Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Weather Report From Heaven

Two blissfully warm days in a row - it must truly be spring, Time to start barbecuing again. Oh, we've sneaked in the occasional charcoal-grilled meal during the slightly cooler months that Californians call winter but now it's serious, so we hauled out the Weber grill that My Beloved's generous mother gave us years ago. It lights the charcoal using a bottled gas boost - easy as pie.

I had a pasture-raised tri-trip roast from Marin Sun Farms and half a pot of leftover coffee so, taking a leaf from Cookblog's book, I made a sort of bastard teriyaki sauce with soy sauce, ginger, brown sugar, garlic, wine vinegar and coffee and marinated the beef in that for several hours before throwing it onto the grill. Served with My Beloved's contribution of artichokes and some of the leftover gooey rice, we basked in the flavors and the warmth of the late-setting sun.

Sometimes, life is so good that no words will suffice.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gooey Rice

To go with our grilled pork medallions, I wanted to use some Massa brown rice, but I was looking for a little extra flavor since the rest of the meal was fairly bland. I sauteed some chopped onion in about a tablespoon of bacon fat, until it was nicely brownish, then added the rice, cooking it in the onion-bacon mixture for a few minutes before adding chicken broth and simmering, covered, for about 50 minutes.

When I put the medallions on the grill, I started the beans and added brightly green scallions to the rice pot, stirring them in and letting them cook gently for the 5-10 minutes or so it took to grill the pork and steam the beans.

I'd describe the rice as bacon-onion risotto except that I've never made a risotto in my life. The smoky bacon flavor pervaded the dish and the rich onion flavor complemented the nutty rice. The texture was creamy/gooey, as if I had added stock and stirred every few minutes when, in fact, all I did was put on the lid, set the timer and go bug My Beloved for a while.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Salad Weather

We've had seriously sunny weather for the past month or more but only a few days warm enough to tempt me to make a salad. I'm one of those who looks askance at salads in the cooler months. We're on a warming trend according to the (notoriously erroneous) weatherman, so I took a chance and concocted this from what we had in the house. Nothing very innovative; I'm more of a follower than a leader.

Nice, leafy lettuce with red edges. Sweet little tangerines. Voluptuous avocado. Crisp scallions. Sprightly fresh mint leaves. Savory Dijon vinaigrette. Happy people.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

They're In There!

Taking a leaf, literally and figuratively, from Michael Pollan's latest essay in the New York Times, I decided that I have time now that I'm retired to plant a small garden. My steep hillside lot doesn't lend itself to much in the way of agriculture but I cleared a space in the flower garden, worked up the soil and planted near the drip watering pipe greenie beanies, lettuce, Swiss chard and zucchini. I wanted a cherry tomato plant or two as well, but when I read the seed packet it said I should have started them indoors six weeks ago so I may just rely on the farmers' markets for those.

I keep running outside to check if my seedlings are up. I'm like a little kid on a long car trip - "Are we there yet?"

I guess they need more than two days to sprout.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Tale of Two Spatulas

These two spatulas came into our house about two weeks ago when our old ones bit the dust in a series of kitchen mishaps that I won't go into.

The black one is made of some kind of thin, hard but flexible Space Age plastic, very light and maneuverable; the handle is hollow. If stealth aircraft had spatulas aboard, this would probably be their choice. I bought two.

The pink one was simply irresistible, supposedly designed to delight a child and I have to admit it did please the child in me. The business end is again thin, flexible but rigid plastic.
Makes me laugh.

Both of these have been absolutely great, wonderfully functional and a pleasure to use. The black one gets the most use but when I heated tortillas last week out came the pink one and the wide flower worked like a champ transferring hot tortillas with melted cheese from the pan to the plates. It would also be super for pancakes or crepes and I can't wait to try it with French toast.

I love it when functional items are so well designed that they are a pleasure to use. They weren't even very expensive - imagine!
I purchased both at Williams-Sonoma but I don't see them on the website; if you want one, visit the Corte Madera store.

They even came with a guarantee that they will survive high temperatures and negligent cooks. Ahem!

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Friday, April 25, 2008


Too chunky to be soup and too juicy to be stew, this is what I made from the lamb scraps left over from "Frenching" a rack of lamb.

After gleaning all the good meat from the scraps, I browned the lamb in a pot 'til it was well caramelized, then added chopped green garlic, mild Maui onion and fresh thyme from the garden, cooking until the garlic and onion were soft. Added a cup of homemade chicken stock and stewed it for a little while, then dropped in the Full Belly Farm cranberry beans that I had soaked overnight and boiled for about half an hour. During the last five minutes I added about a cup of frozen peas and pearl onions, simmering just until the peas were done but still brightly green. A final seasoning with salt and pepper before ladling it into stoup bowls.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Happy Find

When I lived in Japan, I bought one of these beautiful aprons and loved it to death. When it fell apart and no amount of mending would resurrect it, I finally gave up and started looking for another one. I even blogged about wanting one, 'way back in my early posting days. Even though I have lived in places with pretty good sized Japanese populations, such as Honolulu and San Francisco, I have never found another one until yesterday.

So, you can imagine my delight when I stopped in at the Thousand Cranes Futon Shop on Fourth Street in Berkeley and there it was!

Crisply white, with a little detail of lace around the neck, this was exactly the kind of apron women wore all over Japan when I lived there! Usually over a kimono but really over anything, this ingeniously designed apron wraps around to the back so even if you are inclined to wipe your hands down your sides as I have been known to do while cooking, your clothes are protected. The three-quarter length sleeves never get in the way or in the water, either - as so many Japanese-designed things are, it's a marvel of functionality as well as of simple beauty.

I could tell that the saleswoman was puzzled by my obvious delight at finding such a mundane item - she shrugged daintily and shook her head, "Crazy person to be so happy with an apron!"

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Green Garlic Aside

A little advice from sad experience; green garlic is better steamed than roasted. When roasted alongside our rack of lamb, the outer layers turn crisp and stringy, rather than relaxing and turning tender. You can still strip off the outer layers and find the tender middle but when I butter steamed it a week or so ago, it was tender all the way through.

Just an aside. Butter steaming. Yes.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Minted Pea Sauce

My Fairy Godson was visiting recently from LA so we introduced him, by way of inducement to move north, to the Berkeley Farmer's Market. There, we found a nice grass-raised rack of lamb and assorted fresh fruits and veggies such as strawberries, green garlic, artichokes and tiny carrots still with their tops on.

We hauled it all home and consulted Google to find out how to "French" the lamb rack. While I was out on the internet learning about that, I thought to ask for a mint sauce for the lamb, as I had some fresh mint left from the chicken I made last week. I didn't want anything sweet, just something minty and clean. What I found was this recipe for Minted Pea Sauce, perfect to use up the mint and the rest of the English peas that were languishing in my crisper drawer. The sauce is simplicity itself to make and was perfect with the (now beautifully Frenched) lamb. Now, the only question is, what can I do with the scraps of leftover lamb from the Frenching process?

Minted Pea Sauce (Gourmet, April 1998)

1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1-1/4 cups frozen peas (I used fresh and they were great - just needed to cook a bit longer)
3/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

In a 3 quart saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Add 2 cups of peas (I added them all by mistake so ended up with a smooth sauce), mint and butter to broth and simmer, uncovered, about 5 minutes or until peas are tender. In a blender, puree mixture until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids) and pour through a fine sieve into cleaned pan. Add remaining cup 1/4 cup peas and simmer until peas are just tender, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Oily Education

Having spent most of my working life on college campuses, I am fascinated by new scientific or educational discoveries. I love reading about physical anthropology, ecology, animal behavior and such. My friends know me for the nerd I really am.

On a recent trip to Davis, a great little town with shops, restaurants and a lovely campus, accompanying My Beloved on his calls and swamped with memories of when my niece Ann-Marie was a student there, I came across an educational advancement that I can really get behind - UC Davis is harvesting their olives to make olive oil!

Apparently, they have had olive trees on the sprawling Davis campus for a very long time and when the fruit ripens, it falls on sidewalks making them a slippery hazard for walkers and the ubiquitous student bicyclists alike. So, they did a study and discovered that it's economically feasible to make olive oil from the olives - prize-winning olive oil at that!

If you're interested in learning more, look here. If you want to order some oil of your own, look here.

Win-win-win-win! The university avoids slip-and-fall accident suits (too bad for their law students at King Hall who might otherwise get some early training in ambulance-chasing), the students learn to make olive oil, the olives are not wasted and we get another local olive oil to try! See, Mr. Schwartzenegger, it's well worth supporting the State university system!

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Sunday, April 20, 2008


I will admit to a little thrill of pride when the recipe for Mexican rice that I made to go in the carnitas burritos called for chicken stock. I made my own from the bones of one of our roasted chickens and froze it back in March - finally found a reason to bust it out and see how it tasted. When I made it, I had a horrible cold and wasn't able to taste anything!


It was simply lovely. No extra salt, no extra anything. It was just pure chickeny goodness with a little veggie flavor from the carrots, onions, parsey and celery I had added to the pot. It made the rice richer and gave me that little lift that cooks feel when they have made something new, even when it's something as homely as chicken broth.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Carnitas Heaven

Our three-pound pork shoulder roast was delicious but My Beloved and I are only two; when we cook a big hunk of pig like that, we get at least two and sometimes three or even four meals from it. This time, I decided to try making burritos as, now that I'm retired, I was missing the wonderful burritos I used to enjoy near my workplace.

I cubed and heated some of the pork, cooked Mexican rice from a recipe my friend Annie sent me from Arizona, and made salsa from Roma tomatoes, onion and a can of green chilies that was lurking in the pantry. Opened a can of black beans, sliced an avocado and some lettuce. Although my local supermarket had flour tortillas, which they call "wraps," I couldn't find real crema so I substituted creme fraiche (tells you something about my supermarket, doesn't it?) and it was quite good. Pile all that into the warmed tortilla sprinkled with a little shredded mild cheese and you have a honest-to-goodness feast!
It wasn't as good as Castellito B makes but My Beloved had just returned from an overnight sales trip to Fresno and declared himself to be one lucky guy.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Elna's Maple Sugar Tart

When I was a young bride, First Hubby's mother was a wonderful woman named Elna who was a homemaker in the truest and best sense of the word. To my knowledge, she never worked outside the home, although she worked like a stevedore inside it. Her house was immaculate, her daughter's clothes handmade and her cooking out of this world. One could learn to hate such an accomplished woman if she weren't also very, very nice.

She taught me how to make one of her son's favorite treats, Maple Sugar Tart. This tiny tart is made from the crust scraps left over from a pie (did I mention that she was also admirably frugal?); the only ingredients are maple sugar, flour, salt and milk. First Hubby usually got to eat it all by himself as his mother was selfless as well as accomplished, but he had to share when I came into his life; sometimes, it was better for domestic harmony just to make two.

Maple Sugar Tart

Line a 3"- 4" tart pan
(I use one with a removable bottom) with pastry dough scraps from a pie. Combine 1/2 cup packed maple sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, very little salt and 1/4 cup milk and pour into the tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce to 350 degrees until thick (about 20 minutes) or bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Best served warm.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

They're Back!

What's not to love? Sweet, juicy, versatile, with seeds that don't get stuck between my teeth, strawberries are high on my list of the Best Foods in Life, only slightly below coffee ice cream and lamb curry.

In Western New York where I lived for 20+ years, strawberry season is two fragrant weeks in the middle of June when the berries ripen. The whole air near the berry patches smells strongly of strawberries and everyone saves a piece of cardboard to sit on while scooting along the rows, filling box after box with sweet fruit. The little kids who are recruited to help with the picking emerge from the fields with pink juice smeared around their mouths and guilty grins. Mischievous teenagers sneak into the fields at night to steal berries and berry-flavored kisses. Housewives make jam, serve nothing but strawberry desserts for those happy weeks, and freeze some for later consumption. It's all about hurry-up-and-get-em-while-they're-ripe! Then they are gone for another year, leaving us with a few gemlike jars of jam and a sweet memory.

One of the most delightful discoveries for me when I moved to California was that strawberry season runs roughly from the end of April to the end of October with fragrant, ripe, luscious berries appearing in the markets and roadside stands all that time. When the berries are ripe, they announce themselves from 20 feet away with that wonderful smell; if the aroma doesn't transport me back to WNY, it's a fool's errand to buy them. They may look gorgeous but I'm not deceived - the scent's the important cue!

My favorite way to eat them, although they really need no embellishment at all, is to dip them in creme fraiche, then in turbinado sugar and pop the whole sweet, savory, fresh, smooth, fruity, crunchy bite into my mouth.

That first year in California, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Twelve years later, I still think so.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Apple Smile Pie

Apple pie. Heaven in a buttery crust, especially when this time I thought to add some of the anise seeds that last summer Cookiecrumb taught me are delicious. They had been growing right outside my door but I never tasted them until she urged me to do so.

Thanks, Cookiecrumb, they have enhanced lots of meals at our house, most recently this apple pie!

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lobstah Pahty

Our friend Jack landed a great new job necessitating a celebration and, because we know he LOVES lobster and he has an enormous appetite, we ordered a New England clambake in a can from B & M Clambake Company in Rhode Island. This is the exact opposite of eating locally, but it was a big hit.

The Fed Ex shipment arrived right on time (you must cook it the day it arrives as there are live mussels, clams and lobsters inside), we read the amusingly written directions, set the table with the lobster crackers,
tablecloth, silly lobster bibs and picks provided, added water to the can and popped it on the stove to steam for about half an hour while I melted an inordinate amount of butter and sliced some lemon wedges.

We opened the can to find for each person a net bag of sweet steamer clams, one of meaty, wonderful mussels, another containing corn on the cob and yet another with new potatoes, onions and chorizo sausage, not to mention a small lobster apiece, all packed in seaweed for authentic flavor. The broth at the bottom of the pot was simply amazing, perhaps the best part of all!

We tied on the goofy bibs printed with big red lobsters and lemons, cracked and pried, laughed and munched. Jack's not a mussel man so he tried to trade his for more lobster from his daughter but she's not that dumb! Everyone made more than one trip back to the groaning platters until our fingers were sticky with seafood and slick with butter. I saved the broth and will attempt a bouillabaisse when the weather cools down.
There may have been an onion or two left and perhaps a potato - but, yes, we ate the whole thing and loved every buttery bite. A fitting celebration for a successful pal!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Cooking for a Meaty Guy

Over at Meathenge, Dr. Biggles has challenged us to cook for him. Knowing Biggles as we who read his blog regularly do, we know he loves meat, all meat, any kind of meat, the more meat the better and if it includes bacon, that's approaching heaven. I couldn't come up with an idea that included bacon or barbecue (that may be a fatal mistake) but perhaps this oniony pork roast will please that tall, redheaded guy. Herewith is my submission for "Cook For Me," in time to make the revised contest deadline.

This is a riff on a recipe I downloaded from; any pork roast that includes cocoa powder in the list of ingredients captures my full attention. I didn't have everything on their list so I fudged a little. My Beloved, when asked if he liked the pork roast, said, and I quote, "I loved it!" so I found the courage to submit this one to the contest. Here goes:

Meaty Guy Pork Roast (adapted from Cocoa and Spice Slow-Roasted Pork with Onions)

Spice Rub:
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Scharffenberger)
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

Pork and Onions:
4 Tbs. olive oil
2 lbs. onions, sliced
1 tsp. ground sage
1 cup water
1 3-lb. pork shoulder butt with bone (the one I used was rolled and had no bone)

Heat oil in a large pot or frying pan with a cover, over medium heat. Add onions and sage, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute' about 10 minutes, then add the water, cover and cook until the onions are soft. Uncover and continue cooking until onions begin to brown and water has mostly evaporated, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Combine spice rub ingredients and sprinkle on a baking sheet or sheet of aluminum foil. Roll pork in the rub, pressing to coat (some of the rub will be left over). Set pork in a large roasting pan. Top pork with onion mixture, scattering the rest around the pork in the pan.

Roast pork and onions until onions are deep brown, stirring occasionally, about 3 hours. Transfer onions to a bowl. Continue to roast the pork until very tender, perhaps 2 more hours. Transfer pork to a platter, rewarm the onions briefly in a microwave, and season with salt and pepper. Spoon around the pork.

Okay, so Biggles, enjoy! Are there any consolation prizes? :-)

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Michigan Mitt

Growing up in the Navy, you sometimes lose friends when your father receives orders to a new duty station, or their's does. You swear you'll write and they do, too, but little by little the correspondence dwindles and you move on.

Sometimes you find them again at a different duty station at a different time in your life. My friend Annie and I were great pals when we were 13 years old at Norfolk Naval Air Station in Virginia and we renewed our close friendship in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii about 10 years later. We've kept in touch ever since, sharing divorce woes and wedding joys, long letters between visits back and forth, pictures of our grandchildren and almost daily emails now that the internet has made staying in touch so easy.

One of our happiest Navy connections has been with a Michigan family we met when I was an infant; our fathers were test pilots together shortly after WWII. Although they left the Navy after several years, we kept an ongoing family friendship that continues to this day. My Dad and theirs loved and respected each other like brothers, or maybe even better than brothers - theirs was a cooperative rather than a competitive friendship. Our mothers also were close pals; fueled with martinis and good will, they picked up the late-night discussions and giggle fests as if they had never been apart. Their kids were roughly our ages and we got along well, too. We children would fall asleep to the lullaby of our parents' voices down in the living room, talking, talking into the wee hours. Whenever we lived somewhere interesting such as Newfoundland, they would visit us; if our duty station was more mundane, like Omaha, we'd spend part of the summer with them in Michigan. When your home base changes every two years or so, it's a pleasure to have a place to ground you - for me, their house in Michigan was that place.

When I lived in Western New York, their daughter Wenirs lived just a short day's drive away across Canada, so we became fast friends, sharing Thanksgivings, Christmases and Easters. When she and her husband started a family, I was the children's official Fairy Godmother, still my most cherished role although the children are now young adults.

And, every now and then, a box of goodies arrives from Michigan with my name on it. In the latest one there were all kinds of prezzies from silly mugs to goofy jewelry and, for the kitchen, this reminder of all the fun we have in Michigan. They live down by the cuff and they have a summer cottage up in the mitt about where the pinkie finger would rest - I've spent happy times in both locations. Each time I use this oven mitt, I'm reminded of how lucky I am to have kept my good Navy friends over the years, even at my current duty station in California.

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Cool Curry Salad

My Beloved and I are hot weather wimps, having lived so long in the cool Bay area where spring temperatures are likely to hover around 65F; when the thermometer rises about 75F, we start to wilt. At 88+, we become melting puddles of whine.

Little did I know when I set out to use up some leftover brown rice from Massa Organics, that I would invent a great salad for a blistering hot Northern California day. I was just thinking of all the good, fresh veggies I'd like to add to the rice, never suspecting that the weather was going to turn from coolish to ovenish overnight.

I love curry flavor so I used that as the baseline, mixing curry powder with about a walnut of mayo and a blob of ricotta cheese I found at the back of the fridge (still good!). I added some lemon juice, as the mayo-ricotta was too bland and ended up adding a full juicy lemon's worth
(make your curry sauce much more tart than you ultimately want, as the bland veggies will buffer it).

Then I chopped some celery, scallions, raw broccoli florets and added biggish chunks of ripe avocado and
fresh English peas, and mixed those into the curried rice in about a 1-1 ratio of rice to veggies. Tasted it, and it was pretty good but it still lacked a little something so I thought to add raisins to get some sweet into the tart/savory blend, They were perfect, adding visual punch as well as a sweet note. I would have added bacon bits if I had had any. A little S&P and you're there.

The finished salad was delicious next to the cold chicken we had left over from the previous night's mint chicken and even good the second day, when the weather turned even hotter.

Would somebody please call the Fog Man and tell him we're ready for relief?

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Real Spring Chicken

My Beloved and I are inveterate chicken roasters. Hard to imagine a week without it. But, even such devotees as we look for a change in the cooking method from time to time. When I found a big bunch of fresh mint at the local grocery store, it was the perfect time for a spring riff.

With this recipe, all you do is prepare the chicken for roasting, oiling the skin lightly, sprinkling whatever seasonings you enjoy, prepping some new potatoes and onions to roast alongside. Then, you cram the entire cavity of the chicken with fresh mint, as much as it will hold. As the chicken roasts, the hint of mint perfumes the meat with a light flavor - it's still roast chicken but now it's a spring chicken with pizazz!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Cherokee Wisdom

I know this is mostly a food blog but every now and then I like to stray away when I have read a book I think the greater world would enjoy. The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter is just such a book.

The story is about a little boy who is adopted by his Cherokee grandparents when his parents die. It's a delightful insight into the way Cherokee people lived and thought, and it's also a powerful statement about racism and prejudice as readable, funny and thought-provoking for me as Huckleberry Finn, which I recently re-read. While it is presented as a book for young adults and is, indeed, an easy read, I loved it, laughed at the simple humor, and wept when it ended.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Monster Mash

I'm calling this ugly stuff "Monster Mash."

I had the idea to make mashed potatoes from spuds I had roasted alongside our turkey breast, which I smeared with a little bacon fat before baking. I also roasted some of those purple and white carrots and onion slivers; in a coup of genius, decided to mash them all up together.

It looks really gnarly with the purple carrots, dark red skin of the potatoes and nearly black edges of the thoroughly caramelized onions but the flavor was divine and we ate it all up!

Better than the turkey. Better than the accompanying greenie beanies. Almost better than sex.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

They're Alive!

These heirloom carrots spent just a few days in the dark recesses of my reefer's crisper drawer; when I pulled them out to make soup, look what I found!

They had all sprouted rootlets, proclaiming that they are still alive! I can't recall that ever happening with industrially farmed carrots.

I felt almost guilty as I scraped off the rootlets and chopped the carrots up for soup, but I also felt satisfaction at knowing that My Beloved and I would get all the goodness these veggies had to offer.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The (S)tart and the Staff

My first course at JoJo's was really heavenly. On a platform of two slices of light but buttery pastry, the chef built a foundation of sweetly caramelized onion, then topped it with goat cheese islands and nicoise olive halves for a spectacular start to the meal. Nestled alongside was a simply dressed mini-salad of parsley and grated Parmesan, an interesting counterpoint to all that richness.

One of the best parts of the whole JoJo's experience has to be the friendly, joyous wait staff. They all seem actually to be enjoying the serving of this wonderful food. They skip the ponderous self-introductions in favor of clear descriptions of the delights the patron is about to sample and very knowledgeable suggestions of wines pairings. Water glasses are refilled promptly, food is served without reaching across the diners, plates are removed quietly - in short, they really know their stuff and they make a real contribution to the happy experience.

Start to finish, JoJo's was a lovely experience.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Steak and Frites

In Paris, we had a dinner of steak and frites that was sublime. The entrecote was perfectly grilled, the mustardy sauce was perfectly balanced and the frites were crisp on the outside, dreamy creamy on the inside. What's more, the delightfully friendly and helpful waitress brought the two servings of steak and frites separately, so each was fresh and hot when we ate them. Enjoyed with the house red wine, it was the most memorable of all the wonderful dinners we had in Paris.

Believe it or not, the steak and frites dinner we enjoyed this week at JoJo's on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland gives Relais de Venise a run for its money!

Instead of the simple lettuce salad with walnuts and dijon mustard vinaigrette, JoJo's offers a nicely zippy watercress salad to accompany the perfectly cooked steak and chubby, fresh, crisp frites. While I have a preference for the mustard sauce served with the entrecote in Paris, the anchovy-mustard butter at JoJo's was an interesting, if slightly too salty, twist on the classic. The steak at Relais de Venise was perfectly grilled; the one at JoJo's had a charcoal-grilled flavor which was absolutely delicious. The glass of Puligny-Montrachet I enjoyed with the meal crowned one of the best dinners with the nicest staff it has been my pleasure to relish.

If you can't get to Paris just now but you're hungry for Steak Frites, JoJo's is a terrific alternative!

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tireless Chicken

One of the complaints I read about the movement toward eating local, fresh foods is that it's too expensive for the average person. Setting aside all the nutrition and flavor arguments, if you can make three or four meals out of a single sustainably grown chicken, for example, I think the expense argument takes a real hit.

Our 5 pound range chicken was delicious roasted for a Sunday dinner, then equally yummy cold the next night. We also had enough meat for two days' worth of chicken sandwiches for lunch. We saved the bones in a baggie and, adding onion, carrot, parsley and herbs, made wonderful chicken stock from them, which we used to make this meaty chicken soup with the meat that was left on the bones, fresh greenie beanies, English peas, heirloom carrots and leeks for flavor. If we had added noodles or rice, it probably would have gone even further.

Yes, the original chicken and the veggies were all relatively expensive by comparison with industrially farmed products so we could have made these meals more cheaply. We justify the extra cost with the flavor, wholesomeness and support for local farmers arguments but, really, when you figure two hearty eaters got five meals each from this chicken and a few veggies, it is truly a bargain that even Colonel Sanders can't match.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Hunger Is The Mother of Invention

Even my tried-and-true failed to offer me a recipe for halibut steaks that matched what my tongue was hungry for today, so I decided to improvise. Sometimes, that's a big mistake but this time, it was a big winner.

In a wide pan, I sauteed fresh mushrooms in olive oil, then lowered the heat and added nearly everything else I had in the fridge - sliced onion, julienned zucchini, chopped leeks, pitted Tuscan table olives - and slowly cooked them with some thyme and herbes de Provence, adding a little tomato paste and white wine as the pan juices reduced. When all that was cooked down and sweet, I laid two halibut steaks on top and covered the pan, steaming them gently until just done. Making a bed of the veggies on the plate, I slid the fish on top and heaped more veggies, serving them with a wedge of Meyer lemon to spritz over both.

The fish was tender but very moist, the veggies sweet but with a hint of tartness left in the olives. The lemon juice gave a lively, fresh note to the overall mellowness of the dish. One of my better inventions and just what my tongue was hungry for.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

California Cuties

We've been eating Clementines all winter, from the first time they appeared in the market until the present. Here in California, they come in a sturdy cardboard box of about two dozen so we have had a big bowl of these tangerines as our centerpiece for months.

If I didn't already love them for the color hit of the shiny orange rinds, I'd have fallen hard for the sweet tanginess. These are dessert tangerines and nothing more is needed to enhance them. At my dinner parties this winter, I just set the bowl in the center of the table, pass around some small plates and the conversation flows through the citrus-scented air as our guests easily peel their own little orbs of sunshine. You could offer a little chocolate to go along with them, if you were so inclined, but they are wonderful all by their sunny little selves!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The House Smells Incredible!

Back in the Dark Ages, I used to make my own bread from Margaret Rudkin's original recipe for Pepperidge Farm bread, she who started PFarm in her kitchen and grew it until she sold out to Campbell's Soup for several zillion dollars. Pepperidge Farm bread was really delicious when I was a child (sadly, CSoup has changed the recipe and it's mush now) and she was my heroine when I was a young wife with a husband in grad school and no money. Not only was it far cheaper to make my own but it also tasted and toasted like heaven.

After moving back to California thirteen years ago, I had a full time job with an hour commute on either end, not a schedule conducive to the wifely art of bread baking (plus, for a while there, I wasn't a wife), so I stopped making my own and tried unsuccessfully to find a solid, tasty, non-mushy white bread.

Now that I'm retired, however, I have TIME. What an amazing thing time is! Time to let the bread rise twice so it tastes rich. Time to bake six loaves and give two to the neighbors, so that when you come back into the house feeling all generous and smug, you smell that yeasty, fresh bread smell all over again. Time to sit down with a cup of tea and a slice of your own still-warm bread and butter...

So far, I'm adjusting well to retirement.

Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm White Bread, adapted from The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1963.

Over the years, I have simplified the recipe to my style of baking but the ingredients have not changed. I’m going to type what I do but for the real deal, you may want to see if you can find a copy of this cookbook. Mine is all spattered and tattered and falls open to Page 215 where the Standard White Bread recipe lives, but I still love it!

1/2 cup milk (I use 2%)
3 Tbs sugar
2 tsps salt
3 Tbs butter, cut into slices if cold
1-1/2 cups warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
5-1/2 cups unsifted flour (I used unbleached)

Combine milk, warm water and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter begins to melt. The butter need not be completely melted but you want it to be soft and the liquid not to be hot (or it will kill the yeast. Test with your finger before adding to the dry ingredients – if it’s too warm, let it cool).

Meanwhile, mix 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, the salt and the yeast in the bowl of a food processor with the dough hook in place.

Add the lukewarm milk/butter/water mixture and process until you have an evenly mixed “slurry” of dry and wet ingredients, about 5-10 seconds. Remove the lid and add 3 to 4-1/2 cups more flour. Start with 3 cups and process for a minute or two. If the dough still feels sticky when touched, add a bit more flour (perhaps half a cup) and process again. Keep adding flour by half or quarter cups until the dough is smooth, shiny, elastic and non-sticky. You won’t need to knead – that’s what the food processor just did.

Transfer the kneaded dough into a large, oiled bowl, turning the dough in the oil until it is lubricated all over (if the bowl is not oiled, it will stick to the dough and retard the rising). Cover with a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft-free place.

(*Note: In colder climates, that’s more difficult. When I lived in Western New York, I would turn my oven on briefly (perhaps 30 seconds) at the lowest setting just to gently warm the oven, turn off the oven again and set the bread bowl inside. Inside a microwave oven works, too, as long as you have one large enough and you don’t need it in the meantime. You can leave it out on the counter if you have a nice, warm kitchen. The idea is to give it a warm, draft-free place but not too hot as that would kill the yeast action)

Let the bread rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. You will know when it’s ready as it will be puffy and if you touch it gently with your finger, it will leave a dent in the dough. If the dough springs back from your finger, let it rise longer.

Punch down the dough, releasing all the air bubbles and even squeeze it in your hands to make sure all the big bubbles are gone or you will have holes in the finished bread. Cut in two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough loaf shape and lay into 2 oiled loaf pans, each about 9 x 5 x 3 inches.

Cover the pans with a kitchen towel again and set them back into your warm, draft-free place for another hour or until doubled in bulk. They will rise a little in the oven but not much as the yeast action will be killed by the oven’s heat so let them get almost as big as you want the loaf to be before baking.

Bake in a hot (400 degree F) oven for about 25-30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes. You want the loaf to be richly browned and to have a hollow sound when tapped.

(*Note: the original recipe calls for 50 minutes of baking but I have found that to be too long for my oven – you will need to experiment)

Remove the loaves from the pans immediately and cool the bread on wire racks. When completely cooled, (if you haven’t already eaten the whole thing by then!), wrap airtight and keep refrigerated. Because there are no preservatives, the bread will grow lovely molds if not refrigerated.

The bread freezes well if wrapped airtight (I wrap the loaves in plastic wrap and then in freezer bags). I make six loaves at a time and wrap five for the freezer – it takes only an hour more and it justifies the messy fun for longer.

Let me know how yours turns out!


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Still at Sea

My main course at Sea was this sumptuous soup, Filet Mignon Noodle Soup. This picture doesn't do justice to the size of the bowl - there must have been a full quart of soup in the large square bowl.

It really was filet mignon in the hearty, beefy, rich soup that came topped with a tempura-ed pair of fresh asparagus and a lemon wedge to squeeze over the whole thing. The noodles were in the very bottom under lots of bean sprouts, carrots and bright green broccoli, all half-hidden in the rich broth like bright koi in a dark pond.

Even if we hadn't indulged in the Parade of Flavors, I couldn't have finished all this soup, so I brought fully half of it home for My Beloved's lunch the next day. It's slightly spicy character got a little warmer overnight in the fridge but he loved every bite!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

All at Sea

Cousin J-Yah invited me up to her neck of the woods, delightful Petaluma, for lunch and a poke through the shops to celebrate my newly retired status. J-Yah is a veteran at retirement, having enjoyed that status for several years now. She asked if I like Thai food. Uh-huh.

We ate a sumptuous lunch at Sea, a "modern Thai" restaurant. We started our lunch by sharing this pupu platter called the Parade of Flavors. They weren't just kidding, either, there was a lot to taste. Pickled cucumber salad, sweet/sour sauce, peanut sauce (and it didn't taste like peanut butter for once, but earthy, slightly spicy, peanutty), a crispy bird's nest of a fried noodle salad with fresh veggies and cashew nuts, lamb and chicken satay sticks, spring rolls, mummy chicken (you have to unwrap it to eat) and shrimp rolls with the shrimp's tails sticking out. We munched and yakked our way through the entire platter, then on to the soup!

J-Yah really knows how to enjoy retirement - I sit at the feet of the master.

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