Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Sometimes when I'm reading comments on a friend's blog, I come across submissions so clever or interesting that they prompt me to visit the commenter's blog to see if I want to add them to my reading list. I have to admit, it doesn't often result in a new blog to add - I don't suffer badly written blogs gladly.
Recently, however, I added a new one. The Hungry Dog. Not only does she feature food that sounds good, she writes in a clear, humorous, warm style that I enjoy. And she likes dogs. I think I like this lady.
In her Thanksgiving post she featured a link to a cauliflower gratin that she was planning to share with friends on Turkey Day. It sounded so good that I rushed right down to my neighborhood store to pick up the ingredients. Thanksgiving, phooey! I wanted it now!
Talk about your total, instant gratification!
It was as rich as mac and cheese - and, by the way, the recipe reads just about the same - but lighter because the cauliflower isn't as heavy as macaroni. And the addition of horseradish to the cracker crumb topping is inspired, lifting the dish from predictable to delectable.
I changed the recipe just a bit, using cream-style horseradish instead of the fiery kind and sprinkling the gratin with finely chopped fresh rosemary for additional flavor. I liked both of my tweaks and would do them again.
We are facing a long winter with lots of cauliflower in it. My new best friend has me actually looking forward to it.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Saving The Day
When I purchased those few shrimp, I was thinking of an appetizer. When they became, through a comedy of errors, dinner - I needed to find a way to stretch them a bit. We are hearty eaters.
Remembering how our lobster carbonara had combined pancetta (cured meat) with the lobster (seafood), I thought perhaps I could add a little Italian sausage, which I had in the fridge, to this recipe to make it go a bit farther.
Luisa turned me on to this recipe a couple of years ago, and I keep coming back to it - it's relatively easy and quick, and unfailingly delicious.
I sliced the pre-cooked Italian sausage and tossed them with the seasonings before roasting. I find it surprising that meats and seafood go together - I've never been a big fan of "surf and turf" meals. This one, however, despite my roasting it a bit too long while waiting for My Beloved and Cora to get back from a walk, was quite, quite delicious.
The shrimp and sausage loved each other and the broccoli and lemon juice lightened an otherwise rich meal. Another time, I wouldn't start the broccoli ahead of the shrimp and sausage, I'd just roast them all together for about 10 minutes; I'd like the broccoli to be greener. But overall, it was a big success and it saved the day.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
My Beloved and I have a deal - the one who cooks doesn't have to do dishes. In our house, that translates most of the time to me cooking and he washing the dishes. He can cook perfectly well but he says I'm better at it. While that's debatable, I have to admit I prefer cooking to washing dishes, so I don't fight his perceptions very hard.
But, because he's so sweet about doing the dishes most nights, I try not to test his patience by using too many pots and pans. No sense in killing the goose that laid the golden egg, right?
This dinner came together with just two, a small saucepan for the rice and a large, wide pan for the Swiss chard and salmon. Aren't I thoughtful?
While the rice was bubbling away on the back burner, I melted a little butter in the wide pan and minced some garlic, gently cooking the garlic chips for a few minutes before laying in the washed, de-stemmed Swiss chard leaves. Once the leaves had wilted, which only takes a few minutes with Swiss chard, I pushed them to one side of the pan and laid the salmon, skin side down, in the same pan. Using that same gentle heat, I cooked the salmon until I could see the paler cooked color inching through the fillet, then flipped it and easily removed the skin and the dark, strong-tasting flesh just under the skin with a spatula.
When the fish was done to our liking (still a bit rare for My Beloved and fully cooked but still moist for me), I played around with the plating for a change, making a wreath of rice around the dark green chard and laying the salmon on top.
Garlic and salmon are good friends, so the fish benefitted from some time bathing in that garlicky butter left at the bottom of the pan. Swiss chard and salmon are also good friends, the slightly astringent chard balancing the oiliness of the fish. And brown rice, really good brown rice like this, rounds out the meal perfectly.
Two plates, two glasses, two sets of silverware, two serving utensils and two pans. Not too many dishes to wash after a delicious meal.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
I'm thankful for so much in my life.
My goofy Cora
My homey house
Beauty in the world
A career spent helping students
An interesting and restful retirement
and much, much more.
Thanksgiving is far and away my favorite holiday. No gifting hassles, no nonsense, just friends and family gathering around a table to enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures, sharing food and gratitude. It's an equal opportunity holiday in a not very egalitarian world - everyone has reasons to be grateful and this day gives us all a chance to reflect on them. Even when life isn't fair, there's family and hope.
Okay, enough Pollyanna for one day. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, all of you, and I hope your dinner is delicious, your family is healthy and you have inspired ideas for the leftovers.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I'm always a little sad when fall weather rolls in; summers are never quite long enough for me. I do relish the crisp air and the hard blue of a fall sky, but almost always find myself wishing for just one more really warm day, one without socks or sweatshirts.
Still, I don't live in Hawaii and I don't miss the sticky summers back east, so I can't really complain. And fall foods are always a bonus.
Take this risotto, for example. I'd never have contemplated it in the heat of the summer - too much stirring over a steaming pot. Now, steaming pots are welcome. Plus, I didn't have kabocha squash in the summer - I was playing in Zucchiniland back then. And, Brussels sprouts seems so perfect for fall - mini cabbages.
The risotto came about when the steaks I had planned for dinner didn't thaw in time. Luckily, I had the makings for risotto in the fridge - a few small portobello mushrooms, two slices of cooked bacon left from breakfast, onion, shallot, white wine, parmesan cheese and some roasted kabocha squash already scooped out of its shell. All I needed to add was arborio rice, chicken broth and thyme.
I won't go into all the steps of prepping a risotto - they are out there on the web - but I'll give you the shorthand: In a heavy saucepan, soften the alliums of your choice in generous butter, then add the mushrooms, chopped bacon and thyme, and toss those in the butter. Add the rice next and toss it, too, until the grains are coated and cook it for a few minutes, stirring constantly. When the rice turns opaque, pour in a splash of white wine and stir to coat. When the wine has more or less absorbed, start adding the chicken broth a little at a time, stirring with each addition.
Around the midpoint of the rice, I added the kabocha squash. It wasn't a purée, just sort of roughly chunked so there were little pieces of squash discernible in the finished risotto.
While the rice cooks, grate a goodly hill of Parmesan cheese and add that just at the end, when all your broth has been absorbed. Stir in the cheese and plate the risotto in shallow bowls. I didn't add salt and pepper until it hit the table - with bacon and cheese in the risotto, there may be plenty of salt.
The Brussels sprouts were simply butter-steamed on very low heat, to bring out their sweet nuttiness rather than their strong cabbage-family side. The ticket with them is not to overcook - they should still be brightly green and firm when served. Even Brussels sprout haters respond well to this gentle treatment.
With dinner like this on the table, I say bring on the fall! Even if it means rainy days and chill, I can face it with a stomach full of gooey rice and sprouts.
Monday, November 21, 2011
I have a lifelong friend named Cricket. She didn't start life with that name but she adopted it once she turned 21 because everyone called her by her nickname, anyway, and because she loved the quirky idea of being a seriously competent doctor with the rather frivolous name of Cricket. Once the judge pronounced her legally Cricket, she charged penalty fees if we forgot to use her new name. Whenever I think of her before the name change "Linda" comes to mind; my memories after age 21 are all labeled "Cricket."
Cricket and I have been friends literally from the playpen on - our mothers were great pals, our fathers were close and dear friends, and the two families each had four children of roughly the same ages, so we all got along like a house afire. Their big, rambling house in Michigan was a home base for us, one of the few unchanging things in a Navy life.
Crick and I have taken very different paths in life - she to medical school and obstetrics; I, via a somewhat wandering and checkered route, to career counseling with college students. She had three kids; I abstained. She chose Seattle; I left the west coast for Rochester, NY. But, whenever Crick and I get together, our friendship blossoms like a flower. Even when we haven't seen or talked to one another in a long time, we pick right up where we left off, as comfortable and easy as if we had seen each other just the day before. We differ politically but we share great memories and a sometimes wicked sense of humor.
All this as prelude so that you can imagine what a pleasure it was to get a call last week from one of Cricket's sons, a young pilot who was in the area getting some additional flight time. We met him out in Danville at a restaurant called the Peasant and the Pear, which we had heard about on "Check Please, Bay Area." It's a good show and has steered us to some very good meals.
As we caught up with Peter's doings and learned about his plans for the future, My Beloved and I each enjoyed a dish of Lobster Carbonara. Although it was the most expensive thing on the menu, it was only a couple of dollars more than the other choices, so we each ordered a glass of prosecco and went for it.
The restaurant lighting does wonders for my complexion, not so much for the photograph - but the dish was as close to heaven as I expect to get before dying. The sauce was creamy and lemony, rich and delicious. The pasta was wide, thin and silky. The lobster meat was generous, tender, perfectly cooked and simply out of this world. The carbonara had little squares of crisped pancetta and a handful of fresh peas, topped with a sprinkle of chopped parsley. And the serving was so fulsome that I had to bring some of it home.
I enjoy a chance to know Cricket's kids as adults, now that they are all grown up. It's another frame in the film of memories we have unreeled over our lifetimes. I have always respected Cricket's ambition, profession and quirky sense of humor, but it's fun to learn through her children that I respect her parenting, too.
I'll have to call her soon - it's time we caught up.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
"Tickled pink" is an expression I associate with my Dad. When he heard good news, he declared himself to be tickled pink. If a favorite person was coming to visit, again, he'd be tickled pink. Or perhaps it was a particularly welcome Christmas present - he'd look me in the eye and say, "Honey, thank you! I'm tickled pink!" and, indeed, he was a little flushed with pleasure.
I don't associate beets with my father at all. I'm pretty sure he didn't like beets, as we rarely had them growing up. If he had an aversion to a particular food but Mom liked it, she would save it to serve to us when he was out at sea. She spoiled him, and he loved it. I learned a lot about the care and feeding of husbands from her.
I've always rather liked beets. I like them sweet or pickled and the color always amazes me - talk about your vegetable dyes! If I'm not careful, I get indelible hot pink stains down the front of my clothes. I'm sure beet juice would make a knockout ink.
I had some nice, round dark purple beets that I had roasted in foil, so decided to try making a sort of scallop with potatoes and onions and, for that slightly pickled taste, plain yogurt. I sliced them all thinly (except the yogurt, of course) and layered potatoes, then onions, then beets, then a slather of yogurt into a shallow dish. When I was finished layering, it didn't seem quite moist enough, so I dotted some butter on the top and sneaked a little half-and-half down the side to bubble in the oven. The cream immediately turned bright pink.
I baked the dish for about two hours (scalloped things take a surprisingly long time) at about 350 degrees F. The top was browned a dark chocolate color but the layers inside were brightly pink. It looked kinda cool on the plate. The taste was slightly sour along with creamy, but I have to admit it wasn't the kind of dish that makes you pound the table and nod with delight. It's a quieter pleasure than that.
All in all, it was good, but I wasn't tickled pink.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I was reading the local fishwrapper, better known as the San Francisco Chronicle, last Sunday and came across a marvelous article I hope you all read.
If you didn't, read it now - you'll thank me.
It showcases several area organic farmers and each farmer has contributed a recipe using what they grow. So many cool ideas for Thanksgiving - and earlier.
Like right now.
I have never thought of stuffing a squash. Now, that's crazy, because squashes all come with a hollow where the seeds and strings used to be, just begging for something to fill it up. I've seen soup served in pumpkins and my mother used to fill the hollow of acorn squash with a dab of butter and brown sugar to tempt us, but somehow I have until now missed the simple brilliance of making stuffing not for the bird but for the squash.
I was so inspired that I immediately got out the butternut I've been harboring in the crisper for a week wondering what to do with it. I could always roast it, or make soup, or whatever, but nothing appealed until the article sparked an idea.
I decided to use a rice stuffing, starting with that killer Massa brown rice and some bacon we had left over from breakfast. Five or six little brown mushrooms, a big yellow onion... it sprang nearly fully formed in my head.
First, I halved the squash and set it on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper in a 350 degree F oven for about half an hour, until it pierced easily with a knife. I cooked the rice separately in chicken stock while the squash baked. While all that was happening, I chopped about four rashers of the bacon and browned the bits in a wide pan. After the bacon was nearly done, I reserved half of it, leaving half in the pan, poured off the extra grease and sautéed the onion and mushrooms in the same pan. Once the squash came out of the oven, I scooped out a trench in the neck of the roasted squash, minced the scoopings, and added them to the stuffing mixture.When the rice was done, I mixed it in and stuffed it all into the halved, roasted, seed-and-neck-scooped squash.
Back into the oven for a nice warming - perhaps 20 minutes - and it was ready to serve. Sprinkled with chopped green onion, the rest of the bacon, and s&p.
I had a small squash and that's all we had for dinner except a couple of spears of steamed broccoli, so each of us got an entire half to eat, but if you make a large squash, you can cut it into slices to serve and save the rest.
It was hearty and filling, rich with harvest flavors. The mushrooms added depth, the bacon added heft and the onions added sweetness. And if you've never tried Massa rice, you are missing a major treat - I was never a brown rice fan until I found Massa.
This is fare that will make you look forward to harvest time.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I take a fair amount of good-natured ribbing from a certain meat-loving food blogger about my insistence on organic, local, seasonal, pastured or free-range food choices. He thinks I'm a little silly, and he's probably right. Still, in most things, I remain adamant; he says I'm stubborn. I prefer the word steadfast.
One thing we do agree on, however, is bacon. We both love it.
I have always said that Nueske's Bacon is my gold standard. It has the perfect balance of smoke, sweet, texture and salt to please me. Unfortunately, it isn't made locally, so it has to be ordered from afar and that's not exactly local, is it?
So, I'm always on the lookout for good bacon from closer than Wisconsin. I love Coleman's hot dogs, so when I happened upon a package of their bacon at my local market, I decided to give it a try. It's from Colorado - still not local - but closer than WI, right?
We cooked up the bacon for our long, leisurely Sunday breakfast with eggs, wheatberry toast with Meyer lemon marmalade and coffee. The rashers are thinner than the local artisan bacons we mostly buy, but they are thicker than many national brands. They cooked up perfectly - crisp for me and slightly droopy for My Beloved. The flavors of pig, salt and sweet were there but, sadly, no smoke. It's hard to complain about bacon - I mean, what's not to like? - but I have to say that Nueske's still wins for that smoky profile that signals bacon perfection.
The search for perfect local bacon continues. I'm happy to shoulder the task, with help from my blogging pal. Stay tuned.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
The Soup of Human Kindness
What can I say? She is such a good friend to us.
She's the one who lent us her house and her car in Belgium for two weeks - we had a simply unforgettable time there, thanks to her, living in a Belgian neighborhood and getting a taste of everyday life in that lovely little country.
As if that were not enough, she drives down frequently from her current home in Petaluma to swim with me in the Plunge (she's a much better swimmer than I; she keeps me motivated), is always up for an adventure, and frequently finds me funny and delightful things at garage sales.
When we returned home from two weeks back east, we arrived too late to pick Cora up from the dog spa where she was romping with her pals, so Jan collected her for us and delivered her home. So welcoming to come home to ecstatic tail wags instead of a cold, still house!
And Jan left a bouquet of flowers, too, bright sunflowers and fall-toned mums. This gal thinks of everything.
After the greetings were accomplished, we read Jan's note directing us to the fridge where she had stashed a big sandwich for our dinner and a bowl of tomato chipotle soup, plus an assortment of cookies, all from Whole Foods. The soup was warm in more ways than one - quite spicy and so nice not to have to go in search of dinner after our long flight.
My mother used to quote Shakespeare about people she liked, saying that they were full of the milk of human kindness. In Jan's case, it's the soup of human kindness, warm, generous and filling the heart with smiles.
Friday, November 11, 2011
I suppose we all have foods about which we feel nostalgic, foods that we associate with growing up or pleasures we enjoyed as children. I certainly do. Vernor's soda pop when we visited Michigan. Malasadas in Hawaii. Seven Layer Cake.
Seven Layer Cake was served at our birthdays whenever we were stationed in the Washington, DC area, close to Baltimore where one of Dad's best friends and our dear family friend, Uncle Sam Silber, ran the family bakery. Uncle Sam was no relation - he was a friend of Dad's from the war, a highly decorated fighter pilot who was just so beloved that we dubbed him our uncle and always looked forward to his visits.
Uncle Sam's bakery made the most marvelous seven layer cake on earth - the whole thing was no bigger than an eight inch cube, seven delicate layers of cake with mocha frosting spread thinly between them, topped with chocolate ganache. It was so rich that even greedy teenagers could only eat a thin slice. Silber's bakery is closed now, but the memory of that cake and Uncle Sam's smiling face over the top of the box in which he brought it will always stay with me.
And here's one from My Beloved's childhood, Checkerberry Syrup made in Guilford, Connecticut where his family spent many a summer when he was growing up. It has a wintergreen flavor and is very, very sweet.
You can make a float with an ounce of syrup, vanilla ice cream and soda water, or you can use it as syrup on an ice cream sundae. You can even make a milk shake. It comes in a bright red bottle but what pours out is clear - apparently the red bottle subs for the red dye they used to color the product years ago.
So, what My Beloved enjoyed when he was a boy was likely bright pink in color. His sister slipped a bottle of Checkerberry Syrup into our rental car as we were leaving, a fun little gift of nostalgia for him. When we got home, we opened the bottle and, using it as one would use the syrup for an Italian soda, we mixed an ounce of the syrup with eight ounces of club soda and ice. Just lightly sweet when mixed liberally with soda water, it made a refreshing and novel drink.
It's still made in the same little Connecticut town by a company called House of Checkerberry. The plant from which it is derived, Gaultheria procumbens, or American wintergreen, grows wild in a huge range from Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Alabama, so you might even find the plant yourself and consider a small distillation experiment if you can find instructions on the interwebs. The bottle doesn't even list a website, but there's an email address should you want to give it a try without traveling to Connecticut or hiring a botanist to help you. email@example.com.
A sip of this takes us back to long summer days in Connecticut, water skiing in the morning when Long Island Sound is flat, sailing in little boats once the wind picks up and, in the warm, humid evenings after dinner, going for ice cream at the Maple Shade, the local creamery.
Tell me about your food nostalgia - what do you recall fondly from your childhood?
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Arriving home from snowy New England to find 75 degree temperatures and blue skies, the grass fed beef ribs in Andronico's (by the way, good news! They have new investors, so they are open and fully stocked again) were simply too much to resist. Indian Summer's warmth and barbecuing opportunities are not to be squandered.
These were the back ribs - we also grilled a couple of short ribs. I roasted them all in a 300 degree oven for a couple of hours to render most of the fat, tenderize the meat and shorten the barbecuing time, then put them over gray coals with a light coating of Aloha brand teriyaki glaze. I am sentimental about this brand - it takes me back to my years in Hawaii.
Just a few minutes on the grill imparted that smoky flavor that makes ribs, well, ribs. We used our fingers and gnawed the sweet, mildly spicy meat off dem bones in true caveman style. With a side of garlicky Swiss chard, they made a deeply satisfying late summer meal. We even have leftovers for lunch today.
It's always fun to go visiting but it's also wonderful to come home, especially when there is grilling weather left before the rains begin.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Pastis - The Secret Ingredient
Arriving home from Back East, My Beloved and I decided to take it easy the first day, doing laundry, catching up on email and generally picking up our routines in a leisurely way.
One of the tasks that awaited our return was to pick up some wines we had purchased at a Schramsberg wine tasting dinner that we attended just before we left. It was nearly noon so we decided to have lunch at Bistro Liaison while we were in Berkeley on that errand.
Okay, all I can say about this preparation for mussels is "brilliant." It was easily the best plate of mussels I have enjoyed since I visited Belgium. Most of the ingredients listed on the menu were standard, shallots, broth, yadda, but the addition of pastis and fresh spinach lightly wilted in the broth made this, to me, into a whole new dish.
The broth was rich with flavor, not as buttery as some, and that was perfect for lunch. The combination of plump mussels with spinach on each forkful did something angelic to each. The little dry toasts soaked up the broth and, when all the mussels were gone, I enjoyed the rest of the wilted spinach floating in the marvelous anise-flavored broth.
This is the third delicious meal we have enjoyed at Bistro Liaison. We stood outside in the sunshine afterwards, chatting with owner/chef Todd, a burly young man from our area of Connecticut, getting tips on restaurants to visit next time we head east. If you find yourself in the East Bay, we can recommend Liaison highly.
Especially the mussels with spinach and pastis.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Both My Beloved and I have family back east. Once a year or so, we grit our teeth, board an airplane (flying has become a cattle drive rather than the exciting adventure it once was), and fly back east to visit.
This time, our visit was in two parts - to Connecticut to help with emptying My Beloved's mother's house after Hurricane Irene damaged it, and to the Boston area to visit with My Beloved's daughter and her family.
The drive between Connecticut and Massachusetts was lovely with fall colors just starting in the trees and the rocky bones of the land jutting out here and there. We arrived in time for Hallowe'en. So did the early winter snowstorm that dumped about five inches of snow on the carefully carved pumpkins.
It was heavy, wet snow, what we used to call "heart attack snow" when I lived in Rochester. The leaves were still on most of the trees, too, so the heavy snow broke branches onto power lines, leaving millions of families in the dark. We were lucky, we kept power the whole time, so we could just enjoy the novelty.
My granddaughter and I made snow angels and had a snowball fight. Because neither of us has good aim, it remained playful. She decided to slide down her snow-covered slide, too - she's four, so a cold bum doesn't stop her. The snow made the slide even slipperier - she flew about two feet beyond the end of the slide, landing laughing into soft snow. Gotta do it again! And again!
After escorting our Little Mermaid on her Trick or Treating rounds (our grandson dressed up as a little red crab, but he fell asleep in the stroller so he'll have to learn about Hallowe'en next year), we packed up our stuff and headed back west, arriving to unseasonably warm temperatures (thank you, weather gods!) and blue skies. Back East is fun and we miss those folks when we are home, but Out West is even better.
Friday, November 4, 2011
I'm A Fan
There are few famous chefs that I truly admire. I love Jamie Oliver, his style and his food, and I respect what he's trying to do for school food. I chuckle at Guy Fieri, even though most of the food he goes in search of is not to my taste - I just dig the 'do. But most of the celebrity chefs leave me cold. Either they are too smug, or too obviously coiffed, or smarmy, or something.
But Jacques Pépin has always been a favorite of mine. I have a video of him cooking with Julia Child that never fails to make me laugh - they had a wonderful rapport in the kitchen, even if she was always sneaking more butter into his recipes. I watch him as much for his skill and his frugality as for his recipes, and he never fails to impress the heck out of me.
So, when we were back east last week, helping to clear out My Beloved's mother's house after Hurricane Irene burst in with eighteen inches of sea water, I was thrilled to see a notice in the local bookshop that Jacques Pépin was giving an author's talk about his latest book, Essential Pépin, in the very town where we were staying. Needless to say, I reserved places for me and My Beloved. We took a break from packing up water-soaked books and linens to go to the local Congregational church for his talk.
I came away even more impressed. He is as charming in person as on television, but also warmer, sweetly diplomatic and gentlemanly. Faced with an audience question about his favorite restaurant in the Mexican town where he goes each winter, he deflected it with the answer that he usually cooks at home, having been to the farmers market. Pressed for an answer, he smiled and said, "You must just try them all until you find the one you like best."
He answered questions for perhaps half an hour and then started signing books. The organizer assured us that photographs with him were allowed, so here I am, flushed with excitement, next to one of my heroes. I'm always tongue-tied around famous people, so all I said was "Thank you" but it's a moment I won't soon forget. I'm a fan for life.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
When I make hamburgers, I like to make them from scratch. I usually buy a tri-tip roast or top round, and chop it in my food processor. My Beloved likes to eat the first bit raw; I don't trust hamburger chopped by someone else for raw consumption so I do it myself to be sure it's fresh. He'd probably prefer eating his entire burger raw, for that matter, but he restrains his cannibalistic tendencies while I cook the burgers.
So, here's the masterpiece: Chilebrown's buns, freshly chopped and seared burger, a big slice of ripe tomato, some sautéed mushrooms, a dab of mayo and a frill of lettuce.
Holy Cow, that's good!