Wednesday, August 27, 2014

MH Bread and Butter

 When we first came up to Northern California I naively thought (me and a good collection of food magazines) Della Fattoria's meyer lemon rosemary bread was just about the best loaf of bread I'd ever eaten. It's good. The wood fired crust and tender crumb make it a pretty appealing loaf and I fairly regularly handed over $6 for one to take home.
Then one day, wandering through the local market about to reach for my now familiar lemon rosemary loaf, a plain brown bag wrapper caught my eye. Rubber stamped letters simply said MH. Just when I thought I was buying the most extravagant loaf of bread in existence I came face to face with an $8 loaf of country white. The chewy crust is burnished dark brown -- black in spots. I couldn't resist the giant rustic loaf and carried my precious to the check out. I later learned I had happened down the aisle on the first day of deliveries for this new ( in 2013) bakery.
Funded as a kickstarted project, MH Bread and Butter's chief baker/ founder Nathan Yanko spent 8 years as master baker at San Francisco's world famous Tartine. Along with his wife Devon (a former personal chef and specialist in gluten free baking) Yanko founded the all-day cafe on a quiet street in sleepy San Anselmo. They serve an assortment of salads, sandwiches, soups, entrees, and of course desserts and I've been wanting to stop in since that first grocery store aisle encounter.
I finally had my chance and settled in for roasted Romano beans with tomato sauce, a poached egg and country toast. It was good -- fine -- everything coming out of the kitchen looked good. But the toast. Glorious, springy white bread with a crust so crisp it actually hurts the roof of your mouth if you bite down too hard. Order what you will, MH is all about the bread.
MH Bread and Butter's country loaf has basically ruined me for other breads. I've had French baguettes, Poilane's miche, Sullivan Street's filone, and Nancy Silverton's work before La Brea Bakery became a household word -- but my heart belongs to my new love MH Bread and Butter.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Getting Ready to Go . . . Again

 Our pepper plants have finally kicked into high gear and we are regularly getting armfuls of beautiful green Padrón peppers. Traditionally a specialty of Northwest Spain these thin skinned peppers are most often served blistered (pan fried whole in olive oil) and sprinkled with coarse salt. Delicious tapas. While our plants are producing I'll serve the heirloom peppers as an appetizer and then scramble the leftovers into our morning eggs.
Like any vegetable Padrón's are best fresh -- and even more delicious right from the garden. I just couldn't abandon today's haul to our fridge drawers and walk away without a thought. So I decided to pickle a few jars to save for the sad pepperless months to come.
I hate to lose that bit of char quick frying adds so I decided -- very untraditionally -- to give my peppers a brief sauté before loading them into sterilized pint jars along with a peeled clove of garlic, one bay leaf, and a pinch of red chile flakes. Padrón peppers are mostly mild but every now and then -- with no warning a hot one pops up (Spanish roulette I've heard it called). I like the extra punch the chiles offer.
For my brine I used 3 cups of vinegar, 1 cup of water, 3 TB of sugar and 1 TB of salt boiled together until the sugar dissolved. I poured the hot brine over the waiting peppers (leaving about 1/4 inch headroom), wiped the jar's rims clean, screwed on the two-piece lids and processed in a hot water bath for 5 minutes to complete the seal. This winter I'll add these beauties to stews and sandwiches and count on their tangy brine to add zest to pan sauces and salads.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cleaning Out The Fridge

Not too far from us sits Bellweather Farms, a beautiful sheep dairy producing a variety of high quality cheeses (sheep and cow's milk). We love their pepato, a semi-soft sheep's cheese similar to a young pecorino with whole peppercorns and especially, when it's available, their sheep's milk basket drained ricotta. It's fresh and creamy and delicious and feels special in spreads, pasta sauces or just spread on toast with a drizzle of honey.
Heading out of town I just couldn't leave our precious ricotta to age past it's expiration date so I rolled up my sleeves and boldly strode where I rarely go -- gnocchi. 
I combined 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino cheese (I was on a sheep theme here), and zest of 1/2 lemon  with my hands to make sure the lemon was evenly distributed. Next I made a well in the center of my dry ingredients and put in 1 cup of ricotta and 1 egg. With as few strokes as possible I mixed all the ingredients together and spilled my dough onto a floured board. Cut into four equal pieces I rolled each quarter into a rope about 12" long and cut each rope into 3/4" lengths to form the tender little pillows that would be James' dinner. As the gnocchi were cut I put them on a parchment lined baking sheet with TB of flour and gave the tray a shimmy and shake to protect each pillow in a thin layer of flour. The gnocchi waited uncovered in the fridge until I was ready to make our dinner. Twenty minutes from almost expired ricotta to gnocchi for dinner.
A couple hours later I brought a pot of well salted water to a boil. I dropped in half the gnocchi and allowed the water to lightly bubble (too rapid a boil and the gnocchi may burst) as the dumplings rose to the top and then cooked through for about another 2 minutes. Meanwhile I melted butter in a skillet and allowed it to turn brown and nutty. In went the cooked through gnocchi (in two batches so some were more brown than others) and several leaves of fresh sage. The dumplings tossed in the brown butter and cooked long enough to lightly crisp on the outside. Pillowing soft fresh gnocchi with a tasty nutty brown butter crust. 
Restaurant quality dinner in no time at all. And no expired cheese :-).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Some Beans Really Are Better

Jame loves beans. Every so often I'll cook up a pot for quick meals, to fill the freezer, or to have on hand for a simple one bowl dinner with brown rice and sautéed veggies.
Sometime I use a little pork to flavor the pot but lately I've been cooking our beans with just a splash of olive oil, a whole head of garlic (cut in half), a peeled quartered onion, 2 bay leaves, about 5 whole peppercorns, a sprig of rosemary and chopped fresh sage leaves. With water to cover, the whole pot comes to a boil and then is left to simmer until the pre-soaked beans are tender, usually about 40 minutes or so. The flavorful results are great to eat on their own or have on hand to use in salads, spreads and stews.
Today I reached back in the cabinet for a pound of Rancho Gordo Good Mother Stallard Beans. Rancho Gordo is a Napa, CA heirloom bean grower and food merchant that for many years has been spreading the gospel of heirloom flavors, local agriculture, and seed saving. With flashy graphics and clever copy their little bags are eye-catching at the market or on grocery shelves and sometimes when I am feeling rich or reckless (they are about $6 a pound) I reach for one. The rich, deep, vegetative flavor puts other beans to shame. James said -- without prompting or knowing about my bean buying extravagance -- that these might be the best pot of beans I ever made.
To paraphrase a certain pizza chain owner -- better ingredients, better beans -- so much for the bulk bin.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Friends Stopped By for Lunch

Dessert for lunch? Not for everyday, but when friends stop by (and our elephant heart plum tree is in season) it seems leek the right day for a quick, slightly tart plum galette. Galette's (or crostada in Italy) are European-style free-formed rustic pies, sweet or savory.
Use any pie crust you like. I quickly mixed 1 cup of flour, 1 TB sugar, 1/ tsp salt, and 5 oz of butter in the food processor. I wanted this crust to be super flaky so I didn't whirl until the butter was the size of peas but stopped sooner so even after mixing in the ice cold water (3 TB) I could see chunks of butter in my dough. After kneading a couple times on the counter I wrapped the dough and popped it in the fridge to rest over night.
When the dough was good and cold I rolled it out to about a 12" circle. and popped it back into the fridge while I sliced about 8 of our delicious plums and preheated the oven to 400º.
Elephant heart plums, developed by plantsman Luther Burbank are juicy and heavy and deep ruby red. Though they are not often sold in stores due to a fragile nature and short shelf life the flavor is unparalleled. Sweet and tart, juicy and tender -- in short, the perfect plum.
Leaving about a 2" border I sprinkled 3 TBs of flour and 1 TB of sugar over the rolled dough and then laid the plums slices in concentric circles and then showered another 4 TB of sugar over the plums before folding up the dough -- rustically -- around the fruit. One caution in the world of free-form tarts. Use the dough to patch holes if you must, but try to not have cracks in the dough that let the juice (our plums are super juicy) leak out while baking. Oh it's all fine and super rustic but your dough will stay a little crisper and your tart a little prettier if the juice stays in.
Before popping the galette in the oven, brush a little butter on the crust and sprinkle nice coarse sugar over top. After 40 minutes in the oven (rotate half way through) we had an easy elegant dessert -- sweet, tart, and (make sure to cool your galette on a each to ensure that it's) flaky.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sonoma County Fair

Sniff. Another summer and fair season has come to an end. The Sonoma County Fair is the last of three near us and the biggest of the season. This year was not my best showing. True I am carting home two blue ribbons which, as James reminds me, is more than a lot of the jam making ladies received. 
Win or lose. I love the fair -- the contests, the animals, the exhibits, and of course the ribbons.

Sonoma County's Dairy Princess has the honor of awarding the rosette for Supreme Champion Dairy Female in the open (adult) competition. Surely a highlight of her rule.

Three blue ribbons this year for my latest batch of pickled green tomatoes, an annual entry for me. 

 The supreme champion herself, surveying her domain.
 Another happy ending to another happy fair. I'm already working on next year's ribbons.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Diet Treat

Don't tell anyone how easy this is. Frozen bananas, whirled in the food processor take on the creamy texture of soft serve ice cream.
Freeze your bananas in 1-2 inch chunks. Pile them in the food processor with any flavorings you like -- I used a touch of vanilla and  a little bit of honey but I am planning on a honey and peanut butter version. Process. You'll have to scrape down the sides and keep moving the bananas to avoid them being stuck below the processor's blade but in about 5 minutes you'll have a fruity treat ready to store in the freezer until it's time for dessert. I topped ours with unsweetened coconut flakes and chopped cashews. Perfect for summertime.