Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sometimes you need to flush the bad out...

Texas is glorious today.

I sit on my balcony, looking out over the trees (and the home depot parking...but you can't have perfection, I guess), eating a bowl of yellow, orange and red heirloom cherry tomatoes, drizzled with sesame oil. Preparing for my fast.

I will spend the next seven days nourishing myself with lots of music, writing, yoga...and litres and litres of the spring water with maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne. Walks at the river. There will be a lot of solitude as well, which I know can turn into isolation. I'll keep an eye on that.

I have been back in Texas for an entire season now.

When I emerge from fasting, I'll settle into Autumn with root vegetables, grains...traditional Fall foods. Sweaters. Heavier blankets.

Cheers. I raise my glass of water/syrup/lemon/cayenne to you.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My love affair with sage continues with pork chops w/ mustard crumbs

The entrance of Fall found me craving meats and finding inspiration in sage. I hit the cookbooks, and once again, Ruth Reichl didn't disappoint. The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes delivered a pork chops recipe that I just knew I'd excel at, because of this one little phrase: "...keeps them moister than panfrying would."

You see, I tend to overcook all meats and seafood, fearing that my inexperience and lack of knowledge about foodborne illnesses will kill my family and guests. So any recipe promising a moister meat....that's good with me. The mustard and bread crumb mixture cooks the moisture in.

I made six pork chops for just two of us (and only one of us - me - is a big eater). It looked like we would have *way* too much, but this meal was so delicious we had to stop ourselves after two pork chops a piece, knowing they'd be possibly even better as leftovers. Try this, and don't skimp on the breadcrumps by buying store bought - grating your own rye bread crumbs really makes all the difference.

Pork Chops with Mustard Crumbs

olive oil
1 1/3 C fresh rye bread crumbs
2 garlic cloves
1 T sage. Calls for finely chopped, but I cut into strips instead
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
4 pork chops, not more than 1 inch thick
2 T dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Heat olive oil in skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add bread brums, garlic, sage, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, til crumbs are golden brown (about 2-3 minutes). Transfer to a bowl.

Pat pork dry. Heat a lil more olive oil in cleaned skillet over moderate heat til hot but not smoking again. Brown chops, two minutes on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet with sides.

Spread tops of chops with mustard and then scatter then bread crumb mixture on top. Roast about 5-7 minutes, til chops are cooked through. Transfer to platter, cover loosely with foil and let them stand 5 more minutes.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

When I Fell in Love with Sage: a recipe for penne with butternut squash, sage, and bresaola

Should it take me 30 minutes to peel and cube a butternut squash? Most certainly not, but once I started hacking into the squash with the dull knife (wasn't in my own own kitchen has fabulous knives, thanks to Project Kitchen Upgrade of 2009!) available to me I knew it was too late to call mom for better directions. Sometimes one just has to follow a task through to its disastrous completion.

The meal I prepared, however, was anything but disastrous.

As I've written previously, it's important to me to mark the passing seasons with the meals I cook, as in Los Angeles there aren't as many mile markers throughout the year as there are in other areas. I was craving pasta, and decided to leaf through the pages of The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Pasta , my favorite cookbook-as-eye-candy. Since this book is divided into seasons, I went directly to the "Autumn and Winter" section, until st. stopped me on page 79, with its photo of bresaola, a salt-cured, dried beef fillet.

I'm sure I can procure bresaola here in Los Angeles with a little searching, but luckily prosciutto can be used as a substitution. As I was shopping at Vons that day, prosciutto would have to do. I love prosciutto, as does st., so this was not a painful compromise. (I say that now....perhaps you should check back with me after I try bresaola!).

I see in my spell checker that I have been spelling prosciutto wrong all this time. Fixed.

Back to my meal: penne with butternut squash, sage, and prosciutto.

Delicious. Hearty. Don't short yourself - make sure you use fresh sage for this, and do that technique where you roll the sage leaves up into a little cigar, then chop into shreds. It makes beautiful strips of sage and the aroma will infuse not only your entire dish but your kitchen as well. The sweetness of the shallots blends so nicely with the squash, it's difficult to articulate the different flavors in this dish. It's a symphony. :)

olive oil
5 shallots
1 butternut squash, peeled and seeded and diced
pinch of ground allspice
salt and pepper
3/4 cup chicken stock
splash of balsamic vinegar
1 lb penne
1/4 prosciutto or bresaola, cut into strips
grated grana padano or parmesan cheese

Start boiling the pasta water.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat olive oil and add shallots until they are softened, approx 3-4 minutes. Add squash, allspice, salt and pepper to taste. Saute for another 1 or 2 minutes. Add stock, reduce heat to med/low, cover and simmer until the squash is fork tender, about 8 mins. Don't stir, or the squash will get, well, squishy. Turn off the heat and add splash of balsamic vinegar.

Cook your penne.

Drain the al dente penne, add the squash mixture. Then add the sage, prosciutto or bresaola, drizze with olive oil and toss gently.

Sprinkle with cheese.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ringing in Autumn with a crab boil

I live in Los Angeles, a city that does not experience four distinct seasons. There are, maybe, two: "hot/smoggy" and "cool enough for a sweater at night". Before Los Angeles, I lived for eight years in Austin, so it's been a good thirteen years since I've needed to own an ice scraper or an engine heater. (For my Austin and LA friends, those are, respectively, gadgets used to scrape ice off of one's car windshield, and little heaters that keep one's car engine warm so that it starts up easily in the morning).

My internal rhythms still turn with the seasons, however, and my urge to start drinking warm liquids, go to bed earlier, and have cozy meals indoors with friends kicks in, regardless of the blazing and persistent sunny weather. In the absence of colorful Fall leaves and much cooler weather, I think it's important to mark the passing of seasons with food. From a locavoric, slow food movement viewpoint, it makes sense, sure, but I'm talking from a more atavistic place. It feels good to change (our schedules, our activities, our meals) with the season, because our ancestors' survival depended upon being able to do just that.

This Autumn Equinox I was treated to something I've never had before: a crab boil!

I don't have much (ok, I don't have any) experience cooking with crab, so this was fascinating to me. It was so easy, and so delicious, and even inexpensive.

one pound of crab legs (we used snow crab)
one lemon cut up in quarters
one box of Zatarain's Crab Boil

Boil a big pot of water with the bag of Zatarain's Crab Boil spices, when it boils, toss in crab legs and lemon wedges. Let boil for five minutes, but then let stew for another 25. Delicious! st. and I enjoyed this with Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale, from Blue Moon Brewery's Seasonal collection.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hot weather fare: chilled lemon soup and heirloom tomato salad

I've never been very handy at grilling (luckily I have BBQ masters in my life who can grill for me), so summer cooking is a bit of a challenge. Without air conditioning, I'm reluctant to do nearly anything in my kitchen, and I only want to eat foods that cool my body. What follows is a list of my top three hot-weather foods.

1. Cherry tomatoes with cilantro and sesame oil. When Mark Bittman published an article in the NYTimes about 101 Simple Salads, I immediately went about trying out several of them. The winner, which I have made many times since the article was published in July, is so simple. I prefer mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes - Durst Farms ( has a lovely cherry tomato mix that I was able to purchase at Vons. Heirloom cherry tomatoes are so VERY superior in flavor to the regular supermarket variety, so do yourself a favor and stop buying the regular ones....forever. I cut the cherry tomatoes in half so they can soak up the flavor...add chopped cilantro (basil will work well, too) and then drizzle sesame oil. The sesame oil adds a smoky taste to this lovely salad. Enjoy!

2. Chilled Greek Lemon Soup from Silver Palate Cookbook I love a good cold soup, but don't have a full-sized food processor so gazpacho is just not happening. Greek Lemon Soup is simple, inexpensive, and super fast. It's also good hot, but I suggest making the day before and chilling overnight. If you have a lemon tree, even better! This is a velvety, light soup. I've made it countless times over the past year.

Greek Lemon Soup

6 cups of chicken broth (I did try this with veggie broth - was very bland!)
1/2 C long grain rice
3 egg yolks (this is what makes it velvety)
1/4 C lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
sliced fresh lemon as a garnish

Bring broth to a full boil. Pour in the rice, reduce to simmer, cover. Cook for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and lemon juice together in a small bowl until well combined.

When rice is done, remove soup from heat and ladle 2 cups of hot broth into egg and lemon mixture. Whisk this back into the remaining soup.

Return soup to medium heat and stir constantly, until steaming. Do not let it boil.

Season and serve immediately, or remove from heat, cool to room temp, and cover and refrigerate.

Serves 4-6

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scallops provencale with orange heirlom tomatoes

I have found, and tried, several Scallops Provencale recipes. My favorite (and this is no surprise) is from The Gourmet Cookbook . The most recent time I made it I used an orange colored heirloom (called "Dad's Sunset") tomato I already had in my kitchen, and I prepared bay scallops, because they were fresh and beautiful.

My vision of Scallops Provencale really is the green/red/white image, so I wondered how using the lovely melon-colored tomato would alter this meal. The result? As I spooned the lovely orange tomato bits onto the scallops, it looked even more summery, and I half expected it to be citrusy to the taste! But oh, no, these lovely tomatoes actually made the entire dish....light and was my favorite Scallops dish to date. What follows is my adjustment to Ruth Reichl's recipe.

Scallops Provencale

1 lb bay scallops
dash of salt
dash of pepper
olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 large orange colored heirloom tomato - be daring - try with whatever variety you find! Chop the tomato up into about 1/2 inch pieces.
1/4 cup shredded basil

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Pat scallops dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a skillet over high heat until not, but not yet smoking. Sear the scallops, turning over once, til golden brown and cooked just through. 4 minutes tops. Transfer scallops to a platter and cover with foil, keep warm in oven.

Add a bit more olive oil to pan if needed, and lower the heat a bit, add garlic, and cook until pale (just see through). Add tomatoes, raise heat to high, cook for 2 more minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Tomato mixture goes over the scallops, top with shredded basil. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

back at it

I started this blog because it was so thrilling to me, after a few decades of being an adult who thought she couldn't cook, I found that I could. It was so thrilling and nourishing (literally and figuratively) to be able to select recipes, execute them, and have them be delicious and satisfying, that I needed a way to process this experience. My blog was born.

Several months into my blog, however, a few things happened, all of them mostly good.

1. I didn't need to rely on recipes any more in order to make a great meal. After cooking enough broccoli from recipe, eventually one can pick up some broccoli at the farmer's market and make a tasty dish without having to follow anyone's directions. This was mostly good, in that it shows that my cooking skills have evolved, and it is partly bad, because I became lazy about trying new recipes.

2. Two other cooks entered my life! Well, let's see. St. was already in my life, but when the weather heated up she took an interested in grilling....and she started making steaks on the grill that turned me into an African Tigerfish, losing all sense of decorum when confronted with these delicious slabs of brilliantly marinated meat. St. also taught herself to carmelize onions, and has perfected that art, and my molars just twitch when I smell the onions carmelizing in the pan. Then there was Kiwi, who moved in with St. I swear Kiwi was born and raised in the Bronx but channels the South in her cooking. She only knows how to cook for an entire army - nothing less - and her fried chicken, homemade mac n cheese, potato salad, and barbequed ribs I could live off of for the rest of my life. So, you see, with these two cooking for me, it seemed foolish to intervene.

In the meantime, however, St. has been replacing my older pans with beautiful Calphalon delights, improving my cooking experience tenfold. I've also learned to make seaweed salad (though mine is always mushier than I'd prefer), and I continue to be a budding foodie.

So, I decided to brush off the blog, and start posting again. Time to peruse the cookbooks, and plan a meal...