Tag Archives: Garlic

HARVEST COTTAGE PIE: MACRO COOKERY

Carol and her family were in San Diego this weekend, so there was no Sunday family dinner. They had gone to watch the Notre Dame/Navy game. (ND won by a substantial score to remain undefeated.) Carol’s husband is a Notre Dame alum as are his father – and his brothers – and his sister. And they are all devoted sports fans. Carol’s husband goes to South Bend for football whenever he can, and the whole family often comes to LA when Notre Dame is playing nearby, usually against USC. The pilgrimage left us by ourselves, and so I thought Sunday would be a good time to clean out the refrigerator. There was a sweet potato that needed to be used. (It had tiny leaves appearing.) There was a potato that also needed to be used, along with a package of ground beef that I had bought the day before without a clear idea for it. The days have gotten cooler, so something like cottage pie sounded good. Why not top it with sweet potato mash instead of/along with the usual mashed potatoes? Done.

The other thing to while away my time was a new toy. I had bought a Xenvo lens set from Amazon. The lenses clip onto your cell phone to augment the built-in lens. The wide-angle lens does not really do much as my iPhone lens is already wide angle with a large depth of field. The macro, on the other hand, is great. It has only a single focus point, so it is not as versatile as the macro lens on my DSLR, but it is still fun to see what really-close-up images you can make. I am afraid that this post will wind up being a series of macro images of ingredients. Even at that, I hope you enjoy them.

RECIPE

Harvest Cottage Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter* (You will need 8 tablespoons – one stick – in all)
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt  and pepper to taste
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter*
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • salt to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup beef stock
  • ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 medium cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
  • 1 carrot sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler (alternatively grate)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter for topping*

Method

  1. In a small stockpot, cover the sweet potato in salted water and bring to the boil. Boil gently for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Drain. Force through a potato ricer or mash. Stir in the butter until it is completely melted. Add the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside for final assembly.
  2. In a small stockpot, cover the cubed russet potato in salted water and bring to the boil. Boil gently for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a kitchen fork. Drain. Force through a potato ricer or mash. Stir in the butter until it is completely melted. Then stir in the milk and egg until they are completely incorporated. Add  salt and cayenne pepper to taste. You can substitute black pepper but it will leave black specks in the mash. Set aside for final assembly.
  3. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir until they are completely wilted but not browned. Add the ground beef and stir occasionally until the meat is completely browned. Stir in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the stock and stir until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the thyme and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Assemble the cottage pie by transferring the meat mixture to a well-greased oven-proof dish large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Layer the mushrooms and carrots on the top of the meat. Then alternate large spoonsful of sweet potato and potato mash on the top. Using a pastry brush, baste the top with melted butter. Bake in the middle of a preheated 350° oven for one hour.
  5. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve.

Cook’s note: The carrot slices, although attractive, turned out to be a little hard to eat. Coarsely grated carrot may be better. Actually it may be even better to leave out the carrot as it has sweetness and  flavor that compete with the sweet potato.

 

 

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CHIMICHURRI AND VITAMIX

Recently I celebrated my birthday. I was surprised when a big box came from my family. It turned out to be a gleaming Vitamix food machine. I can hear some of you asking, “What will the old goat do with that?”  It seems akin to buying $2000 skis for a duffer who only skis greens or a Sunday driver receiving a Ferrari. Still others are thinking that, after all,  its only a blender.  A Vitamix is way more than a blender – it has a full 2 horsepower motor with speeds up to 37,000 rpm and variable speeds between 12,000 and 24,000 rpm. It will grind up just about anything without a single whine. It  sounds like those are specs straight out of a Ferrari ad. Now if I can only learn to drive it like a Ferrari.

I spent the first day reading all of the manuals and recipe books. I definitely did not want to destroy the machine during its first outing in the kitchen. Then, I had to think of something to make. Creamed soups prepared in a Vitamix are supposed to be so smooth that they don’t require  straining through a sieve or chinois. Soups are definitely on my list of things to make, but I wanted something to go with the meal I had already planned: pot roast and roasted potatoes. Some sort of sauce seemed like a good choice. Salsa verde and romesco came to mind. One of my food blogger friends , writing with the title of Back Road Journal, had provided a great recipe for the Dominican sauce, wasakaka (Isn’t that a great word to say?). That struck me as very similar to one of my favorites, the Argentinian chimichurri that goes so well with roasted beef.

The Vitamix cook book didn’t have the recipe, but I found one to modify in the Joy of Cooking. For a first pass, the chimichurri turned out to be easy and flavorful, but I will probably add some tweaks for my next effort. If you don’t have a Vitamix, you can use a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until you get the right consistency, and be careful not to blend for too long.  Of course, you can always chop things by hand. You’ll just have to do it more finely. Also, there is a severe sensitivity to chiles in our household, so I usually omit them, but you can definitely mince some jalapeño or add some cayenne.

Finally, a big THANKS to all my family for such a thoughtful gift.

RECIPE

Chimichurri

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar (If you don’t have red wine vinegar, another vinegar will do.)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup parsley leaves, washed and stems removed
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves OR 1 tablespoon dry Mexican oregano.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional or to taste)

Method

  1. Pour the vinegar and olive oil into the Vitamix container. Make sure the cover is in place. Set the speed indicator to High. Turn the machine on and process for about 15 seconds or until the vinegar-oil mixture is emulsified. Turn off the machine.
  2. Add the parsley, garlic, onion, oregano, salt, pepper, and optional cayenne pepper. Set the speed indicator to Variable and Variable knob to 3. Make sure the cover is in place, turn on the machine and as you process gradually turn up the rate to 6. Process for 20 seconds or until the mixture is the desired consistency. Be careful not to over-process. Turn off the machine. Transfer the chimichurri to a bowl, adjust the seasoning if needed, and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.

 

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ROMANESCO: THE FRACTAL VEGETABLE

Fractal art has been popular for the last twenty or thirty years. It combines mathematics and art, often using computer algorithms to produce geometric patterns that are repeated at an ever smaller scale  to create irregular shapes and surfaces. You will find some amazing fractal images on the Internet or Wikipedia.

Fractal art (Image from the Internet)

Fractal art (Image from the Internet)

 

3D fractal art (From Wikipedia)

3D fractal art (From Wikipedia)

There are also some arresting examples of fractals in nature: the shape of the nautilus shell; the ever-diminishing tendrils of a lightning bolt; tree limbs dividing into smaller and smaller branches; pine cones; pineapple; and an aloe plant. A head of Romanesco is one of the most startling and beautiful. The color is almost electric, and the vegetable florets form amazing designs as they get smaller and smaller and rise into tiny pyramids.

My first encounter with Romanesco was when Sarah and Evan humored me a number of years ago, letting me prep vegetables in their first pop-up dinner at Radius in San Francisco. I was fascinated by the chartreuse color, the geometrically perfect florets, and the incredible shapes in a single head.

Since then, I have only seen Romanesco in a few stalls at various farmers markets. I have never seen it at the grocery store. If you should find some, select only the greenest heads and plan to use them in a day or two. Use the vegetable in your favorite recipe for broccoli or cauliflower. Or be adventurous and try something different. They’re even delicious raw.

There is a certain mystery about the vegetable. Some call it Romanesco broccoli. Some call it Romanesco cauliflower. That’s because no one seems to be quite certain what its closest relative might be. The cautious – like me – just refer to it as Romanesco. What does seem clear is that it was first developed in Rome at least as early as the 16th century and hence the name.

The great thing is that you can use it as you would either broccoli or cauliflower. You can also have a good time admiring its unique and beautiful shape. This recipe is an adaptation from one found in the lavishly illustrated, encyclopedic Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini by Elizabeth Schneider (HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York, 2001, p. 124) Somehow, Romanesco, pine nuts, garlic, and Romano all seem to go together. I have browned the garlic in the brown butter. “Whoa,” you say. “Browned garlic is bitter.” But that’s not true if you make sure it doesn’t burn. Think of that delicious Mexican garlic and butter sauce, mojo de ajo. Add some grilled ham and you have a set of complementary flavors and a complete light dinner.

RECIPE

Romanesco with Brown Butter, Pine Nuts, Garlic, and Romano Cheese

Served with Grilled Ham Steak

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup raw pine nuts
  • 1 head Romanesco
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh Romano cheese, grated
  • 4 ounce boneless ham steak, grilled

Method

  1. In a dry sauté pan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned and the oils have been released. Stir frequently. Do not burn. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. In a large pot fitted with a steaming rack, place the whole head of Romanesco over about an inch of boiling water and steam, covered, for 10 minutes or until the vegetable pierces easily with a cooking fork. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. While the Romanesco is steaming, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until the butter solids begin to brown. Be very careful not to burn. Stir in the minced garlic. The mixture may foam up. If that happens, stir vigorously and remove from the heat until the foaming subsides. Return to the heat only until the garlic is lightly browned.
  4. Grill a small boneless ham steak and arrange in the middle of the serving plate.
  5. Place the steamed Romanesco on the grilled ham steak.  Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Pour over the browned butter with lightly browned garlic. Top with grated Romano. Serve whole and cut into servings at the table.

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PESTO

It is basil season. We have harvested the plants in our back yard, and many stalls at the farmers market have big, beautiful bunches of basil picked just that morning. That means it is time for pesto.

Pesto is really one of those things that you can make without a recipe and adjust it to your personal preferences

Pesto is also something that you can keep for a while. For years we made fresh pesto and ate it all, believing that if you didn’t do that it would immediately turn an unappetizing brown. We didn’t even think about freezing it. The truth is, you can do both.

If you want to keep it for a day or two, put it in a container with an air-tight lid, cover it completely with olive oil, seal the lid, and pop it in the refrigerator. If you are going to freeze it, divide it into amounts that fit into the cups of a muffin pan, freeze pan overnight, pop out the pesto “muffins”, and double bag them in zippered freezer bags so you can use the amount you need without having to thaw the whole batch.

RECIPE

Pesto

Ingredients

  • large bunch of freshly-cut basil, enough that the leaves will fit into the beaker of a food processor
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, more if needed to make a sauce-like mixture
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces Parmesan, grated
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Wash the fresh basil, cut or pull off the leaves, and dry them in a clean kitchen towel.
  2. Transfer the leaves to the beaker of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade.
  3. Add the olive oil and process until the basil has been chopped very finely.
  4. Add the garlic and Parmesan. Continue to process for 30 seconds or until thoroughly combined.
  5. Add the pine nuts and pulse until the nuts are well-chopped but not puréed. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Adjust consistency with additional olive oil, if needed.
  6. Serve over cooked pasta with additional grated Parmesan and dry-roasted pine nuts. If desired, store for a day or two in an air-tight container topped with olive oil and refrigerated or freeze and double bag individual portions for later use.

PS: Here’s a little lagniappe from our garden:

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GAZPACHO CRUDO

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah and Evan cooked at the James Beard House operated by the James Beard Foundation in New York City.  We had the pleasure of watching them via a webcam in the kitchen.

Their dinner menu included a number of the dishes that have become favorites at Rich Table in San Francisco, including gazpacho with strawberries, chicken skin, and burrata. I have enjoyed that dish several times, but I am not a skilled enough cook to duplicate it, so I’ll just need to make do with gazpacho.

For me, the taste of traditional gazpacho is wonderful. But I don’t like the mouth-feel. It reminds me of baby food. I much prefer seeing the vegetables and bread intact so that it’s almost like eating a liquid salad in a bowl or cup.

I found just the right ingredients at the farmers market, including an Armenian cucumber, aka snake melon. It is not really a cucumber, but it has the crispness and crunch of the freshest of regular cucumbers and without having to worry about seeds. It also has the charm of being slender, long, and coiling around itself. It’s easy to see why it has the name of snake melon.

Vegetables for gazpacho

Vegetables for gazpacho

Easy to make, and refreshing in the fading days of summer.

Croutons on top, ready to serve

Croutons on top, ready to serve

RECIPE

Gazpacho Crudo

Ingredients

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ripe large heirloom tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded, membrane removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 small Armenian cucumber, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed into paste
  • ½ cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 large, I inch-thick slice of good-quality bakery bread, crust remove and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly

Method

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, cucumber, garlic paste, and parsley, making sure to coat the vegetables with the lemon/olive oil mixture.
  3. Stir in chicken stock. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  4. In the meantime, let the bread cubes dry at room temperature for 1 hour.
  5. In a small skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and sauté for a few minutes until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove the garlic slices, and add the bread cubes, stirring frequently until lightly browned and crisp. Drain the croutons on several layers of paper towel. Cool, and set aside until ready to garnish the gazpacho.
  6. Serve the gazpacho in bowls or in large cups with a spoon. Garnish with croutons.
  7. Serves 4.

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LETTER FROM UNSCENE SHREVEPORT: PURPLE HULL PEAS, TASSO AND COLLARDS

Last night we ate at our apartment after Sarah, Evan, and Van went fishing with Jason Brady and his family. It seemed like a perfect time to cook up some purple hull peas I had bought at the farmers market.  I went to the grocery store to get some salt pork and tasso, but I probably could have found those at the farmers market, too.

You can’t have peas, tasso, and collards without some cornbread to sop up all of the juices, but none of us was in the mood to bake cornbread in our understocked apartment kitchen. Fortunately we had  some leftover corn muffins that had been served with our chicken fried steak at Strawn’s for lunch. The muffins were sweet (Yankee cornbread in Louisiana!?) but they would have to do.

I cooked the meal while the fisher persons were out on the lake.

RECIPE

Cookin'

Cookin’

Purple Hull Peas, Tasso and Collards

Ingredients

  •  2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 ounces salt pork, cut into a large dice
  • enough water to cover the salt pork in a small saucepan
  • 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 1 quart shelled purple hull peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and chopped
  • 14 1/2 ounces canned, diced tomatoes (fresh tomatoes would be great, but I forgot to buy them at the farmers market)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces Cajun-style tasso ham, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 large bunch fresh collard greens, washed, trimmed, and cut into a coarse chiffonade
  • Louisiana Hot Sauce to taste (optional)

Method

  1. In a large, covered pot heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, cover, and sweat until the onions are soft and translucent. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan and add the salt pork. Return to the boil and boil for 5 minutes to remove any excess salt.. Drain and transfer to the large pot over medium heat. Stir frequently to allow light browning.
  3. Return the onions to the pot. Add chicken stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the peas, bell pepper, and garlic. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Return  to a boil and then adjust the heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered for 1 hour or until the peas are soft.
  4. Stir in the tasso and simmer for another 30 minutes.
  5. Add the collard greens and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the greens are thoroughly cooked but not limp. Adjust the seasoning. Be sure to use hot sauce if you like it.
  6. Serve in large soup bowls.

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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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