice was tender and creamy and the asparagus cooked through.
With the risotto off the heat I stirred in about 1/2 cup of the purée from the blender, 2 TB of butter and a healthy handful of grated parmesan. When the butter melted into the creamy rice I served James' dinner topped with piquant shavings of pecorino cheese.
Spring in the kitchen.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Breakfast Treat or What To Do With Yogurt

That sour milk wasn't the only ingredient past it's prime that greeted me on my return home. The fridge held a whole tub of untouched yogurt and a bowl of apricots that surely had seen better days.
That combo screamed breakfast cake to me and I set out to whip up a morning treat for James.
I've made plenty of yogurt cakes before. They mix up quickly and the yogurt assures a tender crumb. When I have a single serving yogurt I use it as an ingredient and a make do measuring cup.
This time I happened along a recipe on a blog called In Erika's Kitchen and decided to give her version a try.
I started by marinating the cut up apricots in 1/2 cup of sugar (Erika calls for 1/4 cup but honestly I just misread it). Then in a separate bowl I whisked together 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup yogurt and 1/3 cup canola oil. Then I added in 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Erika says to add in the liquid released from the marinating apricots but mine were still pretty dry so I pressed on and poured half the batter into a greased 9 x 13 pan and covered it with half the apricots. I repeated with the rest of the batter and fruit and popped the cake into a 350º oven for 40 minutes. I'm not sure how Erika managed to get her apricots to stay on top of the batter. Mine fell to the middle which didn't affect the taste at all.
Easy, quick, delicious, cake . . . for breakfast.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Home Baked Baguettes

Checking in on my favorite sites I wandered over to Farmgirl Fare and found a page the blogger calls Four Hour Classic Parisian Daily Baguettes. With the success of my hand kneaded sour milk farmhouse white bread the other day I was ready to try a couple more loaves. This recipe comes from Daniel Leader's classic cookbook, Bread Alone. Leader was an early pioneer in American artisan breads and in the 20 years since his first book was published he has turned countless timid cooks into confident home artisan bakers. These are my first baguettes and I can't think of a better teacher -- especially with Farmgirl Fare's photos of each step along the way.
True to their name I started out and just around 4 hours later was taking these crusty golden brown loaves out of the oven. I'm told, with a bakery on every corner, no housewife bakes her own bread in Paris. If only she knew how easy (and fun) it really is.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Soup I'm Kinda Proud Of

No I suppose it's not particularly festive or particularly Americana but towards the end of the week I like to use up what's left in the fridge before I hit the farmer's market and fill up the crisper bins again. This week I seemed to have a lot of lettuce. At the market it just looked so fresh and green and beautiful I couldn't resist. Then I wasn't here to eat it. So, I returned home to a collection of once beautiful lettuces maybe a bit past their prime.
I could do a quick lettuce pesto for the freezer. But I decided on soup. A smooth green puree of lettuce and in this case peas -- I had a handful or so of those left too.
I started a pot with olive oil and butter. When the oil was hot I added in one chopped onion and a couple cloves of minced garlic. I cooked the onion until soft but not colored and added in two russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes, the shelled peas -- probably about 1 cup -- and two heads of lettuce torn into pieces. Normally I would use soft butter lettuces for this type of soup but I only had one butter and a crisp romaine. Because my butter lettuce was a red leaf I worried about the eventual color of my soup so I tossed in a handful of flat leaf parsley for a bit of bright flavor and color. Along with the lettuces I poured in about 4 cups of chicken broth -- for a lighter soup I could have used water. I brought the liquid up to a simmer and allowed the pot to bubble until the potatoes were tender -- about 15 minutes.
While puréeing the soup in the blender I seasoned the mixture with S&P and added in a small handful of basil leaves for more bright color and flavor.
I served this creamy, mildly flavored soup with an assertive arugula pesto (arugula, olive oil, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, almonds, garlic, S&P) -- more salad leaf leftovers -- and garlic flavored cornbread croutons.
Soup for dinner and a cleaner fridge.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sour Milk White Bread

The last of that more than expired milk turned into tender, soft, white sandwich bread. The kind of bread that elevated the classic American sandwich before Wonder and others stepped in. Homey, sweet, smooth white bread.
I wish this were my recipe. I wish I had come up with some thing this terrific, but this perfect loaf, farmhouse white, is from Susan the farmer, cook, and blogger behind the delightful rural blog Farmgirl Fare.
Kneading the dough, by hand, for the full ten minutes the recipe requires I felt frugal and smart, and strong, and capable. Now that is a great recipe.
Don't wait until your milk is sour to whip up these easy loaves.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Zucchini Season Starts Early

Our neighbors built a green house this year. Our plants are barely above ground while they are already searching for willing squash eaters. James stopped in for a visit and while driving home found a couple bright green marrows on the back seat.
Tonight I turned those early (and I must say delicious) zucchini into James' spaghetti dinner. For our simple sauce I sautéed sliced zucchini, red onion and garlic for a couple minutes and then covered the pan to let the vegetables cook down to a soft purée. I stirred in some thinly sliced salami and finished with a bit of diced mint from our garden. After a quick toss in the pot with the drained pasta, a bit of the cooking water and parmesan cheese James' greenhouse garden fresh dinner was ready to serve.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Southern Style Cornbread

Finally home again.
Staring into a nearly empty fridge (I mean we are out of cheese -- when are we ever out of cheese?). A carton of milk well past it's expiration date stared back.
I could pour it down the commode hoping to revitalize our septic as I've read online. But, it's still food. I hate to throw food away, especially when a little creativity can make what some consider trash into a homemade meal. Food from nothing is my favorite game.
I think that's what I love so much about Southern cooking. The traditional cuisine of the American South is frugality at it's best. True nose to tail cooking born as much of scarcity as it is of a reverence for ingredients.
Staring at that milk I suddenly saw sour milk cornbread. A quick google search will bring up pages and pages of debate on baking with sour milk -- pasteurized vs raw, homogenized vs separated. Ignoring the warnings I pressed on.
I whisked two eggs and 2 cups of that sour milk, along with a teaspoon each of baking soda and baking powder -- for insurance sake. A pinch of salt, 1/4 cup of flour, 1 1/2 cups corn meal and 4 TB of melted butter finished my quick mixed batter. I placed my iron skillet with 1 TB of bacon grease (that's why I save it -- cornbread and french fries -- in a 400º oven long enough for the fat to melt and start to sizzle -- about 5 minutes. I gave the grease a swirl in the pan to spread it across the cooking surface and poured in my batter. After 20 minutes my cornbread was light and fluffy and not the least bit sour.
A nod to the South but not quite authentic. Here in California the grocery stores don't stock the finely ground white cornmeal treasured in the Southeast. Next time I travel I'll bring back a bag and try again -- I'm sure milk will be waiting.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Your Garden's Most Delicious Cover Crop

Cover crops are "green manure" that help manage soil fertility. Though there are many other benefits (and types) basically these members of the pea family return nitrogen to the soil and by containing erosion and controlling water usage prepare the soil for your next crop.
The greens from cover crops can be cut into the soil for extra nutrients and many are excellent animal feed treats. Every year I plant a hefty crop of bright green fava beans, the darlings of Mediterranean style spring salads, fresh crostini and pastas.
Now in my little raised bed with heavily amended soil I can't say I really need a cover crop. My beds could sit idle through the winter waiting for spring's frost date and my hearty summer tomato crop. But, I love fava beans. 
 I just don't love the work that comes with them. Favas have a thick foamy substance that makes the beans a challenge to grab and each bean has a thick skin that interferes with the bright delicious taste. I've read over and over again that young beans can be eaten unpeeled but I have never met a fava that did not benefit from this second skinning. From that sizable harvest pictured above after shelling the pods and then blanching and peeling each of the individual beans we were left with but a small sampling of our spring treat -- and pretty cramped hands.
The fruits of our labors. A piquant, hearty Peposo -- Tuscan beef stew slow-cooked in red wine and lots of black pepper topped with a bright salad garnish of fresh peas, arugula, and our home grown favas.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Oven Barbecue

I remember once when I was a kid being invited to dinner at a friend's house. I peeked in the oven to see what I was told was a family favorite -- baked chicken coated with a thick glop of blueberry jam. I don't remember if I stayed or if I even tasted that bird but I do remember my pre-teen horror starring into that sticky, thick, sweet, very blue glaze.
Years later I spied a recipe for sticky ribs that despite my reaction to that chicken seemed worth trying. The recipe, from Mogridder's BBQ truck in the Bronx (hardly a BBQ hotspot), glazes oven baked spare ribs with a coating of peach (or apricot) jam combined with ketchup, pan drippings, and lemon juice. James loves it. But because we grow apples and always have more than I know what to do with (not to mention our generous neighbors with the apple orchard) and because I enter my preserves in the county fair (we also have more jellies and jams than I know what to do with) . . . when I make these sticky ribs I use one of my many varieties of apple jelly.
First I season the whole racks with salt, pepper and granulated garlic and lay the ribs out on a baking tray. I sprinkle in about a dozen whole cloves and pour over one bottle of lager. Wrapped tightly in aluminum foil the ribs bake for 2 hours at 300 degrees until super tender. When the ribs are cooked I pour the pan drippings, 1 cup of ketchup, about 3 TB lemon juice and 1 cup of apple jelly into a saucepan along with -- when I am feeling sassy -- a dollop of siracha or hot sauce. I let the glaze cook down for about 20 minutes until thick. First I brush glaze on the boney side of the ribs and pop the tray under the broiler for 7 minutes. Then I flip the ribs to the meaty side and paint with half of the remaining glaze. After 10 minutes under the broiler (until just beginning to char) I brush on the rest of the glaze and let the ribs broil for another ten minutes, just until browned. Let the ribs rest a good ten minutes or so before serving.
A great summer recipe for guests the ribs can be baked off and the glaze prepared early in the day leaving a quick finish (and your jelly secret safe) for dinnertime.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Last Minute Frittata

"Honey have you had any thoughts about dinner," James asked form the other room. Honestly I hadn't. "It is 7:30," he went on to explain.
Drat these sunshiney long days. I lost track of time and was facing the clock.
Eggs! A perfect night for eggs.
Having just made a trip to the farmers market I started tossing chopped vegetables into a pan with olive oil and garlic and chunks of Italian sausage. When the vegetables were soft and the sausage cooked through I poured in a bowl of eggs beaten with S&P, shreds of parmesan cheese, and cubes of fresh mozzarella I happened to have in the fridge. I left the pan on the stove just long enough for the eggs to set around the edges and then popped the skillet into the oven to quickly broil the top.
No idea at 7:30, dinner on the table by 8 thanks to (as the commercial says) the incredible, edible egg.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Beautiful Tangle

Finally back from my foray to the Southeast I'm greeted by an exuberant and colorful tangle -- a lanky container collection of fragrant sweet peas I planted back in February looking forward to this day. Modern cultivars of this ruffle leafed climber were all the rage of the late Victorian era enlivening nosegays with creamy pastel shades and sweet, heady fragrance to put any perfume counter to shame. For my first planting, instead of familiar pinks and whites I opted for the rich purple and vibrant bi-color fuchsia flowers in these little known varieties. The color may be unusual but the wafting scent clearly defines these beauties as classic old fashioned sweet peas.