Asparagus and Potato Tart for a Party

It was the 4th of July and I was in such a happy mood! I was having a lot of fun around that time, walking all around town with no pain, meeting fabulous new people, seeing friends I love dearly, and just enjoying my life.

On the 4th, some dear friends had a potluck for the holiday, and I wanted to bring something absolutely beautiful and yet utilize what I had in my pantry.

As I assessed my inventory, I found a lovely sheet of puff pastry in the freezer, I have some beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes, some fresh herbs, and Gruyere cheese. I went off to the store and bought some additional fresh produce and things for the weekend and picked up a bundle of asparagus.

The morning before the party, I fired up the oven and boiled the potatoes, and once they were cool I sliced them and seasoned them well with Kosher salt. Meantime, I rolled out the puff pastry and cut it into a square, then created edges with the scraps. I brushed the bottom of the pastry inside the square with a little mustard, followed by some sour cream.

The sliced potatoes went on next, followed by a hearty layer of Gruyere, then the asparagus which were topped with a little more cheese, salt and pepper, and some leaves of fresh thyme.  30 minutes later, it looked perfect!

The party was a really fun time, seeing my friends and having a foggy and drizzly afternoon celebrating our country’s 240th birthday!  The tart was a huge success and was quickly decimated to crumbs. We escaped the fog after the food was devoured into the warm house with large glasses of bourbon to spur our conversations.  I plan to make this tart again for a picnic this weekend, hope you try it sometime too!

 

Recipe:  Asparagus, Potato and Gruyere Cheese Tart

 

Orange Scented Memories

My office offers fresh fruit every week and this week the fruit bowl is loaded with mini seedless tangelos, and fat, heavy naval oranges, both deeply orange and tangy.

I cracked a tangelo open and peeled it, trying to peel it in one long peel, and the aroma wafted up.

orange

Suddenly I was taken back to my first home where we had a navel orange tree. I spent many fond years on the teak bench my father built on the edge of the patio under the shade of the orange tree.  I would perch there to eat the bright juicy fruit still warm from the sun.  We almost lost the tree one year because the baby rabbit my sister found on the edge of the high school’s wilderness area (a space with examples of each California ecosystem, built by my sister and other students) developed a taste for the orange tree bark and almost girdled it.  We weaned him off his destructive habits by feeding him regular handfuls of orange and lemon leaves as a treat.

My mom used to make fancy cakes decorated with chocolate leaves using the orange tree leaves as a mold.  I would be sent out to the yard to pluck young, perfectly sized and smooth orange leaves, and would be tasked with carefully washing and drying them. Once they were perfectly dry we would paint them with tempered dark chocolate and chill them, and later, slowly, peel off the leaf to reveal a perfect chocolate form.

When my mom remarried, we picked orange blossoms and created fancy rings of ice adorned with the blooms to float in the punch bowl for the wedding reception.  Grandmother sadly needed to be moved to the East Coast to live with my aunt, so we stripped the tree of oranges to ship back with them, a last taste of California and nostalgia.

These days, living in my current apartment high above the streets, I keep a copy of Cross Creek by the bathtub for languorous bubble bath reading, and recall the scent of orange blossoms floating in the night.  I long for that orange tree, as I buy outrageously priced organic citrus from various places and slice long curls of the peel to drape over the rim of my Negroni at home, and then eat fat wedges of the cut orange the next morning. They never seem to taste quite as heavenly as the one in that childhood home though, the memory of oranges is stronger.

 

Why Pay $11 for Avocado Toast?

San Francisco is the land of outrageously expensive toast.

Last year the internet trended with articles about $4 toast or $6 toast but the fervor over avocado toasts has reached hysterical heights.

I visited the Ferry Building, as I often do, and tried out one of the most outrageously expensive avocado toasts in the city at Frog Hollow.  Admittedly, it was divine.  The avocado was perfectly ripe, the bread had the perfect chewiness and toasted not too hard to become too difficult to bite through, causing a cascade of luscious avocado slices to slide off onto your black pants.  A hint of garlic overlays the bread, and the entire toast is dappled with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

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This beauty comes in at $10.99.

While it is to be like one of the cool kids and fork out two fins and a buck for someone else to make me lunch, I would rather reduce my wallet at the market and shop for the ingredients and make avocado toast myself.

Let’s do the math.

 Grocery Store cost ingredient outlay  At home per toast cost
Acme Herb Slab loaf = 4 servings                       4.99  1 serving           1.25
Avocado each                       1.50  1 avocado           1.50
Stonehouse olive oil, house blend liter = 67 Tbl.                     14.00  1 Tbl.           0.21
Garlic head = 10 cloves                       0.96  1 clove           0.10
Maldon salt box = 8.5 oz                       5.99  1/2 tsp.           0.06
McCormick’s black pepper in grinder grinder = .85 oz                       4.29  1/4 tsp.           0.02
 Total                      31.73             3.13

I used Instacart to price out the ingredients at Whole Foods, while knowing that if I shopped at the farmer’s market or at the Ferry Building I would have received a discount for paying cash for the bread, and the other ingredients can be found cheaply depending upon which farm you source the avocados and garlic.

Last Saturday at the Ferry building I bought a loaf of Marla Bakery’s molasses oatmeal bread ($5), a head of garlic ($.25), and two avocados ($3), and made avocado toast at work on Monday. This delay was necessitated by the ripeness of the avocados.

If you haven’t tried Marla’s molasses oatmeal bread as toast you need to rectify this immediately.  I do feel slightly ashamed for not baking my own oatmeal molasses bread, as I often do, but I had a busy weekend.  I used salt, pepper, and a small bottle of olive oil from the office kitchen and the toaster and made this:
Fast avocado toast

I was in a hurry and didn’t take the beautiful care to arrange the avocado like the staff at Frog Hollow, and my slice of bread got a little trashed during my morning commute on MUNI, but nonetheless, it tasted fantastic and I was the envy of my boss and coworkers.  And I saved $7.86.

The only vaguely tricky part is getting a ripe avocado, so I recommend visiting a farmer’s market and asking the farm to help you pick an avocado out.  They can advise you when it will be ripe to eat, and usually they are spot on.

Enjoy your avocado toast!

Recipe: Not Insanely Priced Avocado Toast

 

 

My Favorite Breakfast

biscuits-gravy

Weekends are when I have time for a leisurely morning at home. I like to putter through my apartment sipping espresso, doing random tidying and half listening to my morning playlist of Tame Impala and Parisian bistro music. At some point I realize I truly am hungry and enter the kitchen in earnest looking for something delicious yet soothing.

I truly do miss having poached eggs at times, except for the unfortunate side effect of, you know, death, should I ingest an egg.  However, I still crave that creamy, soft comfort food kind of dish that appeals on a lazy morning. And the answer to that craving now for me is biscuits and gravy.

My first experience with biscuits and gravy was a truck stop at the base of the Grapevine on I-5.  I was with my mom and we were heading to LA to visit grandma.  In our family, a road trip meant that we had to pack the car and depart usually before 5:30 am. I have no idea why this insanity was inflicted upon us poor kids and my poor mom, but there you are, up at at ’em, bleary eyed well before the break of dawn, and completely ravenous by the time the Grapevine rose up ahead of us at the end of the San Joaquin Valley.

At the truck stop, an actual trucker in a John Deer hat (or something like it) was chowing down on a massive plate of a fried ham steak, eggs, and something I didn’t recognize but needed to know more about, and it turned out to be biscuits and gravy.  I have been hooked ever since.

Mom’s sausage gravy is a winner, with an entire pound of good breakfast sausage skinned of their casings and browned in a skillet, flour added to the scant amount of fat left in the pan after draining, and whole or skim milk stirred in vigorously.  This was all taking place while buttermilk biscuits were rising in the oven.  My job was to make mom her coffee, a pour over in a Melita cone, and to set the table and to fend off the cat from eating the slices of cantaloupe set out on a small bowl on each placemat.

These days, I have perfected an egg-free biscuit recipe, and during this time of year when morels are popping up all over the place, I have made morel gravy instead of sausage gravy.  Add a glass of prosecco and some espresso topped with bourbon whipped cream, a couple of biscuits and gravy are the perfect prelude to an epic post-breakfast nap, preferably with a James Bond movie on TV.

Whether you have access to morels or another mushroom, or prefer sausage, I hope you try this comforting breakfast dish, with or without a John Deere hat.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy (with Morel Gravy option)

 

 

Shroomasagna!

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Last month at a dinner meeting of the Mycological Society of San Francisco I was the fortunate winner of a raffle, which was a rather huge basket of gourmet mushrooms from Mycopia Mushrooms in Sebastopol. The beautiful wicker basket was stuffed with five of their mushroom varieties: Trumpet Royale, Velvet Pioppini, Forest Nameko, Alba Clamshell and Brown Clamshell. One of these mushrooms, the Forest Nameko mushroom, was one I had not tried before.  It is a beautiful walnut brown color cap with a gelatinous texture on a long stem.  I put some in a wonderful miso soup but the texture of the mushrooms, which is vaguely slippery, was not one of my favorites, but the flavor was wonderful.

 

 

The remainder of the glorious mushrooms in the basket were incorporated into a mushroom lasagna that a friend and I made for our weekly “friends who are family” dinner, and out of all of the various lasagnas I have made over the years, this one was by far my absolute favorite. We served the “Shroomasagna” with a simple salad of romaine, halved seedless Thompson grapes, and a light vinaigrette of apple and balsamic vinegars, chased with glasses of chilled rosé. It was hard to wait for the lasagna to cool enough to slice!

I did not snap a photo this in all of its sliced glory, so you may just have to make a batch for yourself sometime.  It was really, really good.

Recipe:   Gourmet Mushroom Lasagne (Shroomasagna)

 

The Flame of Love and Tall Tales

I was at Whitechapel the other night, enjoying a lovely cocktail and the ambiance of this great new watering hole. We were discussing the merits and qualities of various gins and watching an incredible bartender flame orange peels for the Penny Dreadful, my latest cocktail obsession.

The aroma and wild flaming action of the orange peel brought back a memory of another night, sitting at a bar in North Beach, chatting with an older bartender. He told me about his working the bar at a private party at Dean Martin’s home. Imagine, making cocktails for Dean Martin or even being at one of those epic parties… the mind boggles.

As he crafted me a cocktail, he told me about how bored Dean was getting with martinis and how he was listening to the other members of the Rat Pack talk and sing, and when Tom Jones chimed in with song, inspiration struck. The bartender created the Flame of Love cocktail. He filmed a coupe with fino sherry, then stirred a vodka until very chilled and poured that into the glass, and then flamed 3 strips of orange into the glass.  He flamed the orange peels for me at this point in his story and I was hooked.  It was very dramatic and aromatic and something I will never tire of watching.

I sat and sipped this divine concoction in the dimly bar, chatting with this charming older gentleman about old Hollywood and the stars of the day, trading tales of meeting this person and seeing that person, but really, who can top the Rat Pack with Tom Jones?

The last time I went to the restaurant the bartender was no longer there and the current staff did not know about the Flame of Love. A little research revealed that the cocktail is the creation of Pepe Ruiz. I searched for images of Mr. Ruiz and realized that the bartender who told me this story was not Mr. Ruiz and that it was all, sadly, a tall tale.  Whoever that bartender was, despite not creating the Flame of Love himself, his company, the story, and the evening were enchanting. There are many tall tales in San Francisco, and while some of them are real, most of them are perfect for passing the evening, sipping something divine.

Recipe:  Flame of Love Cocktail

Easter Shortcake Hockey Pucks

Sometimes we try to make nice things in our kitchen, for example, this weekend when I tried to make homemade shortcakes for the Easter strawberry shortcake. Technically they should have come out perfectly and they looked great in the pan but by the time the cheapo stove in my apartment browned the tops of the shortcakes to a pleasant golden hue the bottoms were rather reminiscent of a scorched-earth exercise. They were tough as hockey pucks and I am considering donating the leftovers to the San Jose Sharks.

Saturday morning after a lazy breakfast and post-breakfast nap, I was contacted by my friends who were preparing for our fun Easter dinner, held a day early due to child handoff scheduling complications. My dear friend bought a ham and the ingredients to make my favorite egg-free foolproof biscuits. I had fancy cheeses and crackers for the appetizer table and lots of greens to saute, and I figured I would make the biscuits since I have that recipe down cold.  We were coordinating logistics when my friends boyfriend texted me with a plaintive, “where is a bakery that sells egg-free shortcakes?” and I couldn’t think of a single place because having an egg allergy really sucks and dessert is mostly something I have given up on. It was really sweet of him to try to make shortcakes from scratch to accommodate my stupid food issues, I give grand kudos for that. He also offered me a ride and wouldn’t be there for an hour, so I decided I could stop being utterly slothful and make shortcakes myself. I had good Irish butter, I had buttermilk, I had some sour cream but not enough to make my fabulous go-to biscuits, but I could find a recipe!

Thanks to the miracle of the internets I found a good sounding recipe for shortcakes that required heavy cream, so I thought I would thin buttermilk to heavy cream consistency and went to work.
  
The butter was gorgeous, if you find Dairygold butter in your store please do try it out, it is wonderful. It has less water than American butter and a rich, gold color and a really lovely cultured flavor.

I found some pretty, sparkly sanding sugar in my pantry that was Easter-ish in colors and used that on top of the shortcakes, and popped them into the oven to bake. My crappy oven only has one shelf so one batch had to wait while the other tray baked, and some of the Easter sugar got a tiny bit melted but otherwise looked fine.
  

At 15 minutes they were not the lovely golden brown I wanted, so I put them in for another 5 minutes at watched them like a hawk. And yet, despite this, the little suckers scorched on the bottom, probably because they had a lot of sugar in the dough, and my oven is a piece of junk. 

After breathing deeply for a few minutes, I baked batch number two for 15 minutes on my new fabulous non-stick pan that my mom gave me, and they still burned.
  

I packed them up anyway because we had to have something, and took them over to my friend’s home, thinking, at least the upper part will taste good. But alas, this was not to be and I have no idea why.

The kids decided the whipped cream should be colored and they had a lot of fun choosing the colors. The final decision was purple and sky blue, and why not!  I used a spoon to scoop up a bit of the shortcake, the beautiful sliced strawberries and the party whipped cream and could barely penetrate the shortcake. Perhaps a shovel might have helped. 

The kids ate them and enjoyed them and every other part was fantastic but I swore internally at my bad cooking mojo. At least the savory biscuits came out fantastically! The ham and the carrots were great, but the greens I cooked had too much lime juice, oh well, more bad cooking mojo. Despite my angst, everyone had a nice time and it was a lot of fun to see the kids decorate eggs and have an impromptu squirt gun fight.
  

Since this was a fail and I am not sure if it was the recipe or if it was my mojo, I will not be sharing the recipe, unless you have a fervent wish to bake pretty hockey pucks, then please by all means, send me an email.  

Breakfast Serenity – Maple Biscuits

I was inspired the other day when I was going through old photographs and found a picture of a recipe from an old book shared by a friend on Twitter.  The idea of maple biscuits and a cup of coffee sounded just the perfect thing for my first weekend in the kitchen after a long absence due to influenza and bronchitis.

I put my iPad on top of the fridge and started watching Two Fat Ladies make a picnic lunch in Wales, and prepared the biscuits while I slipped on some hot coffee from my favorite mug and saucer from a potter in Sedona.

The biscuit dough came together quickly while my little convection oven preheated. After a disastrous attempt to use my favorite springform pan, which developed a leak for some inexplicable reason, I successfully transferred everything to a cake pan and put the biscuits in the oven.

  

The instructions said to eat them warm and to eat them all, and although I couldn’t possibly can finish this entire pan I am a bit ashamed to say how many I actually did consume.

  

The biscuits are baked in a heavenly soup of melted butter and maple syrup, which infuses into the bottom of the biscuit a bit and leaves a delicious warm pool of maple to dollop on the top of each biscuit. 

I may have to make these again tomorrow for my friends!

Printable recipe

Mushroom Foraging Experiment

Last week I went foraging for mushrooms with a friend, this was the first time I had gone on a foray in many years (pre-ankle surgeries) and, although it was hardly a true foray, it was a lot of fun. My friend had spotted a Chicken of the Woods growing in a very urban area, right off of a parking lot growing on a beautiful tree.

Chicken of the Woods. Image courtesy of Jonathan Clitheroe and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Chicken of the Woods. Image courtesy of Jonathan Clitheroe and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

This mushroom, the Laetiporus sulphureus, is common in North America, although in the Bay Area it is presumed to be Laetiporus gilbertsonii. It is edible and is described as having a meaty texture and flavor similar to chicken. I was excited to harvest one and give it a try.

Although mushroom foragers have varying opinions on the Chicken of the Woods, local foragers I have met said that this variety harvested off a eucalyptus or pine tree will make one sick, while others consume them regularly without any ill effect. I decided to proceed with caution.   It is important to note that this mushroom is considered a safe and delicious mushroom, it will not make you die from eating it, as can happen with many other wild fungii and an inexperienced forager.  I would never dare to eat a foraged mushroom without the advice and supervision of a confirmed expert.  Some people have a sensitivity to Chicken of the Woods and the ill effects are more gastrointestinal in nature and can cause inconvenient effects if one is sensitive.

When I picked it, it exuded a lot of water, which meant it was a very young specimen and therefore prized. It is a beautiful butter yellow color color, rubbery and firm feeling with a pleasant mushroomy scent.

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

It continued to exude the water and by the time I got home the paper bag in which it was stored was rather soggy. I gave it a good wash and had a great moment of excitement when a rather large pill bug decided to leave its mushroom home and explore my cutting board! This is one of the things mushroom foragers are used to, the insect life living within the specimens. As a more amateur forager this causes me great, shall we say, upheaval!

The visiting guest was removed without incident and a tot of Kentucky bourbon helped calm things down. I thinly sliced the mushroom, carefully examining it to ensure there were no more “residents” lurking within, and set about a large pot of water to the simmer.

Per my friend who happily consumes the Chicken of the Woods regularly, she advised that cooking them thoroughly will help ensure no stomach issues, so she recommended simmering for 15-20 minutes in water, draining, and then using in a recipe as one would for any mushroom dish.  My plan was to dice them after they were simmered, saute in butter and wine with some herbs and combine with other wild, but cultivated, mushrooms as part of a mushroom hand pie.

The sliced mushroom pieces developed a beautiful salmon hue, and were quite firm, like a hard shell winter squash.   After simmering for 20 minutes the color of the mushroom deepened a little bit and they had a lovely meaty aroma.

Chicken of the woods, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

I drained them well and chilled all but two slices, which were my samples. I diced them into small pieces, sauteed them in butter with some minced white onion for about 8 minutes, then added a splash of Sauvignon Blanc, salt and pepper, a pinch of thyme, and some chopped parsley.  They smelled divine, and I had a small spoonful.

Some of the ill effects for sensitive people described by mushroom experts are tingling and itchiness of the mouth and tongue, and stomach issues which I shall not describe here.  I have a lot of strange food intolerances and was worried I might immediately experience some oral issues with the Chicken of the Woods but did not.  The next day, however, my system was most unhappy and I decided that, sadly, the Chicken of the Woods is not a mushroom for me.

It was a fun experiment, however, and despite the outcome I shall continue in my mushroom foraging but stick to the more “big” choice consumables:  Morel, porcini, chanterelles, and candy caps.

Caution should be exercised when foraging and consuming wild mushrooms.  Many toxic mushrooms may resemble edible mushrooms and no one should attempt to eat a wild mushroom unless it has been carefully identified by an expert, and, even then, it may not be safe.  It is worth stressing that each single specimen must be carefully identified as well as checked for general good condition. Eating a toxic mushroom can be fatal. Don’t take chances.

Resources:

Mycological Society of San Francisco

Saving the Last of Summer: Slow Roasted Tomatoes

The tomato crop this year was simply glorious!  It was such a relief because last year the tomatoes were almost nonexistent and it was a mournful summer as a result.  Despite not being able to personally attend the farmer’s markets this summer I was happily able to order from a few nice farms using Good Eggs.  I have indulged myself completely and filled my orders with heirloom tomatoes of every color.

One week Good Eggs was offering Monsanto-free Early Girl tomatoes at a pretty cheap price per pound so I bought 4 pounds, plus 3 pints of cherry tomatoes in various hues. I planned to make a fresh salsa-like tomato sauce but got tired, so I decided to slow roast them.

It feels like everyone on social media and my recipe swap has been slow roasting tomatoes, so despite being very late to the party I began roasting them and was so pleased with how well they came out.

Slow roasted tomatoes, done!

After a quick rinse I quartered the tomatoes and left the cherry tomatoes whole, dumped them into my favorite jelly roll pan, slivered in a clove of garlic and scattered handfuls of basil leaves and a light scattering of oregano. I used a light hand with olive oil, salt and pepper and then at the last minute added a good hunk of butter over everything. The oven was on at 250 F, I set the timer for three hours and promptly took a long nap.

After three hours, voila, the perfectly roasted tomatoes and my nap were complete. It was far beyond dinner time by then, so I slid them into a plastic container, scraping every last bit of juice and butter into the container, and bung it into the fridge.

I pondered a bit on what to do then. One week, I heated up the batch of tomatoes gently and tossed them with pasta and some leftover chicken. Another time I pureed them with my immersion blender and added a slosh of vodka and a dash of leftover cream and warmed this while the pasta cooked. Another time I pureed half of them and left the other half whole and added dollops of ricotta to each bowl of pasta. Another time I made goat cheese stuffed meatballs and seasoned breadcrumbs and poached the meatballs in the pureed sauce. The last time I pureed the whole batch and added more butter. It tasted just like Marcella Hazan’s butter tomato sauce, and no stirring required!   If I made these on the weekend I napped and if it was after work I was done well in time for an early bedtime (being gimpy and healing is very tiring).

Kind of a humble dish, homey. Slow roasted tomatoes, ricotta.
(with ricotta)

Goat cheese stuffed meatballs, in progress
(goat cheese stuffed meatballs)

Goat cheese stuffed meatballs, pappardelle, Crumbs Yo!
(the finished meatballs topped with seasoned breadcrumbs)

Each time I slow roasted a batch of tomatoes I wanted to save some in the freezer for that dreary part of January through March when all of the tomatoes are pasty pink nasty mealy things.  After making a packet of pasta I would use up an entire batch of tomatoes. I kept buying more tomatoes, four pounds, then six, then eight pounds and still had no leftovers for the freezer.

Last night I succumbed to a wild impulse and bought an entire case of San Marzano tomatoes from Good Eggs, I think it will be about 20 pounds. It will take me a while to slow roast them in batches but surely this time I will have some leftover for the freezer.   I will have a bit of summer in my freezer for the rest of the winter, or at least, for the rest of the month.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes (for Sauce)

 

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That’s a lot of tomatoes!!!