November 18, 2011

An Enchilada Tale



And now for my next trick, I give you a rather involved and lengthy recipe for enchiladas.

I'm pretty hardcore loyal to quite a few recipes.  My way or the highway kind of loyal.  I only have eyes (and tastebuds) for the way I've come to love a dish, loyal.  Enchiladas are such a dish.

If we're talking chicken enchiladas, my one and only is Rick Bayless's Enchiladas Suizas.  A creamy, tomatoey and spicy affair that, aside from making the sauce, is simple and straight forward.  Good fresh corn tortillas are key.  Most likely they will try and fall apart as you take them out of the pan.  They may not look pretty and perfect on a plate.  In fact they tend to resemble a messy heap rather than an enchilada.  None of this bothers me because I love them so.  What they may lack in looks they sure have in flavor.

If we're going the less traditional and vegetarian route, D's Dad makes these killer tofu, mushroom and green onion enchiladas that the family calls "pincheladas".  I don't know the whole story but what I gather is that the name is in reference to the spiciness of the  enchilada sauce, "pinche" being a not-so-nice Mexican slang word.  They're earthy and bright at the same time and I especially love the unexpected addition of rosemary.  Again, good corn tortillas are key (they always are).

That's it.  That's all I need.  Just those two recipes for enchiladas and I'm set.  But then I ran across this recipe and it somehow lodged itself it my brain and the only way to stop thinking about it was to make it.  Boy am I glad I did.  They're the opposite of what I like most about the above two enchilada recipes.  There's quite a few steps, the sauce is thick and creamy and they're made with flour tortillas.

The result is larger-than-usual enchiladas, stuffed with chicken, black beans, sauteed zucchini and just the right amount of cheese to hold it all together.  Here you don't need to seek out the best tortillas, just whatever your local grocery store happens to have.  The homemade goodness of fresh flour tortillas would be too rich, giving them too much weight and likely making the whole thing a bit doughy.  As it is the tortillas soak up a good amount of sauce ensuring that every bite has just enough heat from the jalapeno (use one with a good kick to it) and just enough heft from sour cream to keep you satisfied.  A pop of color from sliced green onions and fresh cilantro leaves and I just may keep this recipe in my arsenal for future use.


Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas
Adapted from In the Small Kitchen


The original printed recipe made double this amount and split it into 2 distinct batches.  One with the black bean and zucchini filling, the other with chicken.  However in the headnotes it offers the suggestion for combining the two and since I don't really need TWO 13x9 pans of enchiladas I first halved the recipe, then incorporated the filling recipes together.  For all the work you do though, if you want to make it worth more of your time, wait until you have a crowd to feed and double this one up.

makes 8 largish enchiladas

filling:
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, poached (about 3/4 lb)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 pound zucchini, cut into 1/4 in dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 - 3/4 cup black beans
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

sauce:
1 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup sour cream
4 oz can fire-roasted mild green chiles
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste

enchiladas:
Eight 8-inch flour tortillas
1⁄2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded and divided
cilantro leaves
Thinly sliced scallions

Make the filling:
Allow the poached chicken to cool slightly, then shred the breasts using two forks or your fingers. Set the meat aside and toss with 1 tablespoon dijon mustard.

Add just enough olive oil to a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet to coat the surface and place it over medium heat. Sauté the onion until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the zucchini and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is tender and browned, another 6 minutes or so. Add the garlic, beans, chili powder, cumin, and salt, and cook until the beans are tender and the garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let cool for a bit then mix in the shredded chicken and chopped cilantro.

Make the sauce:
Melt the butter in a small to medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and jalapeños and cook until they are softened but not yet beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Still stirring, slowly add the stock in a steady stream. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced and the sauce has become opaque, about 5 minutes. Let it cool slightly.  Transfer the thickened stock to a blender, add the sour cream, chiles, cumin, chili powder, salt, and cayenne, and puree until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350F.

To assemble:
Reserve about 1 cup of the shredded cheese to top the assembled enchiladas.

Coat the bottoms of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with some of the sauce.  Fill each enchilada with about a 1/2 cup of the chicken/bean/zucchini mixture, along the center of each tortilla. Top the filling with a generous tablespoon of shredded cheese. Roll the sides of the tortillas over the filling and place them, seam side down, in the baking dishes.

Pour the remaining green chile sauce evenly over the enchiladas and sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Bake the enchiladas in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is beginning to brown. Garnish with more cilantro leaves and scallions and serve.

November 16, 2011

Perfect/Imperfect


Can I share with you a little secret?  We've been in our apartment for almost 3 months now and we still don't have a kitchen/dining table.  This is not something I'm proud of.  It certainly bothers D.  But the thing is, a table is a tricky situation for our little kitchen.  It needs to be small, tiny even.  This apartment is full of awkward spaces (for example - there's no mirror above the bathroom sink) and what little room is left in the kitchen certainly falls into that category.  If the table isn't just right it'll block the back door, or else limit how far we can open the refrigerator door.

So for now we have a makeshift situation. Leaning slightly hunched over from the couch, we eat off a sort of coffee table. A table which is actually more of a side table and magazine rack.  Sometimes we move the  plates to our laps, balanced precariously, while simultaneously fending off the cat's endless attempts at food theft.  Sometimes the TV is on.  Sometimes situations just aren't ideal.

Especially when the cat manages to swipe a mouthful of food off your plate.

But these noodles are street-style food.  Whipped up real quick in a hot wok and meant to be eaten just as quickly without any fuss.  Seriously, heap it onto your plate, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the whole thing and get to eating.  The pleasant chew of the noodles, the earthy/tangy/just-this-side-of-spicy sauce coating every bite, silky pieces of bok choy and tofu mingling with al dente green beans.  Magic I tell you.



Mee Goreng (Malaysian Fried Noodles)
Adapted from Ottolenghi's "Plenty"


Slight changes I made to better suit my pantry supplies: I used dried noodles instead of fresh.  I also believe they were udon noodles.  They worked, but I think I would have preferred the thinner egg noodles.  I didn't have thick soy sauce, so I just subbed in half regular soy sauce and half honey.  D and I both agreed that this was best eaten right away; the leftovers were fine, but the flavors were much more magical right out of the wok.


2 servings (maybe 3)

2 tablespoons peanut oil
½ onion, peeled and diced
8 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1/4" thick strips
4 oz green beans, trimmed and cut in half on a deep angle
6 oz bok choy, leaves and stems, cut into large chunks
12 oz fresh egg noodles (or 6 oz dry noodles, cooked as on package, drained and cooled)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sambal olek, plus extra to serve
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cold water
1 handful of bean sprouts
1 - 2 tablespoon french fried onions
Lemon wedges, to serve

Put a wok (or large pan) over high heat. Once hot, add the oil, then the onion and cook to soften it for a minute. Add the tofu and green beans, and cook to give the tofu a bit of color - two to three minutes. Stir gently as you cook, so as not to break the tofu.

Add the bok choy and, when it wilts, the noodles. Spread them in the wok using tongs or chopsticks - you want them to get a lot of heat, almost to fry. Mix gently, cooking the noodles for about two minutes. Now add the spices, sambal olek, soy sauce, bean sprouts and a tablespoon of cold water, and toss carefully. Cook for about a minute, or until the noodles are semi-soft.

When ready to serve, transfer the noodles into bowls and top with the french fried onions. On the side, serve lemon wedges and a small bowl of extra sambal.


October 28, 2011

Pick Me Up



Me and this week, we're not friends.  We're in a fight.

Monday was the first ever national Food Day.  A day to bring awareness and push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.  I would have liked to tell you about it much earlier, but my time this past week has be dedicated to organic chemistry.   Ugh, food is much more exciting than o chem.  Truth.

Two exams back-to-back on Thursday morning.  One of them at 8am and neither of them went so well.

This weekend will be filled with Halloween festivities and I just can't bring myself to get excited about them.  I have however, spent the last week admiring the houses in the 'hood, all decked out and ready for the costumed parade of kids on Monday.  Man, I wish I could still go trick-or-treating.

So next week, I'm looking at you, let's make it a better week.

These sausage stuffed peppers would be a good start.  They have the ability to get you out of a funk, because even if your day wasn't so hot, a good dinner can lift your spirits.  These peppers are really just that good, made even better by the homegrown goodness they contained.  The peppers and eggs and sausage came from wonderful, generous friends.  I even made the tomato sauce out of their tomatoes (you can used canned sauce, though I'd argue your peppers will be filled with less love than these).  The chicken stock was freshly made and aside from the spinach, the rest was pantry staples.

I know there's a million and a half recipes like this one.  Peppers stuffed with ground beef or turkey, grains, couscous, vegetables and cheese, but these ones are different.  For one, there's no baking.  Everything gets cooked in one (large) skillet on the stove top, taking much less time.  Also, the tomato sauce the stuffed pepper halves simmer in is kind of genius.  It picks up all the browned bits from the pan and catches all the juices and reduces it all to a tangy, yet rich sauce to pour over the top when serving.  Oh, and sausage kicks the butt of plain ole ground meat any day.


Spinach and Sausage Stuffed Peppers

Adapted from Food and Wine, October 2010


At a glance, this may look fussier than your standard stuffed pepper recipe - the kind where you lop off the top of the pepper, stuff it full of ground meat or grains and maybe some veggies and cheese, then set it to bake away - but it's not.  If you're swift in the kitchen, you could probably get this on the table in 30 minutes.  The extra step of browning the tops and using sausage instead of ground beef or turkey bumps the flavor way up.  Plus eating the halved peppers is far less awkward than trying to devise a plan of attack on a whole upright stuffed pepper.


4-6 servings

5 oz. baby spinach
2 slices of fresh french bread, finely chopped
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 small to medium sized green bell peppers
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup canned tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth

In a very large skillet, cook the spinach over high heat just until wilted, about 1 minute. Drain and press out all of the water. Coarsely chop the spinach. Rinse out and dry the pan.

In a bowl, knead the chopped bread with the milk, egg and cheese to form a paste. Knead in the pine nuts, onion, sausage and spinach and season lightly with salt and pepper. Using lightly moistened hands, divide the mixture among the pepper halves and lightly pack it in.

In the skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the stuffed peppers, filling side down, and cook over high heat until well-browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the peppers and cook until the skins are browned and blistered, about 4 minutes longer. Add the tomato sauce and chicken broth, cover and simmer until the sausage filling is cooked through and the peppers are tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve right away.

October 19, 2011

Clean Slate, Clean Plate


A big part of our moving experience was downsizing and simplifying.  We moved from an 800 square foot 2 bedroom place to a 1 bedroom in a city where real estate is a pretty penny.  Everything we owned was scrutinized and evaluated and a lot of it was put into bags for donation or trash.  Would this even fit in the new place?

In the end it felt good.  Freeing.  There's less clutter in our lives and we know that we're surrounded by things with meaning, things that we love.

Maybe you've noticed some changes around here, too?  I've been playing around with this blog a bit in the past few weeks, seeking out simple and clean, something that felt more like me.  The me now, not the me who started this blog a year and a half ago.  I took down the old banner and replaced it with simple text because that isn't my kitchen anymore.  You'll see other places you can find me just over there to the right.  Besides here of course.  I can't be trusted to keep up with posting my weekly meal planning, so instead I'll just post links over there to what I'm cooking, what's inspiring me right now and other recipe obsessions.  Some you might find me posting about here later, others not.

See?  Simple.

Just like these little quinoa cakes.  Need I profess my love for Heidi Swanson and 101 Cookbooks again?  I could go on for days.  These little patties are the perfect kind of food.  Unpretentious, simple and so versatile.  They are a breeze to put together, cook up to a beautiful golden brown color and have endless possibilities for switching it up.  A different herb, a different cheese, serve it on it's own or as a veggie burger.  They don't crumble to pieces and they travel well.  I had them with a bit of lebneh, a middle eastern strained yogurt cheese, dolloped on top and the flavors reminded me a bit of potato pancakes.  So comforting.



Quinoa Cakes

Another rockstar recipe from the lovely Heidi Swanson.  Just savory enough and totally open to changes.  Try a different herb (parsley?), throw in a different cheese (fontina?), take it to another level with some spices, or just leave it as is.  I made the smaller patties as written, but make them a bit bigger and I think you could have a delicious veggie burger on your hands.  When I had them topped with lebneh the flavor reminded me of potato pancakes.  Only these pack much more protein and are arguably more healthy.

12 small-ish patties

2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh chives
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whole grain bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
greek yogurt or lebneh for serving

Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes so the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture that you can easily form into 1" thick patties.  A good palmful amount will yield about 12 patties total.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet (I used nonstick) over medium heat, add enough patties to fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned.  Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.  Serve atop a big green salad or top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and extra snipped chives.

October 14, 2011

Beans and Greens


I have a confession to make and some of you may be a little surprised.  This soup recipe is old school Rachael Ray.  Back before she had a talk show and a hundred million cookbooks, before orange cookware became synonymous with her name.  Before even the suggested serving sizes of her recipes downright frightened me (unless I misread the recipe source and this soup was actually intended for 2?).  She has some hidden gems, recipes that I've definitely made more than once, so I guess what I'm saying is: don't judge a book by it's cover.

This is just a simple beans and greens kind of soup.  It could have been anyone's recipe really, but it just happens to come from Rachael Ray.  This is he kind of soup you crave on drizzly grey days, or when you're looking for comfort without tons of effort.  It's not the most handsome of soups, but with darkness falling earlier and earlier its muted tones are much more appropriate to autumn's palate.

Escarole is a fun green.  A little less bitter than other members of the endive family, it's wild and tangled leaves giving it the look of green leaf's less demure sibling.  I like it best with a little heat put to.  It tames the bitter and makes it more approachable.  In this soup, the wilted and stewed escarole becomes silky and its bright green color fades to something more homely.  The beans add body and thicken the savory chicken stock as they simmer away.  Pancetta is in there too, playing the much important salty role.  A tiny mountain of Parmigiano Reggiano to top it all off  and I've got my dinner all planned out for the next few days.


Minestra
recipe from Rachael Ray, 30 Minute Meals


This soup is dead simple and simply perfect.  It should go without saying that when a recipe is as simple as this, seek out the best ingredients.  Homemade chicken stock and super fresh escarole from the market will make all the difference here.  I suspect cooking up your own beans instead of using canned would be even more wonderful, but it's an extra step I haven't yet taken.  I like a generous dusting of  the real-deal fresh parmesan cheese on mine and bread is a must to swipe up the last bits from the bowl.


4-6 servings

4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 oz. pancetta, diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large bunch escarole, chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans, cannellini beans, drained
4 cups chicken stock
A couple pinches ground nutmeg
kosher salt
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, for topping

In a deep, large, heavy pot over moderate heat, saute garlic and pancetta in extra-virgin olive oil for 3 minutes. Add onions and cook a few minutes longer until the pancetta begins to brown.

Add the greens and wilt slightly, just so that can fit in the pot.  Add drained beans, broth, and nutmeg. Cook over moderate to medium-high heat for 12 minutes, or until greens are no longer bitter.  Season with salt and don't be shy here, salt until the flavors pop.  Serve with shaved cheese and perhaps some crusty bread.

October 11, 2011

From Veggie Box to Plate



The farm where our CSA box comes from is located in Dixon, CA about an hour and half north east from here.  There it's still warm and the summer crops are still happily providing.  This past week we had our first rain of the season and just like that I switched gears into obsessing over things like apples and pumpkins and stews.  Tomatoes, I love you, but I think it's time for a break.

I'm back and forth on my feelings regarding the aforementioned CSA box.  There's only one more box left in our trial, so I've begun to make mental pro and con lists in my head about the experience.  Quality wise, I haven't really any complaints - except that one time we got an heirloom Tigger melon that teased me with its perfume only to taste like nothing.  I suppose my problem is that some of the shopping and cooking control has been taken away from me.  My meal planning has been reversed.  Instead of using what's in season to guide my menu planning and in turn my shopping, I now search for recipes for specific ingredients and work from that direction.

Pros include the affordability and always having a house well stocked with (organic) vegetables and sometimes fruit.  I'm also all about supporting the small, local farms and avoiding Safeway like the plague.

In the meantime however, while I try and make up my mind, I still need to use up the goods in the veggie box.  I'll keep cooking the summer squashes and finding new ways to use up tomatoes and basil.  And for that I have the help of this dish I found on the NYT website.  It's honestly more than the sum of its parts which is exactly what I needed out of the recipe.  Something to surprise me and remind me to be grateful for harvest time's bounty.  Not quite stewed zucchini that maintain some bite to them melting together with sweet tomatoes and a kick of garlic and basil, it's summertime comfort food.  Fast too.



Zucchini Provencal

As suggested in the NYT column, I suspect this would be delicious served over some grilled fish, something mild and white.  We just had it with a chunk of crusty baguette and some salami for a light and simple meal.  It was delicious the next day gently warmed with a sprinkle of feta cheese and scooped up with the leftover bread.

4 side dish servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds medium or small zucchini thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ripe tomatoes, grated on the large holes of a box grater
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped or slivered fresh basil (to taste)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy skillet. Add the zucchini. Cook, stirring or shaking the pan, until the zucchini is lightly seared and beginning to soften, three to five minutes. Remove from the pan, and set aside.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan, then the garlic. Cook, stirring, just until fragrant -- less than 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have begun to cook down, about five minutes. Return the zucchini to the pan, add salt and pepper to taste, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is tender and translucent and the tomatoes have cooked down to a fragrant sauce. Stir in the basil, and taste and adjust seasonings. Remove from the heat and serve hot, or allow to cool and serve at room temperature.

October 7, 2011

Leftovers

Sometimes I forget that I took pictures of food.  Sometimes I leave pictures crowding up space on my camera's memory card.  Sometimes I don't transfer them onto my computer for 3 months.  Bad food blogger.

Clearly I enjoyed tomatoes this summer.  Actually, that shouldn't even be past tense, I am STILL enjoying tomatoes into fall.  Thank goodness for living in California and thank goodness for San Francisco's Indian summers.  So if you're lucky enough to still catch the season's last trickle of tomatoes -  hopefully before it's too late and you have to hang on to these until another 9 months from now - you might consider making one of these for dinner. 


 
A deconstructed cocktail alongside some grass fed beef?  Don't mind if I do!


Sopes with Refried Beans, Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa, Feta Cheese and a sort of Pico de Gallo

(I added a Persian cucumber, because why not?)

September 29, 2011

A Sting on the Lips


At the end of each season, there always seems to be one ingredient, one fruit or vegetable that I had but precious little of.  I'm sad to see the season change, knowing that with it goes some food that I'll have to wait another 9 months for.  For me, this summer, it was corn.

So obvious.  Corn.  It's probably why I passed it up all the time, thinking that I would just make that *next time*.  I can count on one hand the number of times corn made it onto my plate this summer and that's just plain sad.  With butter and salt or hot sauce and lime, a freshly picked ear of corn can do no wrong.  I'm a snob, I like the fresh stuff best.  I'll use frozen in a pinch but never commercially canned - the flavor can't hope to compare.

As summer was winding down and the zucchini from my CSA was piling up, I ran across this fantastic looking recipe over on shutterbean.  Everything besides the feta and corn were already on hand so I called it destiny and added a few things to my shopping list.  

The pizza was everything you'd want in a summer meal; fresh, light but filling, served perfectly with a big salad full of tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs.  But you see that jalapeno right there, right in the foreground, perched precariously on the tip of the slice?  WHOA.  It was a sneaky little pepper, setting both mine and D's lips to tingling and burning and then burning a whole lot more.  I'm usually better about that, testing a just sliced pepper for heat, but I didn't this time.  I don't know, maybe it's just me, but jalapenos usually underwhelm me with their heat.  Half the time I buy them and they are as harmless as a bell pepper.  I just assumed this one was harmless too.

But you know what happens when you assume...

You get stinging lips and watery eyes.

A little more feta and lime juice and a few glasses of water later we finished it up, though I admitted defeat and picked the remaining peppers off my slice.  Until next time, jalapenos, until next time.


Corn Zucchini and Feta Pizza (with Cilantro and Lime)
adapted from shutterbean

Waste no time, and go buy some of the last ears of corn and a zucchini from the dwindling summer squash (if you're not too sick of it yet), this pizza is calling your name.  If you have a favorite pizza dough recipe, use it.  When I'm feeling less lazy and have a little foresight to start the dough the night before, I'm a fan of the recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, but this time I just grabbed some premade dough from Trader Joe's.  Whatever.  And please, do yourself a favor and check the heat of the jalapeno before you go tossing it on your pizza with reckless abandon.  Your tastebuds will thank you.

4 servings

pizza dough
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 cup corn (fresh or frozen, cooked or uncooked)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno thinly sliced
1/2 cup feta
1 big handful bunch cilantro, chopped
red pepper flakes (optional)
salt & pepper
juice of 1 lime

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Put zucchini & corn in a bowl, toss with olive oil and set aside.

Oil a rimmed cookie sheet liberally with olive oil. Put the dough on the pan and stretch and press it out towards the edges. If it springs back wait five minutes and then proceed. Continue pressing and stretching until you reach your desired size/thickness (remembering that it will puff up a bit more while baking).

Top the pizza dough with zucchini, corn, red onion, jalapeno and scatter feta and torn cilantro leaves on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper. Cook for 15-20 minutes in the oven. Evenly squeeze lime juice on top of the pizza and serve with fresh cilantro, a little more feta and red pepper flakes for added heat.

September 21, 2011

Summer Came Late




It's September in San Francisco and there's a warm Santa Ana like breeze drifting into the house through my thrown open windows.  Outside, I'd dare say it's hot.  I take every opportunity to celebrate the sun and warmth and this is seriously gorgeous summer weather.  It's days like today that this city really steals my heart.

No matter that I have an exam tomorrow in my management class and I'm supposed to be studying.  Or that I have a lab report to write.  Forget that I have a giant "to do" list staring me down, claiming most my time this weekend.  Today I have no classes, and no motivation speak of.  Sunshine means playing hooky time.  Tonight we will be hosting a movie club night - which let's be honest, sounds so much better than studying.  I just can't take today seriously.

In celebrating days like today, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the food.  The bounty that is the late summer harvest.  It's felt so good to get back into the kitchen, fingers in the bowl, tasting as I go.  Cooking has helped settle me in.

Figs and beets are everywhere right now, on display all over the markets and in corner produce stores alike.  Both sweet and earthy in their own ways, the two work together really well.  The figs, black mission in this case, are candy sweet while the beets have a more wholesome flavor profile.  Layer that with some salty and mild feta cheese and a nutty whole wheat pasty crust and you've got a divine dinner.  I thought it was even better the next day, just barely rewarmed in the oven.


Beet Fig and Feta Tart
adapted from five and spice

There is so much playing around you could do here.  Chevre instead of feta cheese, different types of figs - I used the big green Adriatic figs, but black mission would be just as delicious, if not a bit sweeter - even changing up the dried herbs and using a bit of rosemary in place of the thyme and oregano.  For a more adventurous herby twist, za'taar could work too.  If you don't have whole wheat flour for the crust, go ahead and use all purpose, but maybe consider subbing out few tablespoons for cornmeal to get a nice crunch in there.  Some freshly ground pepper in the crust might be nice too.

4 to 6 servings

crust:
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
6 tablespoons cold butter cut into small chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white vinegar 
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water

In bowl, mix together the flour and salt to combine. With your fingers or pastry blender mix the butter chunks until you have a mixture that is a coarse meal that still has pea sized pieces of butter in it.  Mix in the vinegar and the water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts to come together. Turn it out and press it into a ball with your hands. Flatten the ball of dough into a thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. 

tart:
3 medium beets, roasted and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1/4 pound feta cheese
2 adriatic figs (or 4-6 black mission figs)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

Preheat the over to 400F. 

When the tart dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured surface - preferably on a piece of parchment to make transferring easier later - into a circle about 1/4 inch thick. Don't worry about the edges being smooth, but fix any cracks by pressing the dough together with your fingertips.

Crumble the feta into small chunks and sprinkle half of the cheese onto the tart crust, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges, then evenly distribute the spices over the cheese.  Spread a layer of the sliced figs on top of the cheese, followed by a layer of the beets (still leaving a 1-inch border). Sprinkle the rest of the feta on top.

Fold over the edge of the tart, toward the center, folding and overlapping the dough to keep it circular, but not perfect. Slide tart carefully onto a baking sheet by carefully picking up the edges of the parchments and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

While the tart is baking, put the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low  simmer and cook until thick and syrupy and reduced by about three-quarters, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

When the tart is finished, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes.  Before eating, drizzle the balsamic syrup all over it and sprinkle the mint leaves on top.  Slice and serve.

September 9, 2011

Meal Ticket

I miss my farmers' market at home.  The people, the farmers, the vendors; it was such an incredible way to spend my Saturday mornings.  But now that's nearly 500 miles away, and I've had to find some sort of replacement.

I made up my mind before moving that we would sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture - for those not in the know) box.  It would be a good way to get to know a farm or two, and adjust to the different offerings and somewhat different growing seasons.  It's also a good way to make you get creative with cooking.

Every other week I get a box full of surprise fruits and veggies and have to sit down and puzzle a menu out.  Yesterday I picked up my second trial box and it looked like this:


Actually this was my first box.  I didn't take a picture of the second box because after walking there and back - oh, the hills in this city! - with the haul, I was hot and sweaty and it just completely slipped my mind.  This time around there was no eggplant, banana peppers or apples.  Got tons of tomatoes, caribe potatoes, an heirloom Tigger melon and watermelon.  More zucchini, tomatillos, basil, bell peppers and eggs.  Also a bunch of chives.

So for the menu here's what I've got:

(thank you previous tenant for leaving behind your new Saveur magazine!)

served over orzo, basil

Spanish Tortilla with Chive Pesto
eggs, potato, onion

italian sausage, spinach, pine nuts and tomato sauce

with feta cheese, lime juice, jalapeno and cilantro

September 8, 2011

City Life

*tap tap*  Is this thing on?

Something happened in the move.  I lost my brain, I think.  It's not completely back, but I'm working on it.


21 days ago I stepped off a plane at SFO and greeted my new home.  Hello, San Francisco.  Sticking out like a sore thumb in seasonally inappropriate little black shorts and a light sweater, my new city welcomed me with a heavy blanket of fog that poured down the hill, making me shiver and sniffle.  It's gonna take some getting used to.  I don't quite yet feel settled.  

The apartment is all set up, school has started for both D and I; we even signed up for a CSA, but I'm still missing San Diego.  I'm missing the warm sunny beach days and California burritos - though truth be told I prefer other burritos more - they just don't do Mexican food the same up here.

The rest of it, the restaurants in San Francisco, blow my mind.  I've probably eaten out more in the past few weeks than I did in the 6 months prior to moving, but it's all in the name of research.  Burmese, Thai, French Creole Soul, perfect breakfast pastries at Tartine, crazy good ice cream at Mitchell's.

Eating good food makes me feel better.  Bring on this new adventure.

July 15, 2011

Of Grills and 'Guts



It's official.  We have a moving date.  Our last days of work are fast approaching and we've called our property management company to give them our 30 days notice.  I'd say things are getting real, except that's about as much planning that's been done.  Everything else is up in the air.  We still need to find an apartment in SF, figure out if we're taking both cars or just one, get registered for classes and you know, pack up our entire apartment and move it 500 miles away.  No biggie.

But for now, for next few weeks anyway, D and I are going to squeeze every bit of Southern California summer out of this place.  Beaches and pools will be frequented and as many meals as possible will be cooked on our BBQ.

Ah, our fickle, sputtering, flame throwing grill.  Our hand-me-down BBQ.  Though how such a crazed appliance belonged to D's grandma before us, I will never understand.  The only logical explanation I can give for its erratic behavior is that our BBQ is alive and it's a vegetarian.  You can grill all the veggies, sear all the tofu and toast all the bread you so desire on it, but the second a piece of meat is carefully laid across it's grate you better have an extinguisher handy.  It doesn't kid around.

With no meat allowed on the grill and still wanting to cook dinner outdoors, we compromise and make salads like this panzanella.    Asparagus and bread just barely charred (a controlled char over cooperative flames) to impart a nice smoky flavor to the salad.  The bright juicy cherry tomatoes and vinegary dressing tame and complement while the olives are salty briny nuggets tucked through out.  I like the kick of red onions, but if they're not your thing, try rinsing them in a bit of cold water after cutting them, or letting them soak in the dressing to mellow out their flavor.  It really is a perfect dish for an al fresco meal.

I will tell you however, even with a well behaved BBQ, I managed to set the neighbors smoke alarm off.  Oops!


Grilled Asparagus Panzanella
Adapted from Grill It, Bobby Flay

I cut out a lot of the olive oil from the original because I like my dressings more on the vinegary side, and I don't like my panzanella to be too soggy.  Croutons are a personal weakness of mine and it takes much control for me to stop snacking on them when they're around.  On the other hand, soggy bread really grosses me out.  So adjust the amount of dressing to your bread texture preference.  This is a simple quick salad to throw together and I like that best of all.

4 servings

6 slices country style bread 
1/4 cup red wine vinegar 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
Salt and black pepper 
1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large bunch asparagus, ends trimmed 
8 red cherry tomatoes, halved
8 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup Niçoise olives, pitted 
2 tablespoons capers  

Heat the grill to high. Grill the bread slices until slightly charred on both sides. Cut into 1-inch cubes.  

Toss the asparagus with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender crisp. Cut into 1-inch segments. 

Add the vinegar, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and the rest of the olive oil in a large bowl. Whisk together until combined. Add the tomatoes, onion, olives, capers, grilled bread, and the asparagus. Toss well and set aside for 30 minutes before serving.

July 5, 2011

On a Stick



I really don't know where it came from - these fantasies of popsicles I kept having - it just started one day and hasn't let go since.  It's summertime, and the weather was warm and perfect all weekend (!) so it would seem normal to want popsicles, but unless you live with me you have no idea how out of control this craving has been recently. 

There was the time where D humored my sick whining insistence for the perfect popsicle by driving to several stores in one trip, only to have me reject them all because they weren't "the one".  Then there's the world's cutest popsicle cart, Viva Pops, at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturdays that I always  manage to wait too long to grab their newest creative flavor (blackberry violet cream anyone?) and it's gone for the day.

I am a woman, obsessed.

So a few weeks ago I hopped over to Amazon and bought myself a brand new ice pop mold, wooden sticks and clear cellophane bags in anticipation of sharing my obsession with others.  Now I can make 10 pops at a time!  In my own freezer!  And did you see how perfect they look?  Those ridges that run up the broad sides and the slightly tapered rectangular shape?  I'm smitten.

The first round of flavors was strawberry basil and lavender honey cream; a half batch of each because a girl needs options.  One sweet and dripping with ripe strawberry flavor, slightly tinged with an herby basil note.  The other perfumed with flowers and milky sweetness.

I meant to get this out to all of you before the long holiday weekend started, but suffice it to say that I was busy making more of these concoctions and enjoying them instead.  No matter, there is an entire summer's worth of opportunity ahead of us.


Strawberry Basil Pops

The basil in these is just the barest hint, but I wouldn't leave it out.  If you want more basil flavor, I think it would be worth it to try them with very thin slivers of basil stirred in by hand after you're done pureeing the mixture.  Although strawberries are quite sweet on their own, the addition of the simple syrup, while also adding the flavor of basil, keeps the pop sfrom becoming too icy.

makes about 8 3-ounce pops 

2 pints ripe red strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lightly packed basil leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a sauce pan heat sugar, water and basil leaves until the sugar dissolves and the syrup starts to bubble.  Using the back of a wooden spoon bruise the basil in the pan to release more of its oils.  Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes or until it cools to room temperature.

Once the syrup has cooled strain into blender and add the strawberries and lemon juice.  Pulse until the mixture is mostly smooth, but with a few chunks still remaining.  Pour into popsicle molds, insert popsicle sticks and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.


Honey-Lavender-Cream Pops
recipe from Pleasant Pops via Washingtonian

You should love the flavor of lavender if you're going to make these.  To some lavender tastes like bath products or soap, to me it's like a bouquet of flowers that is at once floral and herbaceous.  Also, stick with the whole milk, otherwise your pops may turn out too icy. 

makes about 10 3-ounce pops

3 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender flowers
1/4 cup organic cane sugar or granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey

In a medium saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat as soon as it boils. Let the mixture steep, covered with the lid, for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the flowers.

Pour the mixture into the molds, insert popsicle sticks and freeze overnight or according to manufacturer's instructions.

June 30, 2011

Good Morning Sunshine


I have a weakness for anything Heidi Swanson does.   I  am yet to make one of her recipes - be it from her blog or either of her cookbooks - that I didn't fall head over heels in love with.  She has the Midas touch with vegetarian food.

I also adore cornbread.  Crunchy bits of cornmeal between my teeth, oh so crumbly texture, slathered in butter and honey; sign me up.  So back in March, the lovely Miss Swanson posted a teaser PDF just before the release of her second cookbook.  I must have spent the next hour or so drooling (literally) on my keyboard, completely in awe of the six beautiful recipes and photographs it included; one of which were these millet muffins.  You better believe that once I snapped back to reality I was all over it, single minded in my task of making something - anything - from that preview.  Cabinets were scoured, shopping lists were made and shortly after these beautiful muffins came out of the oven.

Yes, millet.  It's not bird feed, it's delicious (HS has a millet fried "rice" recipe in Super Natural Cooking that's killer too).  Little crunchy balls that pop when you bite them, lightly nutty, and perfect in these muffins.  They're not quite cornbread, but they have a similar tang and crumb.  The lemon zest is my favorite addition, taking it from a nutty and wholesome breakfast, to one that has a bright lemon zing at the finish.  A little sunshine in the morning to wake you up.  I slathered them in a strawberry, champagne and rose petal jam from one of my favorite farmers' market vendors and it was a match made in heaven.


Millet Muffins
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day, Heidi Swanson

I did just a tiny bit of tinkering here, really, just a little.  Instead of just putting the millet in raw to the muffins, I toasted it in a skillet before adding it into the batter.  I like the depth that toasted grains have and it plays nicely with the flavor of whole wheat flour.  But do as you like, or just save yourself a bit of time and put it in raw.  I used whole milk yogurt, but I imagine a Greek yogurt would be a pleasant added tang.

1 dozen

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup millet, toasted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup barely melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
Grated zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan or line with paper liners.

To toast the millet, heat a skillet over medium heat.  Add the millet and move it around the pan until it begins to smell nutty and reaches a light golden brown color, about 3 minutes.  Let cool.

Whisk together the flour, millet, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, butter, honey, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one, filling it to a bit below the rim.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the muffin tops are browned and just barely beginning to crack. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the muffins out of the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

June 17, 2011

Making it Up


It started with this.  A big bunch of wild and tangled greens tucked into a crate and set amid the sea of citrus at one of my favorite market vendors.  Agretti the sign read, "little sour one".

I love greens.  I've probably mentioned that three or four or one hundred times.  But this wild child, I'd never heard of it.  Turns out, it's something of a rarity.  Agretti grows alongside salt marshes or in salty soil and has a relatively short harvest season.  The salt in the ground imparts a salty/sour/acidic quality to the fresh green leaves, tasting reminiscent of sour grass.  It behaves similar to spinach when cooked and lends itself to many of the same preparations.  The man I bought it from, Bob Polito, who mostly grows it as a pet project recommended sauteing the tender leaves in olive oil, minced garlic and a squeeze of lemon and using that as a bed for fish.  The lemon, he said, was imperative.  I do not argue with the experts.


I walked over to the fish monger, who then sampled the green, agreed on the preparation and picked  out a beautiful fillet for me.  Dinner was decided.  I sauteed the agretti for maybe 4 minutes, just enough to get it pliable and wilty but still retain some crunch.  Indeed the lemon was imperative and I gave an extra squeeze over the top of the pan roasted fillet just for good measure. But I only made one fillet for the both of us and had barely used 1/3 of the bunch.  So, onward with the experiment.


Normally, Tastespotting  and FoodGawker are my go to resources to figure out a recipe or get recipe ideas - I like the visuals - but even Google was letting me down in the inventive idea department.  I'd already gone the sautee route and I wasn't in the mood to make a mock seaweed salad using agretti  in its place (though now that it's all gone, I could really get on board with that), so instead I made pesto.  I even broke out the big guns and purchased pine nuts for the occasion.  I remember now why I always use walnuts or hazelnuts in my pesto, pine nuts are an unholy level of expensive.  Oh how I suffer for my craft!

When I made the pesto I blanched the agretti for a few minutes before processing everything to mellow out it's acidity.  The result was light, vaguely tart and a nice change from your typical herbaceous basil variety.  I always toss in some red pepper flakes and use less olive oil than most recipes, preferring to add a drizzle once the pesto and pasta have been tossed together.  Also, I happened to have some Romano in the fridge instead of Parmesan and used that.  A little saltier, a little more pungent, it did the trick nicely.

For dinner another night, I tossed some pillows of ricotta gnocchi with a spoon full or two of the pesto.  It was light, bright and everything I could ask for in a late springtime meal.  I guess what I've been getting at the whole time is that: next time you see something new-to-you, grab it, take it home and start experimenting.  It's surprising how quickly you can turn something once unfamiliar into a new favorite.


Agretti Pesto

I don't know - I feel silly for giving you a recipe for pesto.  It's such an intuitive thing to make, tweaking to your own tastes.  All I'm really aiming for here is to 1) inspire you to experiment in your pesto making forays and 2) if you even see agretti, grab a bunch!

Makes about 1 cup

2 cups lightly packed tender agretti leaves
2 cloves or garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
salt & pepper

Set a small sauce pan of water to boil on the stove.  Strip the tender leaves from the thicker stem of the agretti, the way you might take rosemary off it's stem.  Hold onto the top of the spring and pull your fingers downward.  Blanch the agretti in the boiling water for 3 minutes and then strain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking.

In a pan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until they are golden in color and fragrant.

Add agretti, garlic, pine nuts, red pepper flakes and water to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to make a rough paste.  Leaving the motor on, stream the olive oil in until the paste thins and becomes smoother.  You may need a bit more than called for, but I like to add just enough to get it to a somewhat loose paste rather than something too saucy.  A little reserved pasta water in the mix with the pesto and pasta keeps things evenly coated but not too watered down.

Add the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste and pulse the food processor a few time to get everything incorporated.  Serve tossed with pasta, as a spread on sandwiches or on pizza. 

June 14, 2011

Sometimes on the Weekends

Lazy sundays with friends.  A counter top full of snacks and enough white wine to keep us cool until sunset.

 

Eating al fresco, on the patio, looking westward across San Diego.  Grilled oysters and summertime corn.  Shadows getting longer as sunset approaches.  This is how it should always be.


Plenty of fruits and veggies in the farmers' markets this time of year.  I tried to be selective, but I was seduced by too much of summer's bounty.


Three of my favorite things: cheese, beer and wine.  An experimental night of pairings.  From L to R; cashel blue, cana de oveja, boschetto and manchego.

June 2, 2011

Taking a Leap


There was a moment, months ago, where I mentioned applying and getting into a few universities.  It was just a passing remark, an event that was a part of a really great year, just a grain of information really.  Well that grain is much bigger now.  The size of a pebble maybe.

In just 2 months time I will be leaving my home in San Diego and setting off for a new adventure in San Francisco.  I'm excited and anxious and scared at the same time.  I've left San Diego before, lived away from home, but it was different then.  Back then it was an itch I needed to scratch.   I wanted to move away because I was relatively free of commitments and ready to take something new on, in a new town.  This time feels more like a blind giant leap.  It helps that D is going on this adventure too and San Fransisco is a city I've come to love, but the butterflies are still aflutter in my stomach.

This time around I'm leaving armfuls of wonderful friends, a job that makes me happy, my dearly loved family and sunny sunny beaches.  I'm feeling the crunch to pack in trips to Palm Springs and Salvation Mountain.  Go camping in the dessert and the mountains.  I want to spend every weekend around a BBQ with friends and every free day soaking in the sunshine at the beach.

So for those BBQs and light summertime fare, I give you this noodle salad.  Give them something unexpected, colorful and bright.  If you promise to keep a secret, I actually made this dish a while back and forgot about it until I was searching through some pictures.  Thank goodness I had the foresight to write down the recipe and changes I made (my organization sometime surprises me!) so that I could share it with you here today.  

This salad will definitely be making a return around here.  The zippy bright dressing is completely addictive, it's one of those things were I want to double the recipe to keep some extra around for my everyday salads.  The crispy crunch of cabbage and creamy avocados all tangled up in the buckwheat noodles, people I have no idea why I let this slip away from me.


Cabbage and Soba Noodle Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing
Adapted from No Tea After 12

I actually made this with cubes of lightly sauteed tofu since sometime I find soba noodles don't entirely fill me up.  You can add them or not, it's delicious either way.  It's perfect for potlucks since it's good warm, room temp or cold and you may or may not find yourself making extra of the dressing to put on your weekday salads.  A punch of color and a little less everyday, I'd say it is well worth it to make extra and keep it in the fridge.

4 servings 

Dressing:
1 medium carrot, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
1-inch pieces fresh ginger, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 small shallot

Salad:
8 oz. soba noodles
1 cup savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 large avocado sliced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
14 oz firm tofu, drained, pressed and cubed (optional)

In a blender add all the dressing ingredients and pulse or puree until you've reached a smooth, if slightly chunky, consistency.  Those carrots are tough to break down completely, so don't worry if there are small chunks after a brief whir around the blender.

If you are using the tofu, once it's been drained pressed and cubed, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in skillet over medium high heat.  Sautee the cubed tofu for 5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often, or until the tofu is a light golden color.  Remove and set aside.

Cook soba noodles according to package directions and then drain.  In a bowl, toss the drained noodles with the dressing and cabbage.  Add tofu and mix again, trying not to break or tear apart the cubes.  Serve topped with a few slices of avocado each and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.