Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Weekend

 After several years of just the two of us, James and I had company for the holiday and I went back to cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I'm delighted. I've missed the cook's holiday and for my return engagement with turkey and trimmings I pulled out all the seasonal favorites.
For starters, Rogue River blue, a seasonal Oregon cheese wrapped in pear brandy soaked grape leaves only available from late October until Christmastime and one of my favorites. To showcase this really blue I made a batch of almond fig crackers (laced with port wine) and topped each crisp with fresh honeycomb.
 Thanksgiving is a time for favorite dishes that are just a bit better than usual, mashed potatoes with plenty of butter and cream, green beans with chestnuts and bacon (no I just can't do the casserole), endive salad with home grown persimmons, pomegranates and toasted walnuts in a sherry vinaigrette, and . . .
of course the star of the show -- turkey with cornbread, sausage, pecan stuffing.  I've been making the same basic recipe, vaguely adapted from 1979's classic The Silver Palette Cookbook for all of my turkey making years. I've dabbled with smoked turkeys or molé spiced or even gingersnap gravy doused but I always come back to the classic. I juice two oranges over the turkey inside and out then salt and pepper the exterior and the cavity liberally. After the bird is stuffed I truss it lightly, rub as much butter as humanely possible onto the skin, sprinkle with paprika and he's ready to cook. Some years I do a little sage, sometimes I flirt with Bell's seasoning but every time it is basically the same. The stuffing is a winning mix of white, wheat and corn breads, apples, breakfast sausage, pecans and spices. It's Norman Rockwell with a Southern drawl. Tradition and taste. Old fashioned and right on time all at once. In short, it's the perfect bird.
The best part of Thanksgiving may be the leftovers, especially this year. I had intended to serve oysters Rockefeller as a starter but at the last minute veered away. It just seemed too much for our little group of four and added a lot of last minute panic. So with our special "leftovers" James and I shared a day after oyster roast dinner and an after holiday breakfast with soft set scrambled eggs and luscious poached oysters. That might just be our new post holiday tradition.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Year Without A Crab, Almost

"Just in. We have fresh crab from Washington."
The in-store announcement rang out like music to my crab deprived ears.
Every year James and I anxiously await the opening of Dungeness crab season, November 15th in our part of California. Crab for thanksgiving has become our own beloved family tradition.
But nature intervened.
On November 5th the Department of Fish and Wildlife shut down the California Crab season indefinitely when a potentially fatal neurotoxin was discovered in the Dungeness. For fisheries to reopen the crabs have to show safe levels of domoic acid for two straight weeks. No California crab for thanksgiving.
We looked North, hoping.
Oregon and Washington also announced they were delaying the start of their seasons. The algae bloom that causes the toxin, brought on by unusually warm waters, is affecting fisheries up and down the West coast.
Just two days ago there was a ray of hope. Though the coasts are still closed to commercial crabbing, Dungeness from the area around Gray's Harbor, Washington where the Quinault Indian Nation maintains a large crabbing operation, have consistently tested safe and the tribe opened their season (a decision reached in conjunction with Washington State) just in time for thanksgiving crab, in limited supplies (and at a premium price).
We had already resigned ourselves to a crabless thanksgiving but when I saw these beautiful beasts nestled in the ice I had to take a couple home. A pre-thanksgiving treat.
The tradition lives on.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A New Regular

This is a terrible photo.
I should be ashamed.
I am.
But, this was -- despite what the wise ones say about eating with your eyes first, completely delicious.
Crazy delicious.
And easy.
It's cheeseburger meatloaf.
I mixed together 2 lbs of ground beef, one finely chopped onion, 2 eggs, about 1/3 cup of bread crumbs (I had panko so that's what I used), 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 3 cloves minced garlic, S&P, and two dashes of worcestershire sauce. After the mixture was formed into a good sized loaf (enough for dinner and a couple days of sandwiches) I laid strips of bacon over the top, tucked each strip under the sides to hold them in place and baked the whole glorious mess for 55 minutes at 375º. The bacon was pretty well cooked but I gave the meatloaf about 3 minutes under the broiler for an extra crisp.
"This can be part of the regular rotation," James declared.
I didn't know we had a rotation.
I'm going to start one so I can make cheeseburger meatloaf again.
Crazy delicious.
And easy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Roast Chicken

Not much to say. The ultimate one pot (okay pan) dinner. Roast chicken, slathered in butter, thyme and lemon cooked to crisp perfection on a bed of potatoes, red onions, and carrots.
Forty five minutes at 425º. As the bird rested I tossed spears of romaine in the flavorful pan juices and served with plenty of Dijon mustard.
Dinner. Done. One pan to wash.
Weekend flavors on a regular weekday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken

I figure when I can't even find a bottle of soy sauce in the house I've really got to go shopping. But I do hate to admit defeat. I had a lonely little kabocha squash sitting on the counter and decided to roast that tossed in chili power, brown sugar, and butter. Done. But what to go with it?
The freezer turned up a package of chicken breasts. Since I started with Japanese pumpkin I was leaning towards something vaguely Asian and had all settled on soy sauce chicken only to find the jumbo bottle that seemed like it would never be used up was gone. Stuck.
When I first get home I am so happy to be there I really don't want to leave, even to go to the store. So, when I come in at night -- too late for grocery shopping -- it tends to get put off . .  too long.
But I digress -- I had to do something about dinner.
Pouring through recipes and online ideas I came across a dish from one of my favorite restaurants, San Francisco's Slanted Door. Black pepper chicken, at once sweet and savory, peppery and caramelized. And easy.
Following Charle Phan's recipe, in a small bowl I mixed together 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup fish sauce, 1/4 cup water, 3 TB rice wine vinegar, 1 tsp minced garlic, about 1 tsp minced fresh ginger (Phan of course calls for fresh ginger which I didn't have so sadly I substituted powdered), 1 tsp coarsely ground pepper, and two fresh chilis. I happened to have chilis in the house since our very generous neighbors had a bumper crop. The rest couldn't be easier.
I sautéed 1 thinly sliced shallot in about 1 TB of oil for about 4 minutes until soft. Then I added in the fish sauce mixture and the chicken cut into 1 inch pieces. The mixture simmered over high heat for about 10 minutes until the chicken was cooked through and I ladled it out -- with plenty of the appealingly sweet sauce, over steamed rice. Maybe not culinary artistry but another episode of food from nothing -- my favorite kitchen game.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Spaghetti Genius

Maybe I hedge my bets, but I like a surefire winner when I make it home to make dinner.
James loves spaghetti and if I have to be completely honest I rarely miss when I start off with his favorite brand.
But why settle for the home run when a grand slam is fully in reach? Combine two favorites, hamburgers and spaghetti. I decided to make a meaty ground beef ragú barely held together by slow cooked tomatoes and serve it with plenty of parmesan cheese.
True Italian? Italian American? Who cares! It's delicious.
I started with a chopped onion in olive oil over medium high heat and then tossed in 4 cloves chopped garlic and a couple chili peppers fresh from our neighbor's garden. After about 4 minutes I added in 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (and S&P) and let it brown all over until almost cooked through. Next step was pouring in a bit of red wine -- about 3/4 cup and letting it cook until just about evaporated. Then I poured in one 28oz can of puréed tomatoes, about 6 oz of tomato paste and about 1 cup of water and let everything simmer away on top of the stove at a slow bubble for about 2 hours.
Confidence was high as I mixed a portion of the sauce into the drained pasta along with a healthy dose of grated parmesan.
My new name around here? Spaghetti genius! And today I think I deserve it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Pie For Dinner

Not for dessert.
Pie for dinner.
Looking through the freezer, somehow a waiting lard pie crust, some chopped celery and carrots, and meat leftover from a hearty Neapolitan Ragú said meat pie. A savory, French Canadian, spice scented meat pie.
Traditionally a christmas dish I thought ground meat in a flaky crust doused in deep brown gravy would be a good dinner and a good dish to keep in the fridge for James while I made a quick trip out of town . . . again. Traditionally Tortière is made with a mix of ground meats or game or even fish in coastal communities. My pie combined cooked beef, pork and Italian sausage sautéed with onions, celery and carrots and baked in a pastry crusty with grated potatoes cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
Because I was working with cooked meats I started by browning a couple slices of chopped bacon in a frying pan with 1 finely chopped onion and a clove of garlic. When the onion had softened I added in two  chopped carrots and several ribs of celery, 1 cup chicken stock, a bay leaf and the cooked meat finely chopped in the food processor. After bringing the liquid up to a boil the mixture simmered for about 7 minutes. I mixed in 2 medium grated potatoes, a heavy 1/4 tsp cinnamon, S&P, and dash each nutmeg and ground cloves and let the meat filling cool for about half an hour before layering into the waiting pastry filled pie plate. I topped the pie and popped it in a 375º over for 45 minutes until golden flaky brown.
The Christmas carols haven't started yet but I am already in the mood for holiday dishes and cozy nights at home with James.