Monday, August 31, 2009

Follow-up from last post

In my last post I described our various hotels on the way down from Oregon. Here are some pictures from Colombi Motel in Fort Bragg (as always, click for larger versions). The meal: pan-fried Rex Sole; penne with tomatoes, basil, garlic, and toasted pine nuts; a Pinot Gris from Eola Hills, an Oregon winery.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mixed reviews: Redwoods Hostel and Colombi Motel

We spent two nights on the road between Eugene and Berkeley, since we drove down the coast most of the way.

Redwoods National Park

Our first night we spent at the Redwoods National Park Hostel, a beautiful old house on the edge of Del Norte State Park (part of Redwoods National and State Parks). We were lucky that when booking last month they still had a private room available: the house has two private rooms and two (gendered, I think) dorm rooms. Bathrooms are down the hall, and not surprisingly the house, guests and staff, is mostly younger hippies (although one guest was celebrating his 31st wedding anniversary).

The kitchen at the Redwoods Hostel is reasonably well stocked with pots and pans, although their spice supply is not as good as advertised (old-looking dried garlic, oregano, paprika, and mustard powder; we had brought a fresh head of garlic from Wintergreen Farm and used that). The kitchen has two refrigerators (we had our own coolers) and two powerful gas ranges, as well as various counter-top appliances (microwave; toaster; coffee grinder, complementary Starbucks coffee, and hard-to-use percolator; electric griddle and complementary pancake batter, to which we added blackberries from the free shelf in the fridge). My first major complaint about the kitchen is the lack of usable sinks. They have a small hand-washing sink and a wonderfully large three-tub pot-wash (sink tubs, all with the same faucet, are kept filled with soapy water, clear water, and bleach water). However, no where in the kitchen was a food prep sink, a must for washing vegetables. Wash veggies in the dishes sink and you dilute the tub; the hand sink is too small; none of them have nearby counter space. A better set-up would have been to use two tubs for dishes, and keep a small sanitizing bleach bucket and sponge; use the third tub and adjacent counter (currently covered with drying dishes) for food. The best setup would be to invest in an energy- and water-efficient electric sanitizer (the kind that recycles its water, kept at 180° hot).

My second major complaint about Redwoods Hostel is their no-alcohol policy, mentioned nowhere on their website. I understand not wanting undergrads getting wasted, but I was surprised by it, and disappointed: we had brought an Oregon Pinot Gris, a gift from my dad. We probably would have opened it up anyway had we remembered where the pocketknife was.

The dinner consisted of yellow summer potatoes, cut into eighths and boiled ten minutes, then tossed with butter, olive oil, rosemary, and minced garlic; tuna, seared in garlic olive oil; and a lettuce salad with lemon and oil.

Fort Bragg

When we drove to Oregon last spring, we found the cute Colombi Motel in the cute town of Fort Bragg. The motel is acceptable, and a good bargain: clean, although without enough pillows and blankets. Each room has a small kitchen: sink, electric range, full-sized fridge, drying rack for dishes, and cutting board. Otherwise it is completely empty, but for five dollars you can rent enough dishes for two: large and small plates, small bowls, flat wear, large plastic cups, tea cups, two medium sauce-pots and two nonstick fry-pans, two wooden spoons and a plastic spatula, a brand-new sponge and dish soap. Notably absent are wine glasses and a corkscrew (notice a pattern?), a serving/salad bowl, and a strainer. We made do: cook pasta in the larger of the two sauce-pots and use the smaller to hold it back while pouring out the hot water; serve food in the cooking dishes; forgo salad. Also, travel with your own salt and accept a night without pepper.

For dinner we bought very local Rex sole from the excellent Harvest Market, which had been cleaned but not filleted, and pan-fried it in oil and garlic. The dish that took more prep work was a tasty pasta: penne with local tomatoes, diced, basil, toasted pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.

Other than the lack of pillows, Colombi Motel's only other failure is that the advertised WiFi is hard to make work. (The folks at the front desk say that it only works on Windows, not Mac; this is a lie, but a good one.) The town of Fort Bragg makes up for it, though. Fairly remote, Fort Bragg relies on tourism, and doesn't think it has much to offer: a beach no more or less gorgeous than any other in Northern California, local hiking. Nevertheless, the town, with all its empty storefronts, has really cute cafes and absolutely no campy tourist-trap vibe.

Our favorite part of Fort Bragg is also one of our very favorite book stores: the Estates Gallery Book and Antique, on Franklin Street (the entire downtown is two blocks, so you can't miss it). No website, but the rave reviews online are spot on. I spent an hour perusing the cookbook section, enjoying the rare, old, and out-of-print books. B found books for his research that are almost no where else in the country. It turns out that the best book flotsam and jetsam washes up in Fort Bragg.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Picnic, pizza, and pie

It's our last night in Oregon. Tomorrow we drive to Klamath for a night in the Redwoods National Park, and after that one night in Fort Bragg before returning to Berkeley. Both hotels have kitchens, so we should have plenty of pictures for you. For now, a brief photo show (as always, click for larger versions):

On the drive up we stopped in Castle Crags State Park for a nice picnic by a river. A bird was diving for something while we ate.

My parents make fantastic pies. These are blackberries that we had picked that morning, growing wild in Alton Baker Park. The previous day we had also picked many pounds of blueberries and made those into pies as well.

Tonight we made pizza. My boyfriend took pictures while my sister and I put on the finishing touches.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Old photos

We're visiting my parents; the meals have been great, but we haven't been taking pictures. Their CSA box (from the excellent Wintergreen Farm) supplied them with many tomatoes — we've had ratatouille and salad caprese — and the sea is plentiful — sole tonight, tuna a few days ago.

But since I don't have much to report from the last few days, I'll post some old photos:

February 13: Pizza with pesto and roasted potatoes

February 17: Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, leeks, and spinach

February 21: Potato-wrapped fish with kale and cauliflower

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ravioli with ricotta and smoked fish

Filling: 15 oz ricotta (about twice as much as we should have used), 1/2 lb smoked cod, and a few spoonfuls capers, minced. Sauce: minced garlic in butter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pizza with tapenade and roasted sweet peppers

For the crust, as always, prepare a stiff white bread-dough, and knead well. Ours had two and a half cups flour, two heaping Tbsp honey, 1 packet yeast, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 1/2 cup warm water. Let rise for a while, and then roll out with a rolling pin on a floured surface. The rolling pin develops the gluten horizontally, leaving the vertical struts unformed, so that the pizza crust can bubble in the oven.

For the sauce, combine pitted kalamata olives, capers, and one anchovy fillet (rinsed and deboned) in the blender.

For the peppers, wash, deseed, and slice into strips. Cook in a dry cast-iron skillet over high heat, stirring regularly, until the sides start to blacken.

For the cheese, cube 1/2 lb provolone, crumble 1/3 lb feta, and grate some Parmesan. Assemble the pizza and bake on a pizza stone 15 minutes at 500°F.

The Farm; Canning; A Bountiful Harvest

After two years of buying Riverdog Farm's CSA box, on Monday we finally drove out to the farm for a visit. Riverdog is on two sites right now, about five miles away from each other, and about 90 miles from Berkeley. In Guinda, we met up with the guy who runs the CSA program, a recent Cal graduate. He showed us their packing and loading facility — Riverdog runs trucks to the Bay Area daily — including their bedroom-sizes walk-in tomato refrigerator, and then introduced us to the chickens. Afterwards, he helped us pick out a large box of Early Girl tomatoes to take home for canning.

We had brought the camera, but didn't remember to take pictures until we got to the second site, in Brooks, where we went for a picnic. The Farm is open for CSA members to come by anytime; I don't know if we'll make the drive regularly, we did have a lovely picnic spot under a line of old walnut trees.

Tuesday was canning day, and sadly I have no photos to show for it. We canned mostly Early Girl tomatoes, with two jars of Romas mixed in. The jars range from whole to diced, all of them peeled. The general rule of thumb is that you cannot can vegetables without a pressure canner, but tomatoes, really a fruit, are an exception: they are acidic enough.

I followed the recipe from Blue Ribbon Preserves for raw-packed whole tomatoes. Begin heating a water-bath canner, and also bring to a boil another large pot of water. (And if you're smart have a tea kettle sitting by hot, so that you can refill any pot that starts to run low.) Lastly, make a bowl of ice water, and hope that you have more ice in the refrigerator if you are canning a lot.

Wash your tomatoes, remove the greens, and score the bottoms of about six tomatoes with a cross. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water, count to 40, and with a slotted spoon fish out the tomatoes and immediately plunge into the ice water. Putter around a little, and then peel the tomatoes: the skin should come right off. Place the whole skinned tomatoes directly into clean jars, or half or dice first. I fit about six or seven small Early Girls per quart jar, and they were just too big for the pints; I could fit about 12 Romas per quart. Anyway, add 2 Tbsp lemon juice per quart jar or 1 Tbsp per pint. The lemon juice is extremely important and should not be reduced: canning kills most pathogens, but not botulism; botulism though cannot survive in high-acidity environments. Cover the tomatoes with boiling water, leaving 1/2 inch head space, add new clean lids and old clean bands, and process in the water bath canner 45 minutes.

Tomorrow we leave for Oregon; we will be gone a week and a half. As such, today was Harvest Day for our small garden.

The beans in the back have climbed their eight-foot bamboo poles and are falling over. Shelled, this pile yielded a bit over three cups white beans, and we cooked them ten minutes (the Common Bean contains a toxin that breaks down in ten minutes boiling water; in particular, cousins of the Kidney and Cannelini beans should not be eaten raw in quantity), let them cool, and then pureed the soft beans with garlic, rosemary, salt, olive oil, and a little lemon juice. This old standard will make our sandwiches for the drive tomorrow.

Our golden cherry tomato has gone crazy, and is taking over the planter box; we've eaten tubs already, picked three quarts today, and expect a fair amount more when we get back, given the number of green fruits still on the vine — and it's still flowering. The Black Kim tomato is heavy with large green fruit, still very firm, and the Green Zebras should be ripe soon, although I can't really tell when those green guys are ripe. The Purple Cherokee, though, was a dud: it has one flower still, and one little green fruit, and this beauty:

Our friend came over last night and brought four beautiful large summer squash; my boyfriend cooked one of them tonight into a wonderful Ratatouille with a large eggplant, five or six tomatoes, one very large white onion, four cloves of garlic, and a little dried basil. He sautéed the garlic, onions, and basil first in olive oil in the cast iron dutch oven; then he added the sliced vegetables in layers and baked everything at 350°F for an hour. At the table, we garnished the baked veggies with shaved Parmesan. The vegetables release a lot of liquid when baking, so be sure to have a crusty sourdough standing by. We paired the dinner with a very nice Pinot Noir from Red Bicyclette; we have been consistently happy with both the quality and price of their wines.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Caesar Salad with Tomatoes

Separate an egg, and keep the yolk in a bowl big enough to hold about 1.5 cups. You do not need the white for this recipe. In a mortar and pestle, mash into a paste six very small cloves of garlic with a large handful of salt. Rinse two canned anchovies, fillet them and pick out the bones, and rinse again to wash off all the weird canning salt; add the anchovies to the mortar and pestle and mash into the garlic paste. To the egg yolk add 1/8 tsp water and the garlic-and-anchovy, and whisk it all together. Measure 1 cup olive oil into something with a pour spout, and dribble a little oil into the egg yolk. Whisk, and dribble a little more in, whisking all the while. The egg yolk mixture will lighten in color and thicken; then you can start pouring in larger splashes of oil, until the entire cup is incorporated. Cover the aioli with saran wrap and refrigerate a few hours until ready to serve.

Wash, dry, and rip one or two heads Romaine lettuce. Also wash and cut into eighths 4 early girl tomatoes and add to the salad. Add the aioli, and some grated and some shredded Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a large loaf of sourdough bread.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Honey Lavender Ice Cream

This is more or less the Chez Panisse recipe, from A Platter of Figs.

In the double boiler, heat
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 or 4 sprigs dried lavender
  • 1/8 tsp salt (or just a tiny pinch)
and let steep five to ten minutes. Meanwhile, whisk
  • 6 egg yolks (save the whites for something else)
  • 1 cup honey
until smooth. Remove the lavender from the milk, and whisk the milk into the honey, one spoonful at a time, to temper the eggs. When you have whisked about half the milk into the eggs, you can pour everything back into the double boiler. Cook, whisking, about 5 minutes. Then refrigerate the mixture until cool, about an hour. Add
  • 1 cup cream
and process in the ice cream machine.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vegetarian Moussaka

Moussaka is Greece's answer to Lasagna, with a touch of Ratatouille mixed in. We based our dinner on this recipe, although I didn't follow it super closely. Moussaka is normally made with ground lamb; this recipe uses lentils instead, and ends up very light tasting in spite of all the oil.

Preheat oven 375°F. In a small saucepan, bring to a boil
  • 2/3 cup dried brown lentils
  • 1 1/2 cup water
Reduce to a simmer, and let cook twenty minutes or so, checking occasionally. If the water runs out, just remove from heat and leave the top on, so that the lentils steam themselves; you will cook them a bit more later.

Slice thin
  • 1 medium-large eggplant
  • 1 medium-large summer squash and 1 small zucchini
  • 4 small summer potatoes
If you are using a large supermarket eggplant, it is probably a little bitter, and you should do the salt thing (salt both sides of the eggplant slices, let them sit out 30 minutes, then rinse the salt and bitterness off) — the eggplants from Riverdog Farm don't need this treatment. In a large skillet, fry the veggies in single layers in just a little olive oil over high heat, a few minutes per side until they start to brown slightly. Transfer the veggies to a 9x13 glass pan, so that you have them in single overlapping layers: eggplant, squash, potatoes. These three layers should use half the squash and eggplant and all the potato.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pot sauté
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
until translucent. Add a splash of
  • balsamic or red wine vinager
and let reduce. Then add
  • about 4 large tomatoes, diced
  • some salt
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow some of the juices to cook off and the flavors to begin to marry. Then add the cooked lentils and
  • some clove and nutmeg
Cook a few minutes more, then remove from heat. You should have about 4 cups of filling.

Once you have the initial layers of your casserole, you are ready for the filling. Whisk
  • 1 egg
in a two-cup heatproof glass (Pyrex!) measuring cup, and whisk in just a little of the hot tomato-and-lentil liquid. Then add a little more, whisking constantly, to temper the egg. Keep adding by small amounts; when you have added about 1/4 cup, you may start using larger spoonfuls, whisking all the while, until you have two cups of lentil-and-egg mixture. Pour the lentil mixture over the casserole, spread evenly, and repeat with
  • 1 more egg
Sprinkle the casserole with
  • 1/3 pound feta, crumbled
and add another layer of eggplant and another layer of zucchini.

Move the casserole to the oven, and begin making a bechamel sauce. In a small saucepan, melt and whisk together
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • some nutmeg
and cook over low heat, whisking, until the sauce starts to thicken, five or ten minutes. Season with
  • salt and pepper
In your Pyrex measuring cup, whisk
  • 1 egg
and dribble in a little of the hot milk. Whisking constantly, keep adding more hot liquid, slowly at first, until the eggs are tempered.

Remove the casserole from the oven, and cover with the bechamel. Sprinkle evenly with
  • grated parmesan (about 1/4 cup)
and bake another twenty minutes or so, until you get hungry enough that you don't care whether everything has fully set (it has, but it's still hot enough to look runny). Allow to cool ten minutes before serving. Sprinkle the top with
  • fresh parsley and oregano
and serve.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Eggplant stuffed with cheese and tomato sauce

On Wednesday, we found ourselves at a bit of a loss. We had two small eggplants, lots of tomatoes, some sweet peppers, a full bunch of basil, and that's about it. After much cookbook reading, we walked to Berkeley Bowl for cheese.

Wash, remove the greens from two eggplants, slice them in half, and bake them face-down on an oiled pan for at least 40 minutes.

In a medium sauce pot, sauté thin-sliced onions in salted olive oil. When the onions are translucent, add diced tomatoes, and cook until the juices have rendered. Add capers, remove from the heat, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, grated provolone, and a little grated romano. Add minced basil and oregano, and one egg. Or, in our case, the garlic aioli and the leftover egg-white from the previous day.

When the eggplant is cooked, remove it from the heat, end let cool until handleable. Scoop out the inside of each eggplant, and save, because eggplant is yummy. Fill each eggplant with the cheese mixture, and place the eggplants in a baking dish with high sides. Cover everything with the tomato sauce, and if like me you have leftover everything, fill in around the eggplant with the cheese and tomatoes. Bake 10 minutes, so that the tomato sauce starts to bubble.

If you start with large eggplants (ours were very small), rather than stuffing half eggplants, slice the eggplant thin, salt each side and fry for a few minutes per side in oil, and then roll the cheese in the eggplant slices, cover everything with tomato, and bake ten minutes.

Inspiration Point Picnic Hike

On Thursday, we took a beautiful hike — one we've taken before — and forgot to bring the camera. So you get only my words.

We started at Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park, and walked the Nimitz Trail. After two miles, there's a cow grate, and a bit later a dirt trail heads up to the left. Half a mile later is a bench with one of the most amazing views. See for yourself. We had made it that far once before, and unfortunately didn't have more time before the sun started to set to explore further. Some day soon we'll take it as a day hike: maybe I'll pack picnics for both lunch and dinner.

The meal is also one we've had before, and it's one of our favorites. We paired a seeded baguette from Cheeseboard with, this time, a sweet goat cheese that was coated in tarragon (and pimento?). Alternating with the bread and cheese, we had fresh shucked oyster from the Hog Island stand at the Farmers' Market. When I asked for the best for shucking on a picnic, we were given the last seven of one kind of the oysters, and a mix of others. I didn't write down the kinds, but we enjoyed the mix of very butter little ones, a subtly spicy larger oysters.

We paired the meal with an Australian pinot gris, and finished it with a chocolate cake from Cheeseboard, and a basket of wonderfully sweet blackberries from the Market. We hummed Lewis Carrol on the walk back.

Yellow Summer Dinner

This all-yellow dinner is great on a hot day. Based on a similar dinner from A Platter of Figs.

In a small bowl, combine ground cumin, fennel seed, clove, turmeric, and curry. If using whole seeds, it's best to toast them in a dry cast-iron skillet before grinding the spice grinder. Set halibut fillets on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with a little olive oil, and rub the spice mixture into the flesh with your fingers, until they are very yellow and coated. Let the fish sit out for a while, or refrigerate up to several hours, but bring to room temperature before cooking.

In a small saucepan, sauté half a sweet white onion, sliced thin, with salt, curry powder, and olive oil. Add one can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, 1/4 cup dried currants, 1/3 cup couscous, and 1/2 cup water. Mix once, cover, and bring to boil. Remove from heat as soon at it comes all the way to a boil, but do not remove the cover. Let sit covered until you are ready to eat: the couscous will hold its heat.

Slice four large yellow tomatoes — we used yellow pineapple tomatoes from Riverdog, which had a wonderful spicy flavor — into thin wedges. Mix in a serving bowl with the other half the onion, also sliced thin, and some salt.

Combine plain yogurt with olive oil, salt, mustard powder, ginger, and cumin, to taste.

Wash half a bag of mixed greens from Happy Boy for the salad. Mash one clove of garlic with a fair amount of salt in the mortar and pestle. Combine half the garlic with lemon juice and olive oil for the salad dressing.

Transfer the other half of the garlic paste to a large non-stick fry-pan, and heat in some olive oil. When the garlic begins to fizzle, add the halibut. Cook halibut on both sides; we had ours wonderfully flaky for the outer centimeter, and wonderfully rare in the center.

Save the salad for having as a final course. Serve the rest of the dishes together, drizzling the yogurt sauce lightly over everything.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Artichokes with garlic aioli; pasta with onions and tomatoes

We forgot to take pictures yesterday. The entre was a simple enough: in the cast iron skillet, cook three onions, coarsely chopped, with 1 Tbsp butter for about 25 minutes, then add 1 pound slightly old cherry tomatoes, halved, and cook another ten minutes; toss with farfale and fresh basil. But what made the meal special was the appetizer. We peeled the outer layers from two artichokes, and boiled them for 30 minutes (much too long, as it turns out, but they were tasty nontheless). We dipped the petals in a home-made garlic aioli:
  1. Mince one large clove garlic and mash with some salt in the mortar and pestle into a paste. The salt helps it mash.
  2. Separate an egg and save the white for some other dish. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the yolk, the minced garlic, and 1/2 tsp water.
  3. Measure between 1/2 cup and 1 cup olive oil into something with a pour spout. For a large gathering, one egg yolk will accommodate up to 1 cup oil, but we used only 1/2 cup for the two of us.
  4. Dribble some olive oil into the egg mixture, and whisk to combine. Dribble a little more in, whisking all the time. Pretty quickly the mixture will thicken and lighten in color. When this happens, you can start pouring the olive oil in faster, whisking all the time.
  5. Alice Waters says the let the mixture refrigerate for 30 minutes to let the flavors marry. She does not like the aioli made more than a few hours ahead.
A note on raw egg. My understanding, based on Cookwise, is that salmonella, though definitely a risk with any raw egg, is largely a problem only if you have unhealthy chickens. And it is only a problem in the yolk, not the white. The white is almost entirely pure protein, with no fat whatsoever, and the salmonella bacteria have nothing to eat. Salmonella is passed from mother to egg inside the chicken, and is in the yolk. There have been cases of salmonella in the white, but they are very rare, and require that you do almost everything wrong, like leaving your eggs at room temperature for more than a week. Anyway, it's a risk in the yolk, and if you feel better, you can pasteurize it before use. Kill temperature for salmonella is 140°F for 5 minutes, or 160°F for instant-kill. Be careful, though: 180°F is scrambling temperature. So it's best to use a double boiler with an accurate kitchen thermometer. Or just risk it with one Farmers' Market egg.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hummus, Babaganoush, and Roasted Grapes

Nothing completely new tonight, but the meal was tasty.

It's best to soak dried beans overnight, but if you forget, as we did, it's generally just as good to boil them an hour in the morning. Never salt the water for boiling beans: it toughens the skin. So, bring to boil and then simmer 1 cup dried garbanzo beans and 1 cup dried canelini in 6 cup water for an hour, remove from heat, and let sit about 6 hours. Bring back to a boil and cook 3 to 4 hours, until the beans are falling apart. Drain the beans, and mash with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup tahini, one clove minced garlic, minced rosemary and parsley, and cumin and salt to taste.

Score the sides of three small eggplants into strips, to aid the later peeling. Bake eggplant close to an hour. Remove from the heat, and let cool. Or, if you are me, don't let them cool enough and just be careful. Also if you are me, unintentionally undercook the eggplant and then blend it in the blender. Regardless, combine the eggplant with a lot of tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic, cumin, and paprika, all to taste.

A year ago I Heart Kale suggested making savory roasted grapes, and they quick became one of my favorite easy dishes, because I love the sweet-and-salty combination. The reds today, which were wonderful table grapes, lost most of their flavor when roasting, but the greens, to sour to eat raw, were wonderful. Toss grapes with salt and lots of olive oil, and back uncovered in a glass pan about 30 minutes.

We paired the meal with the "French Rosé" from Red Bicyclette. We were dubious of the rosé, having had a series of much-too-sweet "white" Zinfandels, but Alice Waters seems to love rosé wine. And we've been very happy with the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir from Red Bicyclette, so we decided to give them a try. Turns out, it's very good: light with fruit overtones, but understated.