July 31, 2010

The Saturday Edition

Yellow Raspberries - Pudwill Berry Farms 
Purple Globe Eggplant - Schaner Farms
Wild Arugula - Maggie's Farm
Yellow Nectarines - Sage Mountain Farm
Seedy Sourdough Baguette - Bread & Cie

New finds at the market this week; it's finally starting to feel like summer around here.  Stay tuned to see what I do with these lovelies!

July 29, 2010

Market Fresh

I am an avid supporter of farmer's markets, and even more so now that I've begun volunteering at one.  Saturday mornings I head down to the Little Italy Mercato where I get to talk with the purveyors, the farmers and the market-goers and everyone is so excited to be a part of this movement towards the responsibility to our food.  The weekend markets here are so very social; dogs in tow, cups of coffee in hand, pictures being snapped.  Each week brings new finds and must-haves.  There were juicy deep orange Santa Rosa (?) peaches, bunches of rainbow chard, sweet Bing and Rainer cherries, handfuls of herbs, giant Reed avocados and so much more.  Last week it was Padron peppers and Burrata cheese that I couldn't resist.  So I tucked my goods away in a makeshift cooler while I finished my shift, day dreaming of a dinner to construct.  As luck would have it, there was a pile of tomatoes on the counter at home that the warm weather was begging me to turn into gazpacho.  Mish/mash tapas night it was!

Usually when I make a gazpacho, it's more like a vegetable salsa, all chunky with coarsely blended tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers, but this time I tried something more...traditional?  A la "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"?  Something like that, smooth and unencumbered by the flavors and textures of other vegetables.  It was purely tomatoes, warm like summer evenings and alive with the salt and vinegar.  It's hard to beat.  Except there was the Padron peppers I pan fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. (I could go on and on here about the peppers.  They're thin skinned and when you fry them up the skin gets all blistered and then they deflate.  Mostly they're mild, smokey from the pan, but every few will be surprisingly hot and still you keep on eating - skins, seeds and all.) And then there was the Burrata.  A super fresh little pouch of mozzarella, filled with cream and curds, torn and put on a toasted baguette rubbed with garlic.  Oh!  Going around the plates, each bite was better than the last.  The creamy cheese softening the heat from the peppers, the gazpacho brightening bites in between.  It has since been declared as one of the best meals ever eaten in this house.

And the only thing in this dinner that wasn't from the Mercato?  The cucumber, a smidgen of olive oil (though as of a few weeks ago, that's available to buy locally as well) and red wine vinegar.

Gazpacho Andaluz

The tomatoes are the real star here, so get the freshest, tastiest ones you can get your hands on.  You could strain this after a good whirl in the blender, but I don't mind the little pieces of skin and seeds in mine.  Garnish it with diced cucumber and avocado, even a dollop of sour cream if you're so inclined. 

makes 6 cups

3 ounces crusty bread, preferably day-old
2 pounds ripe, deep red tomatoes
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup water

Tear the bread into pieces and soak in enough water to cover for 15 minutes. Squeeze out excess water and put the bread in a blender.

Chop the tomato into chunks and add to the blender with the cucumber, garlic, salt and cumin. Process until pureed and mostly smooth. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow stream, then add the vinegar. The mixture will thicken and change color as the oil emulsifies. Add the water to reach the desired consistency. Chill until serving time.

July 26, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

Roasted Cherry Tomato and Garlic Spread, Ciabatta

Braised Leek and Prosciutto Pappardelle w/ Porcini Pangrattato, Roasted Asparagus, 
Baby Arugula Salad

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake w/ Raspberry Curd and Lemon Buttercream

(not pictured, a delicious bottle of Gruet Blanc de Noirs, NV sparkling wine - I was clearly too busy enjoying to remember to photograph)

This was my birthday dinner.  It was incredibly delicious.  And all of it was made by my Mom (hi!).  Except the cake decorating which was done by my little sister (hi!).

Everything was perfect - food, company, gifts - I could not have asked for a more perfect birthday celebration!

July 23, 2010

Berry Good

I'm a sucker for a crumb topping.  To my taste, that crumbly top is far superior to double crusts on pies.  Slap it on top of a bar cookie and it doesn't matter what fruit you fill it with, it's my new favorite.  It's best still warmish out of the oven when bits of the topping are still pleasantly crunchy and the juicy fruit underneath hasn't yet seeped through.  No matter, I'll eat them the next day and the day after that regardless if the top still has some crunch because deep down, I just plain love fruit desserts.

And what I like even more about these kinds of bar cookies is that the bottom crust and the top crumb are the same thing, not two different parts; half gets pressed into the bottom and the rest gets sprinkled over the fruit, making for a stupidly simple preparation.  And that lemon zest in there - it's oh so sunny - and makes the whole thing just scream summer picnics.  Or afternoon snack.  Or what's more likely with me, a teeny nibble with (or before) my coffee in the morning. 

I don't bake nearly as often as I'd like or nearly enough to tackle all the recipes have saved in an unimaginably large bookmark folder and/or all the dogeared pages in my cookbooks so when I do, I'm usually motivated by either already having all the ingredients on hand when a mood strikes or there's a seasonal ingredient that I won't be able to get if I hold off for too long.  Truth be told, I should have used fresh blueberries for this, since they're in season and all over the markets, but what I had already was a bag of mixed frozen berries.  Yep, I'm lazy like that.  And I was pressed for time (they were being dispatched to friends later that afternoon).  But as a testament to the recipe, they were still as good as I'd imagine they would be had I used fresh berries.  At least I'm sure no one who ate them could tell the difference, and that's all that really matters.  That they were good and much enjoyed.

P.S.  How fitting that I leave you this weekend with a dessert, because you see, it's my birthday on Saturday!  And who doesn't like to celebrate with dessert!  Albeit, mine will be a cake, but feel free to consume a sugary confection on my behalf sometime in the next few days.  We'll celebrate together!

Berry Crumble Bars
Adapted from All Recipes

I actually made these with a frozen berry mixture (still using 4 cups, measured when still frozen) and it turned out great.  For fear of sog and oozing, I defrosted the berries first and drained off most of the liquid before mixing it with the sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch and everything turned out just peachy.  Although I'm itching to make them again with fresh blueberries.

Makes about 32 small squares

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter
1 egg

1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blueberries

1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown.  Cool completely before cutting into squares.

July 21, 2010

A Tangle of Noodles

Sometimes I think I should rename this blog "The Improvisational Kitchen".  I don't have much in the way of fancy gadgets and my selection of cooking pots and pans is short and sweet.  Also, mostly small.  Meaning that making large sautees or cooking for a crowd takes some creativity.  No food processor here, just a blender that sometimes works double duty.  No stand mixer.  I do have an ancient hand mixer, but for all intents and purposes it has one speed, and that's high, and I only use it to make whipped cream or occasionally cream butter and sugar.  There's a teeny tiny toaster that fits smaller sized sandwich bread and bagels and that's about it.  But I'm not complaining, really, it's about all my kitchen can handle anyway.  Just sometimes cooking and baking turns into an exercise of improv.

So the other night when I was making this chow mein, I sat staring for a bit.  3/4 of a pound of noodles plus all these add ins is a hefty amount and I was seriously perplexed as to how this was going to go down.  Aside from making it in a stockpot, which would be just plain weird, I didn't think I had a pan large enough to accommodate the recipe's size.  And then I remember that we have stuffed away at an odd angle into the very last space we had in our cabinets for storage a very well seasoned and previously well loved wok - perfect!  So I chopped chopped away, prepping all the ingredients, because this recipe like most stir-fry type dishes are heavy on the chopping prep work, happy that I wouldn't have to awkwardly cook in several not-quite-right pans.  Nevermind that my cheap apartment stove is wimpy when it come to providing heat - but it's gas! - and so what if the cooking takes a bit longer.  These noodles are everything Chinese take-out is not.  They're fresh, light, not in the least bit greasy and really packed with the vegetables.  I like the lots of veggies part.

And can somebody please tell me what it is about Chinese food that makes it taste so much better when it's leftovers?  Eaten straight from the take out box, cold, fridge door still open.  I don't even particularly like Chinese (or rather, American style Chinese) food, but I like it so much more as leftovers, especially the noodles.

Chicken Chow Mein
Adapted from Cooking Light

The key to this recipe is getting the prep work done before you start cooking anything.  Once the cooking starts, it moves rapidly and it's better to have all your ingredients next to you ready to toss in than to stress yourself out over time constraints.  I grouped the carrots, peas and celery in one prep bowl.  The chicken and 1 tablespoon soy sauce in another.  Mushrooms and garlic in a third.  And the sauce in a final bowl.  The recipe indicates 4 total servings, but I feel like it's closer to 6, especially if you serve it with a vegetable side dish.

 4 - 6 servings

1 cup matchstick-cut carrots
1 cup snow peas, trimmed
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced on a deep angle
12 oz dry chow mein noodles
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil, divided
1/2 pound chicken breast tenders, sliced into thin strips
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup sliced green onions

Cook carrots, snow peas, celery and noodles in boiling water 3 minutes; drain and set aside

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet (or wok) over medium-high heat. Add chicken and 1 tablespoon soy sauce to pan; stir-fry 3 minutes. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, chicken broth, oyster sauce, grated ginger, and pepper flakes, stirring well. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic to pan; stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add broth mixture, and cook for 1 minute, bringing the sauce to just under a boil. Add noodle mixture and chicken to pan; cook 1 minute, tossing to combine. The sauce should soak up into the noodles within this time.  Sprinkle with green onions and serve.

July 15, 2010

For a Day Like Today

I'm having the hardest time sitting down at the computer right now, writing this post.  You see, after all the "May Grey" and "June Gloom" and the whatever the heck you call it when July is still cool and overcast, we finally have glorious cloud free skies!  And it's hot!  It went from 67F to 80F in one quick day, and I really couldn't be happier.  I'm antsy sitting in my chair, sun streaming through the window - the cat lounging in a pool of sunlight on the ground next to me, because she might be just as happy as me about the return of sun and sunbathing - I gotta get outside and soak it up.  The beach calls to me.

But first let me give you this fruit salad.  It's cause to celebrate as well - in my opinion at least.  It's all at once sweet and tart and just the right amount of spicy from the addition of serrano chiles.  Blows my mind.  Last October we took a little family excursion and went camping in the Anza Borrego desert and my Dad brought this amazing fruit salad.  It's one of those, some of this, some more of this, a little of that kind of recipes, and it's been stuck in my head ever since.  I was just biding my time until the mango, pineapple and blueberries were all in season and ripe.  In a pinch you could use canned pineapple, but everything else should be fresh.  So working from my visual memory I recreated the salad and even managed to write down the proportions for you, dear reader.

I've seen similar recipes out there but they were more salsa oriented with the inclusion of cilantro and maybe even some olive oil.  Meh.  I like this one better.  And don't turn your nose up at the use of onion with fruit - I know the words onion and fruit salad don't seem to go together, but trust me, they do here.  For one, it's a sweet onion.  For another, you rinse the cut up onion before adding it to the fruit so whatever bite the onion had it's much less now.  You of course could use this as a salsa and spoon it over grilled fish or even atop some plain nachos (just tortilla chips with some melted jack cheese), but this salad doesn't last long around here and I'm yet to try either of those myself.  The salad gets made then promptly gobbled.  Straight from the bowl.  With a fork.

The beach, this salad...happiness.

Spicy Mango Pineapple Salad (or Salsa)

If you want to use this more as a salsa, you can cut the pineapple into smaller chunks so everything is more uniformly sized.  As far as the serrano in this recipe is concerned, I actually used a whole one, but depending on your heat/spice preferences you may want to start with just 1/2.  I usually test the heat of the chile by touching my tongue to it lightly after cutting the stem off and make my judgment from there.  This one seemed unusually tame so I threw the whole thing in there, but once I mixed everything up it was surprisingly spicy, thus I'd say, start with half and taste once it's all mixed up.

4 servings

1 mango, about 1 cup, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup pineapple, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup blueberries
1/4 cup sweet onion, diced and rinsed in cold water
1/2 serrano chile, finely minced
1/2 lime, juiced

Combine the mango, pineapple, blueberries, sweet onion and serrano in a bowl.  Squeeze the lime juice over and mix it up.

July 12, 2010

The Redeeming Pickle

Pickles, you are forgiven.

We are no longer in a fight.  I have forgiven you for your disappointment, gotten over my mistakes and even learned a thing or two.  Namely, that I prefer pickles made with vinegar.

The other week, when my kosher dill pickle attempt failed, I needed something to pull me out of my funk.  I thought about abandoning pickles for a while, giving them the cold shoulder, but it's so so hard when you love them the way I do.  So instead I took the only other route (after much encouragement from friends) which was to jump back in the saddle and get to pickling ASAP.  

Actually, I've got a secret to share - I've made the pickled red onions before.  They're real swell.  Put them on tacos, on burgers, eat them straight out of the jar, they even make a great snack on a cracker with some goat cheese.  They're tangy, still crunchy and lightly spiced with the cloves and all spice.

Now the bread and butter pickles, those were a new to me recipe.  Aren't they lovely with their yellow-y glow from the tumeric?  I was never a huge fan of the ones you buy in the grocery store, but after the awful tasting dills I made, I needed something completely different.  You can consider me converted.  Once again, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen led me down a successful path.  (It was her site where I discovered the discrepancies between brands of kosher salts and while it may have been too late to salvage the dill pickles, it certainly helped these bread and butters.)  And don't forget about the onions in there, they're delicious too.  Not too sweet, crunchy and oh so pretty - they'd be a hit at your next BBQ.

Pickled Red Onions
From David Lebovitz

3/4 cup white vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

1 bay leaf

5 allspice berries

5 whole cloves
a small, dried chile pepper

1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced into half rings

In a small, non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling.  Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer gently for 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Transfer the onions and the liquid into a jar then refrigerate until ready to use.

Bread and Butter Pickles
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 4 cups of pickles

1 pound kirby cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons Morton's Kosher salt
 (or 3 tablespoons of Diamond kosher salt)
1/2 cup sugar 

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion and salt. Mix well. Cover the mixture with ice. Let stand at room temperature for two hours. In a pot, bring sugar, vinegar and spices to a boil. Drain cucumbers and onions. Add to vinegar mixture and bring almost back to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. You can store the pickles in an airtight container for up to three weeks in the fridge. They will begin tasting pickled in just a couple hours.

July 8, 2010

Tofu for Two

I guess I'm on a roll here.  This is yet another dish that gets made over and over.  I know - what?  Didn't she say she doesn't do this?  Yes, yes I did.  And mostly, I don't.  But everyone has their classics, their fall backs and this has become one of mine.  It's my go-to tofu (ha!) recipe.  People, it's just so darn easy to make.  You barely bat an eyelash and it's ready!  It's about as complicated as gently simmering tofu and stirring a few ingredients together.  Okay, you have to chop a few green onion and mince some garlic, but I promise that's as labor intensive as it gets.

It's salty, nutty and oh so spicy, but in the best of ways.  The silken tofu, with it's almost custard texture, soothes the heat a for a moment, just a quick moment before you're reaching for another bite and more heat.  It's addictive.  And there's just something about eating spicy food when it's hot out.  Whether it's the temporary distraction from the environment, or the sweat that's acting to cool you, spicy and hot go together like two peas in a pod.  Even if it's not hot where you are right now (*ahem* San Diego, I'm looking at you), that's fine too.  The spice will work to warm you from the inside out.

That tangle of green behind the tofu?  I julienned a good sized zucchini into spaghetti like strings and dressed them in a bit of rice vinegar and the tiniest pinch of sugar to have a cooling salad to calm the fire in my mouth.  Something more pickled would be fantastic alongside as well.

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet, March 2009

I substituted regular red pepper flakes for Korean ones since that's what I have on had (although, truth be told, I should go buy the Korean hot red pepper flakes since I make this pretty often).  I can't attest to the flavor difference, but it's still mighty tasty this way - spicy too!  Also, feel free to sub out one tablespoon of the soy sauce for water or broth, it cuts out a ton of sodium without really impacting the flavor.  As far as serving options go I've done it a number of ways.  With a cucumber salad and sticky rice.  With soba noodles and sauteed savoy cabbage and mushrooms.  It's all good.  I like to spoon the sauce over the tofu after it's on my dinner plate so that it mixes with everything.

2 servings

1 14-ounce package silken tofu
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped scallion
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Carefully rinse tofu, then cover with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat.

Meanwhile, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir together with remaining ingredients.

Just before serving, carefully lift tofu from saucepan with a large spatula and drain on paper towels. Gently pat dry, then transfer to a small plate. Spoon some sauce over tofu and serve warm.

July 6, 2010


Top to bottom:

Renata, Sally Jackson
Hooligan, Cato Corner Farm
Purple Haze, Cypress Grove

All American dairy goodness.

Also pictured: tomato jam (best with goat cheese and in this case, the Purple Haze), Bread & Cie seedy sourdough baguette, garden salad, Russian River Brewing's Consecration.

(Be back soon with a real post!)