Monthly Archives: July 2011

MOTHER’S NIGHT OUT – OR IN – AS THE CASE MAY BE

Goat cheese semifreddo with figs and walnut nougatine

It seems as though I have spent a fair amount of this summer cooking for myself or eating out or making do with popcorn. The reason is that my wife has been very busy on the baby-sitting circuit, a task that she enjoys. I am glad that our children and grandchildren, too, enjoy the visits. We are a conventional modern American family spread out all over the map. In times past, when parents needed a helping hand for whatever reason, Grandma lived just next door or even in the same house. That was certainly true when I grew up, and I spent many a day in my grandmother’s kitchen watching her cook or helping her with the bread making.

Chilled corn soup with padron peppers and nasturtium flowers

No more; and with two breadwinners in all of our family households, the emergencies seem to be frequent and without a local resolution. The good thing is that all of our children live just a short distance from a good-sized airport, and so do we.
So far this summer, one baby-sitting job occurred because Mom had to go on a business trip while Dad had some major work responsibilities. Another time, Mom had some responsibilities at work, and the kids were out of school with no place to go. Yet another time, one of our daughters became a first-time mom, so of course that required some grandmotherly help. That daughter is a professional chef who worked nearly up until her delivery. Now she is anxious to get back to work, but restaurant and baby schedules are in direct conflict because so much of both occur late at night.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife went to take care of our 3 month-old grandson while my daughter did the pop-up dinner I wrote about recently. It was a very successful event, so my daughter and her husband scheduled another dinner. Big problem – Grandma had already scheduled a baby-sitting date with my other daughter, who had a major project to complete at her work with no reliable childcare backup. Fortunately, she and my wife had built in a little slack in their schedules, so she [Daughter1] was able to fly up from Los Angeles to San Francisco for a day to help Daughter 2 with baby care.
It was a long day and night as Daughter 2 cooked and cleaned up until 2 AM. Baby managed to keep Auntie awake most of that time, and then the return flight to LA was so early in the morning that Daughter 1 got virtually no sleep. She also got no leftovers, so she didn’t get to enjoy what turned out to be another great meal. Still, she didn’t complain because she got to enjoy her young nephew.

Pappardelle with Douglas fir-roasted chicken and preserved lemon

     Thus is the life of modern mothers and grandmothers. It is hard to see how they manage to squeeze everything into a busy life and do it with love and patience. My hat is off to all the women in my family, including my busy daughter-in-law. They all deserve the love and support of their spouses. Fortunately, I think they all get that {Though secretly they probably all wish it could be more.)
Images this time are from the preparation and presentation of the most recent pop-up dinner.

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GARLIC SCAPES

        In our area, the green garlic season is over and so are fresh green garlic soup or green garlic focaccia. The real garlic season is still ahead with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, braids of plump garlic heads, and roasted garlic. . In a very small window of opportunity, it is possible to enjoy garlic scapes. But that window is very narrow, and unless you live in northern climes, you may have already missed it. Still, it is worth a look as you stroll past the booths in your local farmers market. Garlic, like most other allia including chives and onions send up a single, usually leafless flowering stem from the crown of the plant. The flowers blossom – often beautifully – and form seeds or small plantlets. Garlic growers may harvest green garlic early in the spring, but after the scapes appear, the farmers trim them off so that the energy of the plant is pushed toward producing big garlic bulbs that are attractive at the market. Often the scapes curl back on themselves with the flower bud a prominent feature. This curly show is attractive and makes for some unique cooking. Just be careful that when you buy scapes that you select young ones with a tight flower capsule and tender stems. Scapes that are harvested too late can be straight, woody and tough. Once that happens, it is nearly impossible to cook them to tenderness.
        Speaking of Gilroy, the Garlic Festival is just around the corner (July 29 through 31). They call themselves the garlic capital of the world. That is probably not true. If you buy your garlic at the local supermarket, there is a good chance that it comes from China! China produces over 75% of the world’s supply of garlic and nearly 55 times as much as the United States.
        So what do you do with scapes? You can do about the same things that you do with green garlic, but even better is to use them simply sautéed or incorporated into a main dish like a frittata.
RECIPES
SAUTÉED GARLIC SCAPES AND MUSHROOMS
Ingredients
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 Cups (about) tender, young garlic scapes trimmed of any woody stems
8 oz cremeni mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has stopped foaming, add the scapes and mushrooms.
2. Toss frequently until the scapes are softened and slightly wilted and the mushrooms are cooked through (about 5 to 10 minutes) Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish

Sautéed garlic scapes and mushrooms

BACON, POTATO AND GARLIC SCAPE FRITTATA
Ingredients
8 slices bacon
2 russet potatoes, scrubbed
4 Cups tender, young garlic scapes, trimmed of any woody stems
6 large eggs, beaten
½ Cup cream
1 ounce Swiss cheese, shredded

1. In a large oven-proof cast iron frying pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon, drain on paper towels, and chop coarsely. Set aside
2. In the meantime, slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and boil in salted water for about 20 minutes until soft but not completely cooked. Drain, cool and cut into ¼ inch thick slices.
3. Add the potato slices to the still hot bacon drippings and stir occasionally until they begin to brown lightly. Add the scapes and continue to stir until the scapes are softened and slightly wilted. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped bacon.
4. In a bowl, combine the beaten eggs and cream. Then pour over the potato-scape-bacon mixture, stirring to evenly mix.
5. Sprinkle the grated Swiss cheese over the top
6. Place the iron frying pan in the middle of an oven preheated to 275°. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the eggs are set and the cheese is bubbling.
7. Remove from the oven, cut into wedges, and serve immediately
Yield: Serves 4 to 6 for breakfast or a light lunch.

Bacon, potato, and garlic scape frittata

Bacon, potato, and garlic scape frittata

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POP-UP DINNERS POP UP ON MY RADAR SCREEN

Until recently, I thought that the phrase, “pop up” referred to a fly ball in baseball, or an ad on my computer or a kind of camper or even the electropop album by Yelle. But in the food world, it means none of those things. A pop-up dinner is a new trend in food meccas like San Francisco. Lots of restaurants are closed on Monday (Don’t you already know that if you try to eat out on Monday?) So they are not making any money on Mondays With pop-up dinners, other chefs take over the kitchen for the night to prepare what usually turns out to be a great meal with a different twist than that of the regular kitchen. It gives the itinerant chefs a chance to publicize their skills, and it gives the restaurant a chance to make some extra cash There are lots of different arrangements, but one of the most common is for the chefs to cover the costs of food and extra help. They then receive the profit from the meal. At the same time, the restaurant gets the revenues for beer, wine, and spirits. This is usually a win-win-win, because the guests enjoy what is likely to be a great meal, the chefs make a profit, and the restaurant enjoys revenues from a space that would ordinarily only be costing rent on a closed Monday night.
Recently, my daughter and son-in-law, both experienced chefs from Michelin-rated restaurants in New York and San Francisco, and their pastry-chef friend, Max Pouvreau, sponsored a pop-up dinner at the popular SoMa restaurant, Radius. The place was packed, and the guests got to enjoy a creative and eclectic menu with Italian, French, and Asian influences.
The first course was an onion croquet served on a puree of spinach and cilantro. The inspiration was a Japanese curry house in the Richmond area, Volcano. Who would suspect that onions could taste so good?

First course onion croquet

Next came a salad of tomatoes, strawberries, burrata, and red mustard flowers. For those of you who may not have tried burrata cheese, the name comes from the Italian word for “butter”, and the cheese originally came from the Italian region of Puglia. It is made by creating a pouch of freshly made string cheese, filling it with scraps of mozzarella and topping it off with cream before being closed with a tie and wrapped in fresh green leaves. This version was a little different in that the cheese and cream were combined and then whipped together to make delicate, airy pillows with an incredible buttery richness that burst onto the tongue with the first bite.

Tomato, strawberry, and burratta salad

The third dish was summer squash tagliatele with shiso (an Asian herb that combines the flavors of cumin, cinnamon, and basil) and Parmesan. The pasta was rich with egg yolk and wonderfully tender.
Another little amuse bouche was diced cucumber in cucumber gel laced with fresh horseradish, nori powder, and topped with fresh wild radish flowers which had been foraged earlier in the day.


The main dish was buttermilk-poached chicken served with farro, pickled cherries, and fresh green peas.

Buttermilk-poached chicken

Two desserts finished an evening of feasting: The first was blackberry-soaked peaches served with a creamy nasturtium namelaka and almond streusel. The second was a pair of delicate beignets served with a jam of tomatoes and strawberries.

Blackberry-soaked peaches with nasturtium namelaka

All of this suggests that you might enjoy trying out a pop-up dinner. In San Francisco, you can find out about them on one of the food gossip websites: http://www.sf.eater.com or http://www.sanfrancisco.grubstreet.com
If you want to find out where Sarah, Evan, and Max will be next, check out http://www.facebook.com/ChefsNightOff or they can make a reservation at chefsnightoff@gmail.com

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CHILLED FRESH GREEN PEA AND MINT SOUP

The finished product with crusty bread on the side

In our local farmers market, green peas (also known as English peas as I learned when I moved to Texas) are at their height, and nearly every vendor has a pile of bright green pods prominently displayed at the front of the stall. Prices are reasonable, too, if you are willing to make the effort to shell the beautiful green taste treats. My favorite way to eat fresh peas is directly out of hand from the pod, but there are lots of other ways to enjoy them when they are fresh. Pea salads are classics – with many versions to choose from – and a handful of fresh peas in a pasta salad perks up what can be a tired, clichéd tradition of summer. Braised peas and lettuce is also a good dish, or you can simply pan fry some peas in butter for a delicious treat.

But I have always wondered if there isn’t something to be done with the empty pods besides putting them in the compost pile. Of course, that is not a problem with edible peapods or sugar snap peas, but in my view neither of these choices has the flavor and bite of peas out the shell. So I wind up with lots of leftover peapods.
I asked my daughter, the San Francisco chef, if she had suggestions, and she said that she always uses them to make peapod stock that can then be used as any other vegetable stock or – better – as the base for a fresh pea soup. This recipe comes from that discussion. It is important to cool the cooked peas as quickly as you can to maintain the bright green color.

Ingredients
1½ pounds fresh peas in the pod
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ white onion, diced
4 Cups water
8 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 Cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves, washed
1½ Cups buttermilk
juice of ½ fresh lemon
1. Shell the peas and store them in the refrigerator until ready to use. Chop the empty peapods coarsely and set aside.
2. In a 4 quart or larger stock pot, heat the oil over a medium low flame, add the chopped onion, and cover for about five minutes to allow the onions to “sweat”.
3. Add the chopped peapods and the 4 cups of water, or enough to cover the pods. Bring to a boil and add the salt and peppercorns. Boil gently for about 30 minutes. Then strain and return the strained liquid to the pot. Reduce the volume to about one-half.
4. Add the reserved peas and mint leaves and continue to boil gently for about 5 minutes or until the peas are tender.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and place in a large bowl filled with ice water and stir the mixture constantly so as to cool quickly.
6. Transfer the cooled mixture to a blender. You may need to do this step in batches. Hold the lid of the blender firmly while you start blending on the lowest setting, increasing the speed gradually. The mixture should form a fine puree. It is not necessary to strain it.
7. Stir in the buttermilk and lemon juice. Correct the seasonings with salt and pepper.
8. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before serving.
9. Garnish, if you like, with the dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt and a sprig of mint
Yield: Serves 4

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