Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Wanted A Tri-Tip

As you may have gathered from all the kvetching you've read on NOCA sites, we haven't had much barbecuing weather around here this spring. Whine, whine, whine. But we caught a beautiful one last Sunday, so I rushed outside with a big bag of charcoal and a cross-rib roast that I bought from a charming young man at the Prather Ranch booth at the Marin Farmer's Market last week.

I really wanted a tri-tip, a uniquely Western cut that one doesn't find back east. It's marbled with fat so it does very well on the grill, becoming downright luscious. I was late to the market, however, so they were out of trip tips but the young man assured me that a cross-rib roast was just the ticket. "Cut the strings," he said, "and it will flatten out nicely to grill like a tri-tip."

I cut the strings. It did not flatten out. It remained entirely roastlike, about four inches deep and six inches across but, what the heck, I slapped it on the grill anyway and rejoiced in the thick, fragrant smoke wafting out the holes in my Weber. I mixed up a little mustard butter with herbs to anoint the roast after resting and could hardly wait until it felt firm enough to my poking finger.

It was perfectly cooked and the herbal mustard butter was a great accompaniment but should you ever be tempted to substitute this cut for a tri-tip, be advised that they are in no way similar.

This was by far the chewiest piece of beef I have ever used my grinders for - it reminded me of the rubbery octopus I had at a banquet in Japan as the grinning hosts watched my reaction. I think it was meant as a joke on the Gaijin; the more I chewed, the larger it got - like the inside of a golf ball when the pressure of the casing is released. I finally had to swallow the darn thing down or risk choking on it so I toasted my hosts with a cheery "Banzai!" and washed it down with a swig of sake. Cross-rib roast is a lot like that.

We have some left, all smoky and wonderful, but I plan to use it to make Boeuf Bourguignon. The lardons will add some much-needed fat to the dish and the long, slow cooking will tenderize the meat. I'm actually pretty psyched about the idea of a smoky Boeuf Bourguignon, so I'm not sad, just wiser now. When I ask for tri-tip next time, I won't settle for cross-rib roast, no matter how charming the seller.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Small Fry

I had plenty of lovely makings in the fridge - a big steak to grill, perfect for the long holiday weekend and potatoes to roast, fresh peas in the pod just waiting for the word "Go!" but no incentive, no interest, no oomph. I just didn't feel like cooking.

My Beloved is beloved for lots of reasons and reading my body language at times like this is one of them. He suggested we dine out.

We drove over to the Yankee Pier restaurant in Larkspur looking for a bite of seafood dinner. The joint was jumping when we arrived but we were seated immediately anyway and offered the menu plus some enticing specials.

For an appetizer, we shared the fresh sardine plate. They came neatly butterflied, grilled and resting on a warm salad of fresh fava beans and arugula in a pool of lemony, kicky sauce. The deeply fishy fish were nicely balanced by the fresh greens and tangy sauce. Not everyone likes sardines for their somewhat oily flavor but for local, sustainable and good-for-you fish, they are hard to beat. These are the fish that spawned Cannery Row in Monterey and then left it flat when they mysteriously disappeared. They are back now, although Cannery Row has other fish to fry these days.

Yankee Pier is family-friendly, as witnessed by young children ineffectually supervised by their parents running up and down the aisles and nearly managing to trip the servers. If you are in a mood for peaceful surroundings, this is probably not the spot for you but if cheerful, bustling dining with small fry next to an open kitchen fits your attitude, you probably can't go wrong here. Especially if you are not in the mood to cook.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cheese And Crackers

As we watched the rain advancing across the bay, looking like water-hugging white fog, My Beloved and I sat in front of the television (yes, I know it's considered shameful but we do actually watch TV) and had cheese and crackers. This is a bonanza weekend for a guy who loves all forms of auto racing, so he's glued to the tube and I come in and out of the room in response to exclamations to see what's going on.

NASCAR. Indianapolis 500. The Grand Prix de Monaco. All this weekend. All "musts" for the boy, who has been a race fan since before he got his driver's license.

So, I broke out snacks that are easy to eat while watching television, in this case two cheeses I bought locally on Fourth Street in Berkeley at that swishy cheese-and-other-pricey-comestibles shop. A pale, white young goat gouda, which was simply delicious - tangy and nutty. The salesperson informed me that it wasn't the goat that was young, it was the cheese.

And a Wagon Wheel "everyday" cheese from Cow Girl Creamery, which was buttery and mellow by comparison. Both went down very easily as we watched the cars go around as the rain outside arrived in a downpour.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Le Quick Lunch

Back when I was sixteen, I was planted in a girls' boarding school in Cannes, France while the rest of my family swanned around the Mediterranean, following my father's ship. They got to visit several ports in Italy, Monaco, Greece and France while I got to know the stern headmistress of my school, Madame Blay, very well indeed, and usually not in a good way.

Madame Blay (pronounced like Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty; we students always felt that was apt) knew that girls of sixteen are a force to be reckoned with and that American girls of that age are even worse. She was correct. There were about ten of us Americans in the school and we were determined to get into trouble, hopefully trouble involving French boys. We smoked cigarettes after lights-out, climbed down the tall French shutters to escape the school at night, corrupted the French girls with our antics and generally added headaches to Madame Blay's days, and sometimes her nights.

On the few occasions when we were authorized to leave the school - chaperoned, of course, by one of the spinster teachers whose job it was to repel advances from all males - we found a wonderful little lunch spot with bright yellow awnings in the Vieux Port called "Le Quick Lunch." It served hamburgers and Cokes at exorbitant prices, perfect for homesick American girls enjoying sunny a day out. We'd spend the morning on the beach, then cajole Mademoiselle Dallier to let us get a bite to eat at Le Quick Lunch. She tut-tutted and disapproved of the food but we begged and, if we hadn't been too obnoxious on the beach, she would eventually agree. We would stuff ourselves with nostalgia and return to school ready for the next prank.

I still think of Le Quick Lunch every time I make myself a lunch that doesn't take long. I may be looking out a the sparkling water of the San Francisco bay instead of the deep blue of the Mediterranean but the memory is as clear and bright as the sunshine was on those long-ago days.

This time, I was in a mood for pasta. I boiled some water and, while the pasta was cooking, softened a clove or two of minced garlic in a nice knob of butter. When the pasta was nearly done (angel hair takes just a few minutes), I threw a generous handful of frozen peas into the pasta water and strained them out together, tossing them in the garlicky pan. Topped with a snowfall of ParmReg, it made a lovely quick lunch, maybe not as decadent as hamburgers and Cokes on the Riviera but satisfying nonetheless.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Eight Minutes, Nine Bucks

I had the biggest, most beautiful pastured chicken on earth thawing in a roasting pan. We had another unseasonably rainy day and I was dreaming of a cosy dinner with juicy white meat paired with our favorite cranberry sauce, the lovely little "oysters," one for me and one for he and perfectly roasted skin sprinkled with herbs - we love, love, love roast chicken.

The problem was that the darn thing was so big that it didn't thaw in time for dinner! So, we popped it in the fridge for tomorrow and went out to choose one of the 14 possible restaurants in our tiny town.

First, to the farmer's market, which is held on a blocked-off main street in the village each Wednesday, to buy fruits and veggies for the coming days. After hitting the berry, cherry, mushroom and greengrocer vendors, I noticed that there was a tent called "Zen Grill" down the far end of the row. As I walked along behind the tent, the cook stepped out and slapped the prettiest piece of fresh salmon I've seen in quite some time onto his sizzling hot grill. Needless to say, I hurried around to the front to read the menu, hoping the salmon wasn't just for the stallholder's dinner.

It wasn't. Oh, heaven! I ordered two plates and was told to stroll around for eight minutes, which I did, snagging a sample of Catahoula coffee, a new addition to the market, from the owner as I passed by.

Eight minutes later, I collected our plates and headed back up the hill to dinner chez nous. The salad was fresh, the rice uninspired (what a land office business they could do if they'd offer Massa rice instead!) and the salmon was perfectly grilled with a nice spicing of pepper and salt and something else I can't quite identify. The outside was nearly crisp but the inside was moist and just changing texture to the just-barely-cooked. The flakes of fish came easily apart but were no longer gelatinous - in other words, done to a turn.

All this for $9. They even gave a slice or two of lemon along with a bright smile and a "Thank you!" A bargain by any measure on a day when it poured with rain and then cleared just as the market started.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fit for a Tsar

When I forget to take something out of the freezer for dinner until high noon, I have to rummage through the freezer drawers looking for something thin that will defrost in time.

Such was my dilemma yesterday when I found a fairly thinly sliced lamb loin steak in the freezer and stuck it in the microwave to thaw (I don't use the microwave to thaw things - it's just high enough to keep the neighbor's tall and dishonorable dog from stealing our dinner when I leave the front door open). With some leftover tzatziki in the fridge, I thought perhaps I could fashion a reasonable facsimile of stroganoff from those two ingredients plus a few more.

Such as mushrooms - a full pound of mushrooms. And alliums (allia?) - green garlic, regular garlic and onion. Some red wine. A little cream. The fresh dill and mint were already in my tzatziki. S & P. It all sounded pretty good.

The ticket with stroganoff is to quickly and fiercely sear the meat so it's richly browned on the outside but still pink on the inside; heat the pan really well, add the butter quickly and caramelize the meat as fast as you can. Then, remove it to a plate and continue sautéeing in the same pan, but at somewhat safer heat, the mushrooms and the allia. Deglaze with the wine, add the tzatziki and the cream, and heat gently to blend the flavors. Add the meat back in, plus any accumulated juices on the plate, and stir. It's even better if you can turn it off and let it rest for a few hours before gently reheating but it's pretty darn good even without that step.

Is it fit for a Tsar? Depends on how you view them. If you think of them as people of exquisite taste, uncountable wealth and opulent refinement, probably not. If you think of them as despotic overlords extracting their riches from the misery of their people and deserving of revolution, it's probably too good for them. Somewhere in between.

Lamb Stroganoff

1/2 pound cubed lamb loin
3 Tablespoons butter
2 stalks green garlic, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound mushrooms, cut into chunks
1 white onion, sliced in wedges from root to stem end
a splash of red wine
1-1/2 cups leftover tzatziki*
a splash of heavy cream

Serve over rice or wide egg noodles.

*If you don't happen to have leftover tzatziki, I'd try using the ingredients in whatever proportions you like - Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill, mint, pepper.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cupcake Wrinkle

Did you know that Cold Stone Creamery makes ice cream cupcakes and packages them for sale in clamshells of six assorted ones? And that the cupcake "wrapper" in this case is dark, dark chocolate?

I did not know that. Cousin Jan knew and she brought us some as a present. We still have two more left.

We adore Cousin Jan.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Welcome Dinner

Okay, I splurged. My Beloved was headed home from four days on the east coast with daughter Sarah and her little family - when I saw the beautiful lamb chops, I couldn't resist. He's a sucker for lamb chops.

Fresh asparagus - oh, yeah. Gotta do it at this time of year, so precious and so brief is the season. And a nice little roasted spud, another favorite of his. But, how to make the whole meal just a bit more special?

Cookiecrumb had made an interesting soup that I read about on her blog that weekend, and somehow it hit a live switch. It seemed a little like tzatziki, what with the creamy buttermilk base and cucumbers - and what's better with lamb than tzatziki? Nuttin', that's what.

Tzatziki recipes read a little like the ingredients for a facial mask - cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice - and it might just work on my growing network of wrinkles but, for now, I was thinking sauce rather than night cream. I made Kalyn's recipe for tzatziki because she claims it's the world's best, except instead of either dill or mint, I used both. It was splendid, really splendid with the lamb. The tart of the yogurt was perfect with the richness of the chops. I like to think it was like giving myself a facial from the inside out. My Beloved was in lamb chop heaven.

When your sweetie has been away for even an overnight, it's heartwarming to greet him at the door with a big hug and a smooch, for the dog to twirl and wag with delight and for dinner that night to be something really special. Maybe it's pandering to his male ego and, as a liberated woman of the 21st century, I should expect him to make dinner but I guess I'm a retrograde softie. Just glad he's home.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Sublime Sandwich

Until local tomatoes are ripe enough for a BLT or that killer open-faced avocado and ripe tomato sandwich that defines summer sandwich heaven for me, I'm eating this.

It all began with a pot of mustard that I found at my local market, a new brand to me. I usually use good old Grey Poupon, even though the name makes me snicker like an eight year old boy, but this time I noticed and purchased a jar of Edmond Fallot. It's a Dijon mustard, not even remotely local. It has a milder bite and a mellower flavor than the standard, and is tasty and delicious in its own way.

My Beloved has flown back east to attend our granddaughter's first dance recital and our grandson's dedication at the little church around the corner from their house, so I was on my own for dinner and that usually means moping around missing him and not cooking. But, finding the Fallot, some Swiss slices, a package of corned beef and a loaf of wheatberry bread in the fridge, it all seemed to call for a grilled sandwich, so I got out my frying pan.

Scraped the bread on one side with mayo and slathered the other side with Fallot, laid a slice of cheese and one of corned beef in between and grilled the sandwich in a buttery pan over medium heat until the bread crisped, the beef warmed and the cheese oozed. It's an ambrosial combination. Nutty cheese needs a feisty little mustard, gentle warming and the richness of corned beef to bring out its best. The wheatberry bread was a crisp and textured counterpoint to the melting, warm insides.

After the smooching is over, I'm going to make one of these for My Beloved when he returns today, just to remind him that coming home is a good thing.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Morning After

I awoke, not in heaven nor in hell, on the morning after. As far as I can tell, no one I know is missing, not even my fourth boss, who was so incredibly hellish that I thought for sure she'd be one to disappear. *sigh* And not even my sister, who is the polar opposite of hellish.

Made me glad I had made strawberry scones for breakfast, just in case.

I used an old recipe from the Joy of Cooking, but modified it a bit by using half-and-half rather than heavy cream, adding chopped strawberries and a combination of salt and sugar on the crust rather than either one or the other, as the recipe recommends. I thought it would add a little je ne sais quoi to the scones.

They were wonderfully light and airy with a sunny yellow crumb thanks to the bright eggs from pastured chickens. The sweet, fruity pockets of strawberry goodness were really the best part; next time, even at the risk of weighing them down a bit, I'd add more strawberries. The salt-sugar experiment was fine but I'd probably use just sugar next time, a very sparing sprinkle of raw sugar for the sweet hit of the larger crystals.

I ate one of them warm from the oven, then wrapped the cooled ones and refrigerated them. When I awoke to find myself still here, I reheated one for breakfast (just as good reheated) and had a rapturous meal on the morning after.

Strawberry Scones, adapted from the Joy of Cooking (did you know the book now has its own website?)

1-3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2-1/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6-8 ripe strawberries, chopped
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half or full cream
A mixture of salt and sugar for sprinkling over the top before baking, about 2 teaspoons

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Into the first four ingredients in a large bowl, cut the butter using two knives or a pastry blender, until the butter is the size of small peas. In a separate bowl, beat two eggs. Remove 2 tablespoons of the egg to use as a wash later, then mix in the cream with the eggs.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the cream mixture. Combine the wet and dry ingredients with a few swift strokes. Handle the dough as little as possible. Place it on a lightly floured board and pat it out to about 3/4" thick. Cut wedges with a knife - it should make about 10-12 wedges.

Transfer the wedges to a baking sheet (I lined mine with parchment paper and I'd recommend that) and brush with the reserved egg wash, then sprinkle with the salt-sugar mixture (or take my advice and just go with sugar in a larger crystal).

Bake for about 15 minutes (my oven runs hot so I rescued these at 10 minutes and that was just right). Cool on a rack.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day

Since the world ends today, I'd be ticked if I had struggled to write something meaningful and it was lost in all that chaos.

I'm more of a heathen than a Christian, so my destruction is (apparently) assured.

So, instead I plan to kick back in the time that's left to me and swallow fresh, ripe, organic strawberries until the earth swallows me. That's my idea of rapture.

Thanks for all your comments and interest. It's been nice knowing you!


Friday, May 20, 2011


All of a sudden it's spring and we are Murcans, so the barbecue begged for local, pastured ribeye steak from Paradise Valley Beef - they come to our little farmer's market each Wednesday and, if you call in advance, will even bring the specific cuts you crave.

We bought all the rest of the ingredients at the farmer's market, too. Beautiful big artichokes at a good price. Freshly dug spuds with the dirt still clinging to them. Lemons to flavor the dipping sauce for the artichokes.

We grilled two steaks but they were too much even for our healthy appetites, so one went into the fridge for tomorrow's lunch - green salad topped with strips of lovely, pink beef. Scrubbed those spuds and baked them lightly oiled with evoo. Steamed the 'chokes. Easy, killer dinner with little cleanup.

Isn't it great to be a Murcan?


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Last Of The Gnudi

Because our weather had turned more toward winter than spring, bringing us several days of unusual rain for this time of year, I decided to make a hearty soup to bathe the last of the gnudi. It was easy enough to do as I had a fridge full of veggies and the leftover sauce from this gnudi iteration, so in the morning I went to work, simmered the result for a few hours, turned it off and let it rest, then reheated it for dinner the same day.

I sautéed chopped onion, green garlic, fennel and celery in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, then added the leftover sauce and a big box of organic chicken broth, plus a healthy handful of oregano and thyme from the garden. A little later on, I decided a dollop of red wine couldn't hurt, so that went in as well. The sauce already had some spicy Italian sausage, mushrooms and zucchini, enough to make the soup hearty.

When all that simmering had been accomplished, I added a handful of fresh peas, boiled another pot of salted water for the gnudi and, when they were done, dropped them into the bowls of soup. Somewhere along the line, the soup got plenty of salt - no need to add any - but we did grind some fresh pepper and grate a light sprinkle of ParmReg into our bowls, just to add to the deep funkiness.

The rain was running down the windowpanes and the wind was tossing the treetops around outside as we sat down in a pool of yellow light in the warm house to steaming bowls of gnudi soup.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Remember the neighbor who got a kick out of my strawberry-rhubarb pie? His wife is a good baker, too, and she reciprocated last evening with these, blueberry popovers.

Coming to the door just as we finished dinner, very timely because we were wishing we had something interesting for dessert, she brought us these lovely popovers to say thanks for the pie, which was really a thanks for cookies that her husband had brought over a few weeks before. This back-and-forth has been going on for years now. I hope it never ends.

She was concerned that adding blueberries to the popovers had weighted them down and caused less of a pop. We reassured her on that score - these were light as a song while still offering little jammy pockets of berry treasure. We have missed National Blueberry Popover Day - that was back in March - but you can find three recipes for them on this website. When you make a nice, big batch, enjoy them - but then take some over to surprise your neighbors.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I guess you could say we are having fun with our big batch of gnudi!

Here's preparation Numero Tre in an ongoing series until we finish them.

By the way, it is not lost on me that having made these gnudi, I have at least four killer meals for two people on hand. I'm retired and don't really need time savers, but if you are working I can recommend making the gnudi on Sunday and enjoying them nearly all week just by whipping up an easy, new and different sauce each evening and boiling another pot of salted water. Che protebbe essere plù facile?

Last night's rendition was the best so far. I started with about a tablespoon of butter, a grinding of fresh pepper and a tad of garlic salt in a little pool of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a wide pan. When it was hot and the butter had foamed but not burned (thanks to the oil), I added four or five cloves of minced garlic and let that sizzle over a very low flame to flavor the butter and to soften the garlic. While the garlic was cooking, I boiled up another big pot of salted water for the gnudi.

Using a Meyer lemon, one of the few left from our SOCA care package, I squeezed both halves into the pan with the garlic and mixed it around with the butter/evoo before adding a handful of fresh peas right out of the pod. The water came to a boil and in went another eight gnudi (five for him, three for moi) where they spun and soared in the roiling water for about eight minutes. When the peas had just barely dimpled and were still brightly green, I scooped out the now-floating gnudi with a slotted spoon and dumped them unceremoniously into the lemon butter mixture with the peas. Toss, toss until all were coated evenly, then plated. In our house, Parmesano Reggiano comes to the table in a block with a grater and everyone grates her/his own. That's all there is to it!

The gnudi were just as good this third night as they were the previous two, light as angel food cake, the perfect substrate for whatever sauce you create. This one was our favorite so far - a little tart from the Meyer juice, a little peppery, a lot buttery but redeemed from unctuousness by the fresh peas and the lemon. I may not even invent sauce Numero Quattro - Numero Tre deserves a threepeat.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Take Twodi On Gnudi

Because that first batch of gnudi made quite a number of those little pillows of cheesy goodness, we will have more than one chance to change up the sauces and try new flavors with them.

A case in point, the second iteration of gnudi made the next night, this time with a sauce that began with chopped onion and minced garlic softened in olive oil, then added spicy Italian sausage "meatballs" made by quickly squeezing out little bibbits from their casings into the pan.

Once the sausage bits were browned, I added chunked mushrooms to get nicely brown, then roughly chopped zucchini, a dollop of red wine and about half a cup of an uninspired fresh Bolognese sauce that I had purchased for a different meal and didn't finish. Oregano, pepper, nice. Cooked it all together for about eight minutes while the gnudi boiled, roiling to the top like little white fish, then netted from the water and tossed straight into the pan with the sauce before scooping them out, covered in a bumpy, tasty blanket, into our favorite pasta bowls.

This sauce was killer, really mouthwatering and satisfying all at once. If I hadn't carefully counted out the gnudi, we'd have overeaten - it was that good. Italians know how to build flavor into their dishes, layer by layer until it all sings on the tongue. Take Two on the gnudi was even better than Take One. And there are even more in the fridge!

I wonder if they freeze well?


Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Gnudi

Gnudi. No, not a slice of African antelope. Rather, little logs of local, fresh ricotta cheese held together with a hint of flour, aged cheese and egg and topped, in this case, with a chicken-mushroom-sage-thyme mixture and garnished with fried sage leaves. It all melts in the mouth, from the soft fresh cheese gnudi to the tender smoked chicken and the sage leaves.

It all started when I went to epicurious.com, my usual go-to site for ideas, to figure out what to do with some of my planked chicken from last night's dinner (yes, it's planking season again! Yay!) and my search suggested these little dumpling-like logs made with fresh ricotta, egg and aged cheese. I have heard of gnocchi, but gnudi was a new term to me, so I read further and became intrigued. Gnudi are, essentially, the filling for ravioli without the pasta surrounding. I found several different recipes but the one for which I had the most ingredients on hand was this one.

While there are several steps in the process and this is definitely a remove-your-rings exercise, most can be made ahead and just assembled when gnudi float to the top of the salted water. The recipe made enough for a crowd, too, so I'm sure we'll be eating them in different sauces for more than one meal.

I subbed in my smoked chicken for the prosciutto and button mushrooms for the wild ones (note to self: next time, try the original recipe!) and it made a delicious dinner, first time out. I have lots of changes that I'd make next time - more aged cheese, more pepper, wild mushrooms instead of tame, more herbs in the sauce, brown the mushrooms longer, try the spinach version - but we really enjoyed the airy texture of the gnudi and the rich funginess of the sauce.

Another new thing to me was the fried sage leaves. I have always carefully removed them from any dish in which they were included at restaurants, Fearing the Fried Fuzz and not wanting to have to (gag on) remove them in public. In private, I manned up and tasted one. It was amazing - disappearing instantly into nothing but flavor on the tongue.

Next time you are offered gnudi (not gnu) try them. They are a treat. And don't worry about gagging on the fried sage leaves.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Taste Of My Own Medicine

My friend Irene is in Hawaii on vacation and she keeps posting on Facebook about all the Island food and drinks she is enjoying, making me envious and hungry - and making me realize that I did that to others when I was there. I'm getting a taste of my own medicine.

Well, the other day she mentioned that she had enjoyed a fried rice omelet with Spam and that idea resonated so strongly with me that I immediately got out a pan and made some rice, knowing I already had a can of Spam in the pantry. When it was done, I made fried rice with Spam in it, then folded that into an omelet. I have no idea if this is in any way similar to what she ate - there was no photo of her plate in her post - but this is what came to my mind when I read that.

It was good in that down-home-but-not-very-healthy way that Hawaiian food often is. Comfort food if you grew up eating rice and Spam, a little bland but nicely rich and filling. Irene says we must go to the Hukilau restaurant in San Francisco so I can try the real thing without going to Hawaii. Me, I'd rather go.

Fried Rice Omelet with Spam

1/2 can Spam, cut into small dice
1 cup cooked white rice
a handful of fresh or frozen peas, about 3/4 of a cup
1/2 onion, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons Aloha brand teriyaki sauce (marinade)
This will make enough filling for at least four omelets and perhaps six.

For each omelet:
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon of butter

In a wide frying pan, sauté in the toasted sesame oil the onion, celery and Spam. When onion is soft, add the rice and stir to distribute evenly. Add the fresh peas and cover to let them steam until tender. Add the teriyaki sauce and mix together, letting it all cook for a few minutes. You can stop here and refrigerate the rest if you want, making omelets later. You can add pepper but no salt - both the Spam and the shoyu in the teriyaki sauce will add salt to the dish.

When you are ready to make the omelet, heat the fried rice mixture. In a small bowl, mix together the eggs and the water until well incorporated. Using a small frying pan or omelet pan with a non-stick bottom, add the butter over medium heat until it foams and subsides. Pour in the egg mixture and let it set for a minute or two. Gently lift the edges of the omelet and let the egg in the middle run underneath. When most of the egg is set, add the fried rice mixture, cover and cook for a few more minutes, until the center of the omelet is as firm as you like it.

Slide the edge of the omelet onto a warmed plate, folding the second half of the omelet over onto the first half.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yikes, Stripes!

Now that spring has sprung
And the grass is riz,
I began to wonder where
The green garlic is.

Green garlic makes me wax poetic.

When I spotted some at our local farmer's market, I happily stuffed two bunches in my basket and brought them home in triumph, feeling like the original gatherer-woman.

It was marinated for a few hours in an equal mixture of red wine vinegar and olive oil that was flavored with a little salt and pepper, along with a lamb London broil that absorbed some of that great garlic flavor. Briefly grilled indoors (it was cold again and windy outside - spring is so fickle!), it relaxed and donned stripes. Still a little crunchy, it was mild and not at all hot as garlic is wont to be later in the season. Inspirational.

Cherry tomatoes are red,
The beanies are green,
Spring lamb is lovely,
With garlic that's green.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Leftover Sundae

Weeks ago, I read in Thyme for Cooking about a rhubarb-yogurt parfait but, at the time, I had no yogurt in the house, nor any rhubarb. Sounded good, but...

Fast forward to last weekend, when I made a delicious-but-very-juicy strawberry rhubarb pie for my neighbor. After the last piece disappeared, I was left with a pie plate full of fruit goozle. I couldn't bear to throw it away.

Bingo! The idea of that rhubarb parfait sprang back to mind and, happily, this time I had yogurt in the fridge as well.

All you do is alternate a plop of yo with a driz of rhu and you've got a breakfast treat. My Beloved is not usually a yogurt fan but even he scarfed up his portion. This was made with fat free yogurt, quite tart, but you could gentle it down by using Greek yogurt and you'd still get that one-sweet-one-tangy bite that I just love. This could easily pass for a light dessert, as well.

The recipe would be very easy, if you wanted the parfait without the intervening pie. Use equal cups full of quarter-inch rhubarb slices (nice part of the stem only and no leaves) and halved strawberries. Toss them with equal amounts of golden brown sugar and white sugar, adding salt and cinnamon mixed, to taste. (For six cups of fruit in the pie, I used one scant cup of the sugars, and added a teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. That's equivalent to two small baskets of strawberries and about six or seven stems of rhubarb). If you don't want a whole pie's worth of sauce, you can reduce the proportions accordingly, keeping the balance of flavors.

In a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold all that, begin cooking on very low flame until the strawberries give up their juice and the rhubarb begins to soften. Keep an eye on it - you don't want the sugars to burn. Cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the sugars and salt have mixed and mingled, and it's all one lovely gmish, then let it cool.

Layer yogurt and sauce in a pretty stemmed glass to show off the colors and serve.

Monday, May 9, 2011

As Easy As Pie

My next door neighbor has cancer. If you've got to have cancer, his is the best kind to have, as it has a very high cure rate but, needless to say, all of us in the neighborhood are concerned.

He's a good guy - he gives back generously to his community and is always helpful. He is the president of our Neighborhood Council. He is the Energizer Bunny of neighbors, continually working on his house and, occasionally, on mine. When he saw that my outside stairs were worn and unsafe, he quietly repaired them; I only discovered the improvement last year when I went down to pick peaches. He keeps dog biscuits in his garage for all the neighborhood hounds and adopted an aging stray cat that he feeds with pills from the vet and pricey food out of tiny cans.

He has been pretty down on power for the past several months as he goes through chemotherapy. He lost his hair, of course, but he doesn't seem to realize that it is downright fashionable these days. He makes little jokes about his baldness and often wears a watch cap.

My way of thanking him for being such a good neighbor is usually to share baked goods when I make them; when he mentioned that he loves strawberry-rhubarb pie, I made a mental note. I had never made a strawberry-rhubarb pie before so this seemed like a great time to try. A quick scan of the interwebs showed that it's a very uncomplicated pie to make, requiring only seven ingredients for the filling. Mine actually only had six, since I didn't have corn starch in the house: strawberries, rhubarb, brown and white sugars, salt and cinnamon.

I used Star Dough for the crust rather than fuss with my own and it was perfectly delicious as well as divinely easy. I didn't bother to lattice it, just cut some slits in the top crust. I left out the cornstarch since I didn't have any and, as a result, the pie filling was very liquid but the flavor was wonderful. The cinnamon didn't dominate as I was a little afraid it would. Mostly you taste the tangy-sweet fruit with a hint of salt. And the color! Heavens, what a color! Deeply ruby under a golden crust, it was a visual as well as a gustatory treat.

Shortly after Cora and I took a couple of slices of pie over to his house, I received an email from his wife with a grinning photo of him, fork in hand over his half-eaten piece of pie, and several quotes that he had murmured between bites: "This is a county fair winner!" and "I don't know...this may be better than my Mom's" and "Definitely the crust..."

I hope he knows that we don't love him just for fixing stairs and for chairing the neighborhood council, for what he does for us; we love him because he's Peter.

Pie is a small way to say that.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Portrait of My Mother

My mother taught me manners. She taught me about sex. She taught me to sit on the grass on a warm spring day and simply enjoy the moment. She taught me to love art and to appreciate the special way artists view the world. She taught me how to dress with style and economy (that lesson didn't stick quite so well). She taught me how to drink socially but not let the drink win. She taught me to sit like a lady. She taught me some of the constellations in a dark sky. She taught me to cook. She taught me how to make a bed so welcoming that one simply drops in. She taught me thorough housekeeping, another lesson that didn't quite sink in. She taught me how to meet foreigners with appreciation for their ways. She taught me simple home repairs, and how to recognize when they really call for an expert. She taught me to read and to reason.

Because we were a Navy family in which Dad was frequently away for long periods, most of what I learned about successful day-to-day living came from my mother.

She was a lifelong learner; having mastered French as a young woman, learned about the fishing industry in Newfoundland and plains Indians in Nebraska, she turned her mind toward learning Japanese when we were stationed in Japan and never stopped learning. She had Japanese language flashcards in her purse and reviewed them whenever she was waiting in line. She tucked a tiny transistor radio tuned to the Japanese language station in her back pocket while gardening in Hawaii. By the time she left Japan, she could speak, read and write the language and wrote long letters to her Japanese friends. She loved anything Japanese, from arts and crafts to sushi and clothing.

This portrait was painted by a friend of hers when they were both art students in New York City in the 1930s. She would remake her grandmother's dresses into something stylish and they would go dancing at the Stork Club and 21. I had the pleasure of meeting the artist long after my mother passed away and his memories of those days and of my mother were still vivid in his 92nd year.

Did she have flaws? Oh, my, yes! She was quick tempered, easily frustrated and sometimes catty. She believed her way was not only the right way, it was the only way. She was too concerned with appearances and sometimes illogical. She could be snobbish and judgmental. She was self-conscious about her lack of college education, never understanding that she was a better student than many who had more formal education. And she couldn't tell a joke worth a damn.

She hated Mother's Day; thought it was a holiday trumped up to sell greeting cards. We sent her cards and gave her presents on that day, anyway. Rebellious little buggers we were.

My mother has been in heaven for more than 20 years now but I still miss her, not only on Mother's Day but also whenever I see a painting I know she'd like, visit France, see anything Japanese, sit on the grass on a sunny day or lie out looking at stars. She's there when I read to my granddaughter and she smiles when I greet a foreigner with eager anticipation.

Mothers are like that, both unique and universal.

Happy Mother's Day.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Market Haul

I can hear Etta James singing as I slice my spring onions in half and lay them reverently in the melted butter at the bottom of my widest pan, douse them with a little water and white wine, sprinkle them with fresh thyme leaves from the garden and cover them to braise oh-so-slowly toward tenderness.

Our own little farmer's market here in Point Richmond has started up again for the season and our street is filled with white tents sheltering smiling vendors selling fresh fruits and veggies, plus handcrafts and prepared dinners.

A trio of musicians adds to the festive air, their coffee can out prominently in front is slowly filling with appreciative donations. Neighbors are milling among the tents, greeting each other and carrying heavy sacks of produce or small children. Older children flit around the little park uner the watchful eye of our Indian statue and dance to the music. Some people bring their dogs, who sniff and wag with enthusiasm.

My berry guy is back so strawberries are now on the menu; I resisted all berries until he returned. His are so sweet, shiny and ripe, they were worth the wait. Green garlic can be found weekly just down the street. Spring onions are plentiful and so beautifully colored. Freshly baked breads and pastries, plentiful bags of nuts - in short, it's a mini cornucopia just two blocks down the hill.

We are hoping for a fishmonger and a cheese vendor to round out the offerings. In the meantime, we are reveling in the return of the market and the warmer weather. At last.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

El Taco Retro

We don't make a big deal of Cinco de Mayo but we usually like to honor our Mexican Americans in some small way and to thank them for their heritage of great chow. America would be sadly poorer without Mexican food.

So, when I awoke to find that Cinco de Mayo had sneaked up on me while I was celebrating a wedding, I decided to make margaritas and tacos. Not exactly authentic, but my heart was in the right place.

Sprinted down to my local market, which was bought a couple of years ago by an Hispanic family and has been transformed by them. I found all the makings for the kind of innocently joyous tacos we used to think were "Mexican food," and brought them home. Ground beef, tomatoes from Mexico where they are already ripe, pre-shredded cheese mixture, iceberg lettuce, limes, taco sauce in a bottle, pre-folded corn tortillas, margarita mix and tequila - in short, the whole enchilada.

Called our friends Janie and Jack for a spur-of-the-moment party. Janie has been working too hard, so she begged off in favor of napping on the couch but Jack came, bringing red and orange roses whose colors sang of warmer places.

I already had some nice, ripe avocados, so I made some guacamole as an appetizer, mixed up a large pitcher of margaritas and fluffed the chair cushions on the deck. We sat outside pretending to be in Mexico (until it got too chilly) and got a little tipsy drinking margaritas before sitting down to retro tacos.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Haste To The Wedding

Whew! The last guest has gone back east this morning and we are slumped into our chairs with big grins on our faces. The wedding was splendid and the setting was dreamy - at Ocean Song where the views down to the sea are simply breathtaking. Parties every day. Lots of laughter, hugs, kisses and dancing. Little kids looking adorable, older folks decked out in their finest, young things in tight skirts and suit coats. Caterers weaving gracefully amongst the merrymakers. Cameras everywhere and a wonderfully wiry little French photographer who counted down to the flash, "Un, Deux, Trois!" and encouraged everyone to say "Fromage!"

Through it all, the bride and groom were relaxed and smiling - you'd think they did this every day!

Okay, okay, enough of that mushy stuff. How about a little enthusiastic writing about sausage? On one of the weekend mornings, I made waffles for the family and browned some of these breakfast sausages to go alongside. No special waffle recipe - just the one on the side of the Bisquick box. They were good but, let's face it, it's really all about the real maple syrup and the butter.

The sausages, however, were something very special. They are zingy with a little spice and rich with smoky, lightly salty, meaty flavor in natural casings. No extra "stuff," just porky goodness on the plate, puddled in a little syrup. I don't know what the bride and groom had for breakfast but we ate like kings. Whether you haste to the wedding or not, you should definitely haste to the sausages.