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citr

Photo love: Flickr user K.Hurley

As a native Southern Californian, citrus is in my blood. As a kid, I’d go on calls with my dad, a large animal vet, and we’d drive past mile upon mile of citrus trees. Without fail, he’d always pull the truck over, and we’d help ourselves to some tangerines or oranges. What’s a little theft in exchange for replacing a Holstein’s prolapsed uterus?

I came up with this refreshing, aromatic compote for a cooking class. This time of year, California farmers markets are flooded with a staggering array of citrus varieties, from rosy-pink Cara-Cara oranges, to tart, briny little finger limes. Regardless of what kinds you use, this dessert is a snap, and sure to evoke sunny skies and fragrant groves, with nary a strip mall in sight.

CITRUS COMPOTE IN GINGER-STAR ANISE SYRUP

serves 4

5 cups water

¾ cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

4 slices peeled ginger, each about the size of a quarter, smashed

3 star anise pods

3 medium blood oranges, peel and pith removed and cut into 1/8” cross sections (be sure to remove any seeds)

1 Navel orange, skin and pith cut away (follow the contours of the fruit with a sharp paring knife), and separated into segments by freeing the sections from the membranes holding them in place with paring knife

2 medium pink grapefruit, such as Rio Star, peel and pith cut and away and segmented, as above

3 kumquats, cut into paper-thin slices

fresh mint leaves, julienned, for garnish

Combine water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and star anise in medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes, reducing heat if too high.

Strain liquid to remove ginger and spices, and add liquid back to saucepan.  Bring back to boil, then reduce heat to medium and allow liquid to reduce, about 15 to 20 minutes, until a syrupy consistency that just barely coats the back of a spoon (it will still be fairly runny).  Remove from heat, pour into a glass bowl, and chill for at least one hour.

To serve, add citrus to four martini glasses or compote bowls, and pour syrup over fruit.  Garnish with mint.

© The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 2000.

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A major haul in Colorado’s Lizard Head Wilderness. Those are not my hands…I may have eczema, but not man-hands.

Ever since I wrote a report on mushrooms in the fourth grade, I’ve been obsessed with fungi in all its glorious permutations. I spent many childhood hours tromping around after a rainfall, searching for elusive species. Yet, typical of my finicky palate at that age, I refused to even consider actually eating a mushroom. The horror.

Thankfully, things change, and some gluttons are made, not born.  I now enjoy eating wild mushrooms as much as I love foraging for them.

Although this recipe long predates an epic chanterelle harvest I did in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, it’s still my favorite way to showcase these meaty, woodsy-tasting golden mushrooms.  Hello, autumn.

WARM FINGERLING POTATO & CHANTERELLE SALAD

serves four as a starter

1 tablespoon + 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. fingerling potatoes, parboiled and drained, and cut into 1/2-inch slices

3/4 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered if large, halved if smaller

1 medium shallot, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and the olive oil.  When butter is foamy, add chanterelles and cook until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Important: the first few minutes of cooking, the mushrooms will release their liquid- you must keep cooking until the liquid has absorbed and mushrooms begin to brown.

Add remaining half tablespoon butter, and sauté shallots and thyme with chanterelles for 1 minute.  Add potatoes to heat through, being careful not to break them up as you stir. Remove from heat.

Allow salad to cool in large bowl for several minutes, then add Champagne vinegar, more  olive oil, if needed, and salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve warm.

©The Sustainable Kitchen 2001®

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I am so not a baker. I’m also of the school of thought that it’s either in your DNA or it isn’t, unlike cooking, which can be learned. Don’t believe me? A culinary arts degree, pastry internship at Chez Panisse, two years of employment at an Oakland bakery, and a brief stint filling in on pastry at The Providores & Tapa Room in London speak otherwise.

Raspberry Brown Butter Cake from “The Preservation Kitchen.”

Sure, I can make pretty decent quickbreads and cookies; I’ve even made a good cake or two. But when it comes to anything more complex that sifting and measuring, forget it. I can’t even ice a cake to save my life, despite the Nazi-like anal retentiveness of my European pastry instructor in culinary school.

At Chez Panisse, I managed to gain enough trust to be allowed to prep fruit and make truffles, but my tart-making privileges were quickly revoked. The last attempt I made at bread was nothing short of pathetic (I was also distraught after discovering that the 100-year-old sourdough starter I’d been given had exploded in my refrigerator…I’d killed history).

So I’m always in awe of people who can deftly crimp pie shells or turn out flaky croissants. When I first met my friend Kate Leahy, it was while working at aforementioned bakery. I was just a counterperson, which meant that I had to scale out cookie dough, make sandwiches, and fold tart boxes in my spare time (having failed at tasks that involved actual baking talent).

I would watch Kate–all five-foot-one of her–hucking around 10-quart mixing bowls for the standing Hobart mixer nearly as tall as she, or blithely crafting wedding cake roses out of fondant. She says she learned to bake “the old-fashioned way, through trial and error, but my parents were very kind, especially when I got carried away with the baking soda.”

On a totally random, but incredibly awesome side note, Kate lived in the Philippines as a young child, because of her dad’s job. She once told me about the time a sewer rat came up out of their home toilet, an incident that would leave me permanently constipated. In fact, that’s my worst nightmare, right after a cockroach nesting in my ear.

Apologies for interrupting a heartwarming food story with this image.
Photo love: Flickr user Rosebud23

After the bakery, Kate went on to culinary school, and has worked as a line cook at some of the nation’s most prestigious restaurants, including Radius (Boston), Terra (St. Helena), and A 16 (San Francisco). Then, not satisfied with conquering the savory side of things, she got an MS in Journalism at Northwestern.

After working as a food editor and freelancer for a number of years in Chicago, she co-wrote 2008’s IACP-winning A 16 Food + Wine cookbook (don’t let the other names on the cover tell you otherwise) and on April 3, her latest book, written with acclaimed Chicago chef Paul Virant (Vie), The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, was released.

Kate–I swear I’m not her publicist–also has another major cookbook coming out, SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine (SPQR is A 16’s sister restaurant), written in collaboration with co-owner Shelley Lindgren and executive chef Matthew Accarino; release date October 16.

Anyway. The point of all this is that Kate is awesome and talented and you should buy her book. What’s it about, you ask? I’ll let her describe it:

The premise behind the book is giving people a fresh way to think about preserves. We weren’t just concerned with providing recipes that challenge cooks to think beyond strawberry jam, but also giving readers ways to use the preserves in meals. When you can turn a pickle into a sauce or vinaigrette, it becomes much more than just a condiment. Paul summarizes his strategy like this: ‘I eat what I can and what I can’t, I can.'”

I asked Kate for a summery recipe and she generously provided me with a cake that even I can’t screw up. Now let’s see if she can solve my sewer rat issues.

To order Paul and Kate’s book, click here. For more about Kate, go to her website, A Modern Meal Maker.

 RASPBERRY BROWN BUTTER CAKE

Recipe from The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy (Random House, 2012).

What separates this cake from similar creations is the brown butter, which gives it an almost savory edge, and the vanilla bean, which is infused into the hot butter. While delicious with tart, fresh raspberries, you also can make this cake with frozen cranberries and lemon zest in the fall and winter. A spoonful of summer berry jam added to the batter also works as a stand-in for fresh fruit.

Makes 1 cake

6 ounces salted butter

1 vanilla bean

1 cup sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs

1½ cup raspberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan or small rectangular pan.

2. Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a spoon. Mix in the seeds and bean and continue to cook the butter until it browns. (It will turn amber in color and smell like toasting nuts.) Immediately take off the heat to prevent the butter from scorching. Remove the bean and reserve for another use. Cool the butter to room temperature.

3. In a medium bowl mix the sugar and flour together. Whisk in the eggs, and then drizzle in the butter. Scatter half of the raspberries in the bottom of the cake pan and pour the batter on top. Scatter the remaining raspberries on top. Bake for 35 minutesor until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top no longer looks raw.

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In honor of National Grilling Memorial Day, I’ve decided to rerun this post on how to make the most kickass burgers you’ll ever taste. Really. Happy holiday weekend!

I have Depression-era parents. That’s why I grew up eating freezer-burned heels of bread, and why there are spices in my mother’s pantry older than I am. One useful culinary thing Mom did teach me, besides making braising liquid for pot roast with Lipton’s Onion Soup mix (totally trailer, but so good), is to stretch my pennies by mixing egg and breadcrumbs into ground meat when I make hamburgers. Not only does this make for a lighter, juicier burger, but they taste pretty kick-ass when you liven up the grind with minced shallots, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.

So, now that summer is finally here (yes, I realize it’s September but I live in Seattle), I thought I’d celebrate by firing up my metaphorical barbecue (I also live in an apartment at the moment), and share with you my tips for making a better burger.

*Remove your ground meat of choice from the fridge half an hour before you plan to make your burgers. You’re going to be adding stuff to it, and it will bind better if the meat isn’t too cold. Allow about one-and-a-half pounds for four people, depending upon what else you plan to serve. It’s always better to prepare too much than too little, and leftover burgers are great crumbled into stir-fries, pasta sauce, or scrambled eggs.

*Open a beer (personally, I prefer cocktails or wine but raw meat flecks and smeary fingerprints on glasseware is just not sexy).

*Dump the meat into a large bowl. Add one egg and one or two largish handfuls of panko or breadcrumbs; make them yourself with leftover bread or score some discounted day-old stuff from a bakery or local dumpster. Storebought stuff works, too. Add another egg if the mixture seems too dry. The point of these two ingredients is two-fold. The egg adds moisture and acts as a binding agent, while the breadcrumbs increase your yield and ensure your burger won’t end up festering in your colon for the next several months.

*Be sure to wash your hands after handling the egg and raw meat, and keep them separate from any utensils or ingredients you plan to use on raw food. E. coli is also not sexy.

*Add to meat one large shallot, minced, and at least three cloves of garlic, also finely minced. I always add a dash or four of soy sauce or Worcestershire, for added flavor. Throw in a handful of chopped Italian parsley or chives. Ground lamb with mint is also wonderful.

*Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well using your hands until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. To determine if your seasoning is right on, fry up a pinch of the mixture. Form into one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick patties by scooping the meat into your hands and gently! patting them into shape. Resist the urge to fondle too much, as it will compact the meat, making for a dry, tough burger. If you make them slider-sized, you’ll be able to double fist, clutching burger in one hand and beer in the other. I may not like greasy glasses, but I’m a huge advocate of eating and drinking ambidextrously.

I always make a slight indentation in the center of each patty, because that’s what my mom did to prevent “shrinkage.” I have no idea if this is true or not, but it does make you look like a wise old kitchen sage. You can make the burgers up to a day ahead; if you’ve got a crowd, place a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap between layers to prevent them from glomming on to one another. Bring up to room temperature before grilling.

*Preheat your grill or flat-top. Have another drink while you’re waiting.

*When coals are ashy and white and you’ve got some flame going, lightly oil the grill using a damp rag dipped in cooking oil. If you’re using a pan, get it smoking hot and brown both sides of the meat for better flavor. Try to refrain from cooking past medium rare if you’ve thrown down cash for good meat.

*Toast your buns. Artisan or Wonder Bread, they’ll taste better and it will help prevent the condiments from making them soggy.

*One more drink. Eat. Enjoy. Make friends or significant other clean up.

Lamb makes great burgers, too!

Lamb makes great burgers, too!

Sourcing

Depending upon your budget and the state of your arteries, you can opt for lean ground beef (around the eight- to ten-percent fat range), or go big on something 20- to 25-percent fat. Hamburgers are not the place to skimp on fat–it’s a necessary component, whether you use ground chuck, sirloin, or round. I recommend grassfed- and -finished beef for health, humanity, and flavor reasons, but bear in mind it’s lower in fat and shouldn’t be cooked past medium-rare.
Chuck is the most popular and economical, and provides a good fat and flavor balance. When purchasing, look for a bright, pinky-red color, and if cellophane-wrapped, avoid anything gray, leaky, smelly, or otherwise bio-hazardous. Tempting as it may be to purchase the preformed, opaque-packaged, phallic “chubs,” refrain. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth eating gussied up pet food.

If you’re on a tight budget, however, even if you buy the $2.99/lb. ghetto
grind, it will be vastly improved by the addition of a truly great egg. Pasture-raised chickens snack on foraged bugs and decaying vegetation (Those of you with McNugget crumbs around your mouths shouldn’t look so horrified) and the results are exceptionally rich, orangey-yellow yolks packed full of all kinds of that healthy antioxidant crap. They’re a great, inexpensive protein source on their own, and so much better than pale, watery, flavorless commercial eggs that are god knows how old.

Bon appetit!

[Photo love: burger, Flickr user Adam Kuban]

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Aah, spring. The first tender buds are unfurling on the trees; crocuses and daffodils push their bright heads up through the damp soil. The music of birdsong is audible once again.

Photo love: Flickr user Stellas mom

Despite all that, the weather is still utter shit here in Seattle, and frankly, I’m fucking over it. I’m hearing about spring break (college town, after all), and I’m still wearing my Uggs and pj’s in the house and huddling in a blanket to stay warm (Welcome to the world of self-employment; looking presentable unnecessary).

Needless to say, many farmers in these parts have had a tough winter, what with Snowmageddon and all, so aside from heaps of brassicas, there’s not much inspiration to be had at the farmer’s market.

But at least I can provide you with a recipe that speaks of spring. Not that smoked trout really reminds me of the vernal equinox, but whatevs. I came up with this salad for a cooking demo I did at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market, based upon what was available from the vendors at this time of year. Hence the smoked trout–not something I’d ordinarily gravitate toward–and watermelon radish. Turns out, it’s a lovely concoction, full of contrasting textures and flavors. Try it; you’ll see.

SMOKED TROUT, GRAPEFRUIT & WATERMELON RADISH SALAD

serves 4

Vinaigrette

2 T. Champagne vinegar

salt, to taste

2 t. finely minced shallot

2 T. lemon juice

1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

5 c. baby arugula or watercress

2 medium pink grapefruit or two medium blood oranges, segmented

one medium watermelon radish, sliced crosswise as thinly as possible

¼ lb. smoked trout (about one fillet), flaked into chunks

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For vinaigrette:  Place the shallot, Champagne vinegar and a pinch salt together in a small bowl and let macerate for at least 10 minutes and up to one hour to mellow the flavor of the shallot.  Add the remaining ingredients, whisking to combine. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

For the salad: When ready to serve, rewhisk the vinaigrette, and place the arugula, citrus segments, and radish in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette (note you may not need to use all of it; better to add too little than too much).

Arrange mound of arugula on each of four chilled salad plates, adding several citrus segments and slices of radish. Top with some of the smoked trout.  Season with a twist of freshly ground black pepper.

© The Sustainable Kitchen®, 2004

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Photo love: Flickr user Pictr 30D

I was eleven when I experienced my first authentic Santa Maria barbecue. A former classmate of my dad’s had invited my family to his ranch outside of
San Luis Obispo to participate in the spring cattle gathering. Located about 30 miles outside of Santa Maria on the Central Coast, this region is the heart of California’s barbecue country (more on that in a minute).

After a cold, dirty, exhausting weekend gathering wayward cattle and calves to be vaccinated, castrated, and branded, it was fiesta time.  A massive barbecue fashioned out of old oil drums was heaped with native red oak and per tradition, the calf “fries,” (also known as Rocky Mountain oysters, prairie oysters…testiculos) were grilled up as a snack.

The charred, crispy little morsels, tender and juicy on the inside, were tucked into a flour tortilla, slathered with salsa, and rolled up, taquito-style.  As a child reknown for her picky eating habits, there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to indulge in an hors d’oeuvre of greasy calf cojones.

But when my dad proudly presented me with a testicle taco, how could I refuse?  To say no would be to disappoint the man who had given me life, himself a former wrangler. It was time to grow up, and grow a pair of my own.  I grabbed the dripping tortilla and bit down….chewed…swallowed.

It was good!  Smoky, salty, a little bit chewy, just a touch of heat and sweetness from the salsa, the tortilla a perfect foil for the savory juices now dribbling down my chin.

Yep.  Tastes just like chicken.

California’s indigenous barbecue

Way back before the Gold Rush, breast implants, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, California belonged to Mexico…until the the U.S. government took possession of the soon-to-be Golden State. Spanish and Mexican colonists and soldiers, called Californios, settled on ranchos along California’s rich, central coastal grasslands.

Spanish and Mexican heritage morphed into a true California cuisine, one that
incorporated the corn, tomatoes, beans, and peppers of the New World with the beef, lamb, and olive oil of the Old World. The parilla, or grill, was the domain of the vaqueros, or cowboys, and the rancheros, or landowners. The mild, Mediterranean climate fostered a tradition of outdoor cooking still beloved by Californians today.  Rancho barbecues were a way to mark special occasions, unite family and community, and enjoy the foods of the mother land.

A traditional Santa Maria Style Barbecue (the official term used by the Santa Maria Visitors & Convention Bureau), consists of top-sirloin or tri-tip beef steak strung on steel rods and grilled over Santa Maria Valley red oak. It’s served with tiny, savory pinquito beans, grown only in the Valley, salsa cruda, tossed green salad, and toasted, buttered sweet French bread.  The meat is anointed only with salt, pepper and garlic salt, then served thinly sliced with all the fixings.

Tri-tip sammie!
Photo love: Flickr user Nubby Tongue

Where to find it

Whether you call it Santa Maria bbq/barbecue/-style barbecue, it’s easy to hunt down if you’re in the area. A handful of restaurants have gained national fame for their versions. The Hitching Post in Casmalia (there’s also a sister location in Buellton) has been a local favorite since 1952, when the Ostini family first fired up their indoor barbecue pit (866-879-4088).
The family-owned Far Western Tavern in Guadalupe (the restaurant is relocating to nearby Orcutt in Spring, 2012) is another true blue Western institution. Ask for the Cowboy Cut Sirloin, cooked over red oak. (reservations recommended, 805-343-2211).

If you want a more local experience, check out the takeaway tri-tip sandwiches from Old Town Market in Orcutt, or Dino’s Deli in Santa Maria. There are also
weekend barbecues in downtown Santa Maria, at the Filipino Community Center (1721 Broadway) and in the CVS/pharmacy parking lot (2116 S.
Broadway). To find other meaty goodness around town, contact the Santa Maria Convention & Visitors Bureau; 800-331-3779.

How to DIY 

The famed Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang is debuting its hands-on BBQ Bootcamp this fall, from October 27-30th. Frank Ostini of The Hitching Post restaurants and Alisal chef Pascal Godé will let you in on the secrets to great grilling, including Santa Maria-style barbecue. To register, go to www.alisal.com.

If If a trip to the Central Coast isn’t on your itinerary, Susie Q’s Brand has all the fixin’s, from pinquito beans to wood chips, available online. Founder Susan Righetti is the daughter of Far Western Tavern’s Minetti family.

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I created this recipe for a cooking demo/lecture on sustainable eating I did in the Bay Area. I love the sheep and cow milk cheeses made by Northern California’s Bellwether Farms;  Stracchino di Crescenza is a traditional cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy. Make this simple salad with the last nectarines of the season;. citrus such as blood oranges are nice during the colder months.

NECTARINE, PROSCIUTTO & ARUGULA SALAD WITH BELLWETHER
 CRESCENZA TOASTS

serves four

Four slices of baguette, 1/4-inch thick and cut
on a long bias and brushed lightly with extra virgin olive oil

4 oz. (1/4 lb.)  Bellwether Farms Crescenza cheese (available online and at select cheese shops nationwide; you may substitute chevre, Pont l’Eveque, or blue cheese), placed in a strainer to drain any liquid

Vinaigrette

2 t. finely minced shallot

2 T. good-quality white Balsamic Vinegar (I like the one from Stonehouse) or Champagne Vinegar

Pinch kosher salt

1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, or to taste, plus extra for brushing on baguette

5 c. arugula

2-3 medium nectarines, ripe but not mushy, cut into 1/4-inch slices

4 oz. prosciutto, sliced paper thin (about eight slices). Tear each slice
into halves or thirds, so you have medium-size pieces that will crumple nicely on the salad.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Brush baguette slices lightly with olive oil, place on a baking sheet and toast until crisp but not browned.  Alternatively, you may grill them.

The vinaigrette:  Place the shallot, vinegar, and salt together in a small bowl and let macerate for at least 10 minutes and up to one hour to mellow the flavor of the shallot.  Add the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking to combine. Add more vinegar or oil, if necessary. If not using immediately, rewhisk before dressing greens.

When ready to serve, spread each toast with one ounce of Crescenza. Set aside. In a large bowl, toss the arugula with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the leaves. Add nectarine slices and gently toss one more time to coat nectarines without bruising them. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Arrange mound of arugula on each of four salad plates, adding several nectarine slices. Gently crumple and add the prosciutto and place a Crescenza toast on each plate. Serve immediately.

© The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 2009

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