Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Honey

Yesterday was James' birthday.
This year our celebration happened to coincide with our latest effort to eat healthier and, for me, to really lose some weight. So our nearly traditional meal of spaghetti and clam sauce (one of James' favorites) seemed out of step. Now as a lifelong dieter I know pasta sauce -- in a pinch -- can be liberally poured on hearty vegetables like broccoli (another of James' favorites) with good results. So I gave it a try for his birthday dinner.
Usually my clam sauce is pretty rich with butter and olive oil and sometimes crispy pancetta too. Tonight I started with just 1TB of olive oil and sautéed lots of garlic and red pepper flakes for about 2 minutes.Then I added in the clams (I used nearly 5 lbs of little necks), 3/4 cup white wine, and the juice of 1 lemon. The covered pan cooked for about 7 minutes until all the calms were opened but still tender. Then, as if I was finishing with pasta I added in 1 TB of butter (not 3) and plenty of chopped parsley and gave everything a good stir over medium high heat.
I poured the clams and sauce over waiting steamed broccoli and we had a new diet friendly dinner dish around here.
Did we miss the extra butter? No. Was it flavorful and satisfying? Yes. Was it the same as my usual restaurant rich dish? Well no, but it's a new dish all it's own. One we might feel better about eating more often.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Korean Style Chicken

How can something that looks so bad taste so good?
A while back I helped a friend cook for a Hawaiian style party and ended up with a tub of delicious Korean chile paste, gochujang. I love the hot peppery taste, but honestly other than the chicken wing recipe I bought it for (and never made) I couldn't think of what to do with the little red tub. And so it sat. And sat.
After some courage via the internet I mixed up a marinade that's going to be come a regular dish around here. To flavor about 1 1/2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs I used: 1 thinly sliced onion, 3 cloves minced garlic, 4 TB soy sauce, 3 TB Gochujang, 1 TB honey, 1 1/2 tsp Sesame oil, 1/4 cup mirin (or you could use sake for less sweetness), 1 TB chile flakes. I let the meat sit in the fridge for several house and then because we don't have a grill set up -- sigh -- I cooked our chicken in the oven. First for 30 minutes covered and then for another 30 uncovered so the edges were nicely browned and crisped. Though the onions were intended as flavorings they were so delicious bathed in the red marinade that I served them -- along with the chicken -- over rice with plenty of spicy kimchee.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Hybrid Everyone Loves

I'm kind of a plant snob. I'm always looking for heirloom seeds and little known varieties. But I, along with hoarded of other snobbish gardeners can't resist the allure of a tiny tangerine colored hybrid tomato called sun gold.
Hybrids tomatoes are intentionally (though it happens accidentally in nature) cross bred varieties that offer characteristics of the parent plants in a new hopefully improved variety. Not all hybrids are GMOs. GMOs not only cross plants but often bring in traits of other species. I am against GMOs. but sometimes a particularly delicious hybrid will find a way into my garden.
With super sweet, almost floral flavor and nearly continuous fruit through the season sun gold is a stand out that's rarely seen in markets because no matter how delicious the bright orange fruit doesn't ship well. Or at least that's what I've read. I can't even get from the garden to the house without eating most of what I've picked so shipping is way out of the question.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lentil Stew

It's so easy to get in a rut. Night after night look down at dinner and see meat, a vegetable and a starch. Every now and then I have to wrestle free and muscle in a dish that breaks the ho-hum mold. Tonight I surfed through the pantry and came across a bag of Umbrian lentils. Nutty, buttery and delicious they are a produce specialty (and chef's favorite) from central Italy.
Thinking back to a recipe from Mozza chef Matt Molina I cooked them slowly for an almost creamy thick stew.
I rendered the fat from a handful of chopped prosciutto in a warm sauce and then added in finely chopped garlic (2 cloves), carrot (1 large), onion (1 medium), and -- because I had them -- Padrón peppers (3). The vegetable sautéed for about 8 minutes. I raised the heat to high and stirred in about 1 TB tomato paste and cooked about 1 minute.Next, following Molina's method I stirred in 1/2 pound of lentils and 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth. The lentils simmered and cooked about 25 minutes. I added in another cup of broth and let them cook another 10. One last 1/2 cup of broth and 10 minutes of simmering created a kind of creamy sauce around the lentils which I seasoned with salt and pepper.
To serve I fried a fresh egg in a slick of olive oil, scattered arugula and feta cheese over the lentils and drizzled everything with a touch of balsamic vinegar.
Dinner in a bowl. No meat, no sides, no starch, no rut.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tacos For Dinner

A great place for leftovers,
I had a chuck roast in the freezer thanks to our CSA's seemingly never ending array of long cooking cuts. Working off an idea I saw online I coated the (defrosted) meat with a mixture of cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper and seared it on all sides in a pan of hot olive oil. I covered the bottom of the crock pot with a sliced onion and put the meat on top. Then I mixed together 1 cup of stock, 2 TB tomato paste, 1 chopped chipotle pepper in it's adobo sauce, and 4 chopped cloves of garlic and poured it over the meat in  the pot. The crock pot simmered away on low for about 8 hours until the meat was super tender. I shredded the beef and put it back in the pot to wait for dinner.
When James was ready for dinner all I had to do was assemble the parts. The meat rested on top of corn tortillas crisped in a skillet. Dressed with a bit of salad greens, shredded cheese, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro and a few shreds of pickled onions I happened to have in the fridge that complemented the spicy beef perfectly I brought an easy summer dinner to the table.
Tacos are the kind of thing I always think needs a side dish. Rice or beans or salad. But tonight topped with delicious flavors tacos on their own were just right and summery. This might become a regular dish around here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bittman's Way With Chicken

I trust Mark Bittman.
When I have a recipe question or am looking for the proper technique for a dish I turn to NY Times columnist and the man who has been called the America's best home cook, Mark Bittman. He is an authority. Not the chef expert high and mighty expensive ingredient and multiple steps kind. Or the ready in 30 minutes overly cheerful open a can of this or that pour in the cream as long as it tastes good variety. He is reasonable and practical and thinks of cooking as not just an enjoyable pursuit (not an obsession) but as a necessary life skill. Bittman's recipes probably won't impress your most important worldly guests (some might though), but they will guide you through the day in and day out necessity of making healthy, quality food from scratch at home -- and teach you to improvise along the way. For years I have been recommending his "How To Cook Everything" to anyone who tells me they want to learn to cook.
Today I just couldn't think of another way to make a chicken breast. I knew I didn't want to use the oven, and I didn't want to bother with bread crumbs. I turned to Bittman and found a perfectly easy method I hadn't tried before. I took boneless skinless chicken breasts, seasoned with salt and pepper, and dredged them in plain flour. The floured pieces went into a skillet where I melted a combination of butter and olive oil and cooked for about 4 minutes on a side. As the meat was cooking, after about 2 minutes I rotated each piece to bring the thicker part into the hottest part of the pan and keep the slightly thinner part from overcooking. So simple but the perfect solution to the age old problem of dry chicken. After the chicken was crisp and golden brown on the outside I let it rest on a platter covered with tin foil (instead of in a 200º oven as Bittman suggested) while I made the sauce. I poured about 1/4 cup of white wine into the pan and let it bubble as I scraped up the brown bits left from cooking the chicken. When the wine was reduced by about 1/2 I added in 1/4 cup of water (that could have been stock) and let the mixture cook down again. As a finishing touch off the heat I added 1 TB of butter, chipped parsley and sage, and the juice of half a lemon.
Chicken and pan sauce. Real food, real simple. With steamed potatoes and green beans, dinner in less that 15 minutes.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stewed Fava Beans

I'm tired of peeling.
Though Spaniards and Italians I know don't, here in the states we are told to not just shuck our fava beans from their spongy green pods but to peel each individual bean as well. Early in the season when I am excited to once again taste their deep earthy flavor, I dutifully peel and feature the bright green beans in salads, crostini and pastas. By the end of the season (or past it when I usually get around to picking our last fava beans) I am well over that hand numbing task and am facing -- as I was today -- two full jars of bigger than eat raw or lightly cooked size beans. Despite the brigade of American food writers who would tell me I'm wrong I decided to go European. Bolstered on by Nancy Harmon Jenkins' website (the one American voice I could find against peeling) I stewed our favas in a pot with onions, bacon (because I didn't have pancetta), garlic, chili flakes, tomatoes, olive oil and chicken stock. A Roman style recipe long cooked for my larger nearly dried beans. In the end after simmering on the stove and then retreating to the crock pot for an over night slow cook we had tender, flavorful, meaty beans and a thick cooked tomato sauce, just right with brown rice, feta and a sprinkling of dill -- kind of a Mediterranean flavored flu medamas. And, we didn't notice the skins at all.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Plums! (and a couple pears)

Covering the tree, falling from the branches -- beautiful Santa Rosa Plums.
Bred by revered plantsman Luther Burbank in 1906, for a time the Santa Rosa was a favorite of commercial growers but these days is mostly found in backyards and farmer's markets having been replaced by larger, firmer varieties, less flavorful and easier to handle. The Santa Rosa, named for the city where Burbank did much of his work, is known for sweet flesh with a hint of tartness from the vibrant red skin. A hallmark of true plum flavor.
If I can keep from eating them right off the tree I'd like to try a batch of jam maybe flavored with a hint of cardamom. After all I have next year's fairs to think about.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Giving In At The Store

James loves corn.
We grow lots of vegetables in my little beds but I just don't have enough room for corn . . . not yet. So  for a summer treat every now and again I break down and buy a couple ears.
You may not know this about me (and why would you) but I am vehemently pro small farmer and anti GMO. I follow court cases and the progress of labeling laws across the country and try to speak out when Monsanto and it's lobbyists push for legislation that favors only their agribusiness domination plan. I believe our health, our water, and our environment are at stake. So for my James only organic, certified non GMO (not as easy as it seems), elitist sweet corn will do.
Corn, a water loving crop, seems especially expensive this year with the on-going drought in California. I stood there in the produce department holding a bright green ear. Reaching to put it down but not quite letting go.
Do I really love James $1.29 an ear?
Seems I do.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Garden Potatoes

I'm a little late digging them up but our first potatoes of 2014 still look pretty good. I'm baking them up for dinner so James can taste their pure potato goodness super fresh and simply prepared.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A House Regular

Our favorite quick dinner. A thin chicken cutlet dipped in seasoned egg and a mix of panko breadcrumbs flavored with tangy aged goat's milk cheese and fried crispy brown in butter and olive oil. It takes minutes to prepare and is always a hit. Tonight I paired the golden cutlet with oven roasted carrots and potatoes tossed in spicy harissa and a fresh green salad right from the garden topped with quick fried padron peppers.
Crispy, spicy, crunchy -- perfect.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pretty Good Day at the Marin County Fair

 It's no secret that I love a county fair. The animals, the exhibits, and most of all the ribbons.
This year I am branching out -- candies and preserves. Not a bad showing so far. Second fair of the season (the big one, Sonoma County is a couple weeks away) and I've racked up six blue ribbons, five red, a fourth, a fifth and a best in show. 
 I'm already plotting what to enter next year.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Garden Fresh

A side dish straight from the side yard. Steamed carrots, yellow and green beans and snap peas with zesty carrot top pesto. Nasturtium flowers and leaves as a flavorful garnish for the peppery taste James loves.

Saying Goodbye To Spring

Summer has come but the last of spring's vegetables still crowd the garden beds. A few late favas and English peas combine with peppery arugula leaves for one last spring time dinner, a hearty risotto.
After shelling and skinning the fava beans I cooked them into a quick ragout. I sautéed shallots and garlic in olive oil added in the fava beans and water to barely cover and let the pot simmer until the beans were tender. I tossed in the shelled peas for the last minute to cook away the starchy taste.
For the risotto I started with a chopped onion sautéing in olive oil and then added 3 chopped cloves of garlic. Next I padded in 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice, a beautiful short grain Italian variety that cooks up into a creamy risotto. Once the rice was coated in the oil I poured in about 1/2 cup of white wine. When the wine was nearly cooked away I started with the stock -- adding hot chicken stock to the rice by the half cup and stirring here (seasoning along the way) and there as the liquid cooked away. Each time the liquid cooked down I added more until I had used about 4 cups and then switched to water for the last cup. By this time the rice is just about fully tender and the sauce creamy. I added in shredded cheese (I used an aged goat cheese but parmesan or Romano would be equally good), the fava bean and pea mixture and a handful of roughly chopped arugula leaves.
Beautiful bright greens and creamy rice -- a homegrown taste of spring.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Rainbow From The Garden

Finally home from a long trip. The garden is spilling over.
Bright pink radishes, purple podded peas, yellow beans, green snap peas, crunchy orange carrots and peppery red nasturtiums. One morning's harvest soon to be a super fresh super local dinner. What a way to celebrate.
Happy 4th!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

John Mueller Meat Company

I love John Mueller Meat Company.
The latest outpost of a third generation "barbecue cook" (the Mueller family has several unaffiliated outposts in the greater Austin area), this nearly hidden trailer behind chain link fence is about the food and only the food.'
The meats, ready at opening and available until sold out (then the spot closes until the next day when a new selection comes out of the smoker), are cut, weighed and slid onto butcher paper as each eater waits. A couple of homemade sides are offered in three sizes.
Mueller's spicy nearly black crust surrounds meat so juicy you'll be glad a full roll of paper towels sits nearby. The Brisket is so tender it barely holds together as I dip pieces in the spiced laced slightly vinegary sauce. Beef ribs melt under my teeth. The smoke is so present it tastes like the very signature of the fire. There is nothing meek about Mueller's flavor. He makes assertive food he likes first and foremost and offers it to waiting crowds. Barbecue with personality. Barbecue that can't be ignored.
Huddled over my tray, hands covered in Mueller's specialties as George Straight's signature Texas sound drifted out over a nearby radio I'd found a warm, happy place in the Texas sun. I can't wait to go back.