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Ris-asta

If only I could live like Norman, who’s found her new favorite spot – whenever I step away from the heating pad, she’s commandeered it as her own.  Looking at me like “bitch, please – this is mine now”…

Instead, I’ve been left looking for inspiration on these strangely cold and windy San Diego days.  Since I’d been banished from the couch, I picked up the Zuni Cafe cookbook and this recipe struck me – pasta cooked like risotto then baked for a crunchy top and creamy, noodley middle?  Sounds like perfect comfort food.  I deem it Risasta.  Or maybe it’s pastoto.  Anyway, it’s really called fideus, and it’s delicious.  It’s a bit of a process, so reserve a Saturday afternoon or plan to complete the dish in stages.

Zuni Fideus with Wild Mushrooms and Peas

Onion base:
3c finely diced yellow onions
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt
1/4c chopped drained canned tomato or 1/2c chopped peeled, ripe tomato
A few garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 small dried chiles, broken in half (I had a couple that I’d dried from last summer’s harvest, and wish I’d stuck with just one – they packed quite a punch!  Next time I’ll start slow and adjust from there)
a pinch of saffron threads

Toasted noodles:

10 oz cappellini, broken into 1/2″ pieces (initial attempts at cutting with a knife were disastrous, and breaking them by hand was no picnic either – let me know if you come up with a sneaky way to do this pleasantly)
2 tsp olive oil

For finishing the dish:
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil, divided (you may need less, see below)
4-6 oz chanterelle, porcini or morel mushrooms, cleaned and sliced about 1/4″ thick
salt
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6c chicken stock
1c shucked sweet english peas or shucked sugar snap peas (I used frozen as our pea harvest just never quite produced this year)
handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Onion base:
The base is a true winner in this dish – I had to stop myself from spooning it directly onto toast and devouring right away.  Next time – double batch.

Place the onions and olive oil in a 2 qt saucepan, set over medium-high heat and stir to combine.  Let the onions on the bottom color, then stir again and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the onions have reduced by about half and are generally golden, about 15 minutes. Salt to taste.

Reduce heat to low, stir in tomato, garlic, chili and saffron and cook, stirring occasionally, for another hour or so on the lowest heat: when the mixture is ready, it will be suave and jam-like with no trace of acidity.  If it starts to dry out or look oily around the edges, add a few drops of water or stock to re-emulsify the mixture.  You should get about 2 cups (onion jam will keep 1 week or so, covered and refrigerated).

Toasting the noodles:
Preheat oven to 325. Toss noodles in the olive oil just to coat, then spread evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Toast until the color of cornflakes, about 20 minute; stir the noodles or rotate the pan if not browning evenly.  Set aside.  If you plan to finish the fideus in the oven  (which you should because it’s awesome), raise the heat to 475.

Finishing the dish:
Warm about half of the olive oil in a 3 qt saute pan over med heat.  Add the mushrooms, salt them and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are tender but only slightly golden on the edges, 3-8 minutes, depending on variety and moisture content.  Stir in the garlic.  Taste a mushroom – it should be delicious already; if at all bland add a little more salt or garlic, or cook little longer to concentrate the flavor.
Add the onion base, toasted noodles, and about 1-1/2c of the stock.  Let the risasta making begin.  Bring to a simmer and stir as the noodles absorb this first dose of stock, about 2 minutes. Add the peas and another 1-1/2c stock and bring to a simmer. Stir until the stock is absorbed, another 3 minutes or so, then add another 1-1/2c stock.  Continue to cook, just simmering, until this dose is absorbed, another few minutes.  Check a noodle for doneness – it should be chewy. Add the parsley, the final 1-1/2c stock and the remaining olive oil (I found my dish had enough oil at this point – proceed as you wish).  Taste for salt.

Stir and cook the fideus over slightly higher heat until the stock is fully absorbed and the noodles are tender through or, to finish the dish in the oven, slide the juicy noodles into a shallow flameproof 3pt baking dish (my pan was ovenproof, so I just popped it right in), bring to a simmer, and place the pan in the top half of the oven.  Bake uncovered until the stock is completely absorbed, about 10 min. Apparently this last step is not following in fideus tradition, but pshaw – it makes for a great texture contrast.  Love this last statement in the recipe: “Though purists may scoff, I like the variety and contrast of the al dente surface noodles, which are especially caramelized and crisp at the edges of the pan, with the remainder underneath, cooked to tender, slippery succulence”.  That’s definitely the risasta definition in my upcoming made-up-words dictionary: tender, slippery succulence.

Multi-Grain Scones

I’ve been cooking a lot of the old favorites these days, getting my recipes from the trusty box rather than finding new and exciting things.  Something about the comfort of the known.

The freezer is stocked full of bierocks, I’ve got spring rolls all prepped and ready to assemble this afternoon, and whipped up a pan of THE BEST CANDY BARS EVER last night.  Seriously, have you made those yet?  I heard them referred to as vegan crack, and I can’t agree more.  They’re actually the perfect companion piece to these scones, as you may have some grains and nuts left over to throw in.

Maybe I’ll have one to get me started today…

Okay, on to the new.  Well, new to the site, but these scones are another staple in our household.  They’re relatively healthy, as scones go, full of grains and goodness.  I’ve made them with different combinations of ingredients, using whatever extra grains I may have in the cupboard.  Feel free to experiment and let me know of some winning combinations!

Multi-Grain Scones (adapted from a Dr. Andrew Weil recipe)

1 egg
1/2 cup sugar (I’ve used honey here, and it’s lovely)
1/3 cup grapeseed oil (if you don’t have it, use canola)
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup wheat bran or wheat germ
1-1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp millet (or quinoa, amaranth, flax seeds, etc – any small grain that will give you a little crunch)
2 Tbsp poppy seeds (or sesame, or… you get the idea)
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup milk (soy or rice milk works fine here also)

Topping (optional): raw cane sugar or a lemon glaze (juice of 1 lemon whisked with 1/4 cup powdered sugar)

Whisk the egg, sugar and oil together, then add the dry ingredients (lemon zest through cinnamon).  Stir until combined, then add the milk and mix well.  Let the dough sit while you preheat the oven to 375°.  The dough comes out a little wet, and the extra time will soften your grains while soaking up some of that moisture.

Scoop out the dough onto a greased baking pan, allowing a little room for spreading.  You can make them as big or as small as you’d like – I used a large soup spoon and came out with about 12 scones.  Or, as I’ll be telling Chris when he gets home, 10.

If desired, sprinkle with some raw cane sugar and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until just golden brown and dry to the touch.  If you’re using a lemon glaze, let these cool for about 15 minutes, then drizzle the glaze over top.

Mmm, good enough to eat two in one sitting!  They’re not crumbly like some scones, but are more of an oatmeal-cookie-consistency, with all of those great little grainy bits inside to crunch on.

These freeze well, so I plan to pick up a baggie of bierocks and a baggie of scones each morning on my way to work, enjoying those old standbys.

New Digs!

I’d like to submit for your consideration that I have the most generous mother in the entire world – some may disagree, but can your mom do this?

House?  Painted.  By hand. In a week.  Done!

Her most recent demonstration of badassitude came last month, when she and her remodeling partner-in-crime Jim came down to renovate our kitchen.  They installed Chris’ new favorite toy, the all-mighty dishwasher, and installed new cabinets all around.  It’s our new sanctuary, and it’s getting me back in the kitchen to play!

Aah, new cabinets, countertops, sink, everything!  We’ll get to the backsplash and the drawer pulls in a bit, but it’s heaven even now.

I hopped right in when they were done and made some old standbys: whole wheat biscuits, sauteed chard and mushrooms, and our fave, the  Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken (sans bread salad).  We sat in the kitchen and gazed at our new digs as we ate, savoring the blessings of family.

I think I’ll rest my case there – the evidence is overwhelming.

It’s In The Blood

My grandpa, growing front yard ‘chokes in Las Vegas!

Nope, the post title is not a hidden message about the baby’s sex – we won’t know that for a few more weeks yet.  For now, it’s just an “it”, a little one, a baby.  In the meantime, to keep my mind occupied, I’ve been on a baking kick.

I’ve become one of those infuriating people who makes fattening things but doesn’t eat them herself (I’m looking at you, Mom), since sweets haven’t been calling to me these days.  That hasn’t stopped me from running to the kitchen at 8pm because I just have to make chocolate chip cookies.

It’s been nice to have excuses to bake – it is the Christmas season, after all – and my friend Lynelle’s birthday was just such an occasion.  I had a glut of sweet potatoes from our farm share, and a need for something wintery and delicious.  This recipe fit the bill – sweet, spicy, moist and comforting – perfect.

Spiced Sweet Potato Cake with Brown Sugar Icing – from Epicurious

Cake

2 cups cooked and mashed red-skinned sweet potatoes – I prefer to roast them in foil until they’re mush, but they can also be microwaved

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray. Mix together wet ingredients (sweet potatoes, sugar, oil) and beat until smooth.  Add eggs 2 at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt); beat just until blended. Beat in vanilla. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes. Using small knife, cut around sides of pan and center tube to loosen cake. Turn out onto rack; cool completely.

For icing:
Sift powdered sugar into medium bowl. Stir brown sugar, whipping cream and butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil. Boil 3 minutes, occasionally stirring and swirling pan. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour brown sugar mixture over powdered sugar. Whisk icing until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Cool icing until lukewarm and icing falls in heavy ribbon from spoon, whisking often, about 15 minutes. Spoon icing thickly over top of cake, allowing icing to drip down sides of cake. Let stand until icing is firm, at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and let stand at room temperature.)

I can see this cake being perfect without the icing as a special brunch coffee cake, but as a sweet after-dinner treat, it can’t be beat.

Of course, we’re always far too impatient to take a picture before digging in, but I was fortunate enough to snag these shots before it disappeared completely!

Two Thousand Words

I had just found out, then realized that I hadn’t yet turned the page on the calendar.  So I did.

Whoa.

Here’s what I look like now – the belly has just started, but the top – good god!  Two bra sizes up already, for crying out loud.

Seedling

It has been so long since I’ve visited my oft-neglected site.  I’ve been just bursting to share the news, that I’ve had to completely abandon blog land – way too tempting to blurt it out…

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Holy crap, I can hardly believe it – we’ve got a little seedling on the way!  So far it’s been a bit of a tough road of nausea and lethargy, but I’ve felt it lessen over the past week or so.  I’m starting to branch out from my steady diet of saltine crackers and apple juice, and am actually eating big people food now!  Perhaps I’ll even cook something, maybe even post it on the site – now that would be amazing.

Rancho La Puerta

Oh my.  Where in the heck have I been?  Yikes.  Well, I’m back.  Again.

Waaaay back at the end of June, I was graciously invited along with a group of San Diego food/gardening enthusiasts to visit Rancho La Puerta in Tetate, Mexico.  It was a true getaway, the kind of one-day trip that feels like a full vacation.  The lovely folks at Rancho La Puerta were promoting their new Saturdays at the Ranch program, where San Diegans can be whisked away for a one day mini-ranch experience.

We were picked up in Old Town and driven to the Tecate border – the ranch itself is very close to the border, but once within its gates I felt like I was in another world.  Lush native landscaping, beautiful architecture and sensual sculptures dot the property (3,000 acres if you’re counting), and each winding path leads to something special.  I had a spa treatment (first things first!), then took a cool shower and set out to explore the property.  If you stroll in almost any direction you’ll hit one of the spa’s numerous pools or gyms, all dotted with extraordinary sculptures – just a beautiful landscape:

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After searching for a while to try to find the running track, I realized that I was standing right in it – an oval-shaped vineyard!  I took a few laps, then went straight back to relax-mode.

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After I searched for a hide-out spot where I could stow away (Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler-style), I met up with the rest of the group for a trip to La Cocina Que Canta, the cooking school and organic garden.

The school is located off the main grounds (there went my whole stow-away plan – foiled again), about a 5-minute drive away.  We explored the gardens with Chef Michel Stroot and I geeked out in my head, naming all the vegetables by their foliage.  After collecting some of our dinner ingredients, we headed back into the kitchen to prepare and enjoy a lovely meal.  Before long, our day had come to an end, and we climbed back in the bus to America.  Sigh.

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Chris came to pick me up at the Old Town Transit Stop, and as I jumped to see him and rush back into project mode, I was left with one hope – that I’d take some of this bliss back with me, that I could return to this magical feeling often.  I still think of this statue on the ranch grounds when I’m having a particularly stressful day – brings me right back.

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Such a fun getaway – big thanks to my generous hosts for this fabulous day!

Bounty

The first big harvest at our new house (how long can I keep saying that it’s our new house?  A year?  Good, I’ve still got time) happened the other day.  We’ve of course been picking here and there all along – I’ll grab a handful of cherry tomatoes on my way to work, or gather a bunch of beans and brussels for a quick greens fix in the evenings.  There’s something about a big batch harvesting that feels different – when I end up with the cream of the crop, I’m inspired to cook in a different way.  I am lead by the source, not by my stomach.

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Yikes – somebody needs to paint the porch.  Moving on…

Y’all have already seen where the first potato harvest ended up, but one cannot live on potato salad alone, no matter how delicious.  On the second full day of ‘Tater Fest, where we’d eaten potato salad for lunch and dinner (ahem, and sometimes breakfast), I wanted to come up with something new to accompany it.  I am starting the process of pulling out the brussels sprout plants, so had a bunch of baby brussels that never quite grew past the size of a quarter.  I also pulled some assorted sweet and hot peppers, so the two seemed like the perfect pair.  I was a little tired of roasted brussels (recipe: toss in olive oil and salt, roast at 425° until delicious), so wanted to try something new with them.  Here’s my solution:

Summer Harvest Veggie Melange

1 Tbsp olive oil + 1 Tbsp butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
2 cups small brussels sprouts, whole – if you only have bigger ones, cut them in half or quarters
1/2 lemon
3 sweet peppers, julienned
3 cups chard, stems removed and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
Leftover BBQ chicken, optional – would also be great with a fried egg on top!

Boil the brussels sprouts in a pot of salted water until slightly softened, about 5-7 minutes.  Drain completely.  In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over med-high heat until the butter starts to brown.  Add the garlic, then the brussels sprouts.  Try not to stir them around so that they get some nice browning action.  A couple of times during cooking, squirt the sprouts with lemon juice.  When you see that the brussels have browned on the bottom, add peppers and saute until the peppers have softened.  Add chard and let cook until softened.  Remove from heat and toss with chicken.

Add salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste and serve immediately.

The chicken was a last-minute addition, so I had to run back and grab the camera again – dinner is quite  the production in our house sometimes!  This turned out to be the best meal I’ve had in a long time – I was so thankful for the harvest.

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Tater Hater

The most exciting crop I planted this year is potatoes – it certainly doesn’t sound sexy or fascinating, but the taters have surprised me!  Because they are hidden throughout their growth process, I had some serious doubts that anything at all was happening.  Sure, plants began to sprout out of the baby reds that I dropped in the ground, and eventually they flowered and died off.  I still had no expectations of finding what I did.  As I dug under and around each beautiful stalk, ruby red jewels popped up – the perfect potatoes straight out of the ground.  I actually yelped the first time I found one, and called for Chris to grab the camera (like they were going to run away).  I actually grew some potatoes!

taters in skirt

I ran back to the bed and dug up some more, and ended up with a big bowl of dirty, beautiful potatoes – now what to do?  I wanted to be able to taste the potatoes in all their homegrown glory, but wasn’t in the mood for a purely plain potato dish.  Since it’s been so warm here, it seemed like potato salad would be a good choice.  The problem with that choice?  Neither of us really like potato salad.  The traditional salad with heavy mayo and overcooked spuds is pretty unappetizing to me, so I had to do something different.  I also had an extra batch of garden green beans, just itching to be used, so this delicious tater salad alternative was the perfect solution.  From one of the Moosewood cookbooks:

Potato Bean Salad with Curried Mango Yogurt Dressing

3 C cubed potatoes
¼ red onion, thinly sliced (about ½ C)
3 C cut green beans (2” pieces)
2 C cooked chickpeas (16 oz. can, drained)
dressing ingredients:
1 C plain yogurt
3 tbsp. prepared mango chutney
1 ½ tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. finely minced red onion
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice

In a saucepan, bring potatoes and enough cool salted water to cover to a boil on high heat. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes, adding green beans for last 7 minutes of cooking time so they are al dente together. Drain, place in a large bowl and immediately stir in sliced red onions. Stir in drained chickpeas and set aside to cool. Combine all dressing ingredients, and when veggies are cool, stir in dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste, and either serve immediately or store, covered, in the refrigerator.  My recommendation is to let the flavors combine and relax in the fridge overnight – this salad is better the second day.

Chris is even more of a tater hater than I am when it comes to potato salads, and he gave this one rave reviews, so it must be good, right?

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Best enjoyed on a front porch, overlooking the source.  More to come on the greens dish later – possibly even better than the taters!