Monthly Archives: July 2013

COOKING WITH KIDS, PART TWO – NACHOS

With two of the grandkids here, we cooked together for our dinner on their first evening. The main dish was nachos – who doesn’t like nachos? And they are so easy to make. Everyone got involved in putting things together, but waiting for them to bake made folks a little impatient. When the nachos came out of the oven, we all pitched in on eating them – with milk, of course – and then we had fresh palmiers for dessert.

RECIPE

Nachos

Ingredients

  • vegetable spray
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 1 package taco mix
  • 1 14 ounce can refried beans
  • 1 large bag tortilla chips
  • 1 3.8 ounce can sliced black olives, drained
  • 1 large bag grated Mexican cheese blend
  • salsa
  • sour cream

Method

  1. Spray  a 11 x 17 inch jelly roll pan with vegetable oil
  2. In a medium skillet, brown the ground beef in the oil over medium heat, breaking it up as it browns. Stir in one-half of the taco mix. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the canned refried beans with the remaining half of the taco mix. Set aside.
  4. With a table knife or small spatula, spread about a tablespoon of the refried bean mixture on a tortilla chip and arrange on the prepared jelly roll pan. Continue until the pan is filled with tortilla chips and the refried beans have been used up.
  5. Sprinkle the cooked ground beef, sliced black olives, and grated cheese over the pan of tortilla chips
  6. Bake the tray of prepared chips in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the chips are warmed.
  7. Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle with dollops of salsa and sour cream. Eat immediately while still warm.

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PALMIERS – COOKING WITH KIDS, PART ONE

We had two of our grandchildren visit us for a few days before their parents came to take them back home. The kids wanted to do some cooking while they were here, so I tried to think of recipes that would be not only easy but also tasty. The latter is sometimes a bit of a challenge with kids who are in the process of forming their own likes and dislikes.

I remembered a leftover sheet of puff pastry in the freezer. What could be easier and tastier than a batch of palmiers, the crisp sugary  French cookies? Problem one solved.

The kids and I prepared dinner for their first evening with us. Palmiers would be the dessert, and nachos would be the main dish. All of that seemed simple enough.

We made the palmiers first so that they would be ready as soon as we finished eating the nachos.

We used a recipe from The Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984, p 262). The only ingredients are puff pastry and sugar. That made it fun for the kids to roll out the pastry dough on a bed of sugar, fold them up, slice them, flatten them a bit with the rolling-pin, and bake them for only a few minutes. The hardest part of the process was resisting eating them before we made the nachos.

RECIPE

Palmiers

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry dough, thawed
  • granulated sugar (about one cup)

Method

  1. Thaw frozen puff pastry over night in the refrigerator according to package instructions
  2. Sprinkle a generous layer of granulated sugar on the work surface. The sugar should be spread to a larger size than the sheet of puff pastry
  3. Unfold the thawed puff pastry on the sugar. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 1/8 inch thick using a rolling-pin and being careful to maintain the rectangular shape of the pastry.
  4. Sprinkle the top generously with more sugar.
  5. Fold the two long sides of the pastry sheet so that they meet in the middle of the sheet. Then fold one side onto the other.
  6. With a very sharp knife, using a sawing motion, cut the pastry roll into ½ inch slices. Then place each slice on one of its cut sides, flatten with the rolling-pin, and arrange on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat cooking mat.
  7. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until the cookies are crisp and lightly browned and the sugar is caramelized.
  8. When the cookies are baked, remove from the oven, and transfer to a cooling rack.

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MOM’S SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS

We had a chance to help my son celebrate his birthday this year. I agreed to cook, and I wrestled with the menu. We often have steaks when we visit the family, and while they are not vegetarians, they do try to limit their meat intake. On top of that the girls are in the finicky stage of growing up so there are lots of foods they won’t eat, even with encouragement from their mom and dad.

That challenge made me think of spaghetti and meatballs. That way, if someone didn’t want meat – for whatever reason – he or she could forego the meatballs. Similarly, if the girls wanted only plain pasta, that would work, too. I thought of my mother’s homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs. I guess the sauce could be called a marinara, but to me it is much richer than marinaras at restaurants or in stores. Mom learned to make the sauce at my father’s pleading when we were living in a basement apartment within a compound of a big Italian family. I remember Mom going upstairs to take daily cooking lessons – there was always a pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove – until she thought that she had mastered the recipe. Over the years, she and I have cut corners (no longer fresh tomatoes, carrots, etc.), but I think the recipe is still a good one.

The meatballs are another matter. I am not particularly fond of most meatballs. They are usually dry and not, IMHO, very flavorful. I think this recipe has cracked the code, and the recipe makes enough for lots of leftovers. After the birthday party in Silicon Valley, I brought some sauce and meatballs back to San Francisco so that my daughter and son-in-law could have a midnight snack when they got back home on the late flight from New York City. There was nothing left in the morning but the dirty dishes.

RECIPES

Spaghetti Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, trimmed and mashed
  • 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 to 8 cremino mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • juice of ½ fresh lemon
  • more salt and pepper as needed

Method

  1. Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil and stir in the onions. Cover to sweat the onions until they are soft and translucent. Be careful not to let them brown.
  2. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or so, being careful not to brown the garlic.
  3. Stir in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth and red wine. Bring to the boil and then reduce to the simmer.
  4. Cook, covered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add water if the sauce become too thick.
  5. Stir in the sliced mushrooms and herb seasoning. Simmer for another hour, uncovered, stirring and adding water as needed.
  6. Add the sugar and lemon.
  7. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
  8. Add the browned meatballs (see below)  and simmer for another hour or until the meatballs are cooked through.

Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot according to your taste)
  • 2 extra-large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup (about) fresh bread crumbs

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, sausage, and eggs. Use your hands (freshly washed of course) to mix the ingredients thoroughly
  2. Mix in the herb seasoning, salt, and pepper . Make sure they are thoroughly combined
  3. Stir in the bread crumbs. Hold back a few to make sure the mixture is not too dry. Then add them if needed. Add more bread crumbs if the mixture is still too moist.
  4. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes so that the bread crumbs absorb moisture from the eggs. Then roll a bit of the mixture – slightly larger than a golf ball –  between your palms until it forms a round, smooth meatball. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the meat mixture. You should be able to make about two dozen meatballs
  5. Working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet. When all of the meatballs are browned, add them to the spaghetti sauce and cook everything over medium low heat for another hour.
  6. Serve over cooked spaghetti or other pasta of your choice with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.

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TWO YEARS OF FUN AND FRIENDS

Just the other day I received a notice from WordPress that my blog had just passed its second anniversary. I was a little surprised with the event, but it caused me to reflect on my writing over the past two years. So far I have published 113 posts which works out to a few more than one a week. Honestly, that has kept me busy with cooking, recipe development, photography and editing. But once a week is not very prolific. There are lots of bloggers who make a point of posting at least once a day. I don’t know how they do it, though why they do it – at least one of the reasons – is to improve their ranking in internet searches.

That is really not one of my motivations, though I enjoy seeing my list of followers increase over time. The main reasons I started this blog were to try to polish my writing style, learn how to write a coherent recipe, improve my photography skills, especially with food, and to communicate with family and friends.  I think I have accomplished these goals although I need to let my readers be the judge of that.

One unexpected benefit of the blog has been the development of friendships with folks whom I have never met from all over the world . I look forward to reading and seeing their blogs; I look forward to their comments about my posts.  In many ways they have become friends. I even imagine that someday I might have the opportunity to meet these cyberspace friends in real life.

I guess I will keep on writing as long as I think I have something to say along with posting images that I think folks might find a little unique.

This time I’m not going to write anything about food, just thank all of you have participated in one way or another with this blog. I will share some images from my home town – Santa Fe, New Mexico. In particular, the images are of sculpture, architecture, and flowers along Canyon Road, Santa Fe’s famous art district.

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CHICKEN LASAGNA WITH PUMPKIN AND GREENS – SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA RISING STAR CHEFS

A while back we spent some time in the Bay Area baby sitting while our kids were involved in out-of-town business trips. One of the payoffs for our efforts was that we got to attend the Silicon Valley crawfish boil I wrote about. Another bonus was the chance to attend the San Francisco Rising Stars celebration sponsored by Starchefs, an organization that publishes magazines and websites catering to food professionals. Once a year, in a different city, Starchefs throws a big event to recognize rising star chefs from that community. This year it was San Francisco’s turn. Sarah and Evan were fortunate enough to be selected among the eight Rising Star chefs, along with outstanding pastry chefs, artisans, restaurateurs, brewers, and mixologists.

The event was held at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants. There is a lot of excitement just with the prospect of seeing a huge major league baseball park all spiffed up and without the crowds.

Still, there was a different crowd: for a select few (actually willing to pay a lot more for their tickets) there was a VIP reception in the main-floor restaurant and lounge. “Free” drinks, appetizers when you could intercept the servers, and some women in long gowns – in a baseball park.

After the reception, everyone headed to the seats behind home plate to watch the awards ceremony. One by one the winners were called out of the dugout to run to home base for an introduction, award, and photos.

Next, everyone rode elevators up to the Club level, complete with spectacular views of the stadium and San Francisco Bay behind it. There the winners had all prepared some of their signature dishes and served them from tables set up around the lobby, interspersed with tables of wine paired with each of the dishes.

There was some pretty spectacular food, and this is just a sampler:

  • Nick Balla, Bar Tartine                            Fisherman’s stew with green chile
  • Richie Nakan, Hapa Ramen                   Crispy ramen noodle cake
  • Jessica Largey, Manresa                         Verbena- and chamomile-poached sea bream collar
  • Jason Fox, Commonwealth                    Scallop, hearts of palm, popcorn puree
  • Brett Cooper, Outerlands                       Fish sauce-glazed Berkshire pork belly
  • Duncan Holmes, Sons & Daughters     Squab with marcona almond butter
  • Mark Liberman, AQ                                 Australian beef short ribs with black garlic

Of course, we were partial to Sarah and Evan’s offering from Rich Table, chicken lasagna with pumpkin and greens

All in all, it was a great evening in a great setting in a great city.  My only concern was getting out of the parking lot with all of those other revelers.

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EGG ROLLS

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HEART OF PALM PUFFS – A GALLERY OPENING

A few weeks ago I had what I thought was a wonderful opportunity. I was invited to show some of my photographs in a nearby artists’ cooperative gallery. I put together about  half a dozen of my favorite images, framed, and matted them. Along with oils, watercolors, pottery, and jewelry from other artists, the photos were arranged for a show.

As is the local tradition, the new show was inaugurated with a Friday evening opening complete with sparking water, wine, and appetizers. Each artist was asked to bring some kind of food, so that set off a perpetual struggle in my mind – what to serve? I found a recipe for chorizo tapas that sounded delicious, but I worried that gallery visitors might get grease on one of the oil paintings. Then I thought of empanadas filled with hearts of palm. I had first tasted them forty years ago at a party held by one of our Brazilian friends.

The bonus that moved me toward this option  was that I had a can of hearts of palm in the pantry. At the same time, making the dough for empanadas seemed like more effort than I wanted so I decided to use frozen puff pastry. The end result turned out to be these heart of palm puffs.

Heart of palm, also called palm heart or palmito, can be harvested from the growing tips of nearly all palms, but  this may destroy the palm. The commercial variety comes from the peach palm, a plant from the Amazon that now is grown throughout Central and South America. It is sustainable without destroying the palm for future growth.  Supposedly you can find fresh palm hearts in gourmet grocery stores, but I have only seen the canned variety.

The gallery opening was crowded, and the puffs disappeared. So did the gallery. What the reader needs to know is that nearly every person who lives in Santa Fe considers himself/herself to be an artist. The other factor is that there may be more galleries than residents. That is a certain formula to assure that many galleries disappear quickly amidst the competition. That was the fate of our co-operative, and my first show did not survive for this post.

RECIPE

Heart of Palm Puffs

Ingredients

  • 1 can (14 ounces) hearts of palm
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup parsley, minced
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Method

  1. Drain the hearts of palm, slice them into ½ inch coins, and marinate them, covered, in the refrigerator, with a little of the liquid from the can, a good sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper
  2. Combine the parsley and Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
  3. Thaw the puff pastry according to package instructions. Then on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough so that it is about 1/16 inch thick. It should be large enough that you can cut 40 2 inch squares.
  4. Working quickly so that the pastry does not dry out, place a heart of palm disc in the middle of half of the pastry squares. Top with a ¼ teaspoon of parsley and Parmesan cheese mixture.
  5. Dab the edges of the square with the egg yolk mixture, top with another square, and press the edges together with a fork.
  6. Place the puffs on a Silpat-lined baking tray. Brush the tops with the egg white mixture.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes in the middle of an oven preheated to 400° F.
  8. When golden brown, remove the puffs from the oven, and cool them on a cooling rack.

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