Friday, November 28, 2014

Keeping The Holiday Going

A simple treat for our seafood holiday. A memory from my childhood. Fried oysters. My Grandma used to call them (as did everybody around our parts back then) "padded" describing the way the crunchy coating clung to the briny bivalve. Her's were dipped in egg and rolled in cracker crumbs. I still like them that way. Mine, mostly a product of oysters at the store and what was in the pantry, were soaked in buttermilk, paprika, and a hint of cayenne for about 15 minutes (I was low on eggs and had a splash of buttermilk left in the bottle to use up). Then I tossed the still wet oysters in a half flour half cornmeal mixture (seasoned with S&P and a hint of garlic powder) and lowered them into hot oil. After a couple minutes on each side they were golden brown and ready to rush to the table -- with for a seasonal turn -- homemade cranberry cocktail sauce. Crispy, hot, salty, delicious. Just like I remember.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Being just the two of us, James and I have given up the traditional Thanksgiving meal. And though I miss cooking all the old time favorites it is hardly as fun as serving up a beautiful bird to one tolerant fellow as it is to an awe-struck crowd. Our thanksgiving for two has become an annual mini-crab feast. Dungeness crab roasted with herbs and feel seeds and messily eaten with just slices of toast. I can't give up everything cold turkey as they say so I still make a little Thanksgiving specialty. This year a mini sweet potato pie, just right for one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Few Of My Favorite Things

A few things I love: butternut squash, chick peas, harissa, pomegranate, feta cheese, rice -- all in one dinner. First I oven roasted cubes of butternuts squash and chick peas (just drained form the can) in a mixture of harissa and olive oil with salt and pepper for about 35 minutes at 425º. Delicious. I served those over fluffy steamed rice toped with feta cheese and a quick relish of preserved lemons, pomegranate seeds, olive oil, and chopped mint. Vibrant flavors in a bowl.
"This is really yummy" James said. " I mean from the way it looked I wasn't really sure," he continued completely unnecessarily. "But it's really good."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Comfort Food: Risotto

Potato risotto. Okay, so I've never seen it on a menu but it seemed comforting and warm -- something James would like.
I started the way I always do with chopped onions and garlic sautéing in olive oil, and because I had some I tossed in diced celery for some crunch and small cubes of potato. I sautéd the vegetables until just soft but not colored and tossed in 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice.
Though I suppose you could make risotto with any kind of rice, short grained arborio has a nice tender texture and plenty of starch that helps to create risotto's signature creamy sauce. After the rice started to seem a bit translucent from being tossed in the hot oil I added in 1/2 cup of Marsala wine -- I used Marsala because I had a bottle near the stove and nothing else open but really any wine --white or red would do nicely here. When the marsala had just about cooked away I started to add warm chicken stock by the 1/2 cup -- allowing each ladle full to nearly cook away before adding the next, stirring regularly but not constantly and seasoning as I cooked. When the rice was tender (I'd added about 4 1/2 cup stock) I stirred in butter, a sprinkle of parmesan and a good sized hunt of brie cheese. Brie is probably pretty unusual in risotto -- then again so are potatoes -- but it combines easily, has lots of interesting flavor, and there is no need to peel the rind -- just cube and stir into the waiting rice and the soft cheese melts right in.
Because the risotto was soft and mildly flavored I wanted something with a little punch to liven up the dish. A quick salad of parsley and radicchio with a pretty forceful anchovy dressing (3 chopped anchovy filets, 2 cloves minced garlic, juice from 1 lemon, splash of sherry vinegar, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil shaken together) was just the thing.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Simple Squash Supper

Gardens are fickle masters. Last year we were overrun with squash. Every Tom Dick and Harry who crossed our property left with best wishes and a hefty bag of cucurbits.This year, despite close care taking we ended the season with three, only three kabocha. An Asian variety often called Japanese pumpkins, kabocha have meaty flavorful orange flesh and completely edible skins. With so few to savor I didn't want to hide my prizes in soup or curry sauce so I decided to roast them where their sweet flavor could shine.
After tossing the slices of kabocha with cumin, S&P, red chili flakes and olive oil they roasted for 25 minutes at 375º until cooked through and slightly caramelized. For a simple topping I whipped up a tahini sauce (another of my favorites) with 1/2 cup tahini. 1/2 cup water, juice of 1 lemon, and 3 cloves of garlic brought together with a pinch each of S&P in the blender. I love tahini and figured with some bright, tart pomegranate seeds the sweet squash flavor would still shine through.
Colorful, tasty, the last of our home grown squash.
Here's hoping for more next year.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Things To Eat With Toast

I'm clearing the freezer. First I pulled out the big bag of last spring's frozen fava beans and whipped them into a long cooked stew flavored with garlic, onions, peppers and bacon. That didn't seem quite enough. Buried under bags of elderberries waiting to become jelly and ham bones waiting for soups to flavor was the last of the brandade -- a meltingly rich spread of salt cod, potatoes and cream. It's a Christmas tradition around here (I missed last year and made it late in the year) and James and I both love it. Add some cheese and thinly sliced salami and out dinner of treats to eat with toast was ready for spreading.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day Apple Pie

We have an apple tree. Every year at this time I try to make sure none of those beautiful apples go to waste. Jams, jellies, apple sauce, and today while I was slicing fruit for a jelly attempt (don't even ask it has not been a banner jelly year) I decided on a little pie. Unless we are having company I don't usually make dessert for dinner but the big bowl of apples on the table and more on the tree seemed like a good excuse -- and besides I had a beautiful all butter pie crust in the freezer ready to go.
Nothing fancy, I soaked some raisins in bourbon for about 1/2 hour for a little extra flavor. Added the drained raisins to my very thin apple slices along with a sprinkle of flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract and tiny cubes of butter. I rolled out the dough, fit it snugly into my mini pie pans, piled the filling as high as possible (like a softball sitting in the crust), dotted the top with butter and rolled on the top crust. After quickly crimping the edges, brushing on a little milk and sprinkling sanding sugar James' little pie baked for 20 minutes at 450º and another 20 minutes at 350º until the filling was bubbling and the crust golden brown.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Kale Pesto

There are days -- as much as I like to grocery shop that I just don't want to go. Sometimes those days turn into a week.
Part of it I suppose is that I enjoy the challenge of making a dinner James likes from seemingly nothing or ingredients that don't seem to go together. Kind of a home version of the Food Network's Chopped where I am the only contestant and James the only judge.
Tonight James wanted spaghetti. Okay pasta I had but what to do for the sauce. I found some kale -- maybe a bit past it's prime and some parsley. Searching through my baking ingredients I came upon about 3/4 cup of walnuts. Pesto!
I put the kale, parsley, a couple cloves of garlic, a few pardon peppers I found in the veggie drawer, parmesan cheese, and the walnuts into the food processor. After I gave everything a good chop I poured in the olive oil to form a nice chunky pesto paste.
All I had to do was add a good dollop of pesto to the drained pasta -- along with about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water -- and a bit more parmesan, give everything a good stir and serve topped with crisped prosciutto.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bistro Supper

Perched down among the area cattle ranchers we are every now and then lucky enough to get a paper wrapped, grass fed gift. Recently, as if giving evidence to the value of our friendship, it was the chef's favorite -- hanger steak. Richly flavored, there is only one on each animal and for many years -- before it became popular with restaurants -- it was the cut butchers kept for themselves. A meaty secret.
For some reason when I saw that steak ready to be pan seared I thought French -- a bistro dinner of steak and fries -- steak frittes, as they say. Besides I had a little red wine to use up, perfect for sauce in a familiar Parisian style with plenty of shallots and butter.
First I seared the seasoned meat in a hot pan with s lick of oil for about 4 minutes on each side, and set the meat aside. I added 1 TB of butter to the pan and about 5 thinly sliced shallots which I cooked stirring for about 4 minutes. Next I added in 2 TB of red wine vinegar and cooked until it evaporated and then poured in about 1/2 cup of red wine. When the wine had reduced by half I tossed in another TB and 1/2 of butter and some chopped parsley, stirred and served the sauce drizzled over thin slices of medium rare steak.
Vive La France.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chicken and Dumplings: Fluffy or Flat

"Someday" James said quietly. " Can we have chicken and dumplings? With corn and sauce and not those big dumplings . . . "
Now I usually have some carrot or celery in my sauce but I've never seen corn in chicken and dumplings. And I always make fluffy herb scented "big" dumplings. But still, James rarely makes requests -- and honestly I thought he didn't even like chicken and dumplings (and those old Southern standards are some of my favorite things to cook) so I figured I'd give it a try.
Like many traditional foods, there is no one recipe for Chicken and dumplings. Some are chock full of tasty vegetables, some (the way I used to make it) leave meat on the bone, some use a milk-based gravy. But the most controversial element is the dumplings themselves. Some, like me, use fluffy drop biscuit style dumplings that steam over the savory stew and some -- apparently like James' grandmother -- use flat rolled dough, like thick squares of pasta.
I started the way I usually do by making a quick stock. I covered 1 whole chicken, 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 2 bay leaves, 1 onion (cut in half), 1 bulb garlic (cut in half but not peeled), fresh thyme and fresh parsley with water. I brought the pot up to a boil and let it simmer for about an hour. I drained the stock and while the chicken cooled I started on the sauce.
After a couple TB of butter and a splash of oil heated together in a dutch over I added in about 1 cup each (maybe 3/4 cup) diced carrots and celery, minced garlic (4 cloves), a bay leaf, and some dried thyme. I seasoned the vegetables with salt and pepper and let them cook until softened, about 5 minutes, then added not quite 1/4 cup of flour to start making a roux. Once the floury taste had cooked out -- about 2 minutes, I slowly added the drained chicken stock (about 8 cups total), added both frozen peas and frozen corn (somehow I just couldn't do the corn alone) and let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile I started to tackle the dumplings. I had never made these rolled flat style dumplings before. But I was not going to be bested by flour and milk so I turned to every cooks best friend -- the internet and started to read how other people make them. Most of the recipes I found imitated Cracker Barrel's recipe and used a hefty amount of crisco. Now I suppose vegetable shortening has been around so long some cooks even consider it a traditional ingredient but I don't like it. I'd rather spend my fats with real butter and lard and bacon grease instead of chemical stabilizers. So for my dumpling recipe I fork mixed 1/3 cup of bacon grease (yes I save it in the fridge) into 2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper. While the bacon grease was still in big pieces -- like making pie dough -- I poured in 1 cup of buttermilk and mixed the ingredients together into a loose dough. I turned the dough out on a well floured board and kneaded it just a few times to bring it together to a smooth ball. I rolled out half the ball of dough to 1/4 inch thickness  (on a well floured board) and cut the dumplings into smooth squares and rectangles with a pizza cutter. I'm sure that's not the way James' grandmother did it. None the less I let the dumplings rest sprinkled with flour and let the other half of the dough rest until I was ready to roll more.
Back to the pot. When the sauce had thickened to my liking (just barely coating the back of a spoon but not too thick as the dumpling flour would add body to the sauce) I stirred in a 1/2 cup or so of whole milk for a creamy texture, checked the seasoning and brought the liquid to a gentle boil. In went the first batch of dumplings. I covered the pot and let it simmer over very low heat for 10 minutes. These first dumplings -- from what I read -- thicken the sauce. I rolled out the rest of the dough and turned back to the now cooled cooked chicken -- remember the stock we started with -- and pulled meat off the bones in large pieces to add to the bubbling sauce.
After the first batch of dumplings had cooked for 10 minutes I added in the second batch and some chopped parsley along with the chicken, covered the pot and let it simmer for 10 minutes more. Then uncovered I let the stew simmer with very little stirring to not break up the dumplings for about 5 minutes more until the dough was cooked through.
Sprinkling chopped parsley over bowls of creamy stew I wondered if my maiden effort would live up to James' expectations. The rosy memory of a childhood taste.
James didn't say much as he ate, but "Mmmm so good." When he asked for seconds I silently declared that a victory and figured we might just have a new traditional dish for our little family.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Another Summer Comes To An End

I suppose everyone has a sign when they know summer is over. Clocks gain an hour, kids go back to school, leaves start to turn. No matter what the calendar says, even if it's November (as it usually is) I say my final good-bye to summer when I pull the last tomato plants from the garden. It doesn't make any sense. The season is long past and nights have turned cold but for me as long as there are tomatoes on the vine a bit of the summer lives on.
Looking towards Thanksgiving I'll contemplate this year's green tomato jam while I whisper a fond farewell to another summer.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Spiced Crabapples

I remember seeing spiced crabapples when I was a kid. Not at home. My mother hardly believed in garnish since an incident as a newlywed when she tried to dye the mashed potatoes to match the blue tablecloth but that's another story. I vaguely remember a bright red mini apple next to a pile of kale (or some ruffly green) on a serving platter but I'm not sure where. Maybe at one of the family style Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants I loved growing up. The picture is hazy and I certainly don't remember ever tasting them. But somehow when my beautiful little Wickson crabapple tree offered a healthy crop of mini-apples those spiced garnish were the first things that came to mind. I pictured a Thanksgiving turkey platter sparkling with home canned jeweled apples, stem and all,  and maybe even kale.
Wickson crabapples, a 1944 Northern California introduction by noted pomologist Albert Etter, are renown for exceptionally sweet spicy flavor and as choice ingredients for a single varietal champagne cider.  Crabapples are also excellent pollinators for other apples and a couple seasons back we had a Mutsu, Arkansas Black, and Gravenstein in need of a companion. Now our backyard orchard is home to a beautiful little Wickson tree that this fall was covered in garlands of yellow red fruit.
After gathering and washing the fruit (and poking small holes in each one to keep them from bursting), to preserve them for future dinners, I made up a pickling liquid of 3 cups sugar, 1 1/4 cup water, 2 1/2 cups vinegar, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 1 tsp whole cloves. I bought the liquid to a boil and allowed it to bubble for 10 minutes. Then I added half of my heavy 3 lbs of apples, covered the pot and let the fruit simmer until tender. Pulling the apples from the syrup I filled my waiting jars, repeated with the other half of the apples and covered the fruit in the jars with the hot syrup. I sealed the jars and stored them away on the pantry shelf picturing a Rockwell style Thanksgiving with old fashioned tastes and familiar (though only through distant memory) and edible decor.