Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Spring!

No, I don't eat them, but I can never resist them as table decorations for Easter. Peeps bunnies are the best. I can't figure out why they dye them neon colors when the white bunnies are perfect. Oh, well, to each his own, right?

Hope the Easter bunny leaves you just enough eggs, chocolate or otherwise, and you have a splendid day. Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Rootin' Tootin' Soup

When I tasted celeriac/ginger soup at L'Appart Resto in San Anselmo, I immediately resolved to try making it myself at home. Theirs was creamy without cream, tasty without spiciness, and velvety in texture. I was eager to figure out how they turned gnarly, ugly celery root into refined and delicate soup.

I looked up some recipes online and came up with one from the Dominican Republic that, while it called for a healthy ratio of ginger-to-celeriac, sounded like it might fit the bill. Lots of root things livened with ginger. Sounded good, and simple enough to make. 

It involves a bit of chopping - celeriac, onion, carrot, ginger - but I got to work with my favorite knife and produced a big pot of dark yellow soup. Beautiful. Topped with some garlic croutons for texture and crunch, it was a rich golden color in the bowl.

The first sip was an eye-opener.

All that ginger was not tamed by sautéing, nor by simmering in vegetable broth. It was, shall we say, assertive. Dominant. In fact, almost bullying.  Our lips tingled for quite a while after the soup was consumed. But, oddly, we rather liked it. I guess we have our subtly masochistic side. Another time, I'd definitely cut back by half on the ginger, as I'd like to taste it and feel the tingle, but this first pot was completely overwhelmed by the strutting, crowing ginger.

Another improvement I would make is to pass it through a fine strainer. We didn't mind this somewhat rustic texture, but I'm still aiming for the silkiness of the soup at L'Appart. 

Still, for a soup that was made from nothing but roots and shoots, it made for a lively appetizer.  I think it would be particularly good to serve a cup of it when lamb is on the menu.

Celeriac and Ginger Soup (my next version)

2 lbs celeriac (celery root), peeled and cubed
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
l large carrot, peeled and diced
l large onion, cubed
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
3 Tbs olive oil
6 cups (48oz) vegetable stock
salt, pepper

Flavored oil (your favorite)
Garlic croutons

In a large soup pot, sauté veggies in oil, starting with ginger, then onion and thyme, then carrot and celeriac, about 5 minutes.  Add the stock, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. 

Remove from the heat, remove the thyme stems (the leaves will have dropped off into the soup by now), and let the soup cool until it is cool enough to blend. Using a blender, a food processor, or a stick blender, purée the soup to desired smoothness. If you want really, really smooth soup, pass it through a fine mesh strainer or tamis. Adjust for salt and pepper to taste.

Rewarm in a deep pot, adding water if needed. Serve with croutons and a drizzle of oil.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Oyster Wars

I learned a lot about oysters this weekend.  I learned that the kind they grow in Tomales Bay are called miyagi, or Pacific oysters. I learned that they are considered a creamy oyster with a minerally taste. I learned that the little buggers are hard to shuck and even harder to grill.

I also re-learned that they are delicious.

We bought two dozen large, fresh oysters as we left Point Reyes. The salesperson put them into a bucket and covered them with ice for the drive home, and they kept very well. All were firmly closed at cooking time.

I had grilled oysters in the past, just placing them on the grates of the barbecue and waiting a few minutes until the top shell pops open. That was my plan this time, too, then dipping them in sauces to see which we preferred.

I made a butter sauce with scallions, poured some Sartain's sauce into a separate bowl for dipping, got out the Cholula for the hot sauce experience, and poured little bowls of oyster juice. Some combination of those was sure to be a hit.

I won't go in to all the little hiccups that came between me and that plan but the goat rope included hot grates that fell to the bottom of the barbecue onto the ashes so the fire never quite got hot enough, and some of the shellfish that simply refused to pop. I agonized over the poor oysters who suffered a long, slow death. It's bad enough to kill them, but do they need to be tortured first?  When I arrive at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter is going to remind me of those oysters, I'm sure.

We gave up on the barbecue and retreated indoors.

The second batch went into a hot (450 degree) oven.  They were supposed to take 8-10 minutes according to my hasty internet research, but ours took at least twice that. Granted, they were very large, plump oysters and they were freezing cold when they went into the oven, but, still, 20 minutes is a long time when you had planned to be eating 45 minutes ago.

Never mind.  The oven batch came out and I got the knack of shucking them (finally, after breaking the tip off my favorite knife - grrr!), and we sat down to eat.  

After the last bivalve went down the Little Red Lane, My Beloved and I sat back and looked at each other in amazement. What a rigamarole for what should have been a simple meal of oysters and salad!  

Still, we had learned a thing or two in our Oyster Wars - roasted oysters are just as good as barbecued oysters.  In fact, we rather preferred them overall, as they were just the essence of oyster with no confounding smokiness. When you have oysters this fresh, there is no need to get fancy with them.

My last oyster was the best - slipped out of its shell, dipped through the oyster juice to rinse, then a quick trip through the scallion butter before lightly skimming over the Cholula. That way, no sand lingered in the folds, the juice intensified the flavor, the butter added a rich, herbal note, and the Cholula (just a tad) gave extra flavor and a tiny singe of heat as the oyster went across my tongue. 

Now that we've got it down to a science, we need to go back to west Marin to get some more oysters.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Peace And Pumpkin Seeds

We're back!

We were lucky to have the loan of a dreamy little house at the end of a dock in Inverness, west Marin county, for the weekend. We had a fine time lazing around, taking pictures of the changing light and bayscape of Tomales Bay, puzzling over the many kinds of waterbirds that use the tidal shallows and mudflats, driving out to Limantour Beach for a romp with Cora, and poking through the shops in Inverness Park. We slept like babies, ate like lions, and generally peaced out.  Yeah, baby.

You probably just want to hear about the food. Well, we each had a sandwich from the newly refurbished Perry's Deli in Inverness Park. My Beloved had sliced tri-tip with bacon and onions, which he said was swoon worthy.  I had pulled pork with Sartain's sauce, which definitely hit all the high spots. Chunks of tender pork, sauce that was gently sweet and just a little lip-tinglingly spicy, not enough to make you wish for water, just enough to get your attention. Both were downright delish.

On the way home, we stopped in San Anselmo for lunch at L'Appart Resto, in a spot that has had at least three iterations in the past 15 years. The very friendly French waiter greeted us and seated us under a bright red umbrella - spring is springing, folks, and already it's too warm to sit in the sun. In short order, they brought cold tap water in a tall bottle for us to share and still-warm sourdough baguette slices with unsalted butter to slather while we perused the menu.  My Beloved wanted the tombo tuna Salade Niçoise but I was in the mood for veggies so I chose their celery root and ginger soup (oh, yes!) and roasted Brussels sprouts with a side of fries for us to share. 

The soup was really good - no cream, but it was wonderfully creamy and silky, and drizzled with a little flavored oil. I'm going to try making that at home - it was similar to a warm Vichyssoise with a little unexpected twist. The waiter brought two spoons with my soup, so My Beloved helped me to finish the bowl; he approves, too.

Although the soup was sensational and the fries were nicely crisp, the highlight of the meal for me was the roasted Brussels sprouts. As you may remember, I'm a sprout lover and have tried them almost everywhere I've seen them on the menu. I'd love to know how they made these. The chef had separated the leaves, so it was more like a warm salad than a side dish, and sprinkled it with toasted pumpkin seeds for a happy little crunch. The leaves were still brightly green and seemed slicked with a little richness, but the juices in the bottom of the bowl were not at all oily, so that remains a mystery. The pumpkin seeds played into the nuttiness of the greens - overall, it was inspired!

Now, we're back with a big string bag of oysters from the Drake's Bay Oyster Company on ice and plans for a backyard barbecue to round out the weekend. Are we lucky, or what?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

For Jim, Cookiecrumb, and Cassie

I have at least three friends who were involved in the preparation of this lunch. Jim Sartain, who brought me the sourdough starter for the waffle, Cookiecrumb who urged me to try savory waffle toppings, and Cassie who sold me the organic, free-range egg. This blogging thing is really great - where else can you find people knowledgeable in so many ways?

I made the waffles according to Jim's recipe, photocopied so many times that it looks downright grainy.  It still makes a good, crisp waffle, however. I think it was Cookiecrumb who suggested mushrooms on waffles, so I sautéed some and added their bluesy funk. And Cassie's hens, who took the winter off, are now laying in fine style. If you live in the East Bay, it's worth a trip to Cassie's to buy her eggs. Only $6 a dozen, compared to the $8 or $9 you'd pay at Astronomico's.

Plated together and drizzled with a tad of Jim's sweet-hot Sartain's Menu sauce, it made for an interesting and unique lunch. The lively spice of the sauce was tamed a bit by the rich yolk of the poached egg, the mushrooms added their own dark, earthy flavor, and the slight tang of the crisp sourdough waffle set the whole thing off.

So, hats off to my three blogging pals, and thanks for the suggestions!

Jim's Sourdough Waffles
1-1/2 cups sourdough starter
l egg
4 Tablespoons cooking oil
1/4 cup instant dry milk or evaporated milk (I used evaporated as I couldn't find dry)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons sugar

Beat sourdough starter, egg, oil and milk together thoroughly. Combine dry ingredients and blend together until they are smooth and no lumps of baking soda remain. Sprinkle evenly over the batter and fold in gently. Give the batter a few minutes' rest, then bake in a lightly oiled waffle iron until the steaming stops or becomes very light.

We have had them with maple syrup and butter and they were great - very crisp. Or top as you wish.

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Aliiiiive!

Jim Sartain, of Sartain's Sauce fame, brought me some sourdough starter yesterday. He is an avid bread baker so he always has some starter on hand. Blogging pal, Cookiecrumb, had suggested I try making savory waffles instead of sweet, so I thought sourdough waffles was a good substrate to play with and Jim is always looking for a home for his excess starter.

Jim is a great guy, at least 6'5" with a shock of silvery hair and a big laugh; when he wears a hat, he seems even taller. He brought the starter packed neatly in a box with a bottle each of his sauce and marinade. He has given his business to a local high school, to allow students a chance to learn all the aspects of running a business, but he still has access to some of the sauce. I asked him how he developed the sauce and he described a painstaking trial-and-error process that would have daunted a lesser man. It took over a year to tweak the recipe.

He and cousin Jan came down from Petaluma to have lunch with me and to bring the starter. I left the jar in the box on the kitchen counter while we had lunch down in our little village, and when they headed on their way back home, I did a little grocery shopping, then laid down for a nap.

When I awoke, it was to find the starter, which had been at about the level of the blue rubber band when it arrived, had risen dramatically and even forced up the cap to spill over into the box!  When I went to unscrewed the cap, it popped off into my hand with some force. When I say, "It's aliiiiive!" I'm not just whistling Dixie!

Jim also brought me several recipe suggestions to go with the starter, so I have my work cut out for me, but I'm kind of a glutton for punishment so any suggestions from the peanut gallery for how to use this sourdough bounty? Waffles, yes, certainly, but what else might you suggest? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Aftermath

We are not exactly carousers, My Beloved and I. We are happy to stay home on St. Patrick's Day and let other people do our drinking for us. But, come the dawn, we are very interested in leftovers from our St. Paddy's Day dinner.

I had made Irish soda bread again this year, studded with raisins, accented with caraway seeds, and scented with tangerine zest, but I had to admit that it was, frankly, a little dull. I'm not sure why this is so, but it was a fact. How do you use up a bread that, even when piping hot from the oven, still didn't send us?

For lunch the next day, I had an idea. The bread had been a little denser than normal, more bready than cakey, so I thought to use it in a sandwich. Then it occurred to me that it might be better warmed and the happy concept of a sort of Irish Reuben sandwich leaped into my mind.

I used my meat slicer to slice thin planks of the bread and even thinner slices of the leftover corned beef. Lightly buttering the outsides of each sandwich and spreading the inside with a tangy mustard, I laid a few slices of the beef and a single slice of Swiss cheese in each, then grilled the completed packages in a wide pan over medium heat. The ticket with grilled cheese of any kind is low and slow, so the cheese has time to melt before the bread burns.

The cheese got all runny and the thin layer of fat on the corned beef returned to it's glistening state. The raisins turned to jam and the slumbering caraway seeds woke up in the heat. Each bite had caraway, raisin, meat, mustard and cheese in it, a symphony of sweet, meaty, gooey, and tart. The little sizzle of butter on the outside gave it just that hint of richness that was missing from the soda bread. 

Now, I'm glad I have that other loaf of soda bread in the freezer. Can't wait to see what other interesting sandwiches I can make with that one.

Monday, March 18, 2013

St. Paddy's Q

What do you do when St. Patrick's Day coincides with the purchase of a brand new barbecue grill? 

You barbecue the corned beef, that's what!

I looked on line for general instructions but didn't follow any of them exactly. There are YouTube demos and plenty of recipes. I like to think I took the best part of each.

I started by soaking my brisket in vats of water to remove some of the salt, two changes of water, before simmering it for an hour on top of the stove. Then, I laid it on a very low fired barbecue grill, my beautiful new toy, and let it cook for another hour to get a lightly smoky flavor. Finally, I wrapped it in foil and set it back on the grates for another two hours or so, hoping it would stay moist. When I unwrapped the foil, juices poured out, testament to keeping the meat from drying out. 

My biggest problem was throttling back on the fire enough to keep the heat even but low. All the recipes on line said low fire and slow cooking is best for brisket. 

In between checking, I surfed the web for my favorite Irish songs and posted some on Facebook. 

My new monster kept wanting to soar up into the 300 range when I was trying to maintain 200-250 degrees. Whoa, Nellie! I finally shut down all the vents but the three little holes punched in each end of the fire box and, even then, it kept creeping upwards. Next time, I will try adding less charcoal.

The lightly smoky, still quite salty, corned beef was perfectly cooked, tender but not falling apart, a fitting tribute to Ireland's favorite saint and America's favorite excuse to overindulge. 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Toy

Four wheels, two with locking brakes, cast iron body and grates, slide out ash catcher, air vents on either end, temperature gauge, door in the front for adding fuel during cooking, dual grooved cutting boards that are removable - this baby can cook!

When my trusty old Weber's air vents locked from old age and the starter stopped, well, starting, it was time for a change of grill. I contacted the two best grill men I know (and likely the two best in the world, by the way), Chilebrown and Dr. Biggles, for their advice about new grills.  I was on the fence between the heart-stoppingly expensive-but-very-cool Big Green Egg and a new Weber to replace the old. 

Chilebrown's advice was to get new spare parts for the old Weber and make do.  He didn't realize that neither My Beloved nor myself are handy with tools.  Dr. Biggles launched happily into research mode and started sending me info about this grill and that, with helpful suggestions about what to look for. After a couple of weeks, he found the one pictured above - it made him drool.  Any grill that makes Dr. Biggles drool is fine by me.

It was even on sale. What more can I say?

I have washed and oiled the grates in preparation for the first burn. Dr. B suggested not cooking on it until it has been through one burn cycle to set the oil and make the grates more or less "non-stick."  I am ready for the grilling season.

My thanks to my two mentors, especially the good Dr. Biggles. When I get good at cooking on my new toy, I will invite you both over for some meaty fun.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

When She Got There, The Cupboard Was (Nearly) Bare...

I've been trying to pare down my inventory in my overstuffed pantry cupboard. I have a tendency to purchase things on a whim, then not use them when the whim passes, so things build up in there. Not a problem until it gets so full that items tumble out every time I open the door. Time to use up some stuff.

I've also been trying to empty the fridge, both because My Beloved is on a week-long business trip, and because the fridge desperately needs cleaning and that's easier to accomplish with fewer items in it.

So, just before his nibs left for SOCA, we lunched on items from both the fridge and the pantry. There was a can of Dungeness crab, bought on sale some months ago. Wild Planet brand, with lots of big chunks of crab - not like fresh, I have to admit, but not bad at all, and a nice change from tuna. I've never purchased canned crab before but it was on sale, people, so what could I do?

There was no celery in the fridge to make crab salad, so I opted for finely chopping some fresh broccoli florets and green onions to mix with a dab of mayo and a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. Mixy-mixy and spread on wheatberry toast, top with some of that Wisconsin cheese (mild cheddar) and run under the broiler until the cheese bubbles.

It was better than good. It was fresh tasting and light, and one can fed two people amply. It also reduced inventory, which was the main thing.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sunday Waffles

I think of waffles as a Sunday thing. When we were kids, Dad would take us to mass while Mom, who was not a Catholic, had a more leisurely morning. She got to sleep in a bit and, once she arose and had drunk a cup or two of coffee, she made the waffle batter so it was ready when we got home, roaring hungry. In those days, Catholics didn't eat before taking communion, so we were always hungry as sharks after church. She made the batter from scratch, as this was before the advent of so many convenience foods, beating the egg whites separately for maximum waffle loft. I don't know what happened to my mother's round waffle baker, trusty appliance that it was.

I got my own vintage waffle iron from a second hand shop called The Fixer's Offerings, back before "vintage" was a marketing concept. Once heated, it makes two waffles at a time, faster than the two of us can eat them - they bake for less than two minutes before emerging perfectly crisp and golden brown. I could easily serve waffles for a crowd from this single iron. The only drawback is that the little on-off switches on the front get searingly hot while it's baking - one must be careful not to touch them with bare fingers. Otherwise, it has been a wonderful addition to my kitchen.

Last Sunday, we arose with the idea of waffles on our minds. My Beloved has a way of halving the recipe on the Bisquick box, and that makes exactly the right number for two. He halves everything but the egg, and cuts the milk down by one third to compensate for the extra egg. 

We had only two strips of bacon left from a previous meal, so we decided to brown them briefly in a pan, then cut them up and add them to the waffle batter for even more flavor. That has to be one of the better ideas we have ever had. I recommend it.

As you can see, I got carried away with the amount of batter, but the bacon waffles were killer, a great way to start a beautiful Sunday morning. Slathered with butter and covered in a sticky blanket of real maple syrup, they really hit the spot. The little bits of salty bacon in the waffles was a pleasing contrast to the sweet syrup. 

I could start a whole treatise here about the best grade of real maple syrup, but I will settle for some advice. "Grade A Light Amber" is all you need to know. Don't settle for less and don't even think about that stuff that never saw a maple tree in its life. A little coffee and the Sunday funnies, and you have a great morning.

Some friends of ours were meeting for a morning hike and, fortified with waffles, we joined them for a nice five-mile jaunt. Our feet were weary afterward but we never ran out of energy, thanks to those waffles.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Old School

Julia Child, my first culinary heroine, was "Old School." She believed in lots of butter, that beef was put on this earth for pleasure, that noodles were meant to be buttered, and that anything cooked with a boatload of wine would be better than anything cooked without it. She was all about the taste and to hell with the calories. She might, as the French do, serve reasonable portions but she didn't hold back on the ingredients.

What I loved most about her recipes was the meticulousness with which she followed the flavor. If there was any little thing she could do to enhance the final flavor, she didn't stint, she just cheerfully added another pan to her growing collection of dirty dishes. Maybe she could do that with panache, knowing that she wasn't going to be the one who washed them all, but I have always admired that willingness to go the extra mile for the flavor.

So, when I found some grass-fed stewing beef in my freezer, my mind went immediately to her Boeuf Bourguignon. I hauled out my battered and spattered copy of the first volume of her masterwork, and went to town.

While the browned beef and bacon were braising in red wine and beef stock in the oven, I separately sautéed the mushroom caps in butter and braised the browned onions in stock. Two extra dirty pans are well worth the perfectly cooked mushrooms and onions I added to the beef at the end. No mushy onions slipping apart, or mushrooms so soggy from cooking that they have lost all integrity!  Julia's recipe adds them at the very end, warming the dish and mingling the flavors before pouring it over buttered noodles (or boiled potatoes) and adding bright green fresh peas.

This is one of those dishes that silences My Beloved; he eats with intention, head down, fork flying. When he has cleaned his plate, his blue eyes are soft with satisfaction and repletion. To me, that look is worth the extra time and trouble it takes to put together a truly stellar beef stew, à la Julia. I'll bet her beloved Paul looked like that when he finished her stew, too. She may be Old School, but she knew what she was doing.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pink Pepper

Well, hooray and huzzah!  I'm over that nasty flu!  I finally got out of the house and walked my dog around our usual half-mile route. Cora sniffed and sniffed and marked like crazy, picking up and answering her long-neglected pee mail while I just basked in the sunshine at the other end of the leash, content to give her all the time she needed. After five days in the house, I was a little wobbly on my pins, but loving the fresh air and lack of a stuffy head.

When we return to our little dead-end street, I always detach the leash and let Cora greet the neighbors' dogs or roam around on her own. She loves this little taste of freedom and I enjoy it, too. As we were meandering our way home, I happened to look down and note little pink spheres on the pavement. Pink pepper!  Looking up, I saw that my neighbor's tree is fruiting, so I plucked a little branch to take home. 

Pink pepper isn't really related botanically to classic black pepper but the scent would fool you. The broken branchlet perfumed the air with a distinct pepper smell as we strolled along. When I was a young married woman and First Husband was in grad school at Stanford, we collected California Bay Laurel leaves and pink pepper to dry and stuff into little bottles that I decorated with rickrack and shiny ribbon as Christmas gifts. When one is dirt poor, it's good to have freebies for Christmas giving.

I will dry these berries, too, and use them in one of my pepper grinders, just as a reminder of those long-ago student days when I fit into skinny dresses and he had hair.  Little things trigger memories these days, and it's good to look back and remember happy times.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Feed A Cold

My mother had a saying, "Feed a cold, starve a fever." If we were ill with a fever, she gave us liquids but no food. If we just had a cold, food was okay. I'm not sure where she got this bit of folk wisdom, but it's still with me today.

I came down with a nasty cold/flu/whathaveyou last week and it was miserable. I hate colds anyway, but this one was particularly nasty, complete with aching muscles, constant sneezing, nose running like Niagara, pounding headaches, sinuses so painful my teeth ached, and weakness. Nothing to say about that except, "UGH!"

My Beloved was sweetly solicitous, letting me sleep whole days away without complaint, cooking his own meals when I couldn't face eating, doing dishes, buying extra boxes of Kleenex, and sympathizing nicely. Husbands, or men who aspire to be husbands, take note. You, too, can become a hero.

When my head cleared slightly and my appetite began to return, I was hungry for some serious food. Bland food is recommended for people with colds - chicken soup, etc. and I did enjoy the Wor Wonton soup that My Beloved picked up from the local Chinese restaurant - it did wonders for my sinuses. But, by now I was starting to feel human again, and I wanted something I could actually taste. 

His brilliant idea of chicken fajita/soft tacos was perfect. While he nipped down to the market for tortillas and a Roma tomato, I grated some of that Wisconsin cheese, sliced one of the ripe avocados from our care package, shredded some lettuce, sliced a green onion, threw out two fuzz-covered jars of salsa and found the one that was still fresh, rummaged around for the Cholula hot sauce, chopped the cilantro, and grilled sliced strips of chicken breast coated with fajita seasoning. By the time he returned, we had only to warm the tortillas, pile in the goodies, and eat.

The hot sauce was just enough to open my stuffy nose, allowing all those good aromas and flavors in. I have never been so grateful for hot peppers in all my life. After a week of food that tasted like cotton (with the exception of that wonderful Wor Wonton soup), this was a major feast for the senses. 

Whenever we kids would sneeze, my mother would aim a mock-stern look at us and say in her best martinet manner, "Stop that!"  She always hoped it would be enough to frighten off a possible cold. I wish she had been here to ward off this one but at least I can still hear her saying, "Feed a cold..."

Monday, March 4, 2013

His Winnings

When I returned from my latest sojourn to North Carolina, I discovered a fat, smoked summer sausage in the fridge, along with several hefty blocks of bright orange cheese. Inquiring of My Beloved as to their origin, as they are nothing he has ever purchased before, I learned that they were the spoils of a bet between him and an old pal over the outcome of the playoff game between the San Francisco Forty-niners and the Green Bay Packers, where Tom lives. Had San Francisco lost, My Beloved would have sent Tom a care package of iconic San Francisco foods; because Green Bay lost, we got cheese and this nice little Nueske's sausage from the Cheesehead.

The juxtaposition of smoked sausage and North Carolina brought Red Beans and Rice to mind. There are recipes galore on the interwebs, so I chose a simple one from to modify. I couldn't find Creole or Cajun seasoning, so I went with chili powder, and I added some bright chunks of red and yellow peppers to the dish for color. I also used Massa brown rice even though the recipe called for white rice.

I got a rather skeptical look from My Beloved when I mentioned I was making Red Beans and Rice for dinner - that didn't sound like something he'd enjoy until I mentioned that fat sausage. Visible relief! He does love his meat. And, once he tried it, he was pleasantly surprised - he'd happily eat this again. Win-win!

Red Beans and Rice, adapted from Bon Appetit, February 1996

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fully cooked smoked sausage (such as hot links or Kielbasa), sliced into 1/2 inch rounds.
1 onion
1/2 cup small colorful peppers, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3  14oz cans kidney beans
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Creole or Cajun seasoning, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or 2 teaspoons chili powder)

3 cups cooked rice

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sausage, onion and garlic and sauté until onion is browned, about 15 minutes. Add chili powder (or Creole seasoning) and cook until fragrant. Mix in kidney beans with their juices, broth and Creole seasoning. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until flavors are blended and mixture is very thick, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. If sauce is not thick enough, remove about 1/2 cup of the beans and mash with a fork. Return to pot and stir them in to thicken.

Spoon cooked rice into large soup bowls and top with bean mixture, making sure each portion gets some sausage pieces.  Serves 6. In our case, we had delicious leftovers for two days.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Strudel Guy

Just before flying to North Carolina, cousin Jan and I went with two of her buddies to check out the Tuesday Petaluma Farmer's Market. It's a cute little market, very low key and easy going. We opted for a cup of coffee to carry with us as we shopped - I think it was the Coffee Guy's first day on the job, as it took him at least 10 minutes to produce two cups of java. Still, it was good coffee and we strolled past the rest of the booths, sipping and commenting and relaxed.

Jan had previously scouted out the Strudel Guy, so she guided me there first. He had an amazing selection of strudels to sell, both savory and sweet.  I purchased a barbecued pork and sweet potato and an apple strudel to fill my freezer. 

When I returned from North Carolina, jet lagged and emotionally tired, I was happy to find those strudels still in the freezer, just waiting to provide me with some easy meals. We had the savory one for dinner and the sweet one for breakfast a day or two later.  The pork and sweet potato combination was delicious, smoky pork and potato complementing each other nicely under the world's flakiest crust.  After thawing in the fridge, just 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven was perfect to warm the insides and to brown the pastry.  With a little steamed broccoli on the side, it was a lovely dinner in a flash.

The apple strudel was also delicious - not very sweet, so the flavor of the apples shone through. The crust is very light and flaky and not very thick, so it provides more of a texture change than a heavy presence. It would make a great dessert for a dinner party, too, with a little lemon glaze or perhaps a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

I don't know his name or the name of his business, but it's such a small market that you can't miss him. I just think of him as The Strudel Guy, and I blessed his name. I will be back to buy more of his creations in the near future.