Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tigress' Christmas Cookie Cyber Party

When I first started following Tigress in a Jam and Tigress in a Pickle she had pictures posted of a vacation she was on.  The scenery looked very familiar and as it turned out it was right in my neighorhood on the Central Coast of California. We emailed each other when I won a wonderful book on jamming,"Mes Confitures" by Christine Ferrer from one of her give aways. 

Everyone who visits my little beach town describes where they were in relation to the "Brown Butter Cookie Company". Sure enough she stayed in the beautiful Cass House right next door. Who would have thought a girl from the Berkshires would end up in tiny Cayucos? 

The Brown Butter Cookie Company started as an ambitious upscale take-out and specialty food shop. I and my friends loved it but it gets pretty lonely in the winter months without the summer crowds.
Traci and Christa, the sisters that run it figured out they were selling a substantial amount of their cookies. Pretty soon Gourmet Magazine picked them up and the rest is history. Their website goes into details of their rise to success.
My neighbor had a few of us over for a Wassail and cookie party. She served the brown butter cookies that she made from a recipe someone gave to her. Now I have it and you will too!
This is the cookie that I am submitting for the "Cyber Cookie Party"
Brown Butter Sea Salt Cookie
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 c. brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
sea salt for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 325.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to brown. It will smell nutty and you will see brown bits a the bottom of the pan.  Do not burn it or you will have to start over.  Pour browned butter into a bowl and stir in brown sugar and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl.  Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture. Stir until combined. Let cool to room temperature.  Scoop a Tablespoon of the dough* onto a parchment lined cookie sheet or use a "silpat".  Sprinkle with sea salt and lightly press into the top of the cookies.  Bake 15 min. or until lightly golden. They will dry out if overbaked.

I just found out that the source of this cookie recipe is
*If you want the cookies to look more like the original ones from the shop, roll them into balls and do not press down too hard.  They will be thicker. Either way they are super good!

The end of this story is that I totally missed this party...Thought my super Android cell phone would be able to log onto this site and I would be able to post it to Tigress's site while enjoying a beachside lunch with my girlfriend in Honolulu....wrong! Maybe she will have another fun cyber party. Aloha and Mele Kalikalmaka!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lunch with the McSherry Women

My cousin Mary emailed me to see if I would be able to rendevous with her mother, my Aunt Millie (who is my Mother's sister) and my other cousins, Suzanne and Regina.  Aunt Millie and Sue were flying out from New Jersey and Regina from Phoenix. Mary lives in Los Angeles and was the driver. We talked about it and decided to meet in Santa Barbara since it was half way for both of us.  My good friend Shar, suggested that she meet me as well and we could stay at her brother and girlfriend's house. Good plan. I had made a reservation at a hotel Steve and I always stayed at and loved but I was having very mixed feelings about the sadness that would overcome me being there without him. Shar agreed that maybe that would not be such a good idea. The house was empty for a few days and they were glad to let her use it.  This solved the problem of where we would go for lunch in Santa Barbara.  We would have lunch at the house and I would cook! There was some construction going on but halted until the couple returned home so we were free to entertain.
Shar met me at the Trader Joe's down the hill and I followed her back up the hill. Whoa! What a beautiful neighborhood. They call it the Santa Barbara Riviera. Great views of the harbor and city of Santa Barbara. We assessed the kitchen and were happy to find one working sink with a garbage disposal as well as the stove and refrigerator. I guess there was a major leak underneath the house undermining it but it was contained to the living room portion so that was boarded up.  No problem the patio-pool area was available for entertaining with a little tidying up.
I had formulated a simple menu before leaving home hoping that we could use the kitchen.  Shopping was another thing. Trader Joe's was our "friend" as well as a well appointed market similar to a Whole Foods and good ole Scolari's.  I bought the produce at the w.a. market,  a few items at Trader Joe's winging it with the Asian noodles by using their Kung Pao noodles in little boxes that I microwaved, without the packaged sauce, and a whole roasted chicken at Scolari's.
Menu came together:         Asian Noodle salad with prawns
                                           Market Chopped Salad
                                           Roasted Chicken with Pesto Mayo
                                           A Cheese and meat platter with
                                              Artichoke brushetta (from Trader Joe's)
                                           Olive bread and seeded baguettes, sliced

The cousins were to bring dessert and beer.  I provided one of my favorite bubblies from Trader Joe's, Crement du Blason's brut de noir.

Shar and I had fun the night before as we picked up take outs from a very popular taqueria, Super Rica Taqueria.  I have been dying to go there for many years but didn't exactly know where it was. Julia Child pretty much put it on the map as it was her favorite place when she was alive and well in Santa Barbara. I can see why! It does take an experienced diner to navigate the huge menu.  No beans and rice platters here. Just small plates of perfectly made street food.  We had a banana leaf wrapped "tamalito" and it was tiny but really good.  I had the special shredded beef tacos and we added the poblano chiles con queso on two hand made tortillas. They had great salsas and we had great wine!

Up and at 'em the next morning to prep the salads and get things set up. Shar's parents decided to go on a little camping trip so she had to meet them and pick up her dog, Macho. I was julienning, chopping and dicing away when lo and behold the red bell pepper I bought from the "well appointed" market was black inside. I phoned Shar to stop and pick up another one but it wasn't to be....she was still in her jammies! Oops. That was okay as I needed a few more things and we were meeting the girls at the Trader Joes anyway. 
There was a resident cat underfoot. We couldn't let him outside so he just roamed around meowing. I fed him, petted him and just let him be.  Pretty soon Shar and Macho arrive and Macho marches into the house unaware of the cat. That cat ran after Macho hissing and tried to claw him. We couldn't believe it! He chased the dog right outside. Now, Macho is a Jack Russell/Queensland, a small dog but really!!!!  So we had to keep them apart.  We decided to lock the cat up in the room that appeared to have everything it would need, water, food, litter box, toys and a bed. He was not happy but soon settled down. Macho was very happy.

We picked up the McSherry girls and led them up the hill. They were so excited to be there and I was excited to see them. Hugs all around. We couldn't remember the last time the five of us were together at the same time.  I think it was when we were young children and they used to come to visit in Rochester.
I finished the last few things I needed to do and put the platters together.  Mary brought beautiful little pastries from one of her local bakeries.  We sat outside and reminisced about Steve and our lives. It was great that they got to know Shar too.

This Asian Noodle Salad is one that I have been making for about 15 years or so.  It seems to be my "go to" dish for Memorial services when I am asked to bring a dish.  When I catered in San Francisco, it was also a staple for buffets or plated lunches. I steamed the prawns and tossed them with the Sesame Soy Ginger sauce while warm. You can add chicken, duck, beef, pork or whatever or just leave the protein out altogether.

Asian Orchid Noodle Salad

Orchid Noodle Vinaigrette:
1/4 c. Toasted Sesame Oil
1/4 c. Peanut Oil ( grapeseed oil is good too)
1/2 c. Soy Sauce ( low sodium)
1/2 c. Balsamic Vinegar
1/3 c. Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
1/2-1 tsp. Red Pepper flakes
3/4 bu. Green Onions, sliced
1/2 Tbsp. Garlic, chopped
              Combine all ingredients in a pint jar and shake well.  This dressing is a fabulous marinade as well as a dressing for greens and noodles and it keeps forever refrigerated. It is an adaptation from Barbara Tropp's "The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking".

Noodle Salad
1/2 # Asian noodles: Fresh Chinese, Udon, Somen whatever you can find but not rice or bean threads
Cook said noodles according to the package, drain and plunge into an ice bath to cool.  Drain and toss with enough dressing to coat them so they don't stick together. It is way better to get the fresh noodles rather than the boxes of Kung Pao from Trader Joe's. They did in a pinch but were not the same quality that I like.

Veges etc.
I suggest  1/2 c. each of whatever veges you choose.
Baby green beans, blanched or larger ones french cut
Asparagus, blanched and cut on the bias
Shreds of carrot, zuchinni, daikon radish
Julienned English cucumbers, red, yellow and or green bell peppers
Toss veges with some of the vinagrette and combine with noodles, saving a few for the top of the salad.

Shredded roasted chicken
Steamed prawns
Grilled Duck ( or one of those wonderful "Tea Ducks" from Chinatown, shredded)
BBQ'd pork or beef, julienned.
I toss the shredded meats into the noodles with a little dressing but usually arrange the prawns around the edges

Scallion brushes
Toasted sesame seeds
black sesame seeds


Chopped Salad
Chopped salad is whatever you want it to be. For this one I chose an organic head of iceberg lettuce, one head of Traviso radicchio, one purple endive, fresh corn that I cut off the cob, 1 carrot,chopped, 1/2 red onion, chopped and then the best part, I totally cheated!  There was a really good salad bar at the ritzo market so I filled a box with dried cranberries, nuts,sunflower seeds, edamame beans and olives. I wasn't home, didn't have access to these from my pantry, didn't want to buy jars and bags of them, so it was a perfect solution. You could get shredded carrots, corn, beans and all sorts of things prepped up. A good way to let your imagination run wild. Just don't muck the salad up with too many ingredients.
I made a simple coleslaw dressing with equal parts ,ie 1/4c each, sugar, vinegar and olive oil plus 1 Tbsp. mayonaise to bind it.  You could sub some orange juice for the vinegar too.

To make a more substantial salad add chicken.
Anyway these quantities fed 6 of us with  a few leftovers.

The desserts were divine with mini Boston Cream Pie, Pumpkin cake, Red Velvet cupcakes, cream puffs and a beauty mini fruit tart.

We were a happy bunch!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Love" in Jars

Most of my oldest friends as well as all of my family know that one of my oldest passions is preserving fruits and vegetables via jamming, pickling, chutney-ing, buttering or soaking in booze. I have an on going journal of my efforts that started too many years ago to bring up now.  A simple bread and butter pickle from my friend Sue Wasson's mother or grandmother got the Ball jars rolling. I cooked from Sunset Magazine's "Home Canning" book as well as the Ball Jar "Blue Book". I also cut numerous recipes out of the Chicago Tribune and later the San Francisco Chronicle newspapers.  Chevron gas stations gave out a really neat book called "A Guide to preserving food for a 12 Months Harvest".  Once you start to "put up" you are totally hooked. I don't remember when I bought pickles or jam last. My precious jars were given away at Christmas to numerous thankful people. A few close friends always had my jams and pickles in their cupboards no matter what time of the year it was. I really think it is in my genes.  Growing up, my Aunt Mernie canned everything. She had a stove in her basement where she processed the jars. I wasn't invited to partake and I totally understand as I have to do it solo myself. You get into a rhythm that works and you don't want any distractions. My Mother had a shelf halfway down the basement stairs that Dad built that held some really scary looking jars of, like, whole peaches, plums and unidentfiable fruits that were soft and mushy.  I dreaded the opening of those jars but somehow they tasted pretty good with ice cream over them but not in a bowl for breakfast..yuk!  My Aunt Mernie did not make those. She used to make pickled watermelon rind, strawberry jam and later when she moved to Florida a dynamite mango chutney among other goodies. These days I don't have the large circle of friends or family nearby so I pretty much have a few basics that I keep in my pantry.  Never without Chili Sauce, B&B pickles, Ancho Chile Ketchup and assorted jams. If I get some really good blue lake green beans (like the ones I used to grow in my garden) I pickle them with dill, garlic and chiles.
When I ran a large catering kitchen in San Francisco, I introduced a pantry full of condiments that I believe are still made to this day.  We used up leftover fruits and vegetables in chutneys and pickles but also made from scratch many tasty sauces, preserves and fruit vinegars.  Now I roast and freeze tomatoes instead of canning quarts of them. I don't get into "brandied" fruits anymore or conserves and relishes. Trust me when I say I have stuff that is way past the recommended storage time. For the most part they are just fine as the seals are as tight as a drum. What they loose is the bright fruit taste. It is sort of like really old wine that has mellowed into "pruney-ness" or sugary tartness.  Marmalade is way better when it is aged and dark. Sometimes I just open a bunch of jars and make a generic BBQ sauce!  Works for me and no one needs to know.
I follow a few really good blogs dedicated to preserving in jars, Tigress in a Jam, Tigress in a Pickle, Hitchhiking to Heaven, What Julia Ate and Food in Jars.   I almost started a canning blog but realized that two blogs are more than I can handle as it is and these gals are doing a fantastic job of keeping the art current and keeping me in the loop with other canners. One woman, Shae from "Hitchhiking to Heaven" enters her jars in the Marin County Fair.  She just wrote a blog about the process for successfully presenting your preserves to Judges and it is brilliant. Many years ago I entered a number of my relishes, pickles and jams in the San Francisco City Fair.  It was a rather loose affair with not too many rules. Bring jars by a certain date, labeled. Come back for the awards ceremony and hopefully pick up ribbons and cases of Ball Jars ( the prizes back then).  This was a total 1980's "Foodie" event with Chef demonstrations, wine tasting and many of the latest kitchen gadgets as well. I can't remember exactly what I was doing but I think I was helping Tante Marie's cooking school with a booth. Anyway it came time for the preserves to be judged. I got a little closer to the stage as I saw a number of my jars with ribbons on them.  Just then out came a guy dressed up as a huge pickle with a bunch of other "little pickles" dancing around.  He was to give out the awards.  I turned around and ran out of there. No way was I going up on that stage with a "Dancing Pickle" in front of my peers and fellow serious "foodies". Later the person in charge wondered where I was. Hmmm, hiding? I picked up my jars and ribbons and went home. I kept the ribbons hanging in a closet until we sold our house and moved to where we live today.  I was pretty proud of winning but at the same time it wasn't as serious as I thought it would be.  I think I should have been less "serious".  The entered preserves were Blackberry Relish, Peach Marmalade, Spicy Bread and Butter Pickles, Brandied Apricots and a few others that I don't remember.

Here are two really good tried and true recipes to think about when you are wandering around the Farmer's Market or happen to have someone's backyard tree to procure fruit from.

Perfect Strawberry Preserves or Jam

1/2 flat of small sweet strawberries (Chandlers if you can find them), washed and stemmed
 This should yield 6 cups
3 C. Pure Cane sugar

If the strawberries are a bit on the large size, cut in half. Combine berries and sugar in a stainless or ceramic bowl. Let this stand all day or overnight. In the evening or early morning transfer mixture to a large enameled or stainless pot ( I use my Dutch oven). Bring to a boil and let sit again all day or overnight, covered. This plumps the berries.  To finish, boil hard until 218 degrees on a candy thermometer or until it is set when dribbled onto a cold little plate.
Note: to make a smoother jam, crush the berries before boiling them up. 
Fill 4 half pint jars, stir with a chop stick or small knife to release any air bubbles, carefully clean the rims of the jars and seal with lids. Water bath for 10 min.

One day a case of "distressed" Royal Blenheim Apricots showed up at the kitchen door and the purveyor asked if I could use them. I tasted one and said "sure"! They were small and pitted but sooo sweet.  We made quarts of this Apricot butter that we turned into sauces for pork or chicken, a filling for cookies and cakes or just put into little bowls on a brunch buffet with scones and bisquits.

Spiced Apricot Butter
4 lbs. apricots
6 cups pure cane sugar (more or less)
2 Tbsp. whole coriander seed
1/2 nutmeg
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
2 3" cinnamon sticks
1 lemon
Cut apricots in half and remove pits. Place in a large stainless or enamel pot and crush slightly. Cook over low heat until soft, stirring occasionally so they do not scorch. 

Press through a sieve. For each cup of pulp add 1/2-2/3 cup of sugar, depending how tart the apricots are.  Make a bouquet garni with the whole spices ( tie them up in a piece of cheesecloth).  Add to pot along with the cinnamon sticks.
Cook briskly until the puree thickens into a butter.

Finish off with the juice of the lemon and, if you want, finely grated zest.  Fill either 4 quart jars or 8 pint jars and water bath as directed by the jar manufacturer. I boil the quarts 15 min. and the pints 10 min.

This year was a bumper crop of Apricots so I froze some for future apricot-cherry crisps. Sooo good for a brunch dish. I don't know why but I LOVE to take pictures of apricots! Maybe it is because they have such a short season or the colors are so appetizing. If I were an artist I would paint a picture of them strewn out on a wooden table.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Viva Printemps!!

Spring is here and my herbs are bursting out of their containers for the most part. The first lavender blossom showed up last week and the rest are not far behind.  I planted five or six lavender plants all of which I brought as slips from my Mill Valley garden when we moved here. They are so easy to propagate, just break off a little stem and shave the bark off the bottom and stick it in the ground.  I have the "grosso" varietal which produces large oily fragrant flowers.  Each summer I make lavender wands to use in my linen closet, drawers and to give away to friends.  I used to stick one under my pillow as it is said to help you sleep better but the sticks kept poking me so I relegated it to the nightstand. It smells so clean and fresh and makes me happy. 

As a matter of fact all herbs make me happy.  I gave up growing vegetables as my "garden" is a steep hillside full of rocks.  A few half wine barrels is all I have room for and I'd rather fill them with herbs which grow  year round here.  Rosemary tumbles over the retaining wall, one wine barrel is dedicated to French sorrel from which I make a fabulous Sorrel Soup from the "Silver Palate" cookbook as well as use it in salads or stew it up and mix it into baked potatoes for a lemony kick. Another half wine barrel is filled with thyme and sometimes basil, yet another is brimming with oregano and chives.  There are pots of mint, epazote and Mexican marigold, that tastes just like tarragon.  I can't grow French tarragon here as it doesn't like the wind or salt air I guess so one of my Farmer's Market vendors suggested the marigold.  It comes back every year and has a pretty yellow flower. Epazote is another Mexican herb that I love but like mint you have to control it or it takes over the universe. It is commonly used in black beans but I also like it chopped up in summer vegetable stir fries and in quesadillas with mushrooms and corn.
There is this out of control purple sage bush that is still in it's original gallon clay pot that I haven't seen in years. I just stick the watering can in the center of the plant and somehow it gets watered and thrives. Since it doesn't bloom it doesn't die back. This I use when I do skewers of vegetables and/or chicken. Just string a few leaves in between the vegetables or chicken on skewers and grill. Of course in the fall it is the "Thanksgiving dinner go to herb". It dries well but what the heck I have it fresh year round.
 Each year I replant Italian parsley and the aforementioned basil. Chives make their annual appearance with the beauty purple blossoms. I never seem to use them however. This year I am making a concerted effort to use more chives.  Other than a newly acquired rose geranium and the wild fennel that I let grow in one spot, these are all I have room for.  Herbs are every bit as attractive as flowers especially when they flower themselves.  I keep sprigs in water on the counter top  like a bouquet of flowers and I can just chop them up as needed.
Barrels and pots of herbs
Purple sage and thyme

French Sorrel

Another of my favorite spring foods is rhubarb.  That is one plant that eludes my green thumb. I think it is too warm for it to thrive out here. One of the women who's blog I follow, Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven had the same problem and she also lives in California. Our other blog mates from the East coast are picking wheelbarrows full of it and we can't even get a few stalks!  Oh well at least I can find it in my local supermarket.

I just roasted up this bunch and put it in a jar in the refrigerator to use in smoothies, over ice cream or to add to my Sunday brunch fruit. Rhubarb crisp is on my list of things to bake and I hope to get in a batch of rhubarb marmalade this year.
Roasted Rhubarb
To roast rhubarb, cut it up into small dice to equal 6 cups. Toss it with 3/4 c. sugar and 2 Tbsp. orange juice. Place in a baking dish and cover with foil and bake at 350 for 25 min. Remove cover and bake another 10 min. It should be soft but not mushy like when you boil it. This is the method from Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Fruit" book.  She uses freshly squeezed Valencia oranges and the zest too. I didn't have any but did zest a Meyer lemon with good results.

Green garlic and  spring onions are showing up at the Farmer's Market too. These are so yummy added to the grilled vegetable medley we do whenever we can.
Grilling spring veges
Just cut up a variety of vegetables, steam or blanch hard ones like carrots, fennel and broccoli. Toss them all in a bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes, rosemary and thyme sprigs. Transfer to a grill pan and grill them over medium heat for 20-25 min.  You can spritz them with balsamic vinegar when they are done.  I used red and gold bell peppers, mushrooms, spring onions, green garlic, broccoli, baby red and orange carrots, fennel bulb cut up and a leftover tomato cut into wedges.
These are good warm or at room temperature as part of an antipasto platter (nowadays I chop them up into soups for Steve).

That my friends is my ode to Spring!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sopa de Albondigas ...Sopa de What??

Mexican meatball soup. A totally soul satisfying meal in a cazuela.  Al-bund-e-gaas or meatballs, derived from an Arabic word for hazelnut or small round object, al-bunduq, according to Wikipedia.
Our friends Shar and Mark were on their way home from the Bay Area to visit us. We thought it was Friday but turned out to be today, Thursday.  I promised a Mexican dinner but really didn't have time to get into a long cooking stew or even a tortilla dish that I would normally make chili salsas for. It was a little blustery out so I thought  a soup would be perfect. Our favorite is this little meatball brothy-vege-chile sopa. Salsa Fresca was a breeze, luckily I only put 1/2 of the wrinkly serrano chile I had on hand in it. We had some thick corn tortillas from Trader Joe's in the freezer from who knows how long ago. Time to fry them up in peanut oil. The only avocado I had was from the local supermarket. I haven't had much luck with them but thought I was keeping the avocados too long at room temperature then putting them in the vege bin in the refrigerator, because the insides were that stringy brown.  This one was mostly that but I managed to get some green from near the pit. I didn't even have it that long! Luckily I had some salsa verde and just blended them together for a mild salsa. Moral of story: buy locally grown avocados from now on as they are coming in at the Farmer's market.  Let's see, what else goes with a good sopa, oh, Quesadillas!  This is the third try with these flour tortillas and I resorted to my really old method of folding them in half, filled with shredded jack cheese and brushing both sides liberally with peanut oil before baking them.  It worked!  They were crispy with that melted cheese oozing out, not one bit cardboard-y as in the past. On my brunchingwithtwobythesea  blog, I swore I was going to make my own flour tortillas from now on and maybe I will but not today.  Everything was coming together before our guests burst on the scene.  Margaritas were at the ready with my kumquat marmalade for an unexpected kick. Steve quickly gave the guest bathroom a once over and I set a festive table.

Shar is one of my dearest friends. She used to work with me at Peachy Canyon Winery with her two Jack Russell Terriers. One of them is still with her, Macho.  He came bounding in the door so happy to be at the beach.  Little did he know he wasn't going to see the beach this trip. No matter, he danced around happy to get petted and looking for any scrapes I might have dropped...sorry Macho.

We had a good time getting caught up with Mark's past week in Sacramento lobbying for his hospital budget and Shar's two adorable grandchildren that they visited in Oakland.

Break out the margaritas, salsa and chips!  Some people can't tolerate heat in their salsa so that mild salsa verde con avocado came in handy.  My favorite thing to do when I get fresh chiles which is almost always the Serrano chile is to let them sit out at room temperature in one of my little Mexican bowls until they start to get wrinkly. Otherwise they are not one bit hot at this time of the year. The trouble is that I put them in the aforementioned vege bin and forget them so they are really "aged" to hotness. Great for me but not so great for hubby and alot of our friends.  What happened to every one's heat tolerance? I used to be able to make salsas from Habaneros!  Steve has an excuse coming off his throat thing.  Slowly he is able to get a little more of the good heat in his food.

The first thing Shar noticed is the soup simmering away on the stove top in one of my cazuelas. These are the pottery casseroles you see all over Mexico filled with soups, stews, salsas and chile rellenos. I have cooked in them for many years and love the flavors they impart.  As a matter of fact I was just discussing this with one of my "blog mates" Tigress in a Pickle when she posted an article from  Apartment Therapy and Donald Judd's minimalist style.  In his kitchen were beautiful thick handled Mexican cazuelas that I would have loved to have had a few years ago. My collection is just fine for my lifestyle now and it was all hand picked and carried back from various towns in Mexico and Baja by me.
We followed the Margaritas with wine. "Dead Nuts" a really good blend from Chronic Cellars winery where Shar and Mark just happened to join their wine club today. Steve had a good fire going in the fireplace and we settled in to watch American Idol with Macho at our feet.

This soup is very easy. It is from Diana Kennedy's "Nothing Fancy" cookbook with a few of my twists.

                                          Sopa de Albondigas
1 Tbsp. long grained rice
   Cover with boiling water and let soak for 20-30 min.
6 oz. gr. beef
6 oz. gr. pork
1 egg
pinch of cumin seed*
4 black peppercorns
pinch dried oregano*
1/3 c. chopped white onion
3 leaves of fresh mint
1/2 tsp. sea salt

* a pinch is about 1/8 tsp.

   Mix beef and pork together. In a blender jar add egg and the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.  Add this mixture to the meats  as well as the drained rice. Mush together with your hands until combined.
Form little 1" meatballs. I got 22 of them. Set aside.

Clean out the blender jar for the broth.

1/2# chopped tomatoes or 1 can diced chopped tomatoes ( about 2 cups total)
1/2 chile chipotle (from the canned in adobe kind) I usually like to use the whole chile but have guests to consider. You have to determine the heat scale people can tolerate before blowing them out of the water.
1 small white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
  Blend all in blender.

In a cazuela or skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. vege oil ( I like peanut oil)
Add the tomato puree and cook over high heat for 2 minutes or so until it is thick and reduced.

To finish:
3 small carrots, peeled and diced into 1/4" cubes
1 med. zucchini, diced into 1/4" cubes
2 c. broth, chicken, vege or beef
4 c. water
1 tsp. sea salt or to taste
1 chile Serrano
2 large sprigs cilantro

Add the chopped veges, broth, water and salt to the tomato puree.  Bring to a simmer. Carefully add the meatballs. Cut a slit in the chile and add it as well as the cilantro springs to the soup.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 50 min.  The meatballs will float and you will see "a rich gleam on the surface" in Diana's words.
Remove the chile.  It could be quite picante so you might want to just add the 1/2 chipotle to start or omit the chile serrano or just go for it!
This serves 4 as an entree.

Sopa de Albondigas

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The BEST Pot Pie

I don't remember when I started to make pot pies instead of heating up the frozen ones, but I think it was in San Diego after a Thanksgiving dinner with lots of turkey left over and probably a newspaper recipe. My little tattered recipe card is stored in the "American Cookery" book by James Beard as I used his Chicken Pot Pie method  along with my ingredients from the card for many pies. The recipe has evolved along with my culinary skills and "everything fresh" attitude to what it is today. I tweaked the pastry crust, inspired by Bobby Flay, to an herby tender wonderful dough.

It was time to get the recipe cleaned up and written down. Originally I used canned Franco-American chicken gravy and Cheez Whiz with Jalapenos for the sauce. Everyone loved it!  James Beard showed me the virtues of making a veloute although I still add cheese and chilies so I guess it is Mornay sauce. Once when I was in a panic I used Pillsbury boxed dry pie crust with very good results as once you add herbs it tastes pretty good and is quite flaky so feel free to do that. I have also used  frozen pie crusts with mixed results.

Pot Pie reminds me of those days after the holidays where friends came over to watch football or just hang in front of the fireplaces we had in our past homes. One of our requirements for a living space was a fireplace and still is. Of course we always had mucho vino to consume with the dinner.  Usually I made a green salad with  a homemade vinaigrette. I started making my own when I figured out how good they taste compared the bottled stuff. Simply, Dijon mustard, red wine, balsamic or a fruit vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. I used to get crazy with fruit vinegars; cherry, cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, spiced grape etc. My pantry looked like a laboratory but they made such a difference.

My inspiration on this freezing rainy Saturday was a jar of Cranberry Relish I discovered in the back of my refrigerator. I made it after Christmas and it was still tasty. The acids and sugar preserve it for many moons. I usually freeze it but there was a jar I missed.  For some reason Cranberry relish means Turkey or Chicken pot pie time!  As luck would have it there was a half of a Rotisserie Chicken staring at me and a variety of Farmer's Market root veges. Out came the cookbook with various notes written on a sheet of paper and the little tattered recipe from long ago. Steve was chomping at the bit as we only had pancakes for breakfast and I think he was hungry.  I put him to work sauteing while I whipped around the kitchen getting things together so we could eat before midnight.  Once it was put together we enjoyed a salad with beets, feta cheese and pine nuts and the pie was ready before 8pm! Woo Hoo.

Pat's Poultry Pot Pie
Use your favorite or use my favorite which is this one:
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. mixed chopped fresh herbs, sage, thyme, parsley, rosemary
  If you don't have fresh use 1/2 tsp. dried sage, 1/4 tsp. dried thyme and 1/4 tsp. chopped dried rosemary and omit the parsley. It will taste good either way.
6 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" dice
3 1/2 oz or less of ice cold water

Combine flour, salt and herbs in a food processor and whirl until combined. Blend butter into flour and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal but some butter chunks remain.  Gradually add enough water so the dough comes together into a ball.  Don't overdo it on the water or the dough will be tough.
Scrap the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form a disk.  Chill at least 1/2 hour or until you are ready to use it.  This can be frozen with great results in which case I double the recipe and form it into 2 disks.

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" slices
1 med. turnip, peeled and cut into 1/2" dice
     Steam these separately until they just give, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a "Large Bowl".
Add to this bowl:
18 frozen Pearl Onions
1/2 c. frozen peas
2 c. chopped Chicken or Turkey (white and dark meat)
Mix together and set aside.
1 leek, thinly sliced up to the pale green part and rinsed well.
1 shallot, minced
 1/2 small onion, diced
          If you don't have the leek or shallot hanging around just up the onion to 1 whole small one.
2 cloves garlic, minced
Optional: 1 Serrano chile, minced
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet and saute leek, shallot and onion for about 5 min. until they soften up. Toss in the garlic and optional minced chile.
1 cup sliced or quartered Mushrooms. 

This is important...If you can get an assortment of wild mushrooms please use them.  Chantrelles are super delicious as are hedgehogs, lobster or whatever. At the very least use brown crimini's. I have never used shitake mushrooms however but they probably would be good too, just not the tough stems.
Okay, saute them with the onion-garlic mixture until they start to release their juices and brown up a bit.
At this stage I pull out my bottle of Cognac and douse the mushroom mixture with 2 Tbsp. or so. Let it simmer until the cognac cooks down.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Add to the "Large Bowl".
For the sauce:
3 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram (ditto)
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
dash Tabasco
1 cup shredded cheese ( cheddar, fontina, truffle, or whatever you have on hand as long as it has some flavor and melts)

In the mushroom skillet melt butter and add flour.  Cook this roux until it is a rich golden color. Stir in 1 cup of chicken stock and whisk until smooth ( be careful as it may splatter and it will be hot).  Gradually add the rest of the chicken stock, whisking as you go.  Next comes the heavy cream, all herbs and the Tabasco.  Taste for seasoning. Let reduce a little before adding the cheese. Stir until it is melted. If it is too thick add more cream or stock.
Pour this over the contents in the "Large Bowl" and stir to combine.

You will need a 2 qt. casserole or baking dish.  It can be oval or round or square. Pour the contents from "Large Bowl" into this dish.

Roll out the pastry dough to fit said dish.  Lay it over the filling and crimp the edges.
Make a few slits in the top. Sometimes I brush the crust with heavy cream. ( J.Beard combines an egg yolk with the cream for a super golden crust).  Place on a baking sheet and pop into a preheated 375* oven.  Bake 30-40 min. until crust is golden and the filling is bubbly. This depends on how deep your dish is.
Let cool a little before cutting into it.

Serve with Cranberry relish or Chutney and a bottle of fruity red wine like Zinfandel or a Rhone blend. A green salad is a good accompaniment too.

This will serve 4-6, 4 with leftovers, 6 with them licking the bottom of the dish.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Easy Peasey Stir Fry!!

After a long day of pouring wine to the masses, the last thing I want to do is go out to a restaurant. I'm tired, hungry and sick of talking.  Husband pours me a nice glass of wine and I start going through the veggie bin pulling out the odds and ends that have been calling me to do something with them.  Sometimes I have leftover bits of chicken or pork.  If I have planned ahead I will have defrosted some prawns or a chicken breast or just go with the veggies.  One of my fav cooking vessels is the cast iron wok I bought for Steve one year. He loves to do the stir frying in our house as long as I do the prep. It works out perfectly!
One of our closest friends, Puff, was visiting us from the North.  I sometimes give him a cooking lesson as he lives alone now. I decided to put together the ingredients and technique of a simple stir fry for him  and type up a recipe of sorts.  My pantry always has an arsenal of Asian sauces and ingredients for seasoning.  Just having a box of Annie Chun's noodles is a time saver as she includes a packet of sauce which I sometimes use depending on what I have added to the wok.  Otherwise out comes the rice cooker.

Basic Easy Peasey Stir Fry                                                              

2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts*
     Cut up into 1" pieces
1 Tbsp. each, cornstarch and soy sauce
    Combine the chicken pieces, cornstarch and soy sauce in a bowl, tossing to coat.

Heat a wok or skillet until hot and and add 1/4 c. vegetable oil ( I use peanut oil)
   Stir fry the chicken until it is cooked through.  Remove to a plate.

Tip: If I use leftover cooked meat or seafood I omit the cornstarch-soy bath and the pre stir fry.

Mince 1-2 cloves garlic
Mince 2 tsp fresh ginger
Tip: When you buy a knob of ginger, slice it up into quarter sized slices. Put in a jar and cover with dry Sherry, Dry Vermouth or Vodka. It will keep indefinetely and the ginger infused liquor is devine used in a recipe or cocktail!

Cut up Vegetables of choice to equal 1 quart (4 cups).

Here is a selection that I usually use:
Broccoli cut into 1" pieces, peel the stems and cut them up too.
Cauliflower cut into 1" flowerettes
   I steam these together for about 5 min.
Carrots sliced thin on the diagonal
Sugar snap peas, or snow peas cleaned and cut in half on the diagonal
Mushrooms, quartered
Red and or Green Bell pepper cut into 1" pieces
1 small Onion sliced in half lengthwise and cut into lengthwise slices
   Note: any vege that can be stir fried can be added ie Fennel, Napa Cabbage ribs, bok choy etc.

If you stir fried the chicken, you should have oil left in the wok. To this add 1 tsp. sesame oil. If you did not, add 1 Tbsp. peanut oil along with the sesame oil to a heated wok.
Add garlic, ginger and all of the raw (not steamed) veges.  Toss until they are heated through and still crisp. Add the steamed veges and chicken.

Sauce: Use a bottled stir fry sauce found in Asian sections of grocery stores. One of my favorite is Trader Joe's Sesame-Soy vinagrette which I always have on hand, along with a squirt of Siracha hot chili sauce (everyone should have a bottle of this on hand) or other chile based Asian sauce.
Use about 1/4 c. You can add more if needed.

To make your own: combine 1 tsp. red chili flakes or chile garlic sauce, 1 Tbsp. dry sherry (or the booze from the soaked ginger),1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. cornstarch, 1 tsp. rice vinegar and 1 tsp. sesame oil in a bowl. Pour over the yummy vege-protein in the wok and toss to combine and slightly thicken. Taste for seasoning adding more soy or chili sauce. If too thick add a little water. You want a loose saucey consistency.

Remove to a serving bowl and keep warm.

If you have cooked rice, toss it in the wok with a little sauce for a quick stir fry rice or have the cooked noodles ready to serve with the Stir Fry.

Serves 3-4

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good Start to the New Year!

We have had houseguests for the last week as well as family staying in town in a condo. It has been an ongoing party since I became unemployed.  Actually I threw a party for one of our good friend's birthday which means 30 of our closest friends showed up. This is a small town so it is hard not to invite everyone we socialize with at Schooner's Wharf, the local bar-restaurant with a view. The local jeweler/musician came and brought a saxophone player with so we had a little combo playing music. I decorated with little flip flop lights around the window as well as some goofy tropical stuff I had stashed away for just such an occasion. Sunglasses with parrots and little cocktail umbrellas, coconut, shell and flower bikini top things and, of course, fake leis. My collection of serving platters and dishes have beachy theme anyway so they were perfect. Knowing how this crowd can eat, I went to the Farmer's Market in the next town and ordered various meaty things from the weekly Barbecue put on by Linn's restaurant. A couple of roasted chickens rounded out the protein.  I made the infamous local "Santa Maria pinquito beans" and peanut coleslaw.  My girlfriends offered to bring other salads, vegetable dishes as well two birthday cakes.  Everyone brought an appetizer, wine or beer and we had plenty of bubbly and vodka for a really fun party. The mixers were taken out of their bottles and poured into little pitchers. I hate having bottles of cranberry juice or sweet & sour or other mixes sitting on the bar.
It was a little tricky trying to get the hot food out of the ovens when about 15 people were huddled around the kitchen island. Luckily I didn't burn anyone.

 The ribs were the first to be gobbled up with tri-tip close second. I was surprised how much chicken you get off 2 three pounders!  I sauced it with a molasses bbq grill sauce and heated it up in my warming drawer.
One friend who I hadn't seen in awhile brought her 2 1/2 year old daughter, Ruby. She had a blast dancing to the music and playing with the tropical party favors. Lots of pictures were snapped!

When the last guests left after polishing off  vodka they mixed with the sparkling wine (really?!), my husband and our neighbor announced that they hadn't eaten. I couldn't believe it but I made them little sandwiches on dinner rolls and we loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up spilled, melted ice cream off the bamboo floor.
No one goes home hungry from one of my bashes even it if was midnight.

Santa Maria Pinquito Beans

1 lb. pinquito beans which are small pink beans. You can substitute pinto beans or a local heirloom dried bean.
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. hot smoked paprika ( if you don't have this use regular paprika and add 1/2 tsp. hot chili powder or chipotle chile pepper chopped up)
1 tsp.chili powder
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 can diced tomatoes or peel,seed and dice fresh tomatoes=1 1/2 c.
1/4 c. ketchup
Rinse the beans and put into a pot. Cover the beans with water to about 2 inches above them. Simmer uncovered 1 1/2-2 hrs depending on how old the beans are. They should be tender but not mushy.
Drain reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Actually I save the cooking liquid for soup. 

Combine minced garlic with tomatoes and dry seasonings. Add this mixture to the beans along with the reserved cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer, cover pan and cook about 20 min. until everything is blended.

Santa Maria Pinquito beans

Peanut Slaw, Raspberry walnut salad, chicken and tri tip