Friday, November 27, 2009

Lazy little lima bean.

O.K., there's no need to beat around the bush...I've been slacking. I have left you very few posts as of late, and I have nobody to blame but myself. I do have this thing called "teaching high school and going to school two nights a week" that I have to do, but that's still no excuse. I have continued to cook, needless to say, and I have tried to snap some photos here and there as well, but my laziness has gotten in the way of the assemblage finale.

So at the very least, I thought that I should post some photos from my recent meals to give you a glimpse into what's been on...

Pineapple Guavas! My mom has two rows of massive feijoa shrubs along either side of her house. I love the tangy flavor of these sub-tropical fruits. Besides just eating them as is, I made a pineapple guava custard. It wasn't bad, but I think next time I'll make a vanilla custard and puree the feijoas into a sauce.

Years back, while I was working at Cafe Mare, Jean-Pierre started serving his now famous after-dinner liqueurs. The first and one of the most exciting of these liqueurs was the liquore di basilico, basil liqueur. I made a couple of bottles to give as Christmas gifts...we'll see if they last.

Well, this was the first attempt at recreating one of the most fabulous candies I've ever eaten; Marrons Glaces. Hopefully a full length post will soon follow, showcasing a successful preparation of the ethereal candied chestnuts.

With the chestnuts that I unsuccessfully began preparing for the marrons glaces, I made a maple and chipotle roasted pork loin, with fennel and chestnuts. Mmmmm...

All of this cooking makes a guy thirsty! Pictured above is the delicious Dark Night Oatmeal Stout from Santa Cruz Ale Works.

We had a Thanksgiving pot-luck celebration with the kids at school so I made something that I knew they would be craving: Brussel Sprouts! Haha... Slice them thinly, and saute them in olive oil with a sprinkle of sea salt. That's it. Best ever!

This is Thanksgiving dinner at Mom's house. My contribution is shown at top-left; beet and frisee salad in orange dressing with goat cheese and maple-glazed walnuts...kapow!

Vegetable tagine at Eli and Yael's house. Pictured below is a wonderful chopped salad we ate with the tagine...not pictured here is the lunch we ate that day at the amazing Sol Food in San Rafael.

Matsutake mushrooms that were gifted to me by Jean-Piere (tante grazie caro!). What an interesting mushroom...piney and spicy and earthy and chewy. I are currently brainstorming how to cook these in the most amazing way (post to follow). These were sliced and sauteed with kale, honey and soy sauce.

Well, that's been the last month in pictures. Sorry I have been so lazy. I guess it's O.K. if my students and my own studies have been the priority as of late, but I promise I won't leave you all hanging so long next time. Hasta luego.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Garrotxa and Tapenade Phyllo Triangles

I had never gotten down with Phyllo before... We decided on steak for dinner (which is certainly a treat, but somewhat boring nonetheless), so Lissa suggested something different and exciting as a side. I was thinking of the many things I have yet to cook, and somehow phyllo popped into my head. I decided on baked phyllo triangles with Garrotxa goat cheese and olive tapenade.

Phyllo is Greek (φύλλο, fýllo) for leaf or sheet. It is paper-thin sheets of raw, unleavened flour dough used for making sweet or savory pastries. Phyllo's thicker Great-Great-Grandfather appears to be of Turkic origin. As early as the 11th century, there are records of pleated/folded bread, yuvgha (which is related to the word yufka, the Turkish word for phyllo). The practice of stretching raw dough into paper-thin sheets is a later development, probably evolving in the kitchens of the Topkapi Palace. (wikipedia)

Alright, on with the show. Phyllo dries out very quickly (like, in a matter of minutes) so it's important to keep it covered...piece of saran or wax paper, topped with a damp cloth does nicely. Take one sheet, brush with melted butter or oil, then top with a second sheet, again brushing with butter or oil. Two layers is plenty to start with since these little triangles are going to be further layered once they're folded. Next, slice the phyllo lengthwise into 5 even strips. Now you're ready to fill and fold. I used a wedge of Garrotxa cheese and a spoonful of black olive tapenade. Start at the top and fold the top corner over to form a triangle, continuing to fold down, then over, like a flag (see photo). Repeat with the other strips, then repeat again with more sheets of phyllo until you have as many as you desire.

Place phyllo triangles on a baking sheet, and bake in a preheated oven (350°) for 20-30 minutes or until nicely browned.

So delicious, light and crispy layers of dough crackle and melt in your mouth as you bite through to reach the center. The creamy, nutty Garrotxa and tapenade on the inside were lovely together. The phyllo was certainly an outstanding element on the plate, which turned out to be anything but boring, especially for a Tuesday night. Grilled Porterhouse Steak with chanterelles, grilled vegetable medley of zucchini, white asparagus and radicchio, and magical little layered leaf pastries with an olive and cheese filling.

Η ζωή είναι καλή

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Salsiccia all'uva

Once upon a time, I had a hankerin' for some sausages. I sure do love them sausages!

photo by spigoo

...I remember during my short (and, to date, only) visit to Deutschland eating Wurst mit Kraut. Oh my goodness! There I sat, in the Kneitinger Biergarten, located on an island in the middle of the Donau (Danube) river, my Maßkrug (1 liter beer stein) in hand, würstel, kraut und sharfen senf before me. It was a magical moment, magic that brought forth many liters of beer, with nary a stumble nor slur. That's my kind of magic!

At any rate, even though the Germans are well-known for their sausages, meat stuffed in a casing is done all over the world, and has been for quite some time. A quicky wiki tells us that the first sausages were likely made by early humans, stuffing roasted intestines into animal stomachs. As early as 589 BC a chinese goat and lamb sausage làcháng (臘腸/腊肠) was mentioned. The Greek poet Homer mentioned a kind of blood sausage in the Odyssey ( Evidence suggests that sausages were already popular both among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and most likely with the non-literate tribes occupying the larger part of Europe. Check out the Cook's Thesaurus for a look at some of the many worldwide wursts.

This night's recipe originates in Italy, specifically Umbria. I love Umbria. 'Rolling hills and river valleys darkened by chestnut groves and elm forests, "t
his landlocked region's overwhelmingly medieval character harkens one back to the mysticism and mysteries of the Dark Ages" ( The cuisine of Umbria is rustic yet refined. Mushrooms, truffles, lentils, chickling peas, farro, prepared and cured meats, boar, olive oil, and wine are some of the region's specialties.
photo by pizzodisevo

Years back I bought Julia della Croce's wonderful cookbook of Umbrian recipes. Here is a link to a preview on Googlebooks. There are so many amazing dishes in this book, but the one featured here couldn't be more simple or delicious: sausages with grapes. According to Signora della Croce:
Some place the origin of this recipe in Foligno, which lies south of Perugia, although it is found throughout the region. In southern Umbria, particularly in the vicinity of Orvieto and Terni, green grapes are used. In Foligno, the sausages are paired with the "black" wine grape. Locals conjecture that the dish originated during the vendemmia, the "grape harvest," when the fruit was plentiful and quick hearty dishes had to be prepared to fuel those laboring in the vineyards.
This recipe serves 4 people, and you'll only need:
  • 8 sweet Italian pork sausages
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3/4 pound seedless black or red grapes, stripped from their stems
Now, I have made this recipe (true to form) many times, so this time around I decided to twist it up a bit. Instead of sweet Italian pork sausages and black grapes, I used pork sausages with lemon and thyme, and green grapes. If I had some, I might have deglazed the pan with a little Orvieto Classico! I pretty much stuck to the recipe, though...

Use a sharp knife to poke a few holes in the sausages before cooking them. Select a seasoned cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pan. Put the sausages and the water in the pan over medium heat. When the water has evaporated and the sausages have begun to color lightly (after about 12 minutes) add the grapes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, pricking the sausages occasionally to release excess fat, until they are browned all over and cooked through, and the grapes begin to release some of their juices and soften (about 20 minutes longer). Do not prick the sausages too much, or they will dry out. Transfer the sausages and grapes to a warm platter or serving plates leaving behind any fat, and serve immediately.

I choose to serve them with some garlicky red chard with a squeeze of lemon, and some crauti. Buon appetito!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Eric Ripert's 'Salade Monique'

So we're sitting in the computer lab for our staff meeting, doing what else but surfing the internet! Tee-hee. A colleague of mine was browsing through my blog and asked "Where's the vegetarian section?" Alas, I have no veggie-only section per se, but I do have quite a few veggie recipes. Regardless, I happened to have a bunch of photos from a veggie meal that Lissa and I had just recently eaten that were waiting to be posted. The meal was a wonderful salad: Salade Monique.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite books, Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman's A Return To Cooking. The Global Gourmet describes A Return To Cooking as:
"Ripert's journey back to his culinary roots. Over the course of a year, Ripert left his famed restaurant Le Bernardin for a short stretch each season: Long Island, Puerto Rico, Napa Valley and Vermont were his carefully chosen destinations. Using local seasonal ingredients, Ripert became inspired by the countryside settings and the home kitchens where the group gathered. Each locale "dictated" its own dishes."

The beginning of the book starts with Ripert's relections on a meal that was an homage to his mother and grandmother: Smoked Salmon Croque-Monsieur, Salade Monique, and a Peach and Plum Tart. "This is why I'm here" he said "I want to leave the chef that I am and let the cooking fill me again."

The salad was name after Ripert's mother, Monique. Ripert recalls:
"I cooked at her side when I was a boy. She's the one who said to me, 'Be a chef, and you can be anything.' She cared about food. She shopped everyday at markets. I don't think she set foot in a grocery store-ever. She worked but would come home every day to make lunch. Often they were big rustic salads. It's only when I'm putting the ingredients together in a big bowl-an abundance of blanched and raw vegetables, apple, avocado, radishes, potato, haricot verts, corn, all from a roadside market-that I recognize where this salad comes from."

This is so much more than just a cookbook. Again, from the Global Gourmet... "A Return to Cooking's recipes are interspersed with narratives offering insights and suggestions prompted by the moment: Ripert reflects on the difference between soups and sauces; how to recognize the freshest fish; on a chef's process; on the power of the vinaigrette; how to poach or roast to perfection, and much more." The narrative that has inspired me the most is on "how a chef becomes a cook." Ripert explains that:
"'Chef' is a title. A chef can be good or bad or everything in between...Chef denotes a job. But when you are a cook, that is what you are. It's your spine and your soul. It suffuses all that you touch. When you see the soil bursting with young lettuce, with tomatoes, with light green vines of peas, all the molecules between your gaze and those vegetables are charged with the energy of cooking. The air sparkles."
Indeed, this musing could be thought of as the foundation of the book itself, and for me, it is certainly the most beautiful. It helped me find pride in myself and in my cooking. I am not a trained chef, but I am a cook. Anyone can be trained as a chef, but how to become a cook is not something that can be taught.

Cristina Velocci wrote an article on Ripert's homage salad in the Oct/Nov 08 issue of Private Air, in which she posted the recipe:

Salade Monique

Serves 6

1/2-pound small potatoes
1/4-pound haricots verts, ends trimmed
1/4-pound asparagus, tips only
1 ear corn, shucked
1/2-pound mesclun greens
1/4 hothouse (seedless) cucumber, cut lengthwise in half and thinly sliced
12 grape tomatoes, halved
2 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 green banana pepper, cut into tiny dice
1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
1/2 apple, cored and thinly sliced
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

It is important to note that true to Ripert's homage, one should purchase what is fresh, local and in season, so if some of these ingredients are unavailable, buy what is and looks good.

Place the potatoes in a small pot of cold water, add 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a small knife, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool in the refrigerator. Once they are cool, peel the potatoes and thinly slice them.

Place three pots of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add salt to each pot. Drop the haricot verts, asparagus, and ear of corn into the pots. Blanch until the vegetables are tender but still a bit crisp: about 3 minutes for the asparagus and corn and 4 minutes for the haricot verts. Plunge all the vegetables into an ice water bath to stop the cooking.

Cut the corn kernels off the cob.

Place the greens and all the vegetables and fruit in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the balsamic and olive oil over and toss to coat. Divide the salad equally among six chilled plates.
Serve immediately.

"Eric Ripert's food is delicious sustenance, but here it has arrived entwined with usable lessons: When you cook, you do more than simply pay attention to the season and place, to ingredients that are close and fresh. When you cook-when you really cook-you pay attention to your past. When you cook, you welcome ghosts, and you honor them."