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Archive for July, 2009

vernazza - there is life outside my garage

vernazza - there is life outside my garage

Wow – I haven’t posted all week.  Terrible.  I haven’t really even wanted to cook.

There.  I said it.  I can’t believe it.  But it’s good to be honest.  The truth is, I’m in garage sale hell.  I am surrounded by boxes and old items and clothes and dust that seem to be multiplying magically, dividing and reproducing like little single celled organisms.  This was a fun project when it started (seems like one hundred years ago); I have really enjoyed seeing little awards, drawings and photos from my husband’s past.  It feels good to cleanse and purge. 

Now I feel condemned to this bizarre purgatory of boxes and upheaval; I am counting down the days until Saturday!  While I haven’t been inspired to cook (although I did have the eggwich for lunch again yesterday!) and therefore not inspired to post, I have continued to be refreshed by your responses to my questions from the last few weeks.  Every time I read about lavender or basil or strawberries I feel a little breath of fresh air.  Aaahhhh…

So my question this week is about your past – specifically what are some things from your childhood that you cherish or have held on to?  What’s hiding in your garage or tucked away in your closet?

For me:

1. my books

2. letters and cards from family

3. drawings and photographs (although I can’t find hardly any)

4. crayons

5. christmas ornaments

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eggwichBoy howdy, I’ve been eating some good lunches this week!  I mean, they must be good to make me say things like, “boy howdy.”  Hot damn, even!  My knack for saving things in the freezer in the manner of eighty year old grannies combined with my need to use up any leftover ingredients manifested themselves today into the best eggwich that I’ve ever eaten.  Ever.  An absolute work of impromptu eggwich art.  A sandwich so good as to inspire a spontaneous and uncharacteristic “boy howdy” must be shared. 

I didn’t ever eat eggwiches before Jon turned me on to them.  In fact, does anyone else use the term “eggwich” or did we just make that up?  Either way, I love them now and today’s eggwich is going on the menu of my imaginary cafe.  We had some left over fresh mozarella and pancetta from a pizza earlier in the week; these precious ingredients cannot go to waste.  Those plus some french hamburger rolls from the freezer, some thin slices from a red onion, a few frozen artichoke hearts, and a little schmear of mayonnaise spiked with dried basil amounted to rich, creamy, delectable, gooey eggwich heaven. 

These are some of the best flavors in the world – salty bacon, runny yolk, basil, mayonnaise (or just fat in general), artichoke hearts, fresh mozarella cheese – all on a chewy, soft french roll.  Hallelujah!  I love this eggwich.  I wanted to make out with this eggwich.  I know it’s weird, but I don’t care.  Are you ever this in love with your food?!  We ended our lunch with some fresh green grapes – it was a perfect finish to the richness of the sandwich.

I hope you are inspired by this kitchen sink eggwich.  You should make it exactly as is and discover what kind of random, joyful expletives burst out as you devour every perfect bite.  OR – you should make your own kitchen sink eggwich with your left over ingredients and tell me all about it.  Either way – bon appetito!

best ever impromptu kitchen sink italian eggwich

  • two eggs
  • a few slices of pancetta, quartered
  • a tbsp or so of mayonnaise
  • one tsp or so of dried basil
  • three artichoke hearts, chopped
  • a few thin, half moon slices of red onion or shallot
  • one garlic clove
  • two balls of fresh mozarella cheese, torn into smaller pieces
  • two french hamburger buns
  1. warm whole hamburger buns in a 400 degree oven for five minutes; remove them, cut them in half, rub a little garlic on each cut side and add the torn mozarella cheese; cook for five to seven minutes more or until bread is soft and cheese is gently melted but not brown
  2. meanwhile, mix chopped artichoke hearts, dried basil and mayonnaise together; season with a pinch of salt and ground pepper
  3. heat a skillet over medium heat and crisp up the pancetta with a small drizzle of olive oil; remove and drain on a paper towel
  4. add eggs, one at a time, to warm skillet and cook them over medium; the yolk should be a little runny (cook for a minute and a half and then gently flip over and cook for about one more minute on the other side)
  5. assemble the sandwiches with the mayonnaise, egg, pancetta and red onions – glory!

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little cruciferous beauties

little cruciferous beauties

My Aunt Valerie sent me some pictures of her second brussel sprout harvest; they’re beautiful.  I’m jealous that she grows these so easily in her backyard –  talk about “local” ingredients. 

Speaking of local, I have to admit that I am a bit tired of the overuse of “local” – the trendiness of it all has made it a tad too precious.  I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you the benefits of eating local ingredients- whether you are or aren’t a foodie, the American marketing machine is exploiting the local food movement at every opportunity. 

However, the intrinsic goodness of growing food in your own back yard or eating indigenous vegetables from around the corner does feel kinda good.  I have a few little herbs on my front porch – nothing like Farmer Val in Anaheim Hills. 

I do dream of a giant backyard garden, complete with gorgeous hanging fruits and vegetables, fertilized with my own rich compost, my plants pruned daily with joy and a light sweat on my brow.  I’m as wholesome as the veggie patch in my back yard…  I’m practically Jamie Oliver…  Ahhhh….

Okay, so that’s not reality – not even close.  Nevertheless, I do enjoy the few sprigs of rosemary that I can snip from the pot on my front porch. 

Farmer Val

Farmer Val

I’ve loved the responses that came from the last question I posed regardng ingredients, and now I am immensely interested in knowing what your favorite five “local” ingredients are – either from where you live now or somewhere that you have lived in the past.  “Local” can be from your back yard or from your state.  If you have a picture of a backyard harvest – send it to me and I will post it!

Please do think about responding – I cherish the growing community on this little blog.  In the meantime, here’s mine:

 

 

Georgia

  1. peaches
  2. vidalia onions
  3. okra
  4. collard greens
  5. green tomatoes

Texas

  1. okra
  2. pecans
  3. peppers
  4. beef
  5. prickly pear cactus fruit

Louisiana

  1. catfish
  2. andouille sausage
  3. king cake
  4. pralines
  5. trout

So I’m cheating a little bit on Louisiana…

California

  1. lemons
  2. limes
  3. satsumas
  4. grapes
  5. avocados

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see the foamy white goodness on the salmon?  that's hot butter

see the foamy white goodness on the salmon? that's hot butter

I think I may have mentioned this already, but salmon isn’t really my favorite fish.  It’s just so salmony.  So it’s funny that we eat it about once a week in our house.  Clarification: I don’t care for it as much when other people fix it, I love it when I prepare it myself.  Is that snooty?

The thing about salmon is that it’s so affordable and a cinch to prepare, extremely good for your body and a very sustainable fish.  All of these things appeal to my sensibilities.  Also, I have found some ways to make salmon taste creamy, not salmony. 

Imagine a plumpy, flaky, juicy little piece of pink fish, covered in a delicious blackened crust – onions, garlic, paprika and cayenne all come together to create a smoky depth of flavor – a little lemon and thyme add brightness and keep things interesting.  Imagine drizzling a little bit of browned butter on the fish – it sizzles on the crust – buttery magic is happening.  Now imagine yourself taking the perfect bite of creamy fish – the crunch of the crust is so toothsome – the soft richness of the salmon is a perfect contrast.  I mean really, imagine this.  You too can be so passionately dramatic about a fish that you’re not even sure you like.  Indeed, that is how spectacular this recipe is.  I’m getting worked up just thinking about it (even with a belly full of the best homemade pizza that has come from my kitchen to date)…    

Furthering the greatness of this dish is the fact that I can throw it on my indoor grill with some asparagus and call it a night.  Jon and I split a large, skinned filet between the two of us but you could get wild and have an entire filet to yourself – just increase the amount of the spice mixture.  Speaking of wild, Sockeye and other non-farmed varieties of salmon are abundantly available right now – there are no excuses to not to have a euphoric salmon experience this week.

blackened salmon with a brown butter drizzle       

  • one large, skinned salmon filet cut in half
  • two tbsp of onion (red, white, yellow – use what you’ve got), finely minced
  • two cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • a heaping tsp of paprika, maybe a little more
  • a heaping tsp of dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper, or more if you like heat
  • 1/4 tsp of smoked pimenton or smoked paprika (if you don’t have this on hand just omit it – it’s just a bonus)
  • a very generous pinch of kosher salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • a very generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, probably a few tbsps
  • half of a lemon
  • a tbsp or so of butter
  1. combine the onion, garlic, cayenne, paprika, thyme, salt, pepper and lemon in a small bowl and add enough olive oil to form a nice wet paste (just for fun, take a big whiff of the mix – it will be aromatic and wonderful)
  2. cover one side of each piece of salmon with some of the spice mixture, and place spiced side down onto a well oiled grill pan or skillet on medium heat
  3. add the remaining spice mixture to the exposed side of the salmon
  4. cook the salmon for three to four minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the filet (be gentle when you’re turning the fish over so that the crust stays with the fish)
  5. in the last few minutes of cook time, melt some butter over medium heat, swirling gently until is begins to brown
  6. plate the salmon and drizzle the hot butter immediately over each fillet – serve with another squeeze of lemon and thank God for the privilege of food and taste buds

Do you want more salmon?  How about favorite spring salmon on peas with lemon brodetto or salmon with citrus pesto? Mmmmm….

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little darlings

little darlings

Excluding bread and water, what are five ingredients that you could not live without?  Not dishes – individual items.  I’m really curious about this.  I saw the question recently and I’ve been thinking about my list, modifying, deliberating, agonizing (why?!) and returning to my original thoughts.  It’s more difficult than you think!  Here is where I stand at the moment:

  1. olive oil
  2. lemon
  3. garlic
  4. onion
  5. butter

Golly, that was hard.  Please tell me yours.  Do it.  Do it. 

Oh yes, and I’m including a picture of these gorgeous little baby artichokes that I found at the market.  They are so ridiculously beautiful that I have to share them.  I used them to make more artichoke and potato hash

So back to your list…

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tasty and wonderful

tasty and wonderful

The last time I was in Israel I arrived in Tel Aviv at dawn.  I left Athens for Israel at one in the morning, and it took many hours of travel before I finally reached Tiberias, my first stop on the journey.  Tiberias is a beautiful little city that occupies a short stretch of the coast along the Sea of Galilee.  There are small and winding stone alleys, a lively beach scene, elegant boutique hotels and crumbling, ancient minarets left over from the Ottomans.  Ignore the young teenagers carrying machine guns; it’s a charming town.  Tiberias is particularly special to me because it is where I met my husband.  I can easily conjure the colorful, swirling, exhilarating memories of the night that we met, so you can imagine how excited I was to return with him three years later.

However, our reunion with this cherished city was not the picture of romance that I envisioned.  We were tired, confused, starving.  We had been up for hours.  We were hangry (a unique physical/emotional state brought on by low blood sugar; hunger+angry=hangry).  People that know me know about hangry.  Hanger must be attended to.  We ended up at a small place called Little Tiberias.  We ate quite a few dishes that day, but I only remember the fried cauliflower.  Is it terrible to say that my memories of the fried cauliflower run alongside my memories of meeting Jon? 

off the coast of tiberias

off the coast of tiberias

I don’t know if I have ever loved a vegetable the way that I loved that cauliflower.  It could have been because I was starving but I’m pretty sure its because it was out of this world.  It was tender and crispy all at the same time, warm and smothered with garlic and olive oil and lemon and coriander leaves.  My mouth is watering as I write this.  My passion for this cauliflower was so intense that the chef came out and shared the recipe with me, which basically consisted of “loads and loads of garlic” and “tons of lemon and olive oil” and “good white cauliflower dropped in a lot of hot oil.” 

Cauliflower is an underused vegetable, pushed aside all together or covered in fake, melted cheese.  Yuck.  I have always enjoyed its earthy flavor and prefer it  roasted in the oven with lemon or nutmeg or paprika, but ever since that day I really love my pretend Little Tiberias version.  I don’t technically fry the cauliflower (although I’d like to try one day) and I swapped the coriander leaves for arugula, but it still tastes delicious and reminds me of Israel and love and beach and sunshine.  I also added a little bit of paprika – no idea why.  The cauliflower gets nice and browned and lemony and garlicky – the wilted arugula a perfect complement.  Please try this immediately and tell me all about it or share one of your favorite ways to prepare cauliflower!    

lemony garlicky cauliflower and wilted arugula (and love)

  • one head of cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
  • four or five cloves of garlic, chopped
  • one large or two small lemons (meyers are best)
  • one generous handful of arugula
  • one teaspoon of paprika
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  1. heat a very generous amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the cauliflower, cooking for a few minutes untouched until they begin to brown
  2. add the paprika, salt and pepper and give the florets a turn or a shake to encourage nice browing on their opposite sides
  3. once cauliflower is browning nicely, squeeze half of a lemon over the florets, add a splash of water, reduce heat to medium and cover, cooking for about 8 more minutes or until cauliflower is tender (be sure and check temperture level and add a little water as necessary to keep from burning)
  4. in the meantime, whisk the rest of the lemon with some extra virgin olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper to create a simple vinaigrette
  5. in the last few minutes of cooking, add the chopped garlic to the cauliflower and stir, watching carefully so that the garlic doesn’t burn
  6. when cauliflower is finished, toss it with the arugula and the vinaigrette

I like to serve this will something simple like chicken or salmon or steak.

You could substitute the arugula for cilantro, a cousin to the coriander leaves that they use at Little Tiberias.  I don’t use cilantro because I hate it, which goes to show just how good the version in Israel was!

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i love these peopleI’ve just returned from a beach trip with my husband’s family.  We had a really lovely time.  Really.  I can only think of one teensy complaint about the week (okay, two if I include the fact that my head is still peeling ): Jon’s family does not place any value in eating well.  Allow me to paint the picture for you by highlighting some of the most memorable concoctions; buttered pop tarts, cheesy poofs (which would have been dipped in sour cream had it been available), and coffee sweetened with ice cream, artificial creamer AND sugar.  This is no joke.  This is real. 

At the beginning of the trip I’m simply thinking of a nicely crusted piece of salmon or some flavorful chicken –  by the end of the trip I am so desperate for a vegetable that I’m considering a handful of grass or that piece of seaweed I saw lying listlessly next to my beach towel.  The reasons that we don’t just cook our own food at the beach condo are too complex to discuss, and I really don’t want to be obnoxiously pushy about the fact that we like to eat food and nourish our bodies.  Already we are introduced as such, “This  is my brother Jon and his wife Amanda.  They’re healthy.”  The second sentence is said in a more hushed, foreboding tone, kind of like when you’re announcing a family member that is a little slow, or, I don’t know, terminally ill. 

The most amazing thing is that all of these wonderful family members that I truly adore do not weigh four hundred pounds.  Miraculously they are all slim, trim and stunning; either a small miracle or a testimony to the influence of good genes.   

I’m telling you all of this just so that you understand my desperate desire to eat something that grew from a seed and sprouted through the earth, something that was plucked from a vine or was once covered in dirt.  These are my thoughts as I’m wandering through the market on Sunday, loving every minute of my reclaimed freedom of food choice.  I planned to overload the menu with veg, while as usual, be thrifty and use all of my purchased ingredients.  I knew I would have some extra arugula and decided to just grab a small assortment of vegetables to grill up and serve on top of the remaining greens.  I’m so fortunate to be able to buy individual vegetables as opposed to a pre-packaged bunch; this is the beauty of the farmer’s market.  So, I selected a zucchini, a summer squash, a few portabello mushroom caps and a red onion.  Remembering the balsamic that I just brought back from Italy and a jar of roasted red peppers in my fridge, I think that this will be so easy to throw on the grill, taste amazing, and feed the screaming veggie monster that had yet to be satisfied. 

I just finished my lunch, and what I thought was going to be a very simple preparation of grilled veggies on some

beautiful grilled veggie goodness

beautiful grilled veggie goodness

left over greens (I’ve done this before, you know), turned out to be a symphony of tangy, warm, toasty, flavorful, satisfying goodness.  Oh yes.  And to think that I was also eating on the cheap and nourishing my deprived body?!  There is a God who loves me. 

I’ve thrown this little menagerie together before, but a few minor tweaks really made it special.  For starters, I used arugula instead of spinach.  If you think arugula is bitter or strong or just plain gross, erase this notion from your brain immediately.  Toss those greens in some lemon and good quality olive oil, get over it and enjoy.  Pair them with something complementary like red onion or soppressata or cauliflower or tomato sauce.  But I digress; the arugula that I tossed in lemon and olive oil as a bed for my grilled vegetables elevated the flavors of each vegetable, as did the pairing of lemon with the balsamic that I poured over my vegetables.  (It also probably didn’t hurt that I used some balsamic from Italy…).  What really added panache though was a little side bowl of whole milk ricotta cheese that I mixed with a smidge of grated fresh garlic and salt and pepper.  Oooooooohhhh, a little bit of arugula, some portabello, a piece of onion and a little dollop of that pillowy cool ricotta, scented with the fresh garlic – heaven!  Or maybe a little bit of arugula with some roasted red pepper and a piece of summer squash, and another little schmear of that glorious ricotta – perfection!  The sweetness of the vinegar, the balancing sour of the lemon, the roasty flavor of the vegetables, the assertive flavor of our darling arugula, and the crown of that beautiful ricotta – a revelation!  Each bite was chosen for a new combination of flavors, each one announced as the best so far.  

Did I mention that this was also easy as pie?  You could really go overboard and throw in some toasted flat bread or pour the greens and veggies over a nice little serving of quinoa or couscous.  You could toss in some fresh herbs, like basil or thyme.  You could grill some chicken alongside your veggies. (And speaking of grilling, you also must get one of those cast iron grill pans that go over two burners.  It will change your life.  It makes all of this so simple and quick to cook and clean.) 

little ricotta cloud

little ricotta cloud

If I sound bossy here I do apologize; maybe it’s because I just spent a week trying to avoid buttered preservatives and sugar encapsulated in trans fat, forbidden to indulge my omnivorous desires for real food.  This is hard for me.  It makes me sassy when I’m back in control. 

The recipe below is for two; very easy to adjust for any number of people.  I do hope that you will recreate this meal immediately and enjoy every single unique bite as Jon and I just did.  While you savor each little flavor explosion, meditate on the fact that you are capable of making this fabulous food, that your body is singing a chorus for all of this lovely veg, and that most likely what you put on your grill cost less that a box of cheesy poofs or a gallon of ice cream.  Glory!

delicious grilled veggie and arugula salad with pillowy garlic scented ricotta

  • one zucchini, sliced into half inch rounds
  • two summer squash, sliced into half inch rounds
  • one medium red onion, peeled and quartered
  • two portobello mushroom caps, sliced into manageable chunks
  • a few good quality jarred roasted red peppers
  • a few generous handfuls of arugula, rinsed and dried
  • one lemon
  • about a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • one half clove of garlic, grated or pushed through a press
  • a few tablespoons of whole milk ricotta
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. toss squash, zucchini, shrooms and peppers in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper, and add them to a well oiled grill pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes per side or until desired doneness
  2. meanwhile, toss the arugula with a dressing of salt and pepper, the juice of a fresh lemon and olive oil; lay on a platter or places
  3. add garlic to the ricotta and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside in a little serving bowl
  4. top the arugula with the finished vegetables and gently toss so that arugula slightly wilts; serve with the ricotta on the side and enjoy every bite

You could really use any kind of mediterranean style vegetables that you like, including eggplants or artichoke hearts – this is a great way to use any left over vegetables.

While the ricotta cheese is a fantastic companion to the salad, parmesan or goat cheese or any other cheese may be a great accompaniment; I happened to have some extra ricotta in the fridge – get creative and use what you’ve got!

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