Saturday, August 31, 2013

Carried From New York

Carried and a little carried away.  James loves pastrami and I think probably the best pastrami I've had (and I've tasted many), probably the best pastrami in the country is from Katz's delicatessen in New York. We love Katz's. While on a one day job in New York I trudged down on the subway carrying my little cooler bag ready to bring home a pound or so for some special sandwiches. Somehow I ended up with a whole pastrami -- just barely squeezed into my cooler -- and instructions on how to steam it over simmering water for a New York style hot pastrami sandwich. Five pounds of cured meat, hand carried from Houston street to California and waiting in our freezer (in serving sized blocks) for the pastrami urge to hit.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Almost Ready

Our beautiful young tree completely covered with beautiful Asian pears. The crunchy fruits are a favorite of James' so naturally this self-fruitful Shinseiki variety was one of the first trees in our backyard orchard. I can hardly wait for that first crunchy bite.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Three Yellow Hens

Our Buff Orpingtons hard at work -- scratching the dirt, eating bugs, patrolling the garden. James calls them Lindsay Lowhen, Jessica Simpshen, and Brittany -- our own trio of egg laying trouble makers.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Favorite Corner

When we arrived here this now beautiful apple tree was a sad lonely specimen. I thought we might lose her. I pruned and fed and trimmed and painted and now she is the anchor of my favorite part of our garden in progress. First we built her this decorative length of fence from reclaimed boards, and then I planted. A trip to nearby Russian River Roses added these cheery pink ballerina roses and long flowering, exuberant salvia indigo spires to the rhubarb and alpine strawberries under the tree. The grapes are twining down the fence and volunteer sunflowers from wild birds and our nearby bird feeder dot half  the orchard. I can see this now full and fruitful tree from our bedroom window and I love to watch the birds (and the apples) come and go.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What's In The Box This Time?

One of the most fun and most frustrating things about a CSA -- either meat or vegetable -- are the lesser know ingredients waiting for a clever recipe. Usually I can muster up some idea but I was stumped for quite a while by this little roast -- fresh pork leg. Now I've cooked pork legs before, both fresh and smoked (as in ham) but this little one (about 3 lbs) with no bone and no layer of fat and skin to keep it juicy was really puzzling me. I thought about just tossing the meat in the crock pot and making some sort of tacos. That almost seemed like cheating. I can pretty much take any relatively unknown cut and make tacos. Where was the challenge in that? After a long internal debate I decided to try a porchetta seasoned pork roast. I made a paste of olive oil, chopped garlic, rosemary, lemon zest and chili flakes and rubbed it into the meat of the split open roast. Then I rolled the roast back up, wrapping the meat with fatty bacon strips for extra juiciness. I tied everything in place and roasted my mock porchetta for about 75 minutes in a 350º oven.
I suppose I might get an A for effort or a special mention for trying my best, but I have to admit -- though tasty -- this roast was no prize winner. A little too tough, the meat really suffered from not enough fat . . . and maybe cooking a tad too quickly. Hard to fault those crispy potatoes though.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Friends For Lunch

After our last visitors and a different dessert every night, James declared a sweets free zone. That lasted until today. Our friends Denis and Alli came by for lunch and after all what's Sunday lunch without dessert? Besides we have a fridge full of apples (I better get started on this year's jelly) and a couple lonely plums in need of a home. Keeping with the promise of a "simple lunch" I didn't want anything to fussy or have too many pots to clean so I opted for this simple gallette based on a recipe from Chez Panisse.
I mixed 1 cup of flour, a tsp of sugar, a pinch of salt, 5 TB of butter, and 1 TB of lard (I happen to have a jar in the fridge and I can't deny it makes for a flaky, easy to roll crust) in the food processor until the butter was still about the size of peas (I added and pulsed the butter in two batches so some were as big as lima beans). I poured in 1/4 cold water and gave a quick pulse then kneaded the dough together 2 or 3 times on the counter. The wrapped dough cooled in the fridge overnight (an hour would have been enough).
When it came time to assemble my tart I rolled the dough (on a floured surface) to about a 14" circle. Leaving a 2" border I sprinkled the crust with slivered almonds and then layered on thin slices of plums and peeled apples. I brushed the fruit with 3 TB of melted butter and about 2 TB of sugar then folded the crust around the fruit, crimping as I went. I brushed some butter on the folded crust and gave it a sprinkle of sugar as well and scattered some more almonds over the fruit.
After 50 minutes at 400º we had a flaky crisp tart ready for lunch. After cooling a bit on a wire rack I brushed 1TB of warmed honey over fruit and crust for a little sweetness and shine.
Perfect for lunch -- even better for breakfast.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

After Turkey Soup

I always make soup after thanksgiving and our recent turkey dinner in August was no exception, and a great excuse to clean up a variety of leftovers in the fridge.
I started with the turkey carcass, two roughly chopped onions, bay leaves and two stalks of celery in a pot of water  along with my soup secret -- about 1/2 cup of left over gravy -- to make a tasty stock. I left that pot simmer for about an hour and then strained the stock reserving the meat from the turkey bones.
In a clean stock pot I sautéed diced carrots, onions, bell peppers (I don't usually use bell peppers in my soup but I had a drawer full), chopped garlic, a couple chili peppers, and chopped celery in olive oil. After a couple minutes when the vegetables were starting to soften I poured in the reserved stock and let the soup simmer for 30 minutes. Then I piled in a good quantity of chopped kale, fresh from our garden. I gave the kale 20 minutes or so to get tender and then made use of quite a few leftovers -- cooked potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, cooked rice, and the turkey meat I pulled off the bones from the stock.
James had no idea he had seen any of the ingredients earlier in the week. He just knew he was so happy with his savory soup supper he went back for seconds.

Friday, August 23, 2013


I feel like I've been waiting forever for homegrown tomatoes. My big leafy green plants hold lots of fruit and flowers but until today nothing ready for tasting.
Summer is almost over and summer is finally here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Diner Style Pie At Home

We've been so busy eating, entertaining, cooking, laughing and being bested at bouts of Uno by a 7 year old I haven't had a minute to post. We pretty much had vacation easy, kid-friendly dishes like a not too spicy low country boil, chili and grilled cheeses, our house specialty sliders and last night -- thanksgiving in August -- a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  When James and I decided to go out for the holidays, the turkey took up residence in my very small freezer and I have been waiting for a crowd to clear out that space. Instead of going full fall style I made left turn at dessert. I spied the bananas getting a tinge brown on the counter and realized there was another dessert our young cook guest Isabel and I could make together (we'd already sliced and baked freezer cookies, stirred up almondy financiers, and whipped cream for chocolate pudding) -- banana cream pie.
To make this pie a little easier on little fingers I decided on a graham cracker crust. Isabel crushed 2 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs and mixed in 1/4 cup mashed banana, 4 TB melted butter and 1/4 cup sugar. She formed the mixture into a deep dish pie plate and we baked the crust for 15 minutes at 350º.
Our custard was a simple mixture of sugar (1/2 cup), cornstarch (1/3 cup), milk 1 1/2 cup), cream (1 1/2 cup) and a pinch of salt brought just to a boil, with Isabel whisking all the way.  I tempered 3 egg yolks and added them back into the custard mixture which we cooked over very low heat until thickened. Off heat we added in 2 TB of butter and a splash of vanilla extract and let the custard cool.
Isabel and I like surprises. As a special treat we painted a little melted chocolate onto the inside of our cooled graham cracker crust and then layered on sliced bananas and half of the custard mixture. We followed with more sliced bananas and the rest of the custard. We topped our pie with fluffy whipped cream (stablized with just a touch of dissolved gelatin) and waited for dinner time to come.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Waiting For Friends

Our friends are driving up to spend a few days before their daughter, Isabel, heads back to school. We're always quick to offer food and drinks when friends arrive so I wanted to make sure we had something easy at the ready. Diving through our meat CSA packages I came up with 2 labeled simply "beef stew." Hmmm. Beef stew seems like a meal. I wanted something easy that can be dinner or a little pick me up. Something like chili. I cut those stew pieces into 1/2" cubes and browned them in plenty of olive oil along with 1lb of ground beef I found in the freezer. Then I added in 2 chopped onions, 5 minced cloves of garlic, two diced yellow peppers, along several hot peppers I had in the fridge. I let all of that sauté together and started pouring in the spice. Red chili powder, New Mexico chili powder (a single pepper variety ground), paprika, bay leaf, cumin, a dash of cinnamon and 1 TB of cocoa powder. I don't always use cocoa but the cinnamon sort of pointed me in that direction and since I didn't have any beer to use in the broth, for extra flavor I went for the extra depth that cocoa can bring. I poured in about 3 cups of chicken broth and two cans of crushed fire roasted tomatoes and let everything simmer every so slowly for almost 2 1/2 hours. With about 40 minutes to go I added in 4 drained cans of pinto beans. Cooking so slowly turned that tough cut of beef into buttery rich beef flavor with an irresistible sauce that gets better each time we reheat it.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Leftovers At Our House

I try not to let James see leftovers that he can recognize from the first time he ate them. Okay, there's leftover pizza and the occasional spaghetti but those are snacks and lunches. I like dinner to feel new. The other day we had boiled potatoes and kale with fried garlic. Today after heating slowly with a splash of milk those lonely vegetables became creamy mashed potatoes with greens. Kind of a kitchen fridge colcannon, an Irish specialty of mashed potatoes and cabbage crisped in a skillet. The fried garlic joined thin slices of leftover steak quickly seared with olive oil and chili flakes.
Easy on me and brand new to James.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dinner With Shari

"Wanna come over to eat kale?" I said. Hardly the kind of invitation that makes most people jump. But we have a lot of kale and we haven't seen enough of Shari.
Kale two ways I declared. Braised and fresh. For fresh I decided on a piquant kale caesar salad -- a recipe I borrowed from San Francisco's temple of baked goods, Tartine. I used some hearty day old bread for homemade croutons and whipped up a creamy lemony anchovy dressing (6 anchovy filets, 3 garlic cloves, 1 TB lemon zest,  -- mix these to a paste --1 egg yolk, 2 TB lemon juice -- blend again, 1 1/2 cups olive oil, drizzled in while the blender keeps running until the dressing emulsifies). A perfect make ahead but still impressive dish. For my second kale side I stuck to tried and true, slow braised kale with plenty of chile peppers and onion. Two dishes with hearty flavors joined by two more -- stovetop pan roasted chicken with a rich lemony sauce and crunchy  new potatoes tossed with crisp chorizo, cilantro and basil. Easy on the cook, mostly make ahead dinner for our favorite guest.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Delicious But Not So Pretty

I can't find a way to make macaroni and cheese pretty. I thought about sprinkling on some parsley and a different baking dish certainly wouldn't hurt, but unless you use a neon orange cheddar (which I rarely do) it's kind of a beige dish. I have to rely on my homemade cheese sauce -- brimming with swiss, gouda and parmesan in this version -- tender noodles and crispy breadcrumb topping to bring James to the table. I know they say we eat with our eyes, but James had 3 helpings so I guess I've warded off the old saying for one more day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We Grow A lot Of Kale

Honestly I thought the chicken would be the star. I cut a boneless breast into strips, soaked the piece in milk and dredged the meat in seasoned flour before deep frying in a combo of canola oil and -- okay I admit it -- bacon fat. Homemade chicken tenders. They were crispy brown and with just a pinch of cayenne, savory.
But James couldn't stay away from the kale. Flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks for new kale ideas I hit upon a recipe -- well more a method than a recipe, called Pavich's vegetables. This simple dish, detailed in Susan Loomis' Farmhouse Cookbook, briefly boils wedges of potatoes until almost cooked through and adds in a mountain of chopped kale (okay I added in the mountain, they opt for a bunch or two) until everything is tender. Meanwhile in a small saucepan I heated olive oil with several cloves of sliced garlic (until the garlic was golden brown and a little crispy) and tossed in a pinch of chili flakes. The warm oil (and the crispy garlic) are a flavorful dressing for the plain cooked vegetables, and a pretty good diet dinner. I gave James a good coating of the tasty oil and only took a small drizzle on my plate. One dish working two ways. I love it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fresh Picked

I walked out to the garden with my salad spinner and gathered up these leaves for our salad. Topped with our summer favorite dressing, a simple garlic vinaigrette, a bowl of super fresh greens outshines  everything else on the table.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Summer Is Garden Season

A morning's harvest, except for the giant squash -- that was a gift from our very generous neighbors, super talented gardeners.
From our beds and orchard I pulled elephant heart plums, lemon, white wonder and Persian cucumbers, green beans, crookneck squash, and a healthy harvest os sometimes spicy always flavorful padrón
peppers. We like them quick fried (until just beginning to blister) in a little olive oil and dusted with coarse salt.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

One Of James' Favorites

Every so often our meat CSA will include a package of pork scallopini, thin slices of lean meat perfect for pan frying with a thin breading. Tonight I was short on my usual choice of Panko crumbs and added in about half cornmeal for extra crunch. Along with S&P, garlic powder, oregano, chopped basil and a bit of parmesan cheese my breading (first I dipped the cutlets in an egg beaten with a splash of milk and then the bread crumb mixture) made the kind of crispy crust James loves. Feeling every bit the restaurant chef I casually plated his fresh from the pan cutlets (pan fried in a combination of olive oil and butter) over super creamy mashed potatoes and topped the dish with a dandelion, red onion and grape salad I saw Michael Symon make on his cooking channel show this morning. Symon's salad used arugula but our garden has plenty of fresh dandelions and James loves their bitter tang -- so, as every TV chef seems to instruct, I used what was fresh and in season and very, very local.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Three Peppers and Potatoes

 Scrounging through the fridge, water already heating on the stove, I searched for something a little different for James' spaghetti. I was thinking just a plain aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) but veered when I saw the beautiful chili pepper our neighbors sent over. Sure I still started with olive oil and plenty of garlic but I added in chopped fresh chiles, 2 super pickled hot sport peppers I brought home in a jar from a trip to Chicago, and for some color a roasted jarred red pepper hanging out on the fridge door. As the peppers bubbled in the saucepan I started to think about the leftover braised potato slices and tossed in a few along with some shredded basil to round out the spice. After I drained the pasta I tossed in the oil mixture, about 1/2 cup of reserved pasta cooking water and a handful of parmesan cheese -- mixed everything together quickly to let the cheese start to emulsify with the cooking water and oil and brought dinner to the table.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summer Potato Harvest

 No matter how many we get I am always disappointed by out potato yield. Homegrown spuds are so delicious (James is a big potato fan) store-bought or even farmers market just can't compare and we're always greedy to stockpile more of our own colorful varieties. This year I tried a new technique. Instead of covering the maturing tubers with soil as the greens grew, I started the seed potatoes basically on a pile of compost and built up a column of straw for the growing spuds to work through. Again, not the yield I dream of, but the very clean harvested potatoes dropped easily from the hay leaving a rich bed of soil to quickly plant with late summer peas. The method may need improvement but the potatoes are first rate.
 To showcase our harvest I wanted something simple to let the homegrown flavor shine through. I thought about gratins or soups or fritters or stews where the potatoes alone might have been the entree, but they all seemed just too fussy. Too likely to hide the flavor or distract from the quality. I wanted James to recognize the very potatoes he helped me harvest.
I settled on a simple braise from the scion of simplicity Alice Waters. Nothing but potato rounds, butter and salt cooked gently in a small bit of simmering water. I sliced 2 pounds of small potatoes in 1/8" rounds and layered them in a 12 inch skillet. I topped the potatoes with 1 tsp salt and 6 TB of butter cut into small pieces. I poured in 2 cups of water and covered the vegetables with a buttered round of parchment paper (butter side down) and allowed the pan to simmer for about 35 minutes until the liquid was nearly evaporated and the tender potatoes glistened with rich, melted butter.
So far I had a side dish. No matter how special the potatoes, even the best side dish needs a main. Nothing flashy, nothing to overshadow. A partner not a solo act.
Rummaging through the freezer I found a chuck steak. One of those cuts tucked away in our CSA box that fall into the pot roast rut. When your box has cuts labeled chuck steak, pot roast, and beef stew it's hard to keep coming up with new ideas. Tonight I figured the label said steak and I was going to try turning that lonely piece of chuck into a real steak. I chopped up a good quantity of rosemary, thyme, and garlic with salt and chili flakes. And after a quick coating with olive oil I patted my spice rub on the waiting steak and let the flavors soak in for 10 minutes. While the oven pre-heated to 375º I seared the flavored chuck steak on all sides and then popped it -- cast iron pan and all -- into the waiting oven for about 50 minutes to cook through.
James is usually a filet man but I didn't get any complaints about this slightly toothsome but super flavorful (not to mention super economical) steak. Along with an arugula salad picked just minutes before dinner, we had a classic American meal with a garden fresh twist starring the humble, homegrown potato.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Pot Of Beans, Green That Is

 Romano beans from the garden overgrown to welcome me home. I looked at those gangly 10 inch pods and thought -- braise. Braising will tenderize the pods and intensify the already hearty flavor. 
One of my favorite cooks and restaurants is Judy Rodgers and her legendary Zuni Cafe, a San Francisco culinary landmark. Like another well-known bay area cook Alice Waters, Rodgers long ago championed (though not as loudly as Waters) the virtues of exceptional and mostly local ingredients prepared simply for extraordinary fare. In her cookbook, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Rodgers brings new life -- despite the drab color -- to flavorful Romano beans by long cooking in just a bit of olive oil.
Maybe technically this isn't a braise as the only liquid (other than the oil) comes from the beans themselves, but in any case if you have a couple hours to spare the flavor is well worth the effort.
I tossed two pounds of beans with 1.4 cup of olive oil, salt and chili flakes. With the beans in a 6 quart pot I dropped 5 peeled garlic cloves on top then set the pot, covered, over the lowest possible heat. In the first 30 minutes I stirred the pot twice, and once again after the beans started to soften at around 45 minutes of cooking time. But then, as Rodgers advises, I left the beans to slowly cook checking every half an hour or so to make sure the pot wasn't scorching.
After about 2 1/2 hours even my gigantic Romanos were tender and limp. A shocking dish for anyone raised to accept modern cusine's tyranny of al dente vegetables but homey and delightful served over warm stone ground grits (I did just get back from North carolina after all) on a crisp summer night.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Greens From The Garden

There is no excuse. Every year I plant a garden and every year I forget how happily robust good kale can grow. This year I think I put in even more than usual and we are over grown with leafy greens to eat, share with the birds, and offer as a treat to the neighboring cattle.
For James on a somewhat chilly August evening I started on a thick kale filled stew. First I sautéed onions and garlic in olive oil. Then I added in a container of flavorful white beans I'd pulled from our freezer. Next I poured in rounds of chicken Italian sausage (browned in a skillet), mountains of chopped kale from our garden, bay leaves, chopped rosemary, chili flakes, S&P, peeled chopped carrots and about 1 quart of water. Everything simmered together for around 30 minutes until the fresh kale was sweet and tender.
To make our evening stew extra hearty, and to use up the odds and ends of pasta in our pantry I added in some cooked noodles and topped our stew with a dollop of pesto (a lettuce and basil combo made from out garden and stored in the freezer) and shredded cheese.
Garden fresh Italian style.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Apple Cake and Giant Beans

I've been away for a couple weeks and the garden, well watered and tended by James, offered up a huge crop of Romano beans. Huge crop and huge beans. I scurried out to gather up our bounty with dreams of Zuni cafe style long braised beans in my head.
Inside the offerings were -- let's kindly say -- less bountiful. A thorough search rounded up a handful of lonely Gravenstein apples, a couple plums, butter from the freezer and milk just about to turn. I don't know about anyone else but to me that collection says "cake!"

I started by mixing up 2 sticks of melted butter and 4 eggs with 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar and a splash of my favorite flavoring -- bourbon. James loves the hearty flavor of brown sugar and a whisper of Kentucky whiskey seems to bring out the rich caramel notes.
To the liquid ingredients I added in 2 1/2 cups AP flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 3/4 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg all mixed together.
When the batter was just mixed (too much mixing makes for a tough cake) I added in chopped apples and plums along with a couple handfuls of the chopped pecans stored in our freezer. After 55 minutes in a 350 degree oven I had a beautiful golden brown bundt that made clever use of our leftover, seemingly unloved fruit. I let the cake cool for 15 minutes in the pan and then cool completely on a rack. Thanks to the new coconut oil spray I found at Trader Joe's this bundt cake practically slipped out of the pan -- removing the only anxiety ever associated with a bundt cake.
When my beautiful cake cooled I poured on a thin glaze of powdered sugar thinned with bourbon and milk.
A easy seasonal welcome home cake.