Category Archives: creativity

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

 

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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!!!

A San Francisco Special Breakfast & DOLE’s Peel The Love Banana Cabana Tour

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I have been battling food allergies for a few years now, and was therefore ecstatic to discover that most of the tropical fruits do not set off my intolerances, so I have been indulging in bananas a lot.

Not only are bananas delicious and the ultimate comfort food, they are high in B6, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and potassium, all of which are really helpful with my efforts to heal.  When DOLE approached me to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador I was delighted!  I do “peel the love”, every day!

People take bananas for granted, and forget how versatile and useful they are, for example, I have been using them as an egg substitute, in addition to eating out of hand for my morning breakfast. This weekend I made a true San Francisco treat, sourdough banana pancakes.

There is something in the air in San Francisco that makes our sourdough special, so my sourdough starter gets used for great bread but also for great pancakes.  They are so light and fluffy and and the addition of bananas offsets the lashings of butter and maple syrup from Quebec that I slather on liberally.

I like to add sliced bananas inside the batter while the pancakes are baking, then cover them with a bit more batter so they do not stick when you’re ready to flip them over.

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Today I used my “status” pan, as Julia Child calls it, a lovely polished aluminum crepe pan with a Bakelite handle, a gorgeous vintage piece I found at an estate sale years ago. It made the pancakes crisp up to the most perfect color of golden brown.

As an extra treat, I cooked the bananas first in a Bananas Foster sauce, and then we used a little of the extra boozy syrup to spread over our pancakes like some sort of fantastical boozy jam.

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Speaking of Peel the Love, I learned recently that I have been opening bananas incorrectly my entire life.  Now I open them like this and it’s so much easier!

I showed my sister this trick over the 4th of July weekend and we we were both astounded that we had never figured this out before. Thank you, internet.

I think it’s interesting to note that most of our bananas in the United States come from DOLE, and the only state where bananas in the US are grown are from the DOLE farms in Hawaii. Hawaii has more than just pineapples!

Peel the Love - Hi-Res

This summer DOLE is holding a national tour called Peel the Love :”Banana Cabana Tour” and they’re coming to the Bay Area next week. They will be featuring unique recipes and ideas for parties and to ideas perk up your every day with bananas. If you’re nearby, go check out the fun, and meet Bobbie, their banana mascot.

Image 05 - Peel the Love Logo

  • Aug. 7 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Nob Hill Foods (270 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Redwood City)
  • Aug. 9 – Nob Hill Foods (2531 Blanding Ave., Alameda)

Elsewhere in the nation, the DOLE jeep and Bobbie the Banana will be appearing here.  Yes, there will be bananas, lots of them.

 

Thank you, Dole, for this opportunity to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador!

Recipe:  Sourdough Pancakes (with Bananas)

Recipe: Bananas Foster

Learn more about the Peel the Love “Banana Cabana” Tour here!

Fascinating banana nutrition facts here

Please note this is a sponsored post and I was compensated by DOLE. The opinions herein are my own.  The Banana Cabana Tour is still a lot of fun and the recipe here and my opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday Cooking

Sundays are a great day to bond with your couch, and often I like to putter a bit in the kitchen in between.

Like any “normal” person, I tackled the pile of dishes in the sink that built up during the week. Somehow every coffee cup ends up in the sink instead of the dishwasher. After KP is completed I pulled out the produce that was waiting in the fridge.

I am cooking for breakfast and lunches during the week. Dinner tonight is already sorted out, minestre from Nonni’s recipe and meatloaf that I made on Friday night.

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It helps me figure out what to cook when I see what I’ve got to work with, so I heaped everything on the stove and decided I would make:

o Melitzanosalata or Greek eggplant salad
o Broiled tomatoes
o Sautéed chard
o Gratined chard stems and leeks
o Rainbow quinoa
o Lemon tarragon vinaigrette

The eggplant gets baked until very soft and a bit smoky from the browned skin, so I pricked it all over with a fork and got it settled in a hot oven on a piece of foil.

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The quinoa was next, it’s extremely easy to make, just boil water! Add a bit of salt and while you’re waiting for the water to boil, measure and rinse your quinoa. I use a cone shaped strainer that gets used for everything from straining stock, sifting flour and draining pasta.

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I set the quinoa to simmer while I prepared the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are an heirloom variety from a local organic market, so they’re especially juicy and flavorful, yet another reason to love California produce in the spring. I cut off a tiny sliver from the bottom and removed the stem end and halved them, and nestled them in a gratin pan. I sprinkled them with a sea salt blended with bell peppers and dried onions, and a grind of pepper and a pinch of harissa spice. Then I sprinkled over a little bit of bread crumbs from one slice of bread chopped in the food processor. A hearty drizzle of local, peppery olive oil and they are ready for the oven.

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The timer for the eggplant sounded so I pulled it out of the oven to cool, and popped in the pan of tomatoes.

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The eggplant is cooked when it’s sort of collapsed looking and is as wrinkled as a surfer after a long set.

I cut it in half while it was hot, and trying not to burn my fingers and with the help of a paring knife, I flipped over the eggplant and peeled off its skin. The skin comes off easily with a tug from the knife.

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The eggplant needs to have all of the liquid removed while it is still warm, so using my trusty strainer I put in the peeled eggplant and used a spatula to squish out all the liquid I could.

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The eggplant cooled off in the strainer for a while to drain a bit more while I removed the quinoa from the stove.

I let the quinoa cool for a few minutes then fluffed it with a fork. The quinoa still had a bit of texture to it, not mushy, but nutty and fluffy, and it absorbed the lightly salted water and was perfectly seasoned.

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The timer went off for the tomatoes and I pulled them from the hot oven. The tomatoes were still holding their shape but soft and bursting with juices under their crispy breadcrumb topping.

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Back to the cooled eggplant, it was a small one so I put it in my mini chop with a small clove of garlic and enough plain yogurt to help the mixture purée smoothly was added, along with the juice of a lemon. Since my lemons were minis, I used three!

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When the eggplant was perfectly smooth, I poured in some olive oil and let it purée a bit more to emulsify. A quick check for seasoning a added more lemon juice and then decided to eat it right away. All of this cooking is making me ravenous.

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Before I had my snack, I cooked the chard quickly. A quarter of a slivered onion went in the pan first with olive oil and was sautéed until soft. The rinsed and chopped chard leaves went in next with a splash of water to cook until they are tender, this takes just a few minutes.

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When the greens were cooked I put them in a bowl to cool with a bit more olive oil and crunchy sea salt. The chard is tangy from the lemon and I think they taste far better than spinach.

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I rinsed out the pan and added the halved leeks and chard stems with a little broth so they could simmer until soft.

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While they simmered, I had my little melitzanosalata and pita bread for lunch and watched the rest of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The eggplant is light and lemony with a pleasant earthiness from being roasted. It tastes fantastic at room temperature or cold. I also like to put inside sandwiches but I polished off this batch quickly. Next time I will buy a larger eggplant so I can use the melitzanosalata for other purposes.

Since the lemons were so tiny, I abandoned my plans to make a vinaigrette and saved the last one for a cocktail.

The leeks were finished cooking by the time I was done with my lunch. Using a spatula, I lifted them out of the skillet and placed them in a gratin pan, added cream and a heavy grating of Romano cheese and put them in the oven so that the cream thickens and the cheese browns. I saved the 1/2 cup of broth leftover from the braising leeks and added it to my minestre; it had great flavor and would be a shame not to use it.

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The gratin smelled divine, the leeks are sweet and meltingly tender and the chard is toothsome and coated in rich cream and the savory, salty browned cheese on top was the perfect mouthful.

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When the gratin was done I had a glass of wine before tackling the KP duties again. All this lovely food was done and cooling.

Tonight I will have half a tomato with my meatloaf and a cup of soup. For breakfasts I can have the quinoa topped with chard or with a tomato half. For lunches I can have the gratin with a the leftover meatloaf or a tomato half. They all work together in various combinations, and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to worry about going out for a meal at work and accidentally eating eggs. Plus, all of these dishes are nutritious, besides being very tasty.

It’s still early on Sunday, there’s time for a nap or some knitting or some more bonding time with my couch or perhaps all three!

Recipe:    Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Salad/Dip

Gratineed Leeks and Chard Stems

 

Party Flatbreads

My friends C___ and D___ had a party this weekend to celebrate C___’s birthday, their wedding anniversary and the anniversary of moving to their condo. What a fun trio of occasions!

I had splurged on a purchase of the best mozzarella on the planet, from Angelo and Franco, a whole BBQed chicken and racks of ribs from Sneaky’s Underground BBQ and with the haul from some recent grocery forays I realized I had some great ingredients in the pantry to make flatbreads for the party.

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Using a dough recipe from Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads, I mixed up a batch of dough and had enough for three flatbreads for the party plus enough for home dinners for the next two weeks.

I made three flatbreads:

  • Marinated grapes in herbs and olive oil, goat cheese and pecans
  • Brown tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil
  • BBQ chicken mixed with BBQ sauce, red onions, Gruyere



  • Each flatbread baked in about 15 minutes and were topped with a sprinkle of Maldon crunchy sea salt when they came out of the oven. They were perfect with the variety of white and red Rhone style wines my friends poured. Warm or at room temperature, we scarfed them down.

    If you think outside the box any leftover or ingredient can be made into a flatbread or a pizza. To me, the difference between a flatbread and a pizza has to do with tomato sauce; dough with tomato sauce is a pizza, anything else is a flatbread. They’re both equally delicious! A local Indian place is making flatbreads with curry sauce and tandoori chicken, it’s fantastic and I am bitter they don’t deliver to my neighborhood.

    Tonight I am making myself a BBQ chicken flatbread just for me for dinner, the oven is preheating now and I can’t wait.

    For other pizza toppings ideas, check out my Sharknado pizza party! What would you make?

    Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

    We have a wonderfully talented group of food writers, bloggers, photographers and food lovers in the Bay Area and thanks to social media we know who we all are and, on occasion, we get together for some shenanigans.

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    From Wikipedia Commons

    This year I took on organizing a date for a picnic in San Francisco and chose Dolores Park for our venue. It’s usually sunny there, it has a great view of the city and is reasonably close to BART and other public transportation. The park is also right across the street to BiRite Creamery. A picnic with fun people, a pretty spot and decadent ice cream, it is such a winning combination.

    The morning fog blew away pretty quickly and despite the stupidity of the City watering the lawn during the night (very soggy and muddy lawns) we had a very merry time.

    Many lovely friends and new friends came to share in the afternoon and of course the food was terrific.  I made my favorite sangria and that was a big hit, and I could have doubled the quantity and still would have not made enough.   Next time I will bring two jugs worth, or six bottles of wine!
    Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

    It was one of those magical times when we were not playing with our phones *overmuch* or taking pictures constantly, we were in the moment and enjoying each other’s company, trading stories, singing goofy songs and talking about food and writing.  We did play some hilarious music on our phones, tucked into a red Solo cup for acoustical enhancement purposes.

    Yes, it’s true, we were all singing Makin’ Bacon Pancakes, the New York remix, for way too long and it’s still in my head today.

    Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

    When the sangria ran out and the fog started to blow back in, we gathered up our soggy Mexican picnic blankets (funnily, almost everyone brought one) and headed to the long line at BiRite Creamery.
    Insanely long line at BiRite but we don't care - sundaes!!!!

    Despite the line being ridiculously long we were patient and chatty, and it really was worth the wait.  Just sampling their vast and unusual selection is worth a bit of catching up on life and people watching, and soon enough we all had our decadent ice cream treats in hand.  With frozen mouths and sunburned faces we chatted a bit more before scattering to our own destinations – Tartine, a tour of the Mission, BiRite Market, home.  We said farewell and until next time.

    Picnics in the summer are my favorite thing to do and this time so many of my favorite people were there.  Thanks to everyone who attended and for your amazing and decadent treats!

    Thanks to:
    Faith – Blog Appetit
    Diane  – Will Write For Food
    Amy – Cooking with Amy
    Owen – The World of Owen Rubin
    Jenn – FootBat and EastWest Pastry
    Lori and Doug – Fake Food Free
    Deborah and friends – Lunch In A Box
    Nathan – Knit1Eat1
    Christian – Dad in the City
    Jennifer and Baelson – Revel Kitchen
    Orly and friends – Yumivore
    (if I missed your name here, I’m so sorry!)

    The Recipe:

    Carmen Miranda Sangria – San Francisco Style

    If you live in the Bay Area and want to join the Bay Area Food Bloggers group on Facebook, ask to join here, and also there is a Google group, ask to join here.  We are food writers, bloggers, photographers, culinary-minded entrepreneurs and food lovers.  We are also people who used to do all of the above (i.e., lapsed) but are still interested in food and culinary scene.  We connect to share opportunities, ask questions, get support and socialize.  These are not forums to promote yourself or your brand, however.

    Happiness Is… This Month’s Meat CSA

    Happiness is…..my beautiful butcher’s bag from 4505 Meats monthly meat CSA.

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  • a quart of lamb stock
  • chicharonnes
  • chicken livers
  • bone-in beef rib eye
  • harissa-rubbed sirloin medallions
  • pork rib chop
  • chicken apple Calvados sausages
  • ground beef
  • harissa-rubbed flapskirt

    This month I specifically requested a selection of meat suitable for grilling plus I asked for chicken livers, and it was so nice of them to accommodate me. Other than making my mom’s pate de maison and a steak with macque choux I haven’t really mapped out what I’m going to cook with my meat allotment this month.

    I also scored another amazingly tasty treat.

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    Magic Bacon Bombs!!

    Magic Bacon Bombs are the 4505 Meats’ version of crack: queso and chorizo stuffed jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon. Kaboom.

    I bought the last of them last weekend and they haven’t made anymore but when I called today about picking up my meat CSA Nicholas very kindly agreed to make me some more.

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    It was fun to chat while they finished assembling them for me and then they wrapped them up for my trip home. The drawing was a hilarious touch!

    Usually one puts them on the grill and cooks them until the bacon is crispy, but since I live so very high above the street with no grilling facilities, I will do them up in the oven and in my humble opinion they’re even more delicious.

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    Fantastic…

    It will be fun to plan out my my menus. I have friends coming over this month and plan to put my broiler to good use.

    Please remember to support your local butcher, particularly if they are like 4505 Meats and purchase pasture-raised whole animals and butcher them nose-to-tail.

    Get your own meat CSA!

    Cocktail Adventures with LUPEC

    Like any urban lady I love sipping a well crafted cocktail. It was my pleasure to join an amazing group of ladies called LUPEC or Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails. Many members are bartenders or business owners or aficionados like myself and several of the members are some of my best friends.

    At our last meeting we had the opportunity to try two fantastic cocktails. The first was a wonderful cocktail using Casa Noble Organic Reposado Tequila.

    CN Reposado Angle

    Casa Noble is located in Jalisco Mexico and uses blue agave for their tequila. You don’t find organic tequila very often and the Casa Noble tequila is quite special. The Reposado is aged for just under a year in French white oak barrels, like fine wine. Their Anejo tequila is aged between two to five years in the oak barrels. The Reposado tequila tasted more like a fine whiskey to me, smokey and oakey. A fun note about the distillery, they have partnered with famed rocker Carlos Santana. Not only does he make amazing music and sexy shoes for us ladies but now he makes tequila. I just love this guy, and he’s local too.

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    Casa noble

    LUPEC met at Laszlo, which is a fun bar in the Mission district and the bartender there, Kevin, made a wonderful Old Fashioned for us using the Reposado tequila.

    I have long loved the Old Fashioned cocktail, ever since the Commander of the US Power Squadron sat me down one day at the tender age of 12 and taught me how to make one. The Power Squadron is like a country club but for yachts and powerboats, and my late father was Commander for a time. The Commander I remember the most was a family friend and he would have us over to his home on the Peninsula often. The Old Fashioned was his favorite tipple and he was shocked that his favorite “bartender” only knew how to mix the perfect martini. I guess you could say I had rather of an Auntie Mame childhood, mixing cocktails for my family’s friends and guests.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the cocktail, it’s a drink of a sugar cube dowsed with bitters and a few pieces of fruit or orange rind, muddled together in an old fashioned glass, named for the drink naturally. Whiskey and sometimes a dash of soda water are stirred in with a few large hunks of ice and garnished with more fruit. I used to carve out the ice myself with an ice pick and block ice because that’s the way he liked it. These days I love the silicon large format ice cube trays such as these from Tovolo.

    Tequila old fashioned

    You can vary the Old Fashioned by changing up the bitters or the whiskey, using American whiskey or rye, and now, using an aged tequila. What a great twist on an old favorite!

    Kevin’s version used simple syrup instead of a sugar cube and although I am not sure what kind of bitters he used I am quite fond of either the Bitter Truth aromatic or orange bitters. This Old Fashioned had a mysterious and alluring smokiness to it from the oak barrels of the Reposado. The brandied cherry was a nice touch.

    Square one

    We were served another fun cocktail that night featuring vodka from Square One.

    Square One is another organic distillery that I have enjoyed getting to know over the past two years. They use organic rye from the US to make their vodka and water from the Grand Tetons; it is so lovely and smooth. They infuse some of their vodka with unusual flavors and I am quite fond of the Basil infusion. It has organic Thai, lemon, Genovese and sweet basil varieties, plus a touch of organic coriander (cilantro), honeysuckle and lemongrass. It is very aromatic and unusual and makes great cocktails.

    We were served a riff on the Last Word, called at Laszlo as the My Word and it was definitely refreshing and a little dangerous. One could have quite a lot of these on a thirsty night.

    Both of the representatives for Casa Noble and Square One are delightful ladies and it was great fun to get to know them and sip their cocktails. I am hoping to add the Casa Noble Reposado and Anejo tequilas and the Square One Basil to my liquor collection for some cocktail play at home.

    Make these yourself!

    Reposado Tequila Old Fashioned

    2 T water
    1 lump of sugar —- or 1 tsp. agave nectar
    Angostura bitters – or any bitters you like, there are some amazing ones, my current favorite is the Bitter Truth orange bitters
    A 3” piece of orange peel, no pith (white part)
    Ice
    2 oz Casa Noble Organic Reposado tequila
    Brandied cherries or maraschino cherries (or a piece of pineapple, a piece of orange or all of them)

    Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in an tumbler. You can use agave syrup instead if you like or simple syrup. Add two dashes bitters and a piece of orange peel, but twist the orange peel first then rim the glass with it before placing it inside the cocktail glass. Muddle (smash gently) with a spoon for a few minutes. Add a large cube of ice (large format) or fill 1/3 way with ice cubes, add the tequila and stir well. Garnish with fruit. Sip!

    (printer friendly)

    —–

    Square One Basil My Word

    3/4 oz. Square One Basil vodka
    3/4 oz. yellow Chartreuse
    3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
    3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

    Mix all together in a shaker with ice, shake or stir well until very cold. Strain and serve up in a coupe or martini glass that has been chilled. Sip!

    (printer friendly)

    Bursting with Bacon

    Oh man, the bourbon maple is so intense.  The herb-pine syrup is heady.

    Last month I had the pleasure of being invited to purchase a share of a Mangalitsa pig. The Mangalitsa is one of those wonderful heirloom breeds where the fat is not bred out of the animal like our modern day pork, in fact this breed of pig has a prodigious fat layer and is one of the most prized breed of pork in the world.

    acorns

    This particular pig was finished on acorns, which means for the last few weeks of its blissfully unaware life he was fed mounds and mounds of acorns. To us humans acorns are unconscionably bitter but pigs eat them up like potato chips.    Besides the no doubt gustatory delight of crunching them up in their forceful jowls it has an ancillary benefit of infusing the meat and fat with a delightful nuttiness reminiscent of hazelnuts. An acorn finished pig is a marvelous thing and I bought lots of it.

    My modest meat budget was consumed by this purchase but the enormous 10 pound side of pork belly, a sizable pork loin, a tub of creamy, pure lard and a substantial pork neck was enough to pack my freezer and will provide me with porky enjoyment for quite some time.

    My plan was to cure the pork belly in two ways, one with maple, bourbon and brown sugar and the other with a more traditional fresh and dried herb and spice blend.

    To approximate the effect of smoked bacon, for which I completely lack the facilities to achieve, I used crushed black pepper that had been smoked over defunct bourbon barrels and a simple syrup infused from local pine trees from Mount Tamalpais.

    I never really realized how easy it is to cure bacon.   The most difficult part was cutting the massive 10 pound pork belly into two pieces  because the skin is so very tough. 10 pounds of pork belly is quite large.

    10# Mangalitsa pork belly I cut them in half, look at that glorious fat!

    Pork belly, cut in half and trimmed

    I had two ziplock bags, one for the sweet cure and one for the savory cure.  I  chucked in the ingredients into each bag and shook them around to mix.

    The cure

    On a clean cutting mat I arranged the pork belly, skin side down, poured over the cure mix and patted it around a bit before sliding the belly into the same bag.

    The traditional cure

    With both pieces of pork belly rubbed in their cure and sealed in their bags, I massaged them a bit and put them into the fridge.  See you in a week!

    See you in a week!

    That was not hard at all, nor was it hard to pick up the bag during the following week and give it a little massage, flip it over once in a while and just admire it.

    To make the slabs even I had to do a little bit of trimming.  The skin side of these pieces had the nipples of the pig!  Well, we all know that pigs are animals and are mammals and that mammals have nipples but nonetheless it was a tiny bit of a surprise.  However, I am at the top of the food chain and have butchered my own animals for food, in my distant past, so it just made my eyebrows rise a moment then I continued on with my trimming.  I used these pieces, which weighed about a pound and a haf, into red cooked pork belly last Sunday.

    The trimmings, includes the nipples!

    A week later it was time to cook the cured raw bacon.

    In lieu of smoking, I used the aforementioned flavorings in the cure to provide a smokey flavor and set about baking the slabs in the oven on low heat until the meat reached 150 F.   This was last Sunday during my cooking explosion and it wasn’t much work to add baking the bacon to my list of cooking projects that day.

    I removed the raw bacon slabs from their curing bags and gave them a good rinse.  They certainly didn’t look like much but their aroma was fantastic.  The peppercorns discolored the skin, which I found interesting.  I used my nonstick cooling rack for cakes set inside a half-sheet jelly roll pan.

    Cured and rinsed raw bacon

     

    (Note the peppercorn stains on the skin, interesting!)

    Cured and rinsed and ready to bake!  I poured in a good slug of bourbon into the bottom the the baking sheet before sliding it into the oven.  I was hoping this would add extra aroma to the finished bacon.

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    After baking, not a lot of fat was in the bottom of the pan as you can see, and the slabs looked just as they should, very bacon-like.  I slid a meat thermometer into the sides of the slabs at various points to check the desired temperature of 150 F.

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    Check out the thick layer of fat!  I could really smell the difference between the two slabs with their very different cures, but overall there was a rich nuance of nutty fat that I have never detected with ordinary bacon.  This is the delectable Mangalitsa acorn enhanced fat.  Wow.

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    (these look like small pieces but my carving knife is 14″ long!)

    I cut the bacon slab in half and then sliced off the skin to reveal the pearly, nutty fat. The meaty underside was particularly gorgeous too.

    The same process was repeated on the other slab of bacon.  I wrapped two of the half-slabs in plastic wrap then secured them airtight in a ziplock bag for the freezer.  The other two half slabs went into the fridge for immediate use.

    It was immediate too, I sliced off two slices of the herb and spice cured bacon with the pine syrup, and one slice of the bourbon maple pepper bacon and fried them up.  Just these three small slices gave off a lot of fat, which I saved for making my steak dinner later that night.

    You can almost hear the sizzle.

    Morning snack before brunch, Mangalitsa bacon

    My own bacon, fried up and gorgeous.   The pine syrup and herbs really shone and matched well with the rich fat.  The bourbon flavor was very strong in the bourbon maple slice and it tasted too salty to me, but I have never minded a strong bourbon flavor nor salty bacon and it certainly didn’t deter me from enjoying this wonderful treat.

    My recipes were inspired by a lecture I attended by Michael Ruhlman for BlogHer Food a few years ago.  When I talked to him after the lecture and mentioned my hesitation over making bacon without a smoker in my very urban apartment (aka no ventilation in the kitchen other than a window on the far end of the dining nook), he assured me that baking it off is just as wonderful as smoking and never to fear the bacon.   His book on charcuterie is fantastic and one day I will indulge myself.

    Making your own bacon is much less expensive than buying it already cured and prepared, and you get to customize the flavors just the way you like it.  Even if you can’t find the luxurious Mangalitsa bacon, any fresh pork belly from your butcher or Asian market will make fantastic bacon.   It was so easy too, the hardest part of the entire process was being in my apartment as it slowly cooked in the oven. The aroma of the bacon was incredible, and if you are a restaurant in San Francisco, it can cause your neighbors to try to shut you down.

    Better Bacon

    5# fresh pork belly, skin on
    large ziplock bag

    Basic cure:
    1/4 cup Kosher salt (Diamond salt)
    2 tsp pink curing salt or sodium nitrite (not Pink Himalayan salt)  (I got mine here)
    1/4 cup sugar (brown, maple, honey, agave)

    Additions – These can be anything you fancy, but here are some good basic recommendations:
    4 T ground or crushed black peppercorns
    4 bay leaves
    1 tsp. ground nutmeg
    5 cloves of garlic, smashed flat
    5-10 sprigs of fresh thyme, or any herb you like
    1/4 cup booze

    My savory herb and spice cure:
    1/4 cup Kosher salt
    2 tsp. pink curing salt
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup June Taylor pine syrup
    4 T bourbon barrel smoked course ground pepper
    4 dried California bay leaves
    10 sprigs of thyme, spanked between my palms
    5 cloves of garlic – smashed flat and skins removed
    1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

    My bourbon, maple, pepper cure:
    1/4 cup Kosher salt
    2 tsp. pink curing salt
    1/4 cup maple syrup
    3 T brown sugar
    4 T whole peppercorns, crushed coarsley with a mortar and pestle
    1/4 cup bourbon

    Mix together the bacon cure in the ziplock bag and shake or squish well to mix. Put the pork belly on a cutting board and pour over the raw pork belly, massage in and place the belly back in the bag (with any of the cure that might remain on the cutting board. Remove all the air from the bag, seal and store in the fridge for at least 7 days. Every few days massage the pork belly a bit and return to the fridge.

    On the day to cook the meat (oven method), turn on the oven to 150-200 F. Put a rack on a baking sheet large enough to hold the raw bacon. Rinse the bacon well, pat try with paper towels and place on the rack.  Pour a good slosh of bourbon into the bottom of the pan.  Place in the cold oven and set the timer for 3 hours.  Add more bourbon to the baking sheet every hour or so, if desired.

    Check the temperature after 3 hours to see if the meat has reached 150 F.  If not, give it another 15-20 minutes or until it reaches 150 F.   Allow to cool, trim off the skin and chill until ready to eat.

    When ready to eat your bacon, slice of a thin or thick slice, add to a cold skillet with a dash of water and fry until as crispy as you like.  If your bacon tastes too salty for you, add more water and cook for a few minutes, then pour off the water and fry until crisp.

    Another advantage to having slab bacon is to make your own lardon.  A lardon is a pinkie-sized rectangle of bacon that is delicious in a warm salad or in soups or just eaten out of hand.  Cut the bacon 1/2″ thick then again into large even matchsticks, add water, and then drain and fry on all sides.  Delectable.

    Makes 5 pounds of bacon
    (printer friendly recipe)

    A note about the pink curing salt, or sodium nitrite.  It is a naturally occurring salt found in many vegetables and is also used for curing meats and is approved by the FDA.  The salt inhibits the growth of certain nasty bacteria such as botulism and listeria and it is highly recommended when making charcuterie and bacon.  But because bacon is cooked again after its curing and baking, aka in your skillet, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.  You will find that your bacon tastes more like ribs or roast pork than bacon and will not be pink but will be grey or brown.  That’s perfectly fine bacon, however, it is really easy to buy a bag of pink salt and you will have it forever.  I bought a pound bag for around $6.00 and used 4 teaspoons for this batch of bacon so I have plenty left!   If I ever wanted to make other cured meats such as salami or guacinale or any cured meat that is not cooked or smoked, the it is really crucial for the success of the recipe and one’s health to use the small amount of sodium nitrite.   It does not cause cancer, like many incorrectly people assume; sodium nitrate or saltpeter is toxic but it is a very different thing altogether.  

    Happy baconing!

    Menu Planning

    I came home from Thanksgiving with my darling parents and found that my refrigerator door was left ajar about 2″. Horrors! The great dumping and clean-out commenced on Monday night after work and then my fridge was sadly empty except pickles, hard cheese and wine. Time to shop and for menu planning!

    D___ and I went shopping together this weekend and I discovered a few shops that I must frequent in the future . A terrific butcher shop on Taraval reminded me of our beloved long-gone Quilici’s, and the lovely guys there helped me with grass fed beef stew pieces, nicely marbled and hefty for $7.99 a pound. They also had terrific dried pastas in shapes like lasagnetti and mezze penne.

    Next was the wonderfully inexpensive Asian market with perfect, organic produce and Eastern European dry goods and dairy. You have to love a shop that sells Ak Mak, Bulgarian feta, Russian sour cream and my favorite salsa and chips, plus gigantes beans. I splurged on two huge produce crates filled with groceries for $77.00. The clerk insisted I take my haul away in boxes because they were free, never mind that I can’t really carry one box, let alone two, but they were free, and bags cost $.10! One should never argue with the clerks, they’re savvy, budget wise.

    Somehow D___ and I staggered into my apartment with everything in one trip. We filled my dining table with food, and I started my menu planning in earnest over a cappuccino.

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    Meals For The Week:

  • Beef Bourguignon ~ inspired by Mastering The Art of French Cooking
    1. beef, fresh shiitakes, carrots, onion, celery, tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, leek top bouquet garni, chopped parsley. Served with farrow.
  • Chicken Stew ~ inspired by George Bradshaw
    1. chicken thighs, carrot, onion, fennel, bay leaf, chicken broth, dill, roux, white wine,sour cream. Served with jasmine rice
  • Gigantes Plaki ~ from Modern Greek
    1. Great white beans, onion, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, feta, squirt of lemon at the end. Add shrimp, perhaps?
  • Sautéed Greens
    1. Chard, dino kale, watercress, garlic, lemon olive oil. Serve with quinoa. Breakfast option.
  • Coconut Rice Pudding ~ inspired by Wing Wings
    1. Bomba rice, coconut milk, sugar, sea salt
  • Green Salad
    1. romaine, orange bell pepper, green onion, fennel, avocado, feta, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, Lodi olive oil.
  • Red Beans and Rice ~ inspired by Country Cajun Cooking
    1. Pink beans, andouille sausage, tomato, onion, green onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, Aleppo chile, Sriracha, beef stock, jasmine rice.
  • roasted Corn Salad
    1. Corn, artichoke hearts, edamame, olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon
  • Salsa and Chips ~ post shopping nibbles
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    Lately I have been preferring to eat my main meal at lunchtime and have something lighter when I get home with a glass of wine or tea. Some of these entrees are also destined for the freezer for when I lack the energy to make something simple.

    I also have a few items in the pantry and freezer that need to be slotted in somewhere:

  • pork truffle butter and crackers
  • adjvar and crackers
  • pork rillettes
  • butternut squash
  • As the dishwasher purrs along, I started poaching the chicken and chopping the vegetables for that stew, and realized I’m tired and want a bubble bath. I’m taking a glass with me to the tub while the carrots, onion and fennel simmer slowly. I’ll finish the stew for supper tonight and cook the greens for breakfast.

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    It feels nice to be home with the fridge stocked, good smells perfuming the air and a good meal plan for the next little bit.

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    I’ll make sure the fridge door stays closed!

    P.S. Thanks to Laura of Hey Mom What’s For Dinner for the inspiration to plan a batch of meals