Friday, January 29, 2010

Onion Soup w/ Cheddar Sage Toast

Jamie Oliver, Jamie Oliver, Jamie Oliver.... if you've seen his perfect cooking show At Home With Jamie on Saturday mornings you know why I'm smitten. Or if you've picked up Cooking With Jamie you've found at least one hearty recipe that caught your eye. His focus is on farm fresh ingredients, foraging, local butchers, outdoor cooking and low fuss fare but his flavor profiles, nostalgia for comfort foods and roguish irreverence toward food snobbery make his food accessible and just fun. Plus he's so damn cute. I don't know anyone gay, straight, male or female who doesn't think he's f'n adorable.

My friends Christina and Patty came to lunch on Saturday. We have missed each other for months. Actually hadn't seen them since Thanksgiving and I needed some face time. So, they graciously gave up some of their precious weekend to come by my house. Patty got a lot of QT with Brody while Christina and I caught up in the kitchen. I put her to work prepping for an apple crisp while I baked off cheese bread with fried sage for the onion soup. There's really nothing I like more than fussing with food while catching up with friends in my kitchen.

I won't repeat the recipes here because I did, in fact, actually use one this time for the Roasted Carrot & Avocado Salad. I may have varied it a bit but it doesn't seem proper to claim it or re-script and give the impression it's mine. As for the Onion Soup I did make one very conspicuous variation that I will share with you here. I don't eat beef, as some of you may know, and I don't care for the idea of beef broth at all so I made a vegan "beef" broth, experimenting as I often do at my friends expense. I thought it came out quite well. Here is the best I can recollect from Science Project Saturday:

Vegan Beef Broth for Onion Soup

2 Leeks - cleaned, sliced lengthwise, green trimmed but left on
1 Lg. Yellow onion - sliced in half, peel dry skin
2-4 Lg pieces of Kambu Seaweed
2 Tbl fish sauce
2 Tbl tamari
1 bnch thyme
1/2 bnch parsley
2 Lg carrots - ends cut off, cut into 3 inch pieces
2 Tbl Mirin
1 Lg handful of dried Shiitake mushrooms (mix in some wild mushrooms of other variety if you have them)
1 Tbl mixed peppercorns
4 Qts water

Now you can really go about this any way that you want. I tend to start with a little oil and sautée onions and leeks for a moment on a high heat to bring out flavors. I add a little sea salt and let them get a bit wilty. Then I add the water. I bring it to a boil and toss in the seaweed, carrots and Shiitake. Give those a second to boil and then bring the stock down to a simmer. I add the peppercorns, Tamari and fish sauce and let simmer for about 5 minutes before tasting. You want that fish sauce to meld in with the other flavors. It's not good straight out of the bottle :-(

Taste and keep in mind it will boil down to a stronger flavor so if it's too salty or strong add some water but if it's too mild leave it and continue adding ingredients that are left, herbs and mirin. Mirin is sweet so again, give it some time and taste.

There is no real science to this. I guess you've figured that out by now. It's a mudpie project. Just keep tweaking it until you get the robustness you desire. But these are the basic ingredients to pull off a deep brown, hearty broth worthy of a multitude of sliced, sauteed onions from the farmers market (spring, red, sweet and leeks in my case this day) slowly cooked with olive oil and sea salt for the better part of an hour.

As for the Cheesy Bread I found the ends of a very good parmesan, something like an aged gouda and some soft shredded organic cheddar in my fridge. Mixed those in a bowl and smeared the mix over some thickly sliced and buttered fresh Asiago Cheese bread I got at the market that morning. Bake it on a sheet pan for 10 and then under the broiler for just one to brown the top. Fry up some sage in Ghee if you have it or butter and put it on top. Plop the whole gooey mess on top of the bowl of onions and broth and eat. At least that's how we did it.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

sunday supper: grilled sardines with fried green tomatoes and persimons

Hello! It’s been too long. I have missed you. Forgive my absence, I've been in (what the kids these days call) a k hole. I've been letting worry get the best of me. We're all in some troubled chaotic dialog about scarcity these days aren't we? Even the wealthiest of my friends are experiencing their own personal turbulence. It's just the times we live in. But there is really only so much a cancer/goat such as myself can take of that sort of seriousness. It's not really my style. Given an opportunity to slip into a pleasurable hour with friends, family or food I'll take it happily.

As I have said a few times more than many here the farmer’s market and fall foods are two of my favorite things. Yesterday morning my pals and I made our way, still on the early side of the day, to the bustling Hollywood market. We stopped at the coffee stands first. The man at the organic coffee stand scolded me about the exact ratio of milk to coffee he has established as for his blend when I asked for more almond milk. I scoffed and scowled and said I wont be back but I couldn’t help but admire him for standing his ground. These damn foodies. I get it though, I really do. We’ll have that conversation again, he and I, because I liked the coffee. But I liked it my way. With more almond milk and lots of cane sugar.

Then I found B munching on warm spinach pasty from the Jamaican booth. After sampling a bite of hers I rushed off and got myself one pronto. Spicy, hearty and a one-hand meal, it was the perfect compliment to my extortionate beverage. I wish I had one in my hand right now actually, I may have found a replacement to my traditional tamale.

After an hour or so of fondling fruits and vying for vegetables I had a single well-stocked bag of psychedelic items. Persimmons, green tomatoes, Russian kale, leeks, fresh sardines, salmon belly (two very good deals at the fish stand), cauliflower, lemons and fennel weighed my shoulder down. I grabbed a big bunch of burnt orange chrysanthemums with yellow tips on the way out. They’re exploding wildly over my dinning room table right now. Worth every penny of the $5 I spent on them - really splendid and warm.Just what I need this Monday morning.

Back home we got busy busting out an unusual and adventurous meal. It was a visually sensuous and wonderfully tactile few hours with slippery sardines, crisp fruits and the pungent smells of fennel, thyme and lemon. Everyone had to gut at least one sardine. It was kind of fun really. Really.

Grilled Fennel Stuffed Sardines

2 lbs of fresh sardines, slit down the belly, gutted and rinsed. Stuff the empty bellies of the fish with slivered fresh fennel, red onion, lemon that’s been tossed with fresh thyme, tarragon, garlic, salt & pepper. Add a few drops of olive oil if you desire but the fish has enough oil naturally to go without. Spread stuffed fishes into a fish grill cage and grill over a med/high heat about 2-3 minutes per side. Close lid to allow heat to smoke fish a bit.

Fried Green Tomatoes & Persimmons

Slice tomatoes and Hachiya persimmons in ¾” rounds, squeeze a lemon over the slices and then dunk each piece in an egg/milk mixture. Dredge both sides on a plate with sifted corn meal, spelt flour, salt, pepper and paprika. Dredge again in smooshed saltine crackers. Bring corn oil to a near boil on a med/high heat. When water that hits the oils surface sizzles drop in the coated pieces. When the underside is golden brown, almost burning, flip it over and cook about 1-2 minutes more. Remove slices and drain on a paper napkin (or better yet have a few old cloth napkins dedicated to this purpose. I should have thought of that this time!). Add a sprinkle of sea salt to them while they’re still very hot and then keep them warm in a low oven (150 or 200 degrees) until ready to eat.

These two items are plenty rich so we simply placed the fish on a bed of steamed, thinly sliced kale tossed with lemon juice and added an assortment of spicy green olives and a glass of crisp white wine to finish out the plate.It was a wonderful Sunday supper. Thanks to my friends for their inspiration and participation! xo

And remember, never leave any guest, no matter how small, no matter which seat he occupies at the table, never leave any guest hungry.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

roasted carrot soup w/ dill or ginger or not

So simple it's silly but when they're in season and sweet and abundant and cheap don't forget about carrots! Best roasted with salt and olive oil at a high temp (I do it a 400) until you can slide a knife through effortlessly. Then sautée some spring onion or leek or sweet yellow onion and toss it in a blender with veggie or chicken broth. I like to throw in a dollop of sour cream but you can add milk or yogurt or soymilk. Sprinkle fresh dill on top or back up to the onion sautée and add a bit of fresh ginger to give it zip. Too easy to write a whole recipe for it. And really, if you roast them and blend them you've got the soup basics. The rest is up to you and your palate.

Make a little extra and take it to a friend. No better bonding than soup!

Monday, July 27, 2009

fennel grilled fish in tomato saffron broth

serves 2

1 bunch fennel - cut stems off and keep them, slice bulb into thin julienned wedges
2-3 fillets of halibut (or firm white fish)
3 large soft tomatoes (or half a can of stewed)
1/2 med sweet onion or 2 large shallots - chopped
1/2 cup white wine (not sweet)
1 cup water
4-8 saffron threads
olive oil
sea salt
cracked pepper
wedges of lemon

Optional: if you have a spice rub or marinade you like for fish you can use that but keep in mind that you want the flavors to enhance not overwhelm or clash with fennel, saffron and tomato. I suggest anything with cayenne, lavender, fennel seed, lemon, thyme, savory and i love fresh chervil if you can find it.
  • Wash and pat dry the fish. Rub it with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs or spices of your choice (not the saffron, that's for later). I like to take the fish and smother it in the fresh fennel tops. Even better is to squeeze and twist the tops to release the aromatics and the juices from the leaves and then wrap the fish steaks in the leaves and in foil or a container that seals. You can leave it like that for a few minutes, hours or overnight in the fridge.
  • turn on or start your grill and let it get nice and hot.
  • Take the sliced bulb of the fennel plant and the onion or shallot and sautée over a med flame in a little olive oil until semi-soft and near translucent.
  • Add saffron threads and stir a moment and then add tomatoes and white wine.
  • Bring mix to a strong simmer, then reduce heat to a low flame and cover loosely. Add water throughout to keep the flavors blending and the broth liquid.
  • Add salt & pepper to mingle flavors. Not too much. Just a pinch of each.
  • While the broth is simmering take the fennel plant stalks (cut off any excess leaves) and line them up on the grill for about 3 minutes. Just long enough for the heat to start roast the skins. Then let cool a moment and line the stalks up on a piece of tin foil.
  • When stalks are cool enough to hold your finger on indefinitely drizzle with a little oil and lay the fish steaks on the stalks. Wrap the whole thing in tinfoil leaving a little tent at the top for the heat and steam to infuse the fish with flavor. Place on the grill stalks down.
  • Grill/roast on the grill for about 10 minutes depending on thickness of the fish. Don't be afraid to open the fish at around 8 minutes and check it with a knife. It's better to put it back on the grill for another 3 or 4 minutes than to over cook the fish. No undoing that!
  • When fish is done. Open the foil, squeeze it with lemon and let stand for a minute while you plate the fennel onion confit and the tomato saffron broth in a large dish.
  • Carefully remove the fish steaks from the stalks and place the steaks over the broth on the plate.
  • Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

kale & olive summer salad

serves 4

1 bunch kale
8 -12 good, garlicky marinated black olives
(for god's sake don't even consider canned olives)
1 clove garlic chopped (optional if not in marinade)
2-3 Tbl olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
sea salt
cracked pepper
red pepper flakes

As a rule I always cut the leaves away from the spine of kale, chard and other dark greens because I find that they are just extra work and require a second chapter to each recipe (what to do with the spines and how...). I also just don't like the texture. That said you could, if you like, cut them out and then chop them into bite size pieces and simmer, steam or boil them a few minutes before you add the leaves and they should get tender about the same time. I'm sure there are lots of nutrients getting tossed when I omit them. Your call.

So, cut the kale into bite size pieces, rinse well and drain (if you only knew how many bugs you eat a year you'd always wash your produce).

Bring salted water to a boil and add kale for about 5-7 minutes.

The leaves should be darker but still vibrant, soft but still holding there shape (not a metaphor for women of a certain age but occurring as such in my current mood)...

When the leaves are in their prime, so to speak, pluck them out with a slotted spoon or drain them in a colander and then quickly submerge the kale in a bath of ice water. This is blanching and will cool the leaves quickly so they retain their bright color and texture for the salad.

Drain the leaves and pat dry.

In a bowl, toss leaves with oil, lemon and olives. I like to slice the olives but that's usually because I forget to buy pitted ones and can't bare the thought of a friend losing a tooth on pit.

Salt, pepper and flake to taste.

Serve with lemon wedges or a fresh sardines or as a bed for an egg salad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

San Francisco Goodies

Recently, I went to San Francisco for the weekend with my dog Brody and dear friend Antonia. We left at noon and 6 hours of hot, dusty highway 5, 2 pee brakes and a roadside fruit stand later we were paying our toll and pushing through cars to get the green light on the Bay Bridge. It seems no matter how I plan my travel to SF I always end up delayed or rushed until I'm in perfect sync with the setting of the sun as I roll across that bridge. The deep shadows of the skyline and the haze and the fog and the silver gold sunlight on the water always make me doubt my reasons for leaving my old city.

I should have a post card or photo for that nostalgic hiccup but I don't so I'll share this Still Life With Produce moment from Niki and Tony's house where we arrived moments later.

My sister and Tony's home was cozy and inviting. More than ever their little abode was busting at the seems with life, beauty and many projects. The little guys production station....only my sister can make such a pretty mess.

Tony's strawberries. Check out the awesome container garden in the back of the house.

Saturday night we (they) had a dinner party made especially sweet by the effortless pairing of lovely people and good food. Smartly organized as a potluck Tony made mashed yams and potatoes then baked with parmesan and bread crumbs, a garden salad from his actual garden and rubarb juice for mixed drinks. He also made, more delicious bread, of course, and peppered the table with pickled condiments from his summer stock. His sister (my sister, we are family) Bridget, my cancer cohort, made collard greens (yes also from the gard... you get it) stewed with onions. I made nothing. Niki made the place warm with candles and set things right. Dusty and Brody made things hairy and extremely charming.

The table was expanded all evening by the chef's and foodies that attendended, every bite a starchy delight thankfully, and we completed the feast with Mission Pies and ice cream around a pit fire in the garden.


And oh, you don't even know the heaven I'm in. Tony has been canning~!
I have bread and butter pickles, white vinegar pickles, cherries, strawberry lemon jam (yes, sooooo good), strawberry rubarb jam, pickled onions and more and more. You wish you you knew. Really.

The bread and butter pickles have a flavor like cornichons and they are excellent chopped up into an egg salad.

Tony lamented that he's not sure what one does with pickled onions and I'll admit right here mostly I just eat them out of the jar with my fingers but I also topped my carrot soup with them, layered them into a quesadilla with smoked tomato salsa and added them to my beet and corn salad last night.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

getting edumakated...

I spend a lot of these grey mornings meandering on the web. It's amazing where you can go in a couple hours with tea and a bowl of fruit and yogurt in your lap. I've been to goose farm in Spain, a sustainable organic farm in Connecticut and I fell in love with the rural east coast again, watching lambs and cows and pigs happy in grass fields surrounded by woods. I hung out with renowned chef Dan Barber at TED and he took me to a goose farm in Spain where the goose whisperer has his flock call wild geese to their utopia for the winter. I actually considered trying froi gras for the first time in my life (something I have found so deeply offensive that it detoured me from taking being a chef seriously - the disgusting practices that chef's celebrate and support - don't even get me started) but you'll have to watch the whole 20 minute TED lecture to understand why . I took a trip down memory lane to my favorite secret Northern California cherry find off highway 1 and revisited my young lover's dream to restore an old stage coach stop and turn it into our own Whistle Stop Cafe. We lingered around this one shop town for hours walking up and down old roads imagining planting a kitchen garden and serving prefixed dinners to the folks around the area (Neil Young most notable among them)....

Anyway, one of my favorite new discoveries today is Blue Hill Farm. Please go explore their site. Go to the know thy farmer farms map and click on the video interviews of the farmer's this restaurant buys from. It's a weekend away in a morning. It made me want to drive all the way there from here just to visit a mushroom farmer while he inoculates tree trunks with psyllium (I didn't know those terms before this morning)

Have you seen Food Inc. yet? You must. If you haven't read Omnivore's Dilemma or Fast Food Nation or seen Super Size Me you must. Really, nothing is more important. Everything stems from good health and good food is the obvious first step. It's astonishing how far away from common sense we've gotten.

Tell me what you find....