Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ratatouille


Some of my recipes are quick, week-night recipes. Sometimes I make dishes with 5 ingredients or less. And some of my cooking is particularly accessible to pickier palates.

This is NOT one of those recipes.

But neither is it a ridiculous day-long event. I would argue that it is much easier than it appears. And it IS a beautiful presentation (and yes, that's what I'm trying to get my children to say when they can't think of anything else positive to say about a meal). It's French home-cooking meets a bit of fancy haute cuisine. If you're not sold yet, I've got the clincher here: it has chevre inside. There. I knew you'd be interested!


I saw this recipe on epicurious.com and couldn't resist tackling it (with some simplification). Between my recent late-summer CSA delivery and my herb garden, I had everything on hand. And, well, because we love the movie Ratatouille. I did commit the grave error of letting my offspring watch the relevant scene from this Disney movie while I finished plating our dinner. They were somewhat disappointed that there was no clear semblance to the cartooned glory. Well, live and learn.

I served this with polenta. I took the same cookie cutter to the cooled and congealed polenta to create an additional layer for the leftoer Napoleons. The result was quite fantastic. Just another idea for you...


Ratatouille Napoleons
serves 4 as entree, 6 as appetizer


  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, small diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 c diced eggplant
  • 1 c diced zucchini
  • 1 c diced yellow squash
  • 1/2 c diced sweet bell pepper
  • 1/2 c diced green bell pepper
  • scant 1/2 cup tomato puree or sauce (I use this)
  • 3 Tbsp minced fresh basil
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 Tbsp minced fresh thyme
  • 1/2 Tbsp minced fresh oregano

  • 12 oz chevre
  • 8 oz mixed baby greens (mesclun or arugula)
  • 1/4 c vinaigrette

Cut eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and bell peppers into 1/4-inch dice. In a large heavy skillet cook onion and garlic in olive oil over moderate heat until softened and fragrant. Add the remaining diced veggies and cook until crisp-tender, roughly 5 minutes. Stir in tomato purée, garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste and cool ratatouille completely.


Preheat oven to 375°F and line a baking tray with parchment paper.


On a work surface put a metal pastry ring or round cookie cutter (at least 1 1/2" high) on parchment. Fill cutter with ratatouille, pressing evenly and tightly into bottom. Slice goat cheese log into 8 equal rounds and flatten one onto a ratatouille round. Top with more ratatouille in ring.



Carefully press on filling while lifting ring, leaving a layered tower of ratattouille. Make more rounds in same manner. Bake rounds in middle of oven for 10 minutes, or until heated through.


While rounds are baking, in a large bowl toss baby greens with a light vinaigrette and divide among 8 plates.


With a spatula transfer a round to center of each salad or along side the salad. Drizzle each salad with about 1 teaspoon vinaigrette and garnish with pine nuts.





Friday, September 23, 2011

Basiled Whisky Sour


I like fresh-squeezed juice. Of course.
And I like basil. A lot.
And there's just something sweet and reminiscent about a whisky or amaretto sour. And not because of the cherry. (Well, just a little bit because of the cherry.)

I have a surplus of lemon basil syrup. Which is a GREAT way to use up extra basil and keep the flavor of summer lingering in your beverage glasses, by the way. And you can make this (find the syrup recipe here, too) or this, with this flavored syrup... and basiled lemonade as well.

I had a hankering for some type of sour beverage. Perfectly sour, mind you, not syrupy sweet.

And there was this very good whisky sitting around. (Shhh! Don't tell that I used a bit for a cocktail!)

All of this collided to make a very, very nice, summery and fresh whisky sour with a hint of basil.

Try it!

If you like things a little on the sweeter side, add closer to 1/3 c syrup. I think you'll agree that this is quite nice. Even without the cherry. Though I won't judge if you throw one in for good measure.


Basiled Whisky Sour
serves 2

3 oz whisky
1/4 c lemon juice
1/4 c lime juice
1/3 c lemon basil syrup
lemon slice and basil (and a cherry) for garnish

Combine whisky with freshly squeezed juices and syrup. Pour over generous quantities of ice. Garnish with lemon slice, basil sprig, and (if you must) a cherry.

Drink responsibly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Late Summer (seasonal affective disorder) Soup


We're still enjoying this squash salad greatly. I've probably made it for you and all of your friends (or at least waxed eloquent about it to you) by now. But in order to use up all of the summer squash our CSA bestows upon us, I have to, on occasion, resort to hiding squash in things. Other than the compost bin. (snicker)

I had some chickpeas and garlic on hand and (of course) some squash. And it occurred to me that hummus is a boldly flavored, generally well-liked dish. With flavor and color that just might be able to conceal yellow squash. Hmmm.

And it was a foggy and cold afternoon. (I know, I know. You quit complaining about your 100-degree+ summer days wherever you are and then I'll quit whining about having to wear a sweater, eat soup, and light fires in our fireplace in AUGUST.)

Seasonal affective disorder hits at an odd time of year here in San Francisco.

Anyway.

As I was saying, it was cold enough for a nice hot soup for dinner. So, on a whim, I invented hummus soup with those chickpeas. And I hid some diced summer squash in it. The steamy bowls of soup hit the spot, warmed our bellies nicely, and didn't attract attention to the stowaway veggie inside. Should you (in your normally-weather patterned neck of the woods) have some end of summer squash available on a newly chilled fall evening, I commend this recipe to you.

Our soup was sopped up with some fabulous crusty bread that a friend brought to us from Napa. A friend who is now so obsessed (thanks to her week-long permaculture course in Napa) with gardening that I predict she'll be clandestinely dropping bags of squash on our doorstep in no time. We may have to move. Just kidding, LP!


Hummus Soup
served with salad & bread, feeds 4

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 to 1 whole jalapeno chile (to taste), minced
1 yellow squash, minced
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 c vegetable broth
1 Tbsp tahini
1/4 chopped cilantro leaves & stems
zest of lemon
juice of 1/2 of same lemon
salt & pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in medium pot over medium-hi heat. Add garlic and onion. Saute until soft. Add jalapeno and saute until onion is golden.


Add squash and chickpeas and cook until squash is softened and looks remarkably onion-like.

Add vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in tahini. Once soup thickens slightly, add cilantro and zest. Immediately before serving add lemon juice and salt & pepper to taste.


Serve with pita (or other bread) and a green salad for a filling, vegetarian meal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Worth the Wait


The Arepas Lady of NYC came to the SF Street Food Fest last month. I saw her working hard with 2 assistants, smacking and flipping her batter onto a hot, portable (and not quite big enough) griddle over and over. I waited over an hour in 2 lines to get one of her corn cakes. I waited with two young children in tow. The promise of oozing, corn perfection, some people watching, and a few rub-on Hello Kitty tattoos strung the little ones along pretty well. (Tell the truth. You'd do it for the Hello Kitty tattoo, too.)

And I must tell you, it was well worth the wait. Arepa nirvana.

In fact, I do believe it was the best thing I ate all day. And that's high praise, 'cause the food at that festival was all fantastic- some of SF's best. Though no other line was quite so long. Apparently her reputation preceded her.

I had only recently become acquainted with arepas. This cute little cafe in the Mission (with great microbrews, no less!) had caught my eye, but it was a dear friend who perused their online menu and had me join her there for lunch. (Thanks, KFW!) We were pretty floored. Much ooh-ing and aah-ing and promises of "we will learn to make these" later, we left, stuffed.


The time had come. I found the cooked-corn flour, masarepa, and planned the cooking date. I did some arepas research. Starting with the Sainted Arepa Lady's own recipe (follow link above to the recipe, if you want), which I tweaked quite a bit after looking at a few others' takes on the corn cakes. It seems that some latinas use milk, some don't; some cook their arepas, slice a pocket into them and add fillings as desired; others top their arepas with no stuffing or pocket-making involved. No matter your take on arepas, these things are absolutely amazing. And a very do-able weeknight dinner.

Corn Kernel Arepas
serves 6

scant 2 c milk
1 1/2 c fresh corn kernels, cut off 3 ears corn
2 Tbsp butter (plus more for griddle)
2 c masarepa flour*
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
1 c crumbled queso fresco

*Masarepa flour is not the same as masa (corn flour/dough for tamales). You'll need this precooked, then dried & ground cornmeal. Many tiendas latinas carry masarepa.


Bring corn kernels, milk, and butter to a simmer in a sauce pan. Remove from heat.


Slowly pour still-hot milk and corn into the masarepa, stirring until the dough is cool enough to handle. Use hands to knead dough, adding mozzarella and salt. Work dough until smooth and thoroughly mixed. Add a sprinkling of additional masarepa if dough is particularly sticky. Allow to rest for a few moments.


Shape arepas by scooping out 1/4 c amounts and rolling or patting into balls. Flatten each with palms, rounding edges into 4" diameter discs.

Melt a small pat of butter on griddle or in skillet. Cook in batches until golden brown- approximately 4 min for each side.

Serve topped with queso fresco.
We enjoy arepas served with frijoles, pickled veggies or vinegar-based slaw, and avocado slices.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Gras




Foie gras.

Until quite recently, it's something I had ambivalent feelings about, but no personal experience.
Then it was brought into my kitchen. I suppose I had always intended to try it once, possibly to cook it myself. Just a little bit of it, and just once. For the experience. But when I stared down upon the plated, perfectly fried slices of liver, the gravity of the goose struck me. With approximately the same profundity as the fat hitting my arteries.


Foie gras is the epitome of luxury, richness, and gastronomic glory. And perhaps soon it will be gone. June of 2012 is the deadline for California's planned phase-out of production and sale of this organ meat. In fact, all but 5 European countries, some of the Middle East, and a few of our own 50 states have banned production of foie gras to prevent cruelty to animals. The French defend it as an indelible, protected mark of their cuisine, a delicacy never to be relinquished.

So, are these geese and ducks painfully, unnaturally force fed simply to create buttery livers? It seems so. Otherwise healthy fowl who can feed themselves independently have a pipe or tube of some sort regularly inserted into their throats to infuse an emulsion of fat and corn. Would these same birds naturally gorge themselves? Likely not, at least not to the degree required to produce true foie gras. Are these birds well cared for? I suppose so, as any expensive commodity is cared for, but their nutrition and habitat are artificially, likely cruelly, distorted.

Omnivores, in an ideal world, would care about the meat they ate, not just for the self-referential quality of what they consume, but for the ethic of how the animal was raised, even how the associated farm or ranch is run. My outlook on life is that we humans are in a unique role- a place of power over other living things to either consume recklessly and carelessly, or to live sustainably, generously, and thoughtfully. To even, perhaps, leave things better than we found them.

One wide swing of the diet pendulum flees carnivorous excess in favor of a vegan life- one that in no way consumes or exploits animals for their meat or their products. But somewhere between foie gras-eating epicureans and austere vegans there live a spectrum of eaters of more-or-less meat. I do not offer a prescription of what, when, and how is the right way to eat. But I do suggest thoughtfully considering these things. For health, for posterity, for a world which we would be absurdly egotistical to think exists just for our own pleasure.



My own experience attempting to raise free-range chickens for eggs- confronting 2 unexpected roosters (one became coq au vin and one was returned to its family of origin), loss to raccoons, threat of disease, and various other aspects of care for a group of relatively defenseless and dependent creatures has opened my eyes to more of the ethics (and expense) of eating off-the-land than I'd anticipated. Buying one eighth of a local steer and one third of a local lamb, getting to know the rancher and butcher involved, and becoming more intimately connected to our food source has only deepened these times of consideration of what respect, care, and sustainability look like for an omnivore.

I would love to hear the influences that have led each of you to your chosen diet!


And as for foie gras?
I think it is produced at a cost my soul could not bear again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Peachey


I love peaches.

They take me back to my childhood. To a peach tree in our backyard in Gulf Coast Texas, and to visits to deep-South family in Alabama and Georgia with equally freshly picked peaches at the ready. Back to peach smoothies, peach cobbler, peach juice dripping down my chin as I bit into that perfectly ripe orb of fuzzy fruit.

Yes, I do love peaches.

As peach season winds down, I bring you a peach purist dessert. Only biting into a fresh tree-ripe peach would be simpler. This is a celebration of peaches, swathed in a gorgeous pink syrup. I like to leave the skin on in order to add to the blush of pink in the syrup.

Wine-poaching peaches, then topping with a bit of whipped cream and amaretti cookie crumbles is brilliant in its simplicity. Simply summer. And perfectly sweet.

My apologies for lack of process pictures this time, but it truly is as easy as it sounds.

Poached Peaches
serves 6

3 large firm (not-quite-ripe) peaches
1 c white or rose wine
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 c whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp powdered sugar
18 amaretti cookies (recipe to come)

Halve peaches. Remove pit with knife edge or melon baller.

Place peach halves, cut side down, into a wide skillet. Sear on high heat for 1 minute. Pour wine over peaches. Sprinkle sugar onto peaches evenly. Swirl gently to combine. Bring wine to a simmer, then cover with a lid. Poach peaches until just tender when pricked with a fork.

Remove peach halves gently to serving platter with a slotted spoon. Reduce wine and juices until slightly thickened. Pour over peaches.

Whip cream with vanilla and powdered sugar until stiff.

Dollop cream onto peach halves, then crumble 1 amaretti cookie on top. Serve additional amaretti cookies alongside.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Good Causa


I love making Peruvian food. It takes me back to my travels there, reminds me of dear friends whose lives have some Incan threads running in their life tapestry, too; and of friends and partners in service who still live in Lima, tirelessly working and loving their neighbor.

Have I mentioned before what a wonderous complexity Peruvian cuisine is?

Few countries can claim such a diversity of influences. The food I have eaten in Lima (and beyond) was far more compelling than I'd anticipated and I believe the collision of food traditions makes it so- Peru offers fusion cuisine at its finest!



Here is the history, as summarized from my beautiful tome: The Art of Peruvian Cuisine. The Incas laid a foundation of Quechuan cuisine with potatoes (over 1,000 varietals of the tuber!), quinoa, and aji pepers. When the Spanish came to South America in the 15th century, they brought dairy, new meats, wheat, sugar cane, limes, and olives. With the Spaniards also came African slaves who added aromatic spices and the concept of grilled beef heart- anticuchos! In the 19th century, Peru won its independence from Spain and became enamored with the French immigrants and their Revolution and cuisine- namely the mousse desserts. During the next century, Cantonese servants came from China to build the railroads of Peru and work the plantations. Their soy sauce, ginger, and imported vegetable seeds were shared with Peruvians in small eateries, eventually resulting in fusion stir fry dishes like lomo saltado. Perhaps the most refining touch on the Peruvian palate occurred at the turn of the 20th century as Japanese immigration to Peru began. Miso, an interest in seafood, and the subtle sophistication of Japanese food preparation have each left an indelible mark on Peruvian cuisine.

yukon golds


Meanwhile, back home in San Francisco in 2011, we'd been promising a friend (who was raised as an expat in the Hinterlands of Peru) a legitimate Peruvian meal at our place. It had become a lingering promise, a hope unfulfilled, dangling, waiting...

Inking a dinner date for this Peruvian feast at last was a great joy, for all of these reasons above. And more. My tastebuds were tingling in excitement. In addition to pisco sours, ceviche, aji a gallina, and alfajores, I wanted to make this terrine-like dish (a very French execution of Quechua ingredients!) called causa. It's a classic summertime Limenian dish - a sophisticated, layered potato salad with surprising flavors of citrus and aji amarillo. I love the colors, textures, and flavors. It's a bit of a labor of love, but you won't regret it. And when you make it at home, unlike hordes of unassuming tourists who consume mayonnaise in a third world country and regret it approximately 3 hours later, you'll be in flavor heaven AND looking forward to leftovers.

FBN and DN, I hope it was worth the protracted wait. Here's to a more timely, less distracted dinner party in the near future!



Causa Limeña
serves 10 as a salad course

2 lb yukon gold (or other yellow) potatoes
1/3 c vegetable oil
8 oz sea bass or cod fillets
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c vinegar
1 Tbsp aji amarillo paste*
juice of 2 limes
juice of 1 orange
salt
1 avocado
3/4 c mayonnaise
2 c cooked fresh corn kernels
2 c lettuce leaves

Boil potatoes in salted water until tender (approx 20min).

While potatoes cook, tackle 3 tasks: first, marinate onion in vinegar and 1 tsp salt. Second, juice one lime and the orange into a medium bowl. Third, poach fish in water to cover, adding a pinch of salt, lime rind, juice of 1/2 of second lime, and orange rinds to the pot.

Once fish is cooked through, remove from stock and cool, then flake.

Once potatoes are cooked, strain and cool until just safe to touch. Peel and press through a potato ricer into the bowl of citrus juice. Add oil, aji amarillo paste, and 1 tsp salt. Stir well to incorporate into a smooth mixture.

Slice avocado thinly. Squeeze remaining lime juice onto the avocado slices.

Prepare a loaf pan by lightly oiling, then lining with plastic wrap, wax paper, or parchment. Spoon a scant fourth of the potato mixture into the bottom of the pan, smoothing with a spoon into a thin, flat layer. Spread on a very thin layer of mayonnaise.

Strain half of the marinated onion slices and layer into the pan. Add flaked fish evenly on top. Spoon on a second quarter of the potato mixture, smoothing well. Again, spread on a thin layer of mayonnaise.
Add avocado slices on top, then cover with third quarter of potato mixture. Spread on a thin layer of mayonnaise.

Evenly distribute corn kernels over top. Cover with remaining potato mixture, smoothing to cover well. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or more.

To serve, place a bed of lettuce leaves on a platter, then uncover and invert chilled causa loaf onto the serving platter. Strain remaining onion slices and garnish top of causa. Serve in slices on a summer day. Viva La Peru!


*aji amarillo paste
It is a wonderful thing if you have access to either aji amarillo peppers or this paste. If, like me, you lack access to a Peruvian market, here's an approximation.

1/2 lb orange habanero peppers
1/2 orange bell pepper
1/4 c sugar
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Wash, stem, seed and devein, and chop the peppers. Place in cool water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30min until peppers have softened. Strain peppers and place into a blender or food processor. Add remaining ingredients. Blend into a smooth paste. This may be frozen or refrigerated or served alongside causa or other Peruvian dishes as a condiment.