Monday, June 30, 2008

My Favorite Food Writing Books

I cannot begin this post without mentioning Laurie Colwin. Her two amazing books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, are two of my absolute favorites. She is funny and warm, descriptive of food, educational and not dry. She is everything every food writer (should) aspires to be. I can't get into the story, because there really isn't one. Just trust me on this one and pick her up.

I had NO idea what to expect when I picked up this book. It didn't seem that interesting and I don't love the cover, so I though, pshh, how good could it be? Well, it is truly on of the most entertaining books I can remember reading. Bill Buford makes you feel as though you are in the kitchen. It is also one of the more realistic depictions of what it actually is to work in a fast paced, professional kitchen. Anyone who has any dreams of becoming a chef or working in a kitchen should read Heat and they will immediately get any romantic thoughts of gracefully chopping carrots and tasting food all day out of their heads. And the chapter on the day Buford went and bought an entire pig and brought it back to his Manhattan apartment is possibly one of the funniest around.

I am finishing this book right now, as we speak. Ok, not technically reading it at the moment, but I will finish it tonight. And so far I like the story. It is not very well written and the mood of it is sort of odd, but Marco Pierre White is too interesting a guy to pass up. He is the one that took Mario Batali in at a young age (there is a chapter on him in Heat, see above), and he also trained such chefs as Gordon Ramsay amongst others. White is the world renowned British chef who is the youngest ever to win 3 Michelin stars (33!) He is also known for his fiery temper and his knack for kicking people out of his restaurants, both in the kitchen and the dining room. He is self taught and truly a culinary genius. But I wish that the book focused more on his obsession and dedication to food, something that he obvious has and has won accolades for, than describing one more bollocking and one more tussle with the boys. He must know that there is something deeper inside that is causing his severe temper and misbehavior, but he chooses not to touch on that subject. Other than that though, the book is great. I wouldn't recommend you bring it as the only book on a vacation, but for what it is it's an interesting story and a fascinating man.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Walnuts and Spinach in Pesto- Oh My! The Incredible Hulk Meal

Yum, this was really good. I made a pesto one night when I realized I had about 2 pounds of spinach and walnuts, but nothing much else. In my Cuisinart I pureed lots of spinach with walnuts, a little too much garlic in retrospect, a handful of leftover basil, some lemon juice and bit of lemon zest, and parmesan and gruyere (I had a teeny bit on hand I wanted to get rid of.) I streamed in the olive oil and I was all set. I also had some spinach fettuccine in the cupboard which went well with the green meal. I have green eyes and find it very important to match my food to my eyes. Kidding. But it would be nice if your food always blended nicely with your complexion or your outfit of choice. I cannot recall what I was wearing the night that I cooked this, but I am sure that it went along nicely.
The pesto was delicious and quick. There was bit too much garlic, we both reeked for about 24 hours, but it was a nice meal. And the pasta was delicious. I will update this when I remember the brand, but it was a spinach and egg fettuccine which completed the greenness of the meal. I think that I still love the classic pesto made with basil and pine nuts, but twisting it with a different leafy green adn walnuts really made the flavor pop.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Yum Yum Teriyaki Chicken Dinner Party

I am getting to that age. What age you ask? The age when EVERYONE starts coupling up and it seems as though there are more weddings than weekends available in the year. My friends seem to be getting engaged left and right, so I decided to have a little dinner celebrating two newly engaged friends. And I thought I would share it would some other friends who are less newly engaged, but not yet married. So, on Sunday night everyone piled into my house for some wine, good conversation, and good food. I decided to make my faux Teriyaki Chicken, roasted corn and zucchini, and Ina Garten's heirloom tomato salad with Roquefort dressing.
Thank god none of these items were difficult or time consuming, because by the time Sunday rolled around my weekend had gotten away from me and I was completely unprepared to make dinner for 8 people (I mean 4 couples naturally, it seems as though individuality is on its way out.) So I ran on down to the ghetto Safeway as I like to call it (which now, funnily enough, looks like one of those neighborhoods that is "mixed" as some call it. High and low. They are currently remodeling it so it has the new larger produce section, the fancy wooden signage, better cheese, etc, but they are in the middle of construction. So some aisles are really nice and the others are full of half empty shelves and ripped up floors. And naturally I cannot find a thing because everything is all mixed up and the signs don't actually reflect anything that is in the aisles at this point...) Enough of that. Safeway was fine. I managed to overfill my basket, as usual, so I was stuck carrying around wine and heavy things and getting even more frustrated at the whole prospect. So I skedaddled on home and started getting things together.
The first thing I did was make my teriyaki-ish sauce. I paid a little attention the the recipe, but I must admit i don't really measure anything. I figure that I can tell if the taste will be alright and I go with my senses. I placed all the lovely chicken thighs and drumsticks in the marinade and stuck it in the fridge.

Over all, the meal was delicious. I would recommend to anyone using Ina's Roquefor dressing recipe to halve or cut it by a third. It made WAY too much,AND I used over 2lbs of tomatoes, and I placed it on a bed of arugula.
And yes, I am going to attempt to become a better food photographer. And I will also attempt not to have the food half eaten before I take the picture!!

Teriyaki- Ish Chicken (I doubled this and it was perfect for 8 people. Also, I used 2 packages of chicken thighs and one of drumsticks. And i kept the bones in and some skin on. For flavor)

6 chicken thighs
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 tbsp chili sauce (I used that yummy thai stuff)
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground garlic (use more of these, they didn't show up enough)
Salt and Pepper

Combine all the ingredients and mix with the chicken. Marinate for one hour (or more) and back at 425F for 40 minutes.
Yum Yum.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Halibut- Just for the Hell of It

So, I have been cooking a lot and have nothing to show for it. I mean, I have something to show for it, dish pan hands, a lighter bank account, less time reading, but nothing to show for it on my blog. VERY bad. So, I am back. And I have been cooking. Ok, I already said that. But I have been cooking a lot. The nice part about the change in my life, having another mouth around to feed all the time, is that I am cooking a ton more. When I am alone I eat what I call "single food." This is meals that comprise of any combination of the following:
a piece of toast
and apple
a string cheese
a few bites of salad
an egg
some chips and salsa
a carrot
left over beets
Wheat Thins with cottage cheese
A quesadilla with faux guacamole made of half an avocado and tabasco

Ok- you get it. Basically anything that takes less than five minutes, uses less than 3 dishes. But now that I am cooking for two, I put more effort into it. And I have another person to appreciate the work I am doing. So I have been stirring things up in my kitchen.
For Mother's Day I made Halibut in Papilotte. Now, I had never used this technique before, but I really liked it. I was able to prepare the packages (that is what the name means in french) before dinner so I could relax before I stuck them in the oven for 9 minutes. The fish came out PERFECTLY. Seriously perfect. My mother was very pleased, especially considering halibut is her favorite. Inside the papilotte I also placed some thyme (the herb on hand, I would actually recommend pretty much any herb you have nearby), cherry or grape tomatoes, some orange rind, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper, some butter, and a few olives. This was so wonderful. The tomatoes were hot and oozy, the fish was lovely, and the cleanup minimal.
I paired this with a dish that did not match but I like making, so there. Plus it is a vegetable and starch all together, which makes life that much simpler. It is my savory asparagus, gruyere, mushroom bread pudding. I found this recipe on Epicurious but have added my own tweaks to it. Namely, the mushrooms, which really add an amazing new layer of flavor to it, and then I completely ignore all the measurements and do everything to feel. The pudding has gruyere, swiss, and parmesan cheese. As well as thyme, chives, italian parsley, bread, eggs, milk, etc. It is absolutely wonderful, can be prepared in advance, and would a great brunch dish as well.

Above is the bread pudding waiting for it's "bucket o'cheese'n'herbs" as I like to call it.

I mix this all together and let it sit with the egg and milk mixture for at least an hour. I have actually made this the night before and had it sit all night in the fridge to wonderful results. There should be no concerns there on that front.

But I have been cooking and not blogging enough. Pretty soon I'll be blogging a lot and not cooking and writing a personal manifesto on the joys of toast. Actually, that could happen any day now, as, any one who knows me will agree, toast is my favorite food. In the whole world. Yes, I live in San Francisco where I am surrounded by amazing food at every corner. And yes, I have enough of a disposable income where I can buy any ingredient (barring truffles, saffron, really expensive wine...). But I love toast. My favorite would be the St Luis Sourdough Company. AMAZING toast. Sourdough is amongst my favorite. But I also like chewy whole grain.
Wait, this was supposed to be another blog post!
Back to my great dinner. It was great, no more to discuss there. For a good En Papillote recipe go to the Gourmet cookbook. The big honking yellow one which is wonderfully edited by Ruth Reichl.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Camping Food

So, I went camping. Now, this statement may not sound shocking to those who do not know me, but this is a REALLY BIG DEAL. After a horrific camping experience at 19 (ok, there was a frog that freaked me out and the whole sleeping outside/no electricity/dirt combo is just not suitable to my needs)I swore I would never camp again. This rang true for almost 9 years, but alas, it was dashed on Memorial Day weekend. It all started with my new boyfriend. When you begin a relationship and you are all lovey dovey, somehow one may be convinced to things they might not ordinarily do. Like camping, for example. So, there I was stuck with the conundrum, if J loves camping and I love J, does that mean I love camping?! Does it work like that? (In case anyone is curious, NO, it doesn't. Love is not transitive like that). But I had to experience this for myself. So off I went with a (borrowed) backpack filled with such things as a headlamp, a mini stove, and wine (yes, I brought wine camping) and I was off. Off into the wild wilderness never to be seen again perhaps.

Living in the Bay Area, the wild is really only a 40 minute drive from the comfortable apartment in San Francisco. I refused to go to the Sierras (there was a chance of rain and snow, and I was RIGHT!) and I thought that knowing how close I was to civilization might help put me at ease on the trip. So J, his friend Brian, another experienced camper, and I set off on our expedition. In an Audi. Wearing my new white North Face Jacket, armed with artisan cheese and tabbouleh and wine. Or so we thought.

Now, the three of us arrived in Point Reyes and started unloading our gear. We were doing a 3 miles hike to Sky Camp and we had a site reserved. At my house before we left we had loaded a cooler with food for the trip. Sausages, cheese, wine, my homemade tabbouleh, fruit, etc. We were going to leave this in the car and refill on day two. So as J and I take out our backpacks both us say, hey Brian, where's the cooler? Well people, the cooler was on my kitchen counter in San Francisco. Brilliant! We forgot all the food. Except for some sardines, a package of freeze dried Chili Mac (needless to say I did not want nor did I have anything to do with this), mustard, salami, sausages, and buns. Are you noticing a theme here? (hint, processed meat). Oh, and two apples I had stashed in my backpack. So, we were going to starve. Well I was. For 15 years I did not touch red meat or pork products. This is changing a little bit. I like to say I am flirting with the stuff, a bite here and a bite there, but I don't really want to indulge of a meal of two different sausages and salami. But not really. We simply ran into Pt. Reyes station, picked up some cheese and crackers and called it a day, or a hike.

Well I have never actually hiked to camping. I have car camped, but this was the first time I had ever put literally everything I needed on my back and hauled it straight up a mountain. It's funny, men say that women are high maintenance, but camping, now THAT is high maintenance. You have to carry your bed, food, light, entertainment (this came in the form of a bottle of vodka), toilet, shower, etc all with you. Staying at a nice hotel, LOW maintenance. And I will give credit where credit is due, I had some help carrying things up the mountain. My pack was heavy, but J's was really heavy.

When we got to sky camp it was really pretty. I got to see things like this.

The trail was beautiful and we saw deer and yellow finches. It was quite nice. And for about 5 minutes I was really content sitting on a picnic table, while the boys put the tents up, and relaxing. Then I realized that I had to sleep there and got a little grumpy. But, I started making appetizers and I was really excited. I got into it! The top photo is of my appetizer, a triscuit with mustard, cheddar cheese, and a sardine one it, doctored up by J. He decided it would be nice to fit every food we had into said bite. So there are two types of cheese, salami, smoked salmon, and a sardine atop a pita. I lied, we had some more stuff than I claimed. This looks absolutely revolting if you ask me, but J said it was quite tasty, as evident below.

After a lovely meal of said appetizers and some sausages that the boys hungrily ingested, I thought, ok, I can eat in the wilderness. And I can sleep in the wilderness. It isn't so bad. Then J suggested I should write a cookbook of camping food and he offered to be my guinea pig. He said we can go every weekend and he will taste all the food. I said "don't push your luck buddy."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Lasagna Lasagna- OR The Garfield Meal

So, after a good jog around Chrissy Field last Tuesday I was discussing with my guy what he wanted to eat for dinner. It was about 7:30pm, so the options were closing. I still had to run by the store before cooking and did not want something too labor intensive or that had a long cooking time. So, I offered up the options of fish and orzo, or perhaps some easy chicken or something. Something light and easy. But, I kept getting the lasagna request over and over again, so I conceded. We ran to Whole Foods to buy ingredients and I was off.
I love love love Ina Garten's Turkey Sausage Lasagna. It is just so good. I typically tweak around the ingredients, starting with cutting the amount of sausage down to 3/4 pounds from 1 1/2 pounds. And then when it comes to measuring herbs and cheese, well, I don't. The ricotta comes premeasured, as does the mozzarella, but I figure some extra basil, goat cheese, and parmesan never killed anyone. Well, perhaps over time, clogged arteries, heart attacks, but not in an evening.
So, I set about preparing the lasagna. I said that it would take awhile, but I don't think that J thought he wouldn't be eating until past 10! that said, I made a salad too. And the lasagna was so good, it was worth the wait.
The labor of this dish starts with creating the sauce. Yeah, so it takes a few minutes to dice some onions and chop garlic. But then somehow the time got away from me. Between soaking the noodles, cutting/grating cheese, etc, this dish is a long haul. Writing about it at the moment I realize that it does not sound like much maintenance, perhaps I need to improve my cooking skills so I have a shorter cooking time.
So, the finished product came out and both J and my roomie were hovering over the bubbling dish. I served us up and got raves all around. J and I ate it for lunch the next day and dinner, with another lunch the following day! And my roommate called me the next day and said, what did you put in that lasagna? It is SO good.
There is my recommendation. If you want drooling and happy guests, make this lasagna. Just start before 8:30 pm!

TURKEY SAUSAGE LASAGNA- remember to use half the sausage if you want it less meat heavy.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound lasagna noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large (10 to 12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one third of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.