Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: Greens, Sustainability Marathon, and other Gustations

+I sous cheffed at the farmer's market cooking demo again, this time with Annie Somerville of Greens Restaurant! We made a tasty poly-bean salad as well as crostini with marinated goat cheese (Adante dairy), roasted red peppers, and basil. Yum! Annie is a strikingly warm and bubbly person -- especially since many cooks go stoic during "kitchen mode." (I always sent out a preemptive apology to my kitchen staff before a Head Cook.) Two of the other sous chefs were culinary-academy bound, and they hoped openly for future executive chefs as pleasant.

+Julia B. revealed to me that she and her sister Gracie are undertaking a Sustainability Competition for 2007-2008. Julia lives in our 9-person cooperative where we buy goods at the farmer's market, line-dry our clothes, and don't own a TV...one might guess she has the upper hand. But no! The goal of their project is to see who can make the most relative improvements to their current lifestyle. Clever, no? Anyway, I might join in on the sustainability-awareness adventure, so I'm going to brainstorm eco-friendly life adjustments.

+Fraiche! For months, I walked by the empty hollow of their soon-to-be fro-yo store, rolling my eyes at what I expected to be a post-workout hive of diet-conscious yoga-mommas. (To my defense, their decor smacks of Starbucks-chic.) But soon after their opening, I began to question my snub. Enough friends had advocated the little dessert stop, I decided to have a taste. Wow! Fraiche cultures their own yogurt (daily!), uses only organic ingredients (local when possible), and brews only Blue Bottle Coffee. Plus, their fresh frozen yogurt with dark chocolate shavings and raspberry coulis is delicious. They ARE expensive for yogurt, and they still look like a Starbucks, but their values (and flavor) I can get behind. So there you have it. Thanks for un-snobbing me, little local fro-yo stand.

+I won't go into much detail yet, but there may be a movement at my school to make our curriculum agro-centric. I'm so excited, I could pop.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fried Squash Blossoms with Basil Fromage Blanc

Mmm. Fried. Zucchini flowers must be healthy, right?

I've never cooked with squash blossoms before, but when I spied them at the Ferry Building this Saturday, my quest was clear. A brief consultation with The Google yielded several recipes, which I tinkered to accommodate the contents of my shelf. The result: yum.

The Batter

1 cup all-purpose white flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup-ish beer (I used a touch more...depends on the humidity. You want the batter smooth but not thin.)

The Stuffing

1/4 cup fresh cheese (I used Bodega Goat Cheese fromage blanc, but ricotta would work too)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon-ish each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh basil (Aside: I suddenly have a ton of basil in sweet Italian, Thai, and lemon varieties. Help me eat them.)
16ish large squash blossoms, washed
Canola or peanut oil for frying

Prepare the batter. Sift together dry ingredients, then whisk in beer or cold water until smooth. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Leftover batter can be stored for up to two days.

In a bowl combine cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, and basil. Open the blossoms and spoon about one 1/2 teaspoon of the mixture into the center of each. Twist the top of each blossom together to close. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat over high heat until a small cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown within seconds.

Dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, then carefully slip into the hot oil. Cook until golden on all sides, about three minutes total cooking time. Transfer with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain briefly. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

These are wicked tasty even without the filling, if you wish to veganize the recipe. Orion tells me they made these in his cooking class in Italy, but that he liked this recipe better. :-)


Marinated Thousand Layer Tofu with Ginger-Sesame Chard

Kid tested, mother earth approved.

The traditional practice of freezing and pressing tofu ("thousand layer tofu") is excellent for marinade recipes, enhancing flavor absorption and imparting a meatier texture. I brought my leftovers to school, and three 10-year olds oogled the hippie masterpiece, vocally lamenting their cheese curls and Jello. 10 year olds! Chard! This recipe is clearly a powerful force for Good.

Note: when I make this next, I will marinate the shiitake mushrooms (separately, in a sesame, soy sauce, ginger-garlic mix) to boost their flavor; I may also throw in a fresh hot pepper to bring in another layer of spice.
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 package frozen extra firm tofu, defrosted and drained
  • Canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 cup shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups Swiss chard, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
To prepare tofu, combine the first 4 ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Cut tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slices. Carefully place tofu in a baking dish. Pour the soy sauce mixture over tofu. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes, turning once. Preheat broiler.

Remove tofu from dish; discard marinade. Place tofu on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Broil 10 minutes on each side or until tofu is lightly browned.


To prepare greens, heat sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, ginger, pepper, and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add chard and sesame seeds; cook 3 minutes or until chard wilts, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 teaspoons soy sauce.


Place 1/4 cup chard mixture on each of 2 plates; top each serving with 1 tofu slice. Repeat layers with remaining chard and tofu.

Burrata and Heirloom Tomatoes

a
It is easy tempt a promiscuous palate.

I was seduced by the Daily Impulse Buy placed at the Whole Foods checkout line: burrata cheese. I had never heard of this luscious fancy, and my curiosity got the better of my wallet.

Burrata is a specialty mozzarella, a pouch of fresh cheese that has been gratuitously filled with cream. Be still my heart. Literally.

With ripe heirloom tomatoes, garden basil, and a drizzle of fresh-pressed olive oil, my curiosity was sated. This cheese was delicious, although twice the cost of the mozzarella di bufala I prefer. But here's to novelty!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: and now the fun begins

Orders of business: I am no longer unemployed.

Yes, three days ago, I started work at a science teacher at a Montessori middle school. I can already tell it will be awesome; however, I (a) am not a trained educator, (b) am new to the Montessori method, and (c) dip from the bio/psychology end of the geek spectrum. Teaching physics and earth sciences to "the wolves" will be quite an adventure. But the situation calls for optimism: the other staff seem rad, and the students I've met are a hoot. OH, and the school has COOKING lessons. :-D

Moreover, I just got a check in the mail, which means that the Town Crier published another article of mine in their paper. Hurrah! It's a blurb on food politics books I've been reading: http://www.latc.com/2007/07/11/special_sect/special_sect4.print.html
Elsewhere in this issue, Eliza includes an account on the chicken slaughter workshop we attended in the spring.

Last week, I ventured to the Ferry Building to help out with their weekly cooking demo. The chef made an amazing mixed berry pie (tayberries + strawberries from the farm I'm visiting Sunday), as well as a fantastic salad (strawberries, mint, tarragon, romaine, pistachio, and lemon-shallot vinaigrette). The salad surprised me -- I'm don't usually fall for mixed herb salads, but both the mint and tarragon added interesting complexities. I made this salad three days in a row (minus pistachio - I impose a five-ingredient limit on greens). I'm excited to cook with them again -- their market chef, Sarah, mentioned that they have a number of talented chefs come through for demos, and it's a good way to pick up neat kitchen tricks for free!

Lastly, I've been hitting the espresso. Hard. I'm trying to find a bean source I like more than Peets, but I'm coming to terms with the fact that, as much as I want to support the "small local roaster," Peets Garuda blend consistently rocks my world. All my love to Barefoot's incredible artisanry, but their love of fruity hightones doesn't suit my lowtone needs. I might give Blue Bottle's beans a whirl, or have another shot at roasting.

I'm not wine-snobby enough to be able to dole out the fancy adjectives, but I have noticed that with wine, beer, and coffee, words like "soft," "earthy," and "complex" tag the things I like and "fruity," "jammy," and "bright" tag the things I don't. It's fun to get to know one's palate. :) I wish there were regular public food tastings, or a food and scent museum, or gustatory health clinic, as though cultivating a sense of one's olfactory sense was as essential to wellbeing as hearing and sight. But hey, I'm a hedonist. I believe in backrubs, lavender, and full-fat dairy. God bless America.

Maybe this can be a political platform.

Employed-ly yours,

M

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Notes from the Pantry: I'm Not Dead Yet!

Okay, I'm a crappy blogger.

I've been having so much fun bouncing about from farm to farm (Trader's Point Creamery! Marin Sun Farms! Webb Ranch!), reading food lit (United States of Arugula! Slow Food Nation! Molecular Gastronomy!), dining out (Manresa! Zante's Pizza! La Farine Boulangerie!), and eating in (various), that I've been very very bad about posting. Forgive me?

But, I have been taking plenty of low-quality photographs of my conquests for your amusement, and in a final bout of time-wasting before my new job starts, I am updating as much as possible. Also, I can apparently add keywords to my posts, so my nascent recipe collection is now searchable. Hurrah!

In other news, I volunteered at the farmer's market for the first time recently and am stoked about their upcoming farm tours; I've published a second article in the Los Altos Town Crier (https://latc.com/2007/06/13/special_sect/special_sect3.html); and I recently purchased a set of sexy knives. Rrrrrowr. [ASIDE: Oh lordy, ALSO, Andronicos was unloading a bunch of high-quality miniature tartlett tins that had been discontinued...I got nearly 30 at a dime each. Pastries, dear god there will be pastries.]

Shortly, there ought to be more recipes, a list of local restaurants and food producers I am enamored with, culinary photography, and inane babble. I know you have a lot of options when choosing how to procrastinate, and I appreciate your bringing your business here. :)

M

Monday, July 9, 2007

Quiche Lorraine

Curried Dal with Bhutanese Red Rice

Dal and rice were the flavor of my childhood. Mmm, childhood.

I tinker with quantities depending on what is on hand -- onions and carrots add extra sweetness, celery adds tang-- but this is my skeleton recipe. A squirt of fresh lime/lemon juice, or a tablespoon of ghee (Indian clarified butter) added at the end is delicious.

Ingredients:
1 cup red split lentils, rinsed
4 cups water
1-2 medium onions, chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tsp. turmeric
1-2 dried hot chilies
1-3 Tbs. garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. fennel seed (optional)
fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
2 Tbs. oil (olive or canola recommended)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Procedure:

In a saucepan, combine lentils, water, turmeric, celery, and carrots. Bring to boil, skimming off the foam that inevitably develops no matter how many times you rinse the lentils beforehand. Grr.

Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, add oil, cumin, fennel, bay leaf, and chiles. Sautee on medium heat for 30ish seconds to bring out the flavor of the spices, but taking care not to burn them. Add onion and sautee until clear, about 8 minutes. Add spice and onion mixture to lentils when saucepan begins a rolling boil.

Cook lentils until soft, about 20 minutes. Add extra water to desired thickness as lentils expand (according to Dad, serving thicker dal is considered a mark of affluence, since one might thin this staple soup to serve many mouths in hard times). Using an eggbeater, whisk lentils to smooth texture. Reduce heat to low, adding tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper to taste.

Elsewhere, steam rice. You can figure that out yourself. Enjoy immediately, or considerably later -- lentils are one of those magical Indian dishes whose flavors are improved the second day, making for excellent leftovers. You can make a load to freeze and reheat dal (gasp!) if you're camping out for a long period and want several simple, satisfying, and easily stored meals (for example, a week at Burningman).

Chana Masala

My mom frequently makes this dish to bring to potlucks. It's proven to be a more Caucasian-friendly curry, which she often Midwesternizes by adding ground beef meatballs sauteed in olive oil. That's tasty, I won't lie -- but I slightly favor the traditional version, simple garbanzo beans in a curried tomato sauce.

Ingredients:
2 cups garbanzo beans, soaked and boiled
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 whole fresh tomatoes, diced
1-2 medium onions, diced
cilantro, to taste, chopped
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1-3 hot chili peppers
2-4 Tbs. garlic (I love garlic, and probably add even more than this. Tell you what...chop as much garlic as you can personally justify and simply add to taste).
2-4 Tbs. oil (olive or canola)
salt and pepper to taste

In skillet, heat oil and add cumin, bay leaf, and chilies. Sautee for 30ish seconds to bring out flavor. Add onions and sautee until clear. Add soaked garbanzo beans, roasting in onion mixture for ~7 minutes. Add can of diced tomatoes, one canful of water, and garlic. Continue cooking on medium, stirring occasionally, and adding extra water if the mixture dries before the beans soften. With any luck, this stage is 20 minutes or less...but I recommend tasting the curry every 5-10 minutes to gauge how well the flavors are melting into one another. When the beans are soft and the onions have completely cooked into the light sauce, turn the heat to low and add the tomatoes, cilantro, and salt/pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve over rice.

Divine Cinnamon Rolls

Animal fats, loosely held together by refined carbohydrates. Breakfast of champions!

But seriously, this was the most succulent batch of cinnamon rolls I've ever made, perhaps because I modified my original recipe to absorb an extra two sticks of butter.

Each rich bite melts upon your tongue and enters directly in to your bloodstream, bathing your every cell in creamy goodness.

Ingredients:
For the dough --
9 - 10 cups flour
1 1/2 c. butter, softened
1 T salt
2 c. whole milk, warmed to room temperature
3 T yeast
1 c white sugar
4 eggs

For the cinnamon filling --
1 1/2 c. butter
50/50 brown sugar-white sugar mix, of indeterminate quantity
cinnamon, to taste, but usually upwards of 2 tsp.

For the delicious vanilla icing --
1 c. butter
"enough" confectioner's sugar
vanilla bean paste or extract (~1/2-1 tsp)
"enough" milk

Combine lukewarm milk with yeast and a tablespoon of sugar; allow to proof until frothy (~5 minutes). Add sugar, eggs, softened butter, and 5 cups flour. Mix until smooth, gradually adding more flour until the dough is soft but not sticky. Allow to double, ~1 hour.

Knead dough, split into two lumps, and roll each lump into a thin rectangle. Mix filling ingredients in a bowl, combining "enough" sugar to make a thick paste. Spread a thin, even layer of the cinnamon paste on each sheet. Starting at one long side, roll the rectangle tightly, pinching the end of the sheet tightly to secure the roll. Slice into 12-14 rolls, and arrange on a buttered cookie sheet, about 1" apart on each side. Allow rolls to expand one hour. (Note: you can make these the night before through arranging the cookie sheet, place in the fridge, and bring out the next morning. Simply add an extra 20 min to this second rise before baking.)

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. While rolls bake, combine icing ingredients to suit taste and result in a thick paste. Allow to cool slightly before icing rolls. Serve warm. Store extras in a tight container, reheating gently in an oven before enjoying. Leftover rolls, if you have any, can be combined with a simple custard for a delicious cinnamon bread pudding (spectacular when topped with apples, berries, or stone fruits lightly sauteed in...you guessed it...more butter).

Life is indeterminate, so live well. :-)