IMPROMPTU PASTA

I’m in San Francisco right now, after the California Chili Cook-Off in Lodi. (More about that in another post.) Last night, Sarah, our chef-daughter, cooked dinner. Originally she planned to go to the grocery store, but ultimately decided to clear out her refrigerator. Needless to say, her made-up dish using leftovers and odds and ends turned out to be better than anything I could have cooked. The dish combines chicken and pork chop (left over from my chili cook-off venture) with pasta in a simple but delicious sauce seasoned with herbs de Santa Fe*. The side dish was a tomato and burrata salad with an herb vinaigrette. It was a delicious dinner with very little fuss.

* Herbs de Santa Fe is a mix of lavender, rosemary, thyme, savory, fennel seed, basil, and marjoram. You could substitute Italian seasoning.

Impromptu pasta

Impromptu pasta

Here’s the impromptu pasta recipe:

RECIPE

Impromptu Pasta

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
  • 2 pork chops, cubed
  • cooked chicken (breast and thigh), cubed
  • herbs de Santa Fe*
  • 1 pint hard apple cider
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • kale, chopped
  • button mushrooms, sliced
  • red onion, diced
  • pasta cooked al dente, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • Parmesan

Method

  1. Heat the schmaltz in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and chicken, browning lightly. Stir in the herbs and hard cider and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a very slow boil and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add lemon juice to taste.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Add the kale, mushrooms, and red onion. Sauté until  cooked through. Set aside.
  3. When the cider has reduced, stir in the sautéed kale, mushrooms, and red onion. Add enough pasta to suit your taste. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Top with freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

 

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ROASTED GOLDEN BEET SOUP WITH SOUR CREAM AND DILL

Root vegetables are making their mark on the garden scene as autumn begins to blend into winter. All the vendors at the farmers market have an abundance of beets. Even though beets are not among my favorites, it seems a shame not to give them a go. Bright red borscht seems an obvious choice, and for years we have made a clear beet soup that almost gleams. An alternative seemed to be in order. The other thing about red beets is that they stain everything they touch, including your GI tract.

Golden beets seemed like a good alternative choice, and so I bought a nice bunch at a recent farmers market. Even then, there are several choices: beet salad, Harvard beets, or beets and greens. Honestly, the consistency of cooked beets is not pleasing to me, so I opted for soup.

There are a couple of classic partners to beets: dill and sour cream. The recipe below combines those ingredients.

Bunch of golden beets from the farmers market

Bunch of golden beets from the farmers market

Roasted golden beet soup with sour cream and dill

Roasted golden beet soup with sour cream and dill

RECIPE

Roasted Golden Beet Soup with Sour Cream and Dill

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch golden beets, tops removed – about 4 to 5 medium size beets
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup long-grain white rice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • water
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup sour cream + more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill fronds, snipped + more for garnish

Method

  1. Wash and dry the beets. Coat generously with vegetable oil and wrap individually in squares of aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil, and roast in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350 for 30 minutes or until they are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Remove from the oven, unwrap, and cool until they are easy to handle. The skin should slip off easily between your fingers. Cut the peeled beets into 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan over a medium flame, heat the oil and sweat the onions, covered, for 5 minutes until translucent and the juices have been released. Do not brown. Stir in the rice and cook for a minute or two until the grains are translucent. Ad the chicken stock, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the rice is completely cooked and soft. Add water as needed if the soup is too thick.
  3. Add the beets and simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg.
  4. Remove from the heat and puree in a blender or with a stick blender until smooth. For aded smoothness, you may pass the puree through a strainer or chinois. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir in the sour cream and dill. Serve hot or cold with a dollop of sour cream and more minced dill as garnish.

 

 

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QUINOA CON GANDULES

Quinoa is gaining recognition as a substitute for rice, pasta, and other starches. Most of my experience with quinoa is by itself or as the base for a cold salad. This recipe substitutes it for rice in the traditional Puerto Rican arroz con gandules which I first enjoyed at an office Christmas party in El Paso. One of my co-workers from Puerto Rico brought the dish to the pot luck table. Indeed, arroz con gandules is apparently a traditional Christmas dish.

The hard part of this recipe is finding the gandules aka pigeon peas. They were readily available in El Paso, but not so in Santa Fe. After some detective work, I found a single can on the shelf at the local branch of Talin Market World Food Fare. Quinoa made a great substitute for the rice.

RECIPE

Quinoa con Gandules

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) dry pigeon peas, drained
  • 3 mild snacking peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced
  • 1 packet Goya Sazón cilantro y achiote
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1  red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup ham diced
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Combine the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir, cover, and reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes or until all the moisture is gone. Remove the lid if necessary to finish the cooking. Fluff with a fork, stir in the pigeon peas, diced peppers, and  the Sazón, and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over a medium flame. Stir in the onion, garlic, and ham, cooking until the onion is translucent. Add to the quinoa mixture, along with the tomato sauce, and heat over medium flame until everything is warm. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve.

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CREAM OF GLOBE SQUASH SOUP

The weather has definitely shifted to autumn, and the farmers market has begun to wind down. The other day, one of the vendors had piles of different squashes, none of them with labels. I saw a beautiful winter squash that would make a great soup. I thought I was buying a calabaza, but when I got it home it turned out to be a zucchini-like globe squash. Yes, I can hear you saying, “Another zucchini recipe.” I split the squash in half, and roasted it anyway, and it turned out to make a savory soup that was just right for a cool autumn lunch. You can make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock. You could even make it vegan by substituting vegetable oil for the butter and silky tofu for the cream.

RECIPE

Cream of Globe Squash Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 large globe squash
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup long-grain rice
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ cup cream
  • nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 slice French bread, crusts removed and cut into cubes
  • mozzarella cheese, grated
  • salted, roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Method

  1. Cut the squash in half, stem to blossom end, and remove the seeds. Brush the melted butter on the cut surface, and place cut-side down on a lipped baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes in the middle of a 350°F oven. Check for doneness with a kitchen fork. If the flesh is soft, remove from the oven and scoop the squash into a bowl. Set aside
  2. Meanwhile, in a 4-quart covered saucepan sweat the onions in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Do not allow the onions to brown. Add the rice, and stir until the grains have become translucent. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to the simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until the rice is completely cooked and soft. Stir in the squash, return to the boil, and then simmer for another 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat, and cool enough to work with easily. Puree with a blender. You may need to work in batches. Return the soup to the saucepan,, add cream, and bring to the simmer. Do not boil. Add nutmeg to taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. In a small sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium flame. Add the garlic and stir until the garlic starts to brown. Remove the garlic and add the bread cubes. Sauté until crisp and lightly browned. Drain the croutons on paper towels and salt lightly.
  5. Ladle the soup into serving bowls, and garnish with croutons, grated mozzarella and pumpkin seeds. Serve

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ASPEN COLOR AND THE IZANAMI JAPANESE INN

The aspen colors are at their height right now, so the other day we took a drive up Hyde Park Road to the Ski Basin.  Although my knees and back are not as limber as they once were, we walked up a couple of our favorite trails, and I took pictures, in spite of already having hundreds images of golden aspens. The colors are not as multi-hued as they are in New England, but an entire mountainside clothed in bright yellow still elicits a gasp from me, along with the need to take yet another image.

 

We avoid the weekends looking at the colors. It seems as though the entire city makes the pilgrimage on Sunday so that there are traffic jams on the winding mountain roads. During the week, the crowds are smaller, and there is an additional excuse to stop for a late lunch after our viewing and shooting.

Toward the bottom of the mountain is one of our favorite restaurants.  Izanami has been carefully and beautifully built to resemble a Japanese inn and to afford spectacular mountain views in all directions. . The food and service are also Japanese. The restaurant only opened months ago, and it was a semifinalist for the national James Beard New Restaurant of the Year Award. The food is delicious and so far as I know, authentic (I’ve never been to Japan). Some detractors complain that their peanut sauce is not truly authentic, even though I can find recipes for Japanese peanut sauce on the web.

Whatever, the restaurant is the latest addition to Ten Thousand Waves Spa. There are communal baths, massages, and therapies, and Japanese-style lodging. People come from all over the world to enjoy the luxury, and now they have delicious Japanese food to add to the experience.

The menu offers many choices, all with Japanese-sounding names. One of our favorites is kinpira gobo (slivered burdock root and carrot served with a sesame soy dressing). Other good choices include red pepper-tomato soup,  tofu dengaku (tofu cubes glazed with yuzu-miso), pork belly kakuni, and tonkatsu (panko-breaded pork loin cutlets with hot mustard and miso katsu sauce).

A short trip back home, and it was time for a nap.  All in all, a great day.

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FRIED OKRA

California is experiencing a heat wave, and Los Angeles is especially warm. My grandchildren’s schools decided to close early the other day because of the heat – the 90’s – even though the schools sit on the edge of the ocean with ocean breezes. The classrooms are air-conditioned as well. Never mind, the schools closed and parents were asked to pick up their kids, working or not. This decision set my daughter into a fit of pique, especially because she remembered her days in Louisiana where it gets really hot and humid, and the schools were not air-conditioned because the school board considered that a luxury.

Carol shared her disgust with her siblings via e-mail, and that stimulated a discussion of all the tribulations they endured while growing up. Among these, was the menu in the school cafeteria.

We moved to the South when the two older kids were in elementary school, and they had never had okra. They tasted it for the first time on their first day of school. And the second time…and the third time… and the fourth time… which is to say that stewed tomatoes and okra were served every single day. To this day, none of our kids eats okra.

Okra has a well-earned reputation as being slimy. That is especially so when it is boiled or when it is cooked with stewed tomatoes. As a result of this, many refuse to eat okra even though it is possible to prepare it in such a way as to avoid the slime. Mostly this is done by frying with one or another method.

This last week my wife accompanied me to the farmers market, and for old time’s sake, she bought some okra. The pods were beautiful and small so they promised to be tender and delicious. I deep-fried a batch last night, and neither my wife nor I was disappointed. Not a trace of slime.

Fresh okra pods

Fresh okra pods

Deep-fried okra

Deep-fried okra

RECIPE

Fried Okra

Ingredients

  • okra, leave whole if small or cut into 1 inch slices if larger
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • peanut oil for deep-frying

Method

  1. Wash okra in cold water and dry on a clean kitchen towel
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the beaten egg, buttermilk, and salt
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper until well combined.
  4. In a deep, heavy pot heat 3 inches of peanut oil to 350° F.
  5. Place the washed and dried okra pods in the egg and buttermilk mixture, coating them completely.
  6. One by one, transfer the okra pods to the flour/cornmeal mixture and then transfer to the heated oil, being very careful not to burn yourself.
  7. Fry the okra pods until they are well browned. With tongs, transfer the fried okra to several layers of paper towel to drain. Salt immediately.
  8. Keep warm in the oven at 170° F until all the okra is fried. Serve while still warm.

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ZUCCHINI AND FRESH TOMATO LASAGNA

I thought I was finished with zucchini recipes, and then my neighbor brought over three more squash to add to the two in the refrigerator.

That is the origin of zucchini lasagna, which is a riff on eggplant lasagna. I also used fresh tomatoes instead of the usual marinara. With all that squash and fresh tomato, it is easy to anticipate that there is going to be a lot of water. You can deal with that if you plan ahead.

RECIPE

Zucchini and Fresh Tomato Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 5 medium-large zucchini
  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 2 ounces Parmesan
  • Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. With a very sharp chef’s knife, slice the zucchini lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel covered with several layers of paper towels. Salt the zucchini liberally on both sides and let rest for 45 minutes to release water from the squash. Place the sweated slices in a colander and rinse quickly with running water. Pat dry and set aside for final assembly.
  2. Core and thinly slice the tomatoes. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel to absorb excess water. Set aside for final assembly.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add the ground beef, and over high heat, brown the meat while stirring frequently to break up any clumps. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to your taste. Drain and transfer to a plate. Set aside for final assembly.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir the eggs into the ricotta until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside for final assembly
  5. Assemble the lasagna in a large oven-proof lasagna pan. Spray the pan with cooking spray and then spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce that has been seasoned with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to your liking. Arrange a layer of the zucchini slices. Then arrange a layer of tomato slices. Top with half of the ground beef mixture, spreading it evenly. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the tomatoes and sprinkle with one cup of grated mozzarella. Repeat the process with zucchini, tomato, ground beef, ricotta, and mozzarella. Top with a third layer of zucchini and cover with the remaining cup of tomato sauce, the remaining one cup of mozzarella, and grated Parmesan.
  6. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. If water from the zucchini and tomatoes has accumulated in the bottom of the pan, pour it off carefully or remove it with a basting bulb.
  7. Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into serving-sized squares. Serve while still warm.

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