Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners

On Christmas Eve, or the day before if they will close, pick up two rabbits (about two and a half pounds each) from the butcher, along with half a pound of bacon. Have the butcher cut each rabbit into six pieces: the saddle into two, each hind leg, and the fore-section in half through the backbone (so that the forelegs are attached to the ribs). Each rabbit feeds four people, or three if they're very hungry.

From the fish market, collect live crabs (one per every two people) and oysters (small is easier; two to four per person).

Also have the following vegetables from the local organic market: lettuce for two nights, one head celery, a few carrots, some fennel, six or eight parsnips, and plenty of Brussels sprouts. I assume you have plenty of dried herbs and spices on hand, but be sure also to have some white wine for cooking, two pints of heavy cream, and your best wine for the table.

From the bakery, pick up a loaf of good bread for Christmas Eve, and another for Christmas for good measure (they'll be closed).

Early in the afternoon, prepare the rabbit. Remove the livers, hearts, and kidneys and set aside in a covered bowl in the fridge for some other project (the hearts can go in a bad labeled "soup stock", or saute them and enjoy; use the offal within a few days, says the internet). Transfer the meat to a large bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, and add ¾ cup prepared Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons ground mustard seed, 2 cups heavy cream (or 1 ½ cup crème fraîche), 8 large garlic cloves (peeled and barley crushed), 4 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons fresh or 2 teaspoons dried thyme, and 2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage. Cut the ½ pound high-end thick-sliced bacon into ¼-inch lardons, and add to the rabbit. With your hands, smear the ingredients all over the rabbit pieces to mix and coat evenly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Bring water to a boil in every large pot you have. Get very good at pot-juggling.

Melt a tablespoon or two butter in a medium pan. Add most of a head of celery, chopped (save the rest of the celery in a bag labeled "soup stock"). You can also add a leek if you like. Salt the celery, cover the pot, and let it saute until the celery is very tender, about twenty minutes. When ready, transfer celery and 1 cup dry white cooking wine to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to the pot. Add another cup wine and one to two cups cream, and bring to a boil. Simmer a little, adjust the salt, and keep hot.

Meanwhile, wash the oysters, and then shuck them. (Or try to anyway. Discover that the shucking knife you bought at the grocery store is useless. Call all the neighbors asking to borrow a replacement, only to discover that none of your neighbors have ever shucked an oyster. Eventually get into the oysters with an old-fashioned can opener and a large flat-head screwdriver.) Provided you do not break two many shells, prepare a platter with some of the nicer oysters for serving on the half-shell as finger food while the family waits for dinner. Save the rest of the shucked oysters and their juices in a bowl set over a little ice.

When the water is fully a boil, cook the crabs. Twenty minutes is usually the right amount of time; drain them, rinse in cold water until you can handle them, and proceed to clean them out and break the bodies into two pieces each. Save the outer shells in a bag marked "crab stock". The yellow "crab butter" is good too (if you trust that your crabs came from a clean stretch of ocean), but not so much the mustard-colored stuff near the inner organs. Don't save the inner organs — the gills in particular you should throw away, as they accumulate pollutants throughout the crab's life. At the end of the meal, gather the shells for the crab stock bag.

Wash lettuce for a salad, and thinly slice the fennel bulb into it. Dress the salad lightly with a vinaigrette made with a nice white wine or champagne vinegar.

When the crabs are about ready, return the celery puree to a full boil, and add the shucked oysters and their liquid. Poach the oysters in the bisque for three to five minutes, and then serve in small bowls or tea cups.

Serve the oyster-and-celery bisque and the crabs with a good French or sourdough bread, and a fine white wine. The meal appreciates slightly sweeter table wines; this is a good night to have that expensive Riesling you've been saving.

Happy Christmas Eve!

Begin the following day with the traditional presents rituals and a large breakfast of quince pancakes with maple syrup.

In the mid-afternoon, remove the rabbit from the refrigerator and let it begin to return to room temperature. Preheat both ovens to 400°F, and get out every glass lasagna pan you have in the kitchen.

Transfer the rabbit to two 9x13 pans. The meat should fit in a single layer but fairly snugly. Pour all the sauce and bacon over the rabbit. Bake 1 hour, checking occasionally and turning the meat as it browns. The juices should reduce a bit; if they reduce too much, add some white wine or chicken broth or rabbit broth. The rabbit should be cooked throughout and browned on top when ready; serve in its pan and juices, and set a spoon out at the table along with the meat fork.

While the rabbit is baking, halve the Brussels sprouts and slice the parsnips into ¼-inch rounds. Butter two lasagna pans, one for the sprouts and one for the roots. Add the vegetables and mix each with some dried thyme and salt. Top each pan with slices of butter. Add some broth or wine to the Brussels sprouts, and cover them with foil. Bake both Brussles sprouts (covered) and parsnips (uncovered) for thirty minutes or so; check them occasionally, and stir them if you don't feel like they're cooking evenly.

Wash lettuce for a salad. Slice up some carrots and green peppers. Dress it with plenty of olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Open a very good bottle of red wine — we had the Cakebread merlot — and enjoy the company of your family while dinner is in the oven. Set the table with enough pads to protect the table from four different hot lasagna pans. Serve the feast.

Merry Christmas!

The rabbit in mustard sauce is from the inestimable Platter of Figs by David Tanis, and was definitely the high point of quite a few meals. The rest of the two dinners did not follow published recipes, but were also delicious.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Salad with red onion, cubed celery root, the last garden tomatoes, and seared tuna

Pizza with the end of the garden basil

Byzantine onion soup

I'm finally posting food photos from November. The problem is that we're visiting Eugene, so I don't have my cookbooks.

About a month ago, we made a reasonably tasty "Byzantine onion soup" from a Greek cookbook we picked up at a used bookstore. I don't remember the exact recipe. Roughly, you saute onions in some butter with a number of "sweet" spices (cinnamon is the one I distinctly remember), and blend everything with the immersion blender. Then you do the whisk-in-an-egg thing to thicken the soup. We served the soup with freshly made croutons. It was tasty, but not something we'll repeat.

Roasted squash rancheros

We mostly followed PPK's recipe for Butternut Rancheros. Mmm.

Walking in Eugene

From the University neighborhood, head south on University St. After you cross 24th, the street ends at the Masonic Cemetery, which is a lovely graveyard and worth exploring, but you have a lot more walking ahead of you. So cross over the hill and end up on University on the other side. Continue south, and you'll soon see the bridge over 30th at Harris Elementary School. Cross over the bridge, cutting a block west to continue south on Potter. Turn right (west, downhill) on 32nd.

Pass Alder Street, but don't quite get all the way to Hilyard. Instead, find the alley behind Peace Health Medical Center, and turn left on it. A few buildings after the doctors' office is Hideaway Bakery, in the funny yellow building with Swiss-inspired trompe l'oeil that also houses Mazzi's Italian Restaurant. At Hideaway, order sandwiches to go. If you're willing to wait a little bit, I highly recommend the grilled tempeh sandwich.

Cross Hilyard over the the mulched Rexius Trail by Amazon Creek, and head south. The trail runs on both sides of the creek, with a number of cute bridges, so cross over a few times looking for the drier side. Walk all the way to the southern end of the Rexius Trail (about a mile; from home to Hideaway was another mile or so).

At the bus stop, look for a "dead end" street that continues south. It goes less than a block, passing some lovely mosaic-tiled gates, and then there's a sign for the Ridgeline trail system, which will take you to the top of Spencer's Butte. It's a nice climb through lovely forests. There's some forks in the trail, but they're all well marked. About a mile in, you'll get to the Fox Hollow trailhead; after crossing Fox Hollow, it's another two miles or so to the top.

Eat lunch at the top of Spencer's Butte. Admire the views of the Cascades to the east, and the rest of the Willamette Valley laid out in front of you.

Then head back down the hill. If you run a bit, and if you are me, then you might hurt your knee a little on the steep parts. Oops.

Continue back along the Rexius Trail, and follow the west side of the creek at 32nd towards Amazon Park. At 29th (the dog park), turn west up the street. Snake through the side streets until 25th, and then head to 25th and Willamette. Go to what used to be called Oasis, and is now Capella Market, a reasonably hippie grocery store, and pick up ingredients for dinner.

Then find out that Capella doesn't have clams, so walk back to 29th to go to the much larger Market of Choice, which used to be called Price Choppers. Then find that your knees really are hurting from the ten mile walk and the steep downhill run. So wait by the fire while your boyfriend does the shopping, and call home for a ride.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some food from the weekend

I'm not going to regale you with recipes for every Thanksgiving dish — everything was delicious, and almost everything is a favorite standard — but I thought it best to at least check in with a quick rundown of the weekend. On Wednesday we made pizza for the family (four cookie-sheet-sized pizzas, two with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella and two with pears, walnuts, blue cheese, and mozzarella). Tomorrow night's plan is for stew with chickpeas, clams, and sausage. Tonight we had skate, very yummy baked fifteen to twenty minutes in a buttered pan at 400°, and then topped with browned butter and capers. We served the skate with brown rice and chard: bring a few inches of water to a boil in a large pot, and add a good handful of baking soda, and then stir in two bunches rainbow chard, cut into one-inch-thick ribbons; peel a couple cloves of garlic, mince them, and then add a large handful of salt to the garlic in a small pile on a cutting board and work the salt into the garlic with a knife until you have a nice paste; after about two minutes, drain the greens in a colander, dry them off a bit in a clean dish towel, and toss the greens with the garlic in a serving bowl.

On Friday, as we do every year, we made soup. My brother invited a friend from school to join us for the Thanksgiving weekend, and said friend is quite strictly vegetarian, so in addition to our usually turkey soup, we also made a vegan option. (The friend left today, hence the meaty dinners tonight and tomorrow.) Coarsely chop four onions, half a dozen celery sticks, and about as many carrots, and divide them roughly evenly between two pots. Add a few bay leaves, a few peppercorns, and a large handful of salt to each pot. In the larger pot, also add the saved turkey neck and giblets as well as the bones (break them up if you can with a cleaver to let the marrow out), but discard the skin and use the fat for some other project. Save any savable meat, of course. Cover the contents of each pot with water (but not more than enough to cover), place the lids on, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook about an hour.

Dice another three onions. Place two of them in a large pot and one in a medium pot, and saute in a splash of olive oil with some salt. Also add diced carrot and celery to each to make two mirepoix. To the smaller pot, add three quarter pound sliced crimini mushrooms. Once the mushrooms start to release their liquid, add between half and a third of a cup of pearled barley to the smaller pot, and between half a cup and two thirds to the larger pot. Stir the barley in to coat, and then place a colander or sieve over the smaller part and pour in the finished vegetable broth, rescuing the cooked veggies to give to the backyard chickens (it was raining all weekend — that soup was from October). Then move the colander to the larger pot and pour in the turkey broth.

Bring both soups to a boil. After about ten minutes, add frozen edamame to each pot. Bring back to a boil, cook another ten minutes, and stir in a fair amount of saved turkey meat into the turkey-broth (non-mushroom) soup. Adjust the salt and serve with good bread and good wine.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You know you're in the Pacific Northwest when...

B and I are sitting in the SeaTac airport, waiting for our flight, enjoying the remarkably-pretty (for an airport) food court between the C and B gates. We were amused to find that SeaTac expects its patrons to sort their table trash between recyclables, landfill, and (believe it or not) compostables!

The food at SeaTac is decent. I like PDX better for airport food, but this place isn't half bad.

There's snow throughout Oregon and Washington. When we were flying over Puget Sound, we were amused to see that the two blocks closest to the water were snow-free, but get half a mile inland and there's six inches of snow standing on the ground.

Autumnal pizza: onions, squash, kale, blue cheese, and walnuts

We made one of our better pizzas a few days ago, when J and A joined us for dinner. As with our other recent meals, we forgot to take photos.

In the morning, make a pizza dough. Dissolve a tablespoon or so of honey in about a cup of warm water, and then whisk in a tablespoon of instant yeast. In the standing mixer, combine two cups white flour and a bit more than a cup whole wheat, and a tablespoon of salt. Then pour in the yeast mixture and mix to combine. You don't need to knead that much. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmest part of your house. Since our heater isn't working, the best spot for us was in the oven (turned off) right above the pilot light.

About an hour before you want to eat, remove the dough from the oven, and begin preheating to 450–500ˆ with the pizza stone inside. Divide the dough into two pieces and roll it out with a floured rolling pin. You want to let the dough rise a little rolled out, so if your kitchen is still very cold, place the rolled-out dough in the oven for just about two minutes (enough to get a bounce, but not enough to kill the yeast).

Thinly slice a large white onion, and saute it in some olive oil and salt until translucent. Set aside. Peel two delicata squash, cut into half- or quarter-inch rings, and poke/cut out the seeds. Heat some oil, and fry the rings of squash on both sides until just starting to brown. Bring to a boil a medium pot of water with a teaspoon of baking soda. Wash, destem, and cut into half-inch ribbons one bunch kale, and boil in the soda water for just a minute or two, so tenderize and bring out the bright green color (the soda is to prevent discoloration: what makes vegetables discolor when cooking is the acids released from the veggies). Drain the kale and rinse under cold water so you can handle it.

Cut a little less than a pound of mozzarella into thin slices. Begin assembling the pizzas: onions as a "sauce", then a single layer of squash, then the kale, then mozzarella. On top of that, crumble about half a pound of a strong blue cheese, and then top the pizza with fresh walnuts.

Bake each pizza between twenty and twenty five minutes. This type of autumnal pizza will pair with any wine or beer that you like, but cold weather calls for a hearty red.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bacon, green onion, and barley risotto

Add another dinner to the we-forgot-photos category. Last night's single-pot dinner was one of my favorite risotti. Begin by mincing about a third of a pound of bacon, and saute it in the bottom of a small or medium pot until crisp. Then set aside the meat, but save the fat in the pan. Add and saute the whites from a bunch of scallions with a little salt, and as they start to tenderize, add one cup pearled barley. Coat the barley in the hot fat (add more fat — butter or olive oil — if necessary).

Meanwhile, you should have been warming up two cups of broth. Add ½ cup white wine to the hot barley; it should sizzle immediately, but stir it in. Then add the two cups of broth. If it is already hot, it should boil pretty quickly. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer twenty minutes, checking and stirring once or twice. Then remove the cover, and you might want to cook the barley another ten minutes or so if there's still too much liquid.

Then add the bacon back to the barley, along with with green parts of the scallions, minced. Stir in, a handful at a time, plenty of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, tasting as you go. Serve with the same white wine you used for cooking.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spanish stew with chickpeas, clams, and sausage

We were four tonight at our table: joining us for dinner was Monica (of Gastromonica fame, and one of my favorite cooks and people) and her partner. A high-risk strategy for dinner, B and I decided to try a new recipe from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook: a Spanish-style stew with chickpeas, clams, and sausage. The meal was sufficiently fantastic that we forgot to take any photographs.

The night before you want this stew, cover 1 ½ cups dried chickpeas with plenty of water, and let soak overnight (beans will double in size). In the morning or mid-day, drain the chickpeas and add a small white onion, one or two carrots, a celery stick if you have one, some bay leaf, some fresh thyme, and 1 Tbsp of salt; cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer on low 90 minutes. Let the beans cool in their liquids. When you start cooking, drain the chickpeas and discard the veggies.

In the bottom of a large pot, brown 1 lb pork sausage (we used the breakfast links from Highland Hills, as it was all that was left when we got to the market today), crumbled or cut into small meatballs, in 1 Tbsp olive oil. Remove the meat to a bowl, and discard the liquid. Meanwhile, finely mince a large white onion, or, more easily, chop it coarsely and then puree in the food processor.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot and cook the onion until lightly browned. Meanwhile, finely mince (puree in food processor) one fennel bulb and lots of garlic, and add to the onion, along with a little salt. Cook a bit longer, and add one medium-spicy pepper, in small diced, and 1 Tbsp paprika. Also add a handful of small or two medium-large tomatoes, cut into medium dice.

Clean 3 lb manila clams while the vegetables cook.

Finally, stir in the chickpeas and the sausage, and cover and bring back to a simmer. Then add ½ cup white wine, ½ lb young braising greens or chard cut into ½-inch strips, and the clams. Cover and cook five to ten more minutes, stirring once or twice, until the clams have all opened.

While the clams cook, lightly toast some slices of a nice bread, and rub each slice with a clove of garlic. Serve the stew in shallow bowls, with a slice of bread at the bottom of each bowl and the stew spooned over it.

Accompany the stew with good company, fun conversation, and a nice Pinot Grigio (also set out the remaining bread with some butter). After the stew, serve a lettuce salad with a sherry vinaigrette as a palate cleanser.

Open a bottle of fine Moscatel, and move from the dining room table to the living room couch. Set out a plate of figs from the neighbors tree, cut into quarters with a dollop of a nice sheep's cheese on each, and sprinkled with chopped almonds and honey. Conclude the meal with macadamia-and-white-chocolate cookies.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Four days in Honolulu, four and a half nights of Japanese food

B had a conference in Honolulu this weekend, and so we flew here on Thursday (I'm starting this post from the Honolulu airport on Monday, as we wait for our flight, not really wanting to leave). We stayed in Waikiki, which is not known for great food. In fact, we enjoyed all of our meals, which I will detail blow. In brief: what you can be sure to find prepared well in Honolulu is Japanese food.

Thursday: overpriced, but tasty, sushi in Waikiki

We arrived at San Francisco airport Thursday with just barely enough time to catch our flight (they had started boarding by the time we were through security) — since we didn't have time to find take-out lunch for the plane, we were forced to go with the "snack boxes" that United sells. We've had better cheese and crackers. But our flight here went smoothly, and in spite of arriving on a national holiday, we managed to catch a bus to Waikiki.

After checking in to the hotel, we asked the receptionist for sushi recommendations, and he sent us to Doraku Sushi (warning: link makes sound, a nice place in an upscale shopping mall between our hotel and the beach (he also recommended Sansei Sushi, which Lonely Planet also liked, an probably we should have gone there). The dinner was tasty, but a bit more expensive than it should have been. B ordered a tuna-and-avocado tartar, and I had something with thinly sliced snapper. We were still hungry, so we had uni nigiri (I thought the waiter had said that the urchin was served in the shell, but, alas!), and then a fish-and-greens salad to close. With the wine and tip, the dinner was more than we had hoped, but not a terrible welcome-to-Hawaii dinner.

Friday: picnic lunch on Diamond Head, and menchankoin Waikiki

We had stopped into a corner market (every street corner in Waikiki has an ABC Store) after dinner to pick up some milk for our hotel-room coffee, but they didn't have acceptable food for breakfast. So Friday morning we walked to Lonely Planet's favorite diner, only to find them with an hour-long line, and so we found ourselves at Starbucks making do with their arm-and-leg yogurt-and-granola and a microwaved "spinach, feta, and egg white wrap". The iced coffee, though, was welcome.

Afterwards, we did find the one actual grocery store in Waikiki, Food Pantry (prices are about the same as at Andronico's), where we bought crackers, brie, and grapes for a picnic. From there, we walked to Diamond Head Crater. Well, actually, we walked all the way around Diamond Head, because we wanted to see the beaches. The crater is quite a sight, and has a fantastic one-mile mostly-stairs climb to an old military outpost, which I highly recommend. Unbeknownst to us until we got to the park, they have started repairs on the trail, and were closing the hike every weekday afternoon, so we were some of the last hikers in. In any case, we had a fun picnic at the top of the mountain, until the workers came to kick us off. Along with the walk back to Waikiki (the short way), we did about ten miles of walking and 800 feet of elevation gain.

After a brief swim, we consulted lonely planet and went to Menchanko-Tei, a fantastically good cheep Japanese joint. Menchanko is some kind of Japanese meal-in-a-bowl, like the ramens and udons that we're used to on the mainland. (It's a good thing that we've stopped being so strict about vegetarianism: every dish had pork and chicken in it.) All told, the food was delicious, and not at all expensive. However, the only wine on the menu (a serviceable Beringer) was $36. I would have been much happier paying the same total but with food priced higher and the drink lower: as it was, the wine felt like a rip-off. (Corkage is $18, so if you are in Waikiki, go for lunch or order sake.)

Saturday: Berkeley lunch and fantastic sushi

Having found the grocery store, we were set for breakfasts for the rest of our trip: english muffins with cream cheese, yogurt, orange juice, coffee, on the balcony of our tenth-floor hotel room.

After breakfast, we headed towards Chaminade University, where B had his conference. We had been planning on getting poke at a shop along the way that Lonely Planet recommended, but found the building razed (our Lonely Planet is two years old). So instead, after checking in to our conference, we headed up the street to Town, a local-organic restaurant where we felt very at home. B had an entree salad, and I had a tasty sandwich with beets, mozzarella, and arugula, and it came with very good french fries that were served with fried sage on top.

After B's talk, we walked through the campus of the much bigger University of Hawaii at Manoa, cooled off at Lonely Planet's favorite coffee shop (Glazers), and then went to Imanas Tei for dinner. The dinner was fantastic — not too expensive and absolutely our best quality-to-price ratio. We each ordered the "Nigiri A": after miso and salad, we were treated to a platter of two kinds of tuna, salmon, various white fish, and roe and sea urchin (the waiter says that if we want it served in its shell, we're better off looking near the urchin farms in California).

Sunday: Museums, dim sum, and take-out

For our last full day in Honolulu, we took the bus to Bishop Museum (an ok anthropology museum, but at $15 for students, not worth admissions), and then walked to China Town, where we had absolutely fantastic dim sum at Legend Vegetarian. If you go to Honolulu, you simply must go to Legend (they also have a seafood restaurant next door). Don't order from the menu (we started with a broccoli and mushroom stir fry and lemon chicken, which were good but not "best ever") — simply eat everything in the dim sum cart.

From there, we walked to Honolulu Academy of Arts, which is a nice art museum. The elegant building is laid out into thirty numbered "galleries", each of which tries to collapse a humongous amount of art history ("Italian Renaissance", "Korea") into one room. If you, like us, have been to many European and Euro-American museums, feel free to skip the first ten rooms: they're nice, but the museum has the requisite one Picasso, one Cezanne, one Goya, one Matisse, and you won't find anything you haven't seen (or seen better than). But if you, like us, have confined most of your art museums to Europe, then I highly recommend you check out the second two thirds of the museum. The style of one-room-per-topic is continued, so this is not a complete exposure to, say, Chinese art history. But there are pieces and styles that we'd never seen, from countries that aren't usually featured: nineteenth-century cartoon/comic style art from Japan, a wall of Indonesian masks, country-by-country exploration of southeast Asia (organized by pre-European-colonial nation, rather than post-), O'Keeffes from when she tour Hawaii.

Our original plan had been to walk back to China Town, or to find sushi near the Honolulu Academy. But we weren't excited by either prospect, and we weren't hungry enough to eat before it got too dark to walk back to Waikiki. So we returned to the hotel, stopping by a Safeway along the way, and looked up take-out sushi joints, eventually finding Sushi 2 Go. For take-out sushi, it was very good, and we had a lovely dinner just the two of us in our hotel room, with a bottle of Oregon pinot noir (compared to restaurant wine, even the expensive stuff at Safeway is great) and pineapple for dessert. We were pretty tired of eating out, and happy to have a meal just the two of us.

Monday: Flying

I'm finishing this post on the airplane, although I won't be able to post it until I get home tonight. For lunch, we had more takeout sushi, this time from the very serviceable Samurai Sushi and Bento in the Honolulu airport. Dinner will be crackers, brie, and fruit on the airplane, with the airplane quarter-bottle wine. There are worse meals. Here's to cooking at home tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mashed celery root, brussels sprouts, and broiled seabass with onion

Gnocchi with blue-cheese-almond "pesto" and arugula

Broiled teriyaki chicken with a stir fry of portobello mushrooms, red onion, and bok choi

Autumn vegetable and chicken curry stew, served in kabocha squash bowls

Here's a fine fusion dish for a cold autumn day. Find small, round, blemish-free kabocha squash, one per person. Carve off the tops as if you were carving jack-o-lanterns, and remove and discard the seeds. Save the tops (if they are particularly thick, cut off a bit of the flesh for cooking into the stew; sprinkle the inside flesh of the tops with a little apple cider vinegar if you're worried about letting them sit out for a while). Rub some salt into the flesh inside the squashes, wrap the outsides of the squashes with foil, and back upwards of an hour in a medium-temperature oven. You want the flesh to be tender, but the sides to retain their integrity, so check regularly with a fork.

Meanwhile, prepare the stew. Begin by sauteing onions in olive oil with some salt, a bit of ground allspice, and plenty of curry powder. Then add a few sour green apples, chopped up, and some peppers, and any other fall veggies you might happen to have (e.g. the extra squash from the top of the jack-o-lanterns). After sauteing a bit, add some vegetable or chicken stock, or, better, some blended squash soup (we found some in the freezer). (If you have lots of extra winter squash, you can make this soup before making the stew: onions, squash, broth, a little salt, cooked until tender and then pureed.) Bring the stew to a boil, and then stir in some pieces of chicken, to poach. Once the chicken has cooked, taste the stew and adjust the seasoning.

When the flesh of the kabochas is starting to get tender, remove the "bowls" from the oven and fill with the stew while still very hot. The heat from the stew will help cook the insides of the squash even more. Replace the tops and serve.

The point is to eat the soup, and also eat the bowls mixed into the soup from the inside out. We had been intending this for our Hallowe'en dinner, but ended up pushing it to All Saints' Day instead. This stew can go with almost any wine, depending on how cold it is outside.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Grilled lamb burgers sweet potato chips and all the fixings

Having moved from vegetarian to marketarian, we have discovered a new favorite dish: lamb burgers. Mince an onion and saute it in a little fat, and then mix it with ground meat, maybe some minced herbs, and an egg yolk. Actually, don't use an egg yolk: for an extra treat, swap the egg for a dollop of homemade mayonnaise. Then form in to patties, dredge with flour if you like, and fry in the same pan you cooked the onions in, or grill.

Don't have homemade mayonnaise? You should. Our very easy recipe is from the great Julia Child: in the food processor, mix one egg plus two yolks, a heaping teaspoon of prepared mustard, a little salt, and a tablespoon of acid, for about thirty seconds. Then, with the machine running, slowly drizzle in between one and two cups oil (use a good oil, but it's fine to mix: I usually combine olive and peanut oils).

Our always side with burgers are sweet potatoes, in some sort of fry/chip form. Slice some sweet potatoes, one large or two small per person, and toss with olive oil, salt, paprika, and cumin. Then bake or grill them. Grilled sweet potatoes are lovely, and give you a chance to warm up the grill before cooking the meat.

For fixings, open some jars of homemade pickles and ketchup. For a quick dill pickle, clean some jars, and add a clove or two of garlic, cleaned sliced cucumber (be sure to remove the area right next to the flower, as it contains enzymes that make the pickle lose its crispness), and a tablespoon or so of dill seed, mustard seed, black pepper, and maybe a bay leaf or some fennel seed. Combine equal parts water and distilled vinegar, and maybe a third as much non-iodized salt (the iodine can throw off the pickling), over the stove until bubbling and the salt has dissolved. Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, and either seal the jars in the canner or keep in the refrigerator. If you prefer sweet pickles, add plenty of sugar to the brine, and instead of garlic and dill use sliced onion and some whole cloves (keep the mustard). Ketchup is a bit more involved: cook tomatoes, onions, and a bell pepper with a bag of whole spices (allspice, celery seed, etc.); drain; puree; add vinegar, sugar, salt, paprika; cook until the correct consistency.

Slice up some cheese, a garden tomato, and some red onion. We usually make our own burger buns (your favorite whole wheat dough works well), but this time we had an "herb slab" from Acme Bread. Serve burgers with a hearty red wine on the sweeter side.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Inside the San Francisco ferry building

Leek pie with seared ahi

We found some pie dough that we had stuck away at the back of the freezer, and defrosted it overnight in the fridge. For a leek pie, clean and slice a few leeks and saute them in some butter, salt, and thyme. Heap the leeks onto a pie or pastry crust, fold up the sides, and bake until the crust is golden. Leek pie goes well with almost anything; we paired it with seared ahi tuna and a pinot gris.

Various veggies and couscous pilaf

For a "what's in the fridge" dinner, had: sauteed green beans; steamed spinach; a saute of sweet peppers, onions, and Tokyo turnips; and couscous cooked with raisins and a little red wine.

Composed salad with homemade bread

Rather than making our usual salad, we followed a recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables, which asked for us to stew onions with wine, oil, slices of lemon, and fresh herbs/spices (whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, pepper corns), and then to add cauliflower florets. The cauliflower is cooked on heat only until it's just starting to turn tender, but then the stew is allowed to cool and refrigerated overnight before serving. We served the cooked lemon slices as garnish on the salad, and for the rest of the salad we included stewed beets, canned whole sardines, and green beans blanched in the onion stewing liquid.

We also made a whole wheat baguette, and set out butter and a wonderful Italian goat cheese that our friend M had given us.

Lunch: small lettuce salad with home-grown cherry tomatoes, Oregon cooked salad shrimp, baked beets, and kalamata olives

Pork chops, roasted carrots with fennel, and caramelized radishes

Radishes are a bit of a pain, because they are very tasty individually, but you never really want more than one. B sliced a bunch of radishes thin and sauteed them with onions, red wine, and brown sugar to caramelize them.

The roasted carrot recipe came from Cook's Illustrated (November & December 2010). A close paraphrase: "Adjust oven ract to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. In large bowl, combine 1 pound carrots (peeled, halved crosswise, and cut lengthwise if necessary to create even pieces), 1 small fennel bulb (cored and sliced ½ inch thick), 2 tablspoons unsalted butter (melted), ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; toss to coat. Transfer carrots to foil- or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and spread in a single layer. Cover baking sheet tightly with foil and cook for 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook, stirring twice, until carrots are well browned and tender, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a serving platted, and toss vegetables with ¼ cup toasted sliced almonds, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and, optionally, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley."

While the carrots were in the oven, B roasted the pork chops under the broiler. Before serving, he coated them with more chopped almonds.

Breakfast: French toast with homemade jams

Homemade farfalle with tomatoes, basil, and ricotta salata

Breakfast: salad with poached egg, toast with jam, and cappuccino with a heart on top

Seared ahi tuna, steamed broccoli, and mashed potatoes with celery root

Picnic before Much Ado About Nothing

Dinner picnics are a wonderful treat, and live theater is another. The California Shakespeare Theater encourages you to do both, by surrounding the outdoor stage with beautiful hills and a lovely picnic ground. We have seen two shows with CalShakes, and were unimpressed with their Twelfth Night last year, but this summer's Much Ado About Nothing was wonderful.

For dinner, B made a seeded baguette, which we had with Fromager d'Affinois and radishes. I made a light entre salad: blanched green beans, carrots, Oregonzola, fantastic heirloom tomatoes, and a shallot dressing.

Almost always, you should serve red wine at a picnic, even if you are serving food you might pair with white at home — the temperature starts to drop as you are finishing your meal. The CalShakes theater is happy to let you bring drinks in (they sell wine, coffee, and hot chocolate), so bring a half-bottle of something sweet for the show.

Quinoa and hippie saute

On an unplanned night, B threw together a wonderful "what's in the fridge?" dinner. Over a bed of black quinoa, he served a saute of onions, beet greens, tomatoes, ground lamb, spices, and the odds and ends of the vegetable drawer. The dinner was odd but delicious.


We love moussaka, that wonderful Greek casserole of eggplant, tomatoes, and ground lamb. But I do not recommend the recipe from Joy of Cooking. It does not taste particularly Greek — it just tastes like Joy. Gruyere as the only cheese? Currants?

Stuffed delicata

Wash, remove the tips from, halve, and scoop out the seeds from two delicata squash. Rub some salt inside the squash, place the squash halves face-down in an oiled glass pan, and bake ten to minutes. Meanwhile, in a food processor combine onion, apples, walnuts, mushrooms, and a little salt and oil, until coarsely chopped. (If the onion is particularly piquant or the mushrooms a little touch, saute them first.) Remove the squash from the oven, turn upright, and stuff with the onion-and-walnut mixture. Sprinkle grated cheese on top, and return to the oven for half an hour.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Steamed greens, Israeli couscous, tomatoes, and jumbo prawns

We regularly buy prawns from Mike and Yvette Hudson, and usually the prawns come without their heads but otherwise intact and weight about 1/28 lb. Last week, however, Hudson's supplier couldn't fill the order with the large prawns, and so included jumbos at the large rate. So we were treated to some very tasty, very large prawns: one pound consisted of only 14 prawns. "Shrimp" these are not.

We peeled and deveined the prawns as we usually do and boiled them in enough water to cover for a few minutes, so that the flesh turned pink throughout. Then we tossed the cooked prawns with chopped up heirloom tomatoes (a dark red one and a bright yellow one), some lemon juice and salt, and lots of diced garlic.

Meanwhile, we washed one bunch each of kale and green chard. We removed the stems from the greens, and ripped the greens into pieces. Working in batches, we steamed the greens until they were very bright green. We drained off some of the garlic lemon dressing from the prawns and used in to dress the greens.

Finally, we chopped an onion and sauteed it in some olive oil, and then added one cup Israeli couscous and 1.5 cups salted water. We cooked the couscous for five minutes, and then drained off the extant water in a sieve.

We plated the dinner in the kitchen: greens, then couscous, then tomatoes and prawns. We served the dinner with a pinot gris from Concannon; it's reasonably good, and right now Safeway is charging the same for Concannon as for Firefly Ridge, our standard nice wine (and a Safeway-owned brand).

Grilled dinner: corn, tuna, and summer squash

Salad with beets, potatoes, eggs, shrimp, celery, carrots, and heirloom tomatoes

Picnic near Coit Tower: grilled sea bass with potato salad and dill pickles

Mayonnaise, it turns out, is as easy as anything. We followed the recipe from Julia Child and Company (1978): "Using the metal blade (I never use the plastic one for anything), process [1 whole] egg, [2 egg] yolkds, [1 teaspoon Dijon] mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt for 30 seconds. Then add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and process half a minute more. Finally, in a very thin stream, pour in [2 cups olive and/or peanut] oil. When all has gone in, remove cover, check consistency, and taste for seasoning."

So make your own mayonnaise. Also halve a pound of fingerling potatoes and boil them in salted water until cooked but still al dente. Dice a stick or two of celery and about a third of a large red onion. Combine the potatoes, celery, and red onion with some mayonnaise, and maybe some salt and some sherry vinegar. Transfer to a large tuperware container.

Check two half-pound pieces of seabass for scales, and then coat them in a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise. Heat up the grill and cook the bass evenly on all sides, adding some fresh tarragon near the end of the cooking. Let the fish cool slightly and then move to a tuperware.

Finally, prepare a final salad (not pictured) with heirloom tomatoes, garden basil, and a little salt, olive oil, and just a touch of balsamic vinegar.

Pack a cooler with the dishes, and add also a jar of homemade dill pickles (use a recent batch that still has some bite). Find a beautiful picnic spot, and enjoy an early dinner with a nice bottle of red wine.

In particular, find a spot just below Coit Tower by cutting off the trail up a little early. Start dinner around 3:30pm and eat for an hour, and then discover that you don't have time to climb the tower. Instead, head down to Pier 33 for the ferry to Alcatraz Island. Watch Hamlet on Alcatraz, arguably the best Shakespeare production you've seen (and you've seen shows at Ashland — it helps that Hamlet is such a good script). Encourage all your friends to go too, although it looks like they might have sold out.