Saturday, May 31, 2014

Broccoli and Beans

A simple sauté of vegetables and beans with a familiar family secret -- anchovies. I started in the usual way; a pan with warming olive oil and chopped garlic. For extra flavor I added in about 6 anchovy filets and a dash of crushed red peppers. I stirred as the pan warmed to dissolve the anchovies into the oil and then added in broccoli florets. After 5 minutes or so the broccoli was bright green and crisp. I added in some pre-cooked beans (these were borlotti I had in the fridge) about 1/2 cup of water and brought everything to a simmer. After 5 minutes the broccoli was tender and ready to serve over warm goat cheese polenta and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese for a hearty spring supper.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Twist on a Family Favorite

Red white and blue salad -- red meat and radishes, (nearly white) romaine lettuce and beautiful blue cheese.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sweet Green Pea Shoots

Many years ago prodded by a waiter at an unfamiliar Chinese restaurant (and by nearby diners digging into the as yet unknown vegetable) I first discovered snow pea shoots quickly sautéed with plenty of garlic. I fell in love with the sweet springy flavor: somehow a more delicious cross between peas, baby spinach and parsley. A vibrant vegetable taste crying out for fluffy steamed rice and a hint of chile sauce.
Since that night I've searched out the spring favorite in Asian restaurants and farmer's markets everywhere. I crave them when weather turns warm and tonight I based our dinner on a fresh picked bag I brought home this afternoon. I sautéed the greens with garlic and caramelized red onion with a quick sauce of chicken broth, rice wine, and fish sauce after a recipe from Charles Phan -- chef and proprietor of one of my long time favorite San Francisco restaurants, The Slanted Door. Grilled chicken breasts marinated in garlic, fish sauce, molasses, lemon juice, sesame oil and chile pepper flakes became a savory side for our steamed rice. Though it's probably not a traditional pairing, savory peanut sauce (1/4 cup creamy peanut butter, 1 TB soy sauce, 2 tsp minced garlic, 5 tsp apple cider vinegar, 11/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper mixed with 1/4 cup hot water) offered a salty foil for the meal's gently sweet flavors.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No Cook Night

Antipasto salad is a regular favorite around here. Usually I produce a real red sauce Italian American style platter heavy with roasted peppers, peperoncini, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans and all manner of jarred Italian staples. A weighty dish mascara ding as salad. Tonight this beautiful little gem lettuce was so fresh and alluring I couldn't bear to muddy it's sweet, clean flavor. So in addition to the usual cheese, salami, prosciutto and hard boiled eggs (thanks girls -- 2 eggs just in time) I tossed in fresh pepper cress from our garden, Persian cucumbers, and spicy Padron peppers quickly blistered in hot oil and tossed with Maldon salt (okay so there was a little cooking) and tangy vinaigrette.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fresh Flavors Of The Season

Bright green for dinner. A tangle of fresh spring asparagus, roasted in the oven served lazily poised atop multi-colored quinoa tossed with fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint) and lemon juice. Slightly bitter radish green pesto layered on top. Super fresh and satisfying like a cool spring day on a plate.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Treats From The Garden

Our first home-grown radishes of the season. Crunchy, sweet French Breakfast variety pulled to make room for more to come. Perfect thinly sliced on lightly toasted rustic bread with butter and Maldon salt.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Simple and Summery

 Part of our seasonal effort to eat more vegetables, a dinner of roasted sweet potatoes and harissa kissed greens with poached eggs.
Most nights I either sauté greens (today we had a mix of collards, chard and radish tops) in olive oil and garlic or slow cook them in broth flavored with smoked pork. Tonight I veered a little by making a warm salad of sorts with our sautéed greens by adding paprika, cumin and a generous amount of harissa towards the end of cooking. With the spices stirred through I cracked two eggs on top and covered the pan just long enough for the eggs to steam through so at the table the runny yolks mixed with our bitter greens.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower

Our current favorite vegetable dish, whole oven roasted cauliflower. I've talked about it before. After cutting away the leaves I rub the whole head with a bit of olive oil, S&P and pop it in a 425º oven for about an hour (sometimes an hour and 15 minutes). Simple. Today instead of za'atar and tahini my usual go to for cauliflower I went in a more Italian direction with anchovy parsley sauce. I put 4 (maybe 6) anchovy filets in a saucepan with 2 cloves of slivered garlic and a hearty glug of olive oil. I heated the pan and gave a good stir so the anchovies dissolved in the oil. Then off the heat I added juice of 1/2 a lemon and a good handful of chopped parsley. The warm sauce covered the just roasted cauliflower.
"I think a lot of people think they don't like anchovies," James said between bites. "They've never tasted a dish like this."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Recipe From Jerusalem

I've been saving this recipe. "Spicy" turkey burgers with sumac sauce from the cookbook Jerusalem, a multi ethnic collaboration that won a James Beard award and has ignited somewhat of a cookbook fervor spawning themed cooking clubs and Facebook pages since it's publication.
Full disclosure, I don't own the book. Honestly though review after review raved about the middle Eastern recipes and the partnership of the book's muslim and jewish authors I wasn't all that interested. I was just drifting around the internet and came across this recipe. In it ground turkey is mixed with garlic, egg, cumin, fresh mint, cilantro, grated zucchini, green onions, S&P and cayenne pepper. It sounded good so I saved it to make for James.
Now I love Middle Eastern food of all kinds. Tahini, Za'atar, and sumac are regular flavors in my kitchen and I'm first in line for Persian or Lebanese or even Moroccan food so I figured anything from this part of the world would be a hit with me. But these burgers were just okay. Maybe I need a little more spice or maybe a turkey burger will only ever be so good. Or maybe they need to be part of a larger collection of dishes with flavorful spreads, eggplant salads and tangy sauces. In any case I might try another recipe from Jerusalem but I don't think I'll buy the book --- not just yet.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spring Tastes For Supper

Something simple. Crisp crostini for dinner. If we were having guests this might have been an appetizer selection but tonight the straight from the garden freshness seemed just right for us. I started with those beautiful radishes from our neighbor's yard and turned the leaves (I just couldn't throw them away, they were way too beautiful) into a bright, slightly bitter pesto (radish greens, pecorino cheese, garlic, olive oil, almonds, lemon zest, crushed red chiles --just a pinch --S&P) which topped creamy Pt Reyes Farmstead fresh mozzarella. The radishes themselves I combined with a pea and fava bean purée (blanched fresh peas, double shelled (and quickly boiled) fava beans,  mint leaves, lemon juice, pecorino cheese, olive oil, S&P) on little crisps of garlic rubbed toast. Springy, light, delicious.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Clams For Dinner, Northeast Style

I'm not sure what other people see when they look at a bucket of fresh dug clams but the minute I looked in that salty water I saw fritters.
Growing up in Maryland seafood was a regular choice but more often than not for us it was oysters or steamed crabs. I'm sure there were plenty of clams on the Eastern shore but other than my Dad's spaghetti with clam sauce they weren't regular at our house. In the summers though, spending Northern beach vacations on the cold shores of Cape Cod I came to know a whole other kind of seafood delights -- steamed lobsters, rich chowders, and clam fritters. At home we had "padded oysters" but in Massachusetts and Rhode Island their fritters were like puffy, savory clam flavored donuts. Crispy, salty, savory and served along side steaming bowls of fresh chowder.
Most people know creamy white New England chowder or tomatoey Manhattan style but in the Southern edge of our nation's smallest state there is a unique variety with a light (if you can call any recipe that starts with salt pork light) broth and plenty of potatoes and clams.
I started our soup by sautéing small cubes of salt pork in a bit of oil. When the meat crisped up and rendered it's fat, I poured off the excess oil and added a chunk of butter to the pan along with a diced onion and about an equal amount of chopped celery. The vegetables cooked for about 10 minutes and then I added in  a couple cloves of minced garlic. Cubed potatoes, diluted clam broth, thyme, bay leaves and plenty of cracked black pepper went into the pot and simmered for 15 minutes until the potatoes were just tender. Chopped clams along with a generous handful of fresh parsley were the last additions.  The clams heated through and our chowder was ready to serve.
I think most times clam fritters -- unlike Marylands oyster fritters which use raw seafood -- were a clever way to use up leftover steamers. I used my regular batter (1 cup flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs -- mix the dry and wet ingredients separately and then add wet to dry and fold in the clams) and fried up puffy light clam fritters to serve with our chowder just like I've seen so many time sand diners and seafood shacks all along the Northern coast.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Low Country Boil

The best one pot dinner I know. Low Country Boil, also called Frogmore stew for the little town where it was created (in the 1960's I believe) is a Southern style clam bake famous and highly revered throughout Georgia and South Carolina. As much an activity as a meal -- potatoes and smoked sausage and set to boil in water flavored with plenty of Old Bay Seasoning (that's what I like, some folks use shrimp boil). After about 15 minutes you add in halved ears of corn and boil another 10 minutes or so. When crabs are in season you might find blue crab or even crawfish (the dish has spread West to Louisiana and beyond) but LCB always features shrimp and plenty of it. The shrimp go in the boiling water last and after just a couple minutes when they turn pink the pot is drained and spread across the table -- traditionally on sheets of newspaper -- for everyone to dig in.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bounty From The Neighbors

 "You can't give anything away around here," James said coming through the door dragging a plastic bucket, weighed down with gifts from our always too generous neighbors.
They've been busy with family business lately. James and I wanted to help or at least be supportive so of course we turned to food. I sent James over with a baked pasta dish (penne in a cheese sauce spiked with minced salami). He came back with more than he took. A bucket of fresh dug clams -- maybe the biggest ones I've ever seen, a bunch of radishes so beautiful I jumped to take a picture, fresh beets, and more. I started planning radish green pesto, clam fritters, bright salads -- all the great dishes to come.
"If I'd have been there 5 more minutes I'd be leading home a calf," James smiled as he unloaded his wares. Hmmm, maybe I should send him back.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Flowers From Our Garden

A cascade of 1930's favorite ballerina roses surrounded by other garden favorites.

Friday, May 16, 2014

First (Late) Spring Salad

James made it home today. I've been watching the garden waiting to share spring's first salad with him. I got the seeds in late this year. Today while thinning the plants I gathered a bright, peppery, slightly bitter salad of home grown arugula, pepper cress, spinach, and oak leaf lettuce. Delicious tossed in a red wine and honey vinaigrette (2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp honey, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, 4 TB olive oil, S&P).
Welcome home Honey. Welcome salad season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gravenstein Apple Cake

When guests come I like to leave a little something for their breakfast. It's hard for guests from town to figure just how far we are from a Starbucks or a quick run to the store so we make sure we're supplied. More often than not our supplies might include this moist apple cake. It's super quick to make, stays fresh for several days on the counter, and feature our home canned apples so we always have the ingredients on hand.
For the batter, starting from a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen,  I sift together 2 3/4 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, and 1 TB baking soda. In a separate bowl I combine 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup oranges juice, and 2 1/2 tsp vanilla. I mix the wet ingredients into the dry and then add 4 eggs one at a time. Half the batter goes in a tube pan topped by half the batch of my home canned apples (I mix a drained 1 qt jar of apples with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 Tb cinnamon). Then another layer of batter and the rest of the apples on top. Sometimes I add nuts. Sometime just the apples. You could make this cake with fresh apple as the Smitten Kitchen recipe does (6 peeled and cubed) but for me the joy is using my jarred apples out of season to give guests a truly local -- right in our own backyard -- taste.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Stinging Nettles

James is out of town for a bit so as a little pick me up treat I toddled on down to the honestly huge farmer's market at the Marin civil center (third largest in California I hear). The stalls are literally brimming with artisanal cheeses, uber organic farms, grass fed meats of every species and beautiful fresh produce like these stinging nettles.
I've had nettles in restaurants but I have never seen them at a market or cooked them myself. Use tongs the farmer's sign advised to avoid being stuck with the trademark spines. "They need heat to be edible" she advised. "Or a little time in the freezer." And now I am on my way to stir fried nettles and maybe a bright nettle pesto.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Simple Weeknight Dinner

Some nights I just don't feel up to a big production. I've got a vicious case of poison oak and just want to lay around and try not to itch. Dinner has to be easy.
I love to roast vegetables. So simple. Peel (or trim), cut, toss in a little olive oil and seasoning and pop in the oven. Tonight at the same 425º setting I did cubes of butter nut squash sprinkled with cayenne pepper and fresh broccoli with garlic topped with parmesan cheese for the last couple minutes in the oven. In the middle, maybe a misnomer, crock pot fried chicken. I toss chicken pieces in seasoned flour and layer them in the slow cooker drizzled with melted butter. 8-10 hours on low makes the ultimate walk away and forget it entree. James always likes it and has no idea how easy it is. A great weeknight dinner -- itch or not.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Harissa Roast

Clearly I've spent time extolling the virtue of harissa, the Tunisian chili paste that adds lively flavor to just about everything. Tonight it became the unifying element on a jumbled tray bake of sorts. Parsnips and carrots oven roasted in harissa, garbanzo beans sautéed in olive oil and the chili paste until crisp served over brown rice, topped with eggs fried in the same pan to soak up some of the tasty oil, and a peppery arugula salad with tangy lemon vinaigrette to stand up to the strong flavored sides.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Trader Joe's Pick Me Up

Less than $20 and a little time arranging set this winning all white combination of viburnum blossoms, snapdragons, and alstromeria on our table. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Freezer Cleaning Soup

When I make chicken I almost always start from the whole bird. It's much cheaper and our meat CSA includes a chicken so I'm getting a lot of practice breaking a bird down into parts. James generally doesn't think much of wings, or legs. I've gotten in the habit of cutting off the parts I need and tucking the rest away in the freezer for chicken stock one day down the road.
I'm a saver. We don't have the shelf room we once did to store vegetable trimmings for soup stocks (now they hit the compost pile) inspired by one of my favorite food writers MFK Fisher's, genius tome How To Cook A Wolf. But even a quick search will still turn up shrimp shells, gravy or crab fat reserved for future risottos and quick soups.
When our too small freezer gets a little full I dig out the chicken parts for a pot of homemade chicken soup. Today's version combined celery, onions, carrots, parsnips (thanks to our generous gardening neighbor), a lone kohlrabi left in the drawer, cherry tomatoes, and brown rice into chicken stock generously laced with flavorful harissa. Everything simmered, covered, for an hour until the rice was tender and then I stirred in the shredded chicken (left from making the stock) and half a bag of corn that turned up on my freezer cleaning jaunt.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Variation On Our Burger Bowl

Since he has been trying to eat less bread one of James' favorite dinners is our homemade burger bowl, based on the option of a patty on fresh greens (with a choice of toppings) offered at one of LA's premier burger chains, The Counter.
Tonight instead of a tossed salad I went for another of James' favorites -- sautéed greens (beet greens and chard) with pan crisped potato wedges. A take out favorite at home.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Celebrating Spring, Welcoming Summer

A sure sign of the changing seasons here in Norcal. Fava beans ready to harvest. Time to turn the garden over to summer vegetables. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, and the lanky bush bean starts James helped me plant today.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring In A Bowl

I'm embarrassed to say it but I am proud of this dish.
For years I have shied away from homemade pasta. I'm not sure why. I make pie crusts and biscuits and breads but pasta seems out of reach. Maybe it's all that rolling. In any case, with a tub of beautiful sheep's milk ricotta nearing it's expiration date I pulled up a recipe I have been considering from Bon Appetit Magazine, Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus, Peas and Morels, boasting a technique for no knead gnocchi, little pillowy dumplings.
Now to be fair, across the internet and probably across Italy there seems to be debate as to what qualifies as gnocchi and what recipes should be classified as the gnoccho's (singular) Florentine cousin gnudi. Maybe this quick, wet dough with equal parts flour and parmesan cheese, and 4 parts fresh ricotta is more the naked ravioli filling described as gnudi than the more heavily floured potato dumplings we know as gnocchi. In any case these dumplings went together quickly and waited in the fridge until I was ready to cook them in simmering salted water. Pan fried in rich butter with peas and favas whatever you may call them, these little pillows made a special springtime dinner.
The recipe called for asparagus, morels and peas. Though asparagus are in season, oddly enough there was none at our local market which gave me the chance to improvise. Searching my brain for another springtime specialty I remembered the freezer bag full of fava beans waiting to be shelled. Perfect . . . and a great flavor combination with peas. Instead of morels I found beautiful local trumpet mushrooms which I sautéed with finely chopped red onion.
With the gnocchi cooked I followed the recipe's instructions tossing the dumplings, peas, favas, a splash of pasta cooking water and ample butter into the pan with the mushrooms and simmered until the vegetables were warmed through and creamy sauce coated the gnocchi. To complete our springtime dish I topped the warm dumplings with chopped chives, pea shoots, lemon zest, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
No knead or not, I still can't believe I made them myself.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Top Sirloin

Nothing fancy. A couple defrosted sirloin steaks from our meat CSA and roasted sweet potatoes. I didn't feel like dashing the meat over to the oven so I pan roasted them with a technique I use for stove top burgers. I let a cast iron pan get good and hot on the stove then put in the seasoned steaks, slicked with just a thin coating of oil.  Resting on high heat for about 4 minutes the meat sears beautifully. When I turn the steaks I cover the pan briefly (and bring it down to medium heat) to let the meat cook through to just medium. The steaks rested (off heat) for a good five minutes while I tossed together a crisp mixed green salad with tangy caper vinaigrette -- my new favorite spring side.