Tag Archives: Dinners at Anna’s

The Forest Visits My Kitchen

I came home today to find this in my fridge. What could it be?

20120508-180447.jpg

Voila! What a haul!

20120508-180931.jpg

A full pound of black morels from an undisclosed forest in California.

20120508-185803.jpg

My dear friends Anna and Robert went foraging this weekend for morel and found three pounds – I am one lucky friend to be gifted with so many. They have the magic morel eye.

20120508-181307.jpg

I wrote about our divine morel dinner last year at Dinners at Anna’s and their haul that year was spectacular – seven pounds I think.

Imagine, walking through the forest and seeing this beauty, perfectly hidden in the duff, but only if you have that eye to recognize what lies delicately underfoot. I cannot wait to have a functioning ankle to join Anna on a foray someday. Someday soon.

20120508-181944.jpg

Fresh from the forest they were very dirty and probably had “occupants”. I donned my beautiful, hand-sewn 70’s mushroom fabric apron and found my deepest and tallest bowl. I filled it with cool water and a good sprinkle of salt and started halving them and plopping them in the saline bath.

I ignored the pale tiny squirming worms that appeared on the cloth I was cutting them on. Ignore!!!

An incredible aroma filled my head: rich, woodsy, loamy and that unmistakeable morel fragrance. What beauties.

20120508-182756.jpg20120508-182934.jpg

Some were short and squat, others were slim and tall, others were just massive.

20120508-183131.jpg20120508-183142.jpg

They have a texture unlike any mushroom I have played with, full of nooks and crannies, firm and almost bouncy but fragile enough to crack in your hands if pressed too hard. A true, edible morel is hollow inside from tip to stem.  A false morel looks very different.

20120508-183756.jpg

Not looking at the worm trails, not!

After their soak I pulled them out to heap and fill my largest colander. This is why one must wash wild mushrooms well.

20120508-184202.jpg20120508-184211.jpg

Water so dirty it looked like soup, with about a 1/2 cup of debris

The forest slowly washes away. I lose count on how many changes of water I used but eventually there was a barely imperceptible bit of grit left in the bottom of the bowl. It was time for the morels to drain and relax a bit while I had a glass of wine (and feed the constantly squeaking cat who threatened to trip me as I moved about the kitchen).

20120508-184933.jpg

I also took a little time to explore Hank Shaw’s amazing and nationally recognized blog for morel recipes, such as his favorite morel sauce for venison.  My pantry is well stocked and I just happened to have some veal demiglace and some good port, so I pulled those out.

I have enough morel to make a batch of this sauce several times over, so I decided to make one batch and then sauté the rest just in butter.

I  used an entire stick of butter in my skillet and when it was melted and a little browned I piled in the morels.  What a fragrance, my entire apartment was filled, it was heady and intoxicating.

20120508-200527.jpg

After they cooked for about 10 minutes, their liquid evaporated and concentrated into the butter.  I heaped them into a freezer container and let them cool.  The sun had set, I had started drinking the port and I needed to get off my feet.  Farewell little morels, I will play with you soon!  They will rest in the freezer until I am ready.  What riches…

I hope there is no need to tell you that you should never eat wild mushrooms unless you are an expert, or happen to be friends with experts.  Even experts make mistakes which is why my friends limit their foraging to species that are unmistakable – again to an expert.  Eating the wrong mushroom can result in the death of your liver and kidneys and no meal is worth that risk.   If you have any question at all about a mushroom, don’t even touch it, and leave it to the experts such as those at Far West Fungi.  

Dining Out

Lately I have not been cooking for myself and my kitchen has been littered with sad take-out boxes. Last fall I was injured during the wild festivities outside the Giants ballpark when we won the World Series (go Giants!). My sad souvenir to this joy was an injured shoulder. Please note, do not high-five strangers, especially 6’5″ drunk/high men. I know it’s straight out the Darwin Awards but here I am, unable to use my right arm for much of anything.

The good news is that I have great friends who invite me over for dinner and a bunch of mostly fabulous nights out dining at various hot spots in the City.

My dear friend Anna had me over for dinner on two especially memorable occasions, you can check out a feast of Indian food and a huge pulled pork pig-out.

I have also been on a quest to eat the best fried chicken in San Francisco, which I hope to share with you.

Also, my exploration of the best ramen in the Bay Area is well underway.  I am proud of myself as I can now eat ramen with chopsticks using my left hand.  High Five!  hahaha, no…

I am lucky to have good friends to cook for me and a wealth of restaurants to nourish me as I heal up from my “souvenir”.

Wordless Wednesday

Nothing is sweeter than when a friend makes you dessert!

Happiness Is…..

….a sunny Sunday afternoon….

On a whim I propose a visit to the farmer’s market to a friend with brunch afterward of huevos rancheros. This simple excursion turned into a full day of beautiful sights and flavors.

I hopped on the N to check out the farmer’s market in the Inner Sunset in the tiny parking lot across Arizmendi Bakery and next to my favorite shoe store. The first thing I noticed was the Valet Barking, where you can park your doggie while you shop. The gal running it was doing a snappy business and everyone was playing together nicely, which is a testament to her dog-whispering abilities.

I strolled slowly through the tiny market, sampling peaches at every opportunity, and treated myself to a basket each of red and golden raspberries. Waiting for my friend to arrive I purchased a large cup of Earl Grey tea and several croissant, some with chocolate and some with frangipani inside, and plopped down on a curb opposite from the dogs and had myself a very relaxing nosh.

Surprisingly the golden raspberries were stronger and more defined in flavor than the standard ones, they were richer and had more of an acidic edge, they were also enormous and exceedingly fragile. I made a raspberry hat for my pinky.

It was the first time I ever ate an entire basket of berries by myself. The sun was warming my shoulders, the tea was perfect on my throat and the croissant was buttery with just enough almond succulence inside. Suddenly, I felt so at peace and just fine with everything within myself. I have been feeling like a worn out dishrag of emotions lately but at this moment, this moment was fine and pleasant and all mine although I was surrounded by the frenetic hum of the City.

A__ arrived and pulled up a pew, and joined me in breakfast for a moment, then we headed out to shop. My quest was for tomatoes, and herbage to make Green Goddess dressing to accompany a chicken roasted with quince. Instead, the quest for the best peach began and we settled on the last six O’Henry peaches in the market. Perfectly ripe and almost honey like they were the best peach I have ever had. For another dollar the farmer threw in some plums that were just about ready to turn themselves into jam on the spot.

After A___ snagged the last six eggs at one stall we lingered at Pamela’s Soaps with her amusing husband Dirk. Pamela’s lemongrass shae butter soap had to come home with me and Dirk put a lanyard through it, instant soap on a rope! While A__ chatted with Pamela and made her selections, I decided upon a bar of shaving soap, infused with lime oil, shae butter, lavender and some spice, Pamela said it is creamy and soothing, perfect for summer sleek bare legs at work, with my long stems I could use some pampering! Her hand-poured flower shaped pots of lip gloss also appealed and I picked one up as a gift for my sis. Pamela’s flowers from the garden were stunning, a perfect capture of summer. Even the bees agreed.

I was fascinated by a book they had on display, an old Organic Chemistry book that they labeled as boring, but it was really clever and not at all dry. Dirk offered to give it to me, which was very kind, and maybe next time I visit the market I will take him up on his offer.

After loading up on soapy goodness, we visited a jam vendor and tasted his heavenly Blenheim apricot preserves and two different plum jams. Not being much for plums really, they remind me of that horrible motorboat accident when I was a kid when I broke my nose, but after tasting his Mariposa plum jam I bought a jar. It was fresh and bright tasting and I had visions of a tart with the plum jam as a base and the fresh peaches and plums baked on top. Suddenly we were motivated to return to the beach house!

A few stalls down I found cilantro, green onions, bell and jalapeños for salsa and winter savory for the roast chicken. I also found a huge amount of beefsteak tomatoes at a reasonable price, the first inexpensive tomatoes of the year. I planned to slow roast them and freeze some for later. A___ found a huge bouquet of chard destined for her wok, and chives and parsley for salad. Then, a fruit vendor was trying to close up and offered us huge honeydew and other melons for a dollar each! Our bags were full but one monster fit into my backpack, barely, it was already full of my work clothes, bacon, tortillas, quince and knitting. I cradled one in my arms as a counterweight and we tottered through the last few stalls. The last booth had beautiful eggs and zucchini, and next time we will shop here for these beauties.

Finally we made it to the car, after a brief (well, not so brief) visit to the shoe store. Let’s get some shoes! Let’s party!

But on the way, we made a remarkable discovery! It doesn’t look like much, an ordinary storm drain gate, right?

Upon closer examination we saw that there was a plant growing inside. And, can you tell what it is?

For Pete’s sake it’s a tomato plant! Imagine that, the unstoppable power of Mother Nature reigning forth by producing a healthy volunteer tomato shrub in the most unlikely of places.

Once at the beach house, after an enthusiastic greeting by doggies, I set to frying bacon and making my huevos rancheros. I heated up a can of drained (organic) black beans with garlic and onion granules and some spices, and a few spoonfuls of bacon fat, mashed a little. The bacon was crisped perfectly under A___’s ministrations and the tortillas were fried in the bacon fat (and carefully blotted, I might add). Given that we both have tennis elbow for varying reasons, I employed the Cuisinart for a quick salsa of heirloom tomatoes, garlic, red onion, yellow bell pepper, Anaheim chile and jalapeño, cilantro, limes and cumin – so quick to prepare and to die for. The eggs from the market were quickly fried up and I assembled our “brunch”. A__ plunked down a bottle of bubbly and we feasted (at 3:00 pm!!).

(naughty but nice)

Look at that beautiful bacon, a birthday treat from my dear friend and reigning Bacon Queen S___. This was maplewood smoked bacon, so thick and well seasoned with the tang of woodsmoke and a touch of maple.

Always on the job, A___ went back to work while I relaxed in the back yard with the dogs post-shower, the sunshine and breeze from the ocean drying my hair, while I knitted a bit on my new shawl.

As the sun started dipping below the eaves of the neighbor’s house A__ returned and did some gardening, then we took a break from these pleasantries to polish off the rest of the champagne (out of the bottle so as not to risk the Waterford flutes on the patio with swishing dog tails like rapiers). Every Sunday afternoon should be like this.

I repaired upstairs to play with the chicken and preheat the oven. A__ brought me a handful of lemon thyme from the herb bed and I minced that up with the winter savory to sprinkle over the chicken. First, I made a base of red onion, left over from the salsa preparations, and peeled, cored and sliced quince layered in a vintage Copco gratin dish A__ found at a yard sale. I juiced a few lemons for the salad dressing and stuffed the chicken with the hulls and the tops of the green onions.

The Cuisinart was pressed into service again to mince the herbs and greens for the Green Goddess salad dressing, made creamy with Russian sour cream and good old mayo. I love this salad dressing, it was even delicious with prawn cervice dunked into it.

A big thank you to Kalyn and Sean for tweeting about the Green Goddess, a local historical recipe. By the way, it is excellent on fish, mixed in for chicken salad and even on onion rings.

Speaking of salad, we grabbed the lantern and harvested baby lettuces from a gopher-proof bed and after giving the beauties a refreshing bath I arranged them in a bowl for the table. The chicken was done, perfect as usual, and I carved her up roughly. We set down to feast with our fingers, dunking lettuces into the dressing as well as the chicken and an occasional prawn or three.

We had a deep philosophical discussion about the pursuit of happiness and where we are going in our lives now that birthdays are upon us. After the sadness I’ve been feeling, plus that long stretch of uncertainty being unemployed I have been doing a lot of cleaning house, mentally, with the kind support and encouragement of my dear friends and my family. Where would I be without them? We talked about gratitude as well and keeping positive. Sadly we had forgotten all about making a dessert but didn’t miss it. A__ made me a cup of verbena, mint and rose tisane and we retired to our various rooms, leaving the dogs snoring on the couch and chair. As I drifted off to sleep in the moonlight with the sound of the surf through the window, I reflected on how grateful and lucky I am to be alive and to have such a nice little life.

Happiness is…..being with friends and appreciating all the little moments.

Turkey? On a Weeknight? Why, Yes!!!

Yes, it *is* true. You can cook a turkey for dinner on a weeknight.

Or at least my friend A___ thought so. During an extremely hectic week she managed to hit up Costco where they had nice organic turkeys on sale. While she buzzed off to her frenetic workday her dear beau R___ brined the turkey. We don’t know what he put into the brine actually, it was one of those mysterious guy moments where they work their kitchen magic and make it look so easy. I love it when that happens! While we were on our way over to the beach house, R___ removed the turkey from the brine, rinsed it and put it on a pan with a rack back in the fridge to let dry out a bit and preheated the oven for us. Give that man a beer!!

After we decompressed a tad, or, that is, A___relaxed, after all she had the busy day and I did not actually, I was pretty relaxed and sipping some chilled white wine I brought from the Roost. We futzed around the kitchen a bit, chatting and laughing; there is no better way to relax after a tough day to joke and laugh with friends with a little wine, the attentions of a warm, loving boyfriends (hers) and the unabashed adoration of two giant hounds. After spending some good quality time over at the beach house over the past year or so I have found that I really feel much happier when I am in full household with lots of animals and phone calls and craziness. It is especially difficult to come home to the Roost after this, despite that I love my cozy place with my modest collection of nice things and my insanely fat cat. It is so quiet and solitary here. I guess my fate is to roost alone but I think that my chicken analogy extends to the point that I recognize I would be happier in a flock. But many life lessons can be learned in the kitchen. I have learned that you may start out with a set menu but must adapt to what is fresh, what is available and what doesn’t get burnt. It is just like life, you have to make do with the ingredients you have in your life’s “pantry”, sometimes it is Top Ramen, sometimes it is prime rib. But what ever it is, you need to be as happy as you can with what you have, and enjoy the process.

But I digress. Let’s talk turkey!

A___’s place is welcome to all and additional guests were arriving shortly who were not as understanding about dining at 9:00 pm on a weeknight, or later, as we have done on occasion. Given the time constraints I suggested that we butterfly the turkey like I sometimes do with chickens when I am in a hurry. We had a recipe somewhere in the manse but couldn’t put our fingers on it at that exact moment, so I did the next best thing. I called mOm! I love it that moms know everything. If you need to know how to get a stain out of a blouse or what to do when you are feeling sick and are not sure if it’s dire or not, or how to roast a turkey in a hurry, moms are always there with an answer and a calming chat. With my mOm’s guidance, we set the oven at the suggested temperature of 450 F and the time range for cooking a bird.

I grabbed a nice knife and cut out the backbone of the turkey, which was surprisingly easy, despite a slight variance in architecture of a turkey vis a vis a chicken. Near the tail the bones are a little denser than a chicken and not quite in the same place but with a few sharp jabs I was able to cut the entire backbone and tail off. Next, I flattened the turkey by performing CPR gestures on the breastbone. Yelling “cough it up” did not help, however, but it did produce howls of laughter by my kitchen mates and a few barks from Rocky. Once the breastbone had been compressed sufficiently, I tucked the wings back and adjusted the drumsticks so that the now (more) flattened bird would fit on a baking sheet. (Sorry, no pictures, my hands were gooey.)

A___ had been chopping up carrots, celeriac and onions and arranged them on the baking sheet with some crimini mushrooms to serve as an impromptu roasting rack, plus they would double as the vegetable portion of the evening and do triple duty as flavoring of the pan juices for a light gravy. Mr. Turkey got splayed on top of the veggies, given a brief but relaxing massage with olive oil and a salt rub with Kosher salt and grinds of pepper. I also got wild and added a dash of garlic granules on top. Somehow it just felt right. Suitably relaxed, the turkey got tossed in the hot oven for 40 minutes, then it was rotated in the oven (and he was starting to brown nicely) and then roasted for another 40 minutes. After a total of 80 minutes Mr. Turkey was a deep mahogony, the meat had begun to withdraw from the ends of the drumsticks and the internal temperature was 170 F in the thigh and was a big higher in the breast. This means that we could have actually removed the bird after a total roasting time of 70 minutes, which is pretty quick for a 14 pound bird, don’t you agree?

It required manly strength to lift the bird out of the oven, and after this assistance, we girls retired him to rest on a warmed platter covered with a little foil for 15 minutes or so. The veggies were lifted off the baking sheet using a slotted spoon and set aside in a covered serving dish.

Roasted root vegetables
(shown here with some commercial cranberry sauce)

We poured off the drippings into a saute pan, where I removed the excess fat with a spoon. Meanwhile R___ deglazed the baking sheet with some red wine (a meritage of Zinfandel, Merlot and 10% Cabernet) and also a half glass of my white wine (Buena Vista Chardonnay). The winey mixture was added to the saute pan and I let it reduce a few minutes then added a light cornstarch slurry just still the sauce coated a spoon.

Then I carved up the bird, the skin was so crisp and the meat was extremely juicy. The breast sliced up perfectly, nary a shredding moment, and was so juicy when I pressed with the knife some pearls of savory turkey juice beaded up on the meat. Perfection!
Carved crispy turkey

Dinner was on the table in a hurry! A___ had made a roasted cranberry sauce with whole spices and her famed Persian rice. Perhaps someday I can persuade her to share the recipes. I just felt lucky to eat them!
Roasting the CranberriesPersian rice
(Can you see the little rabbits cut out of potato and onion that decorate the top of the Persian rice? They were particularly delicious and almost caused WW3 with fencing forks dueling to the bitter end)

A__ whipped up a quick salad of sliced cucumbers and radish, dill and a creamy dressing. It was perfect with the turkey and roasted root vegetables.
Cucumber Radish salad

I have a question to pose to the universe, or perhaps just a puzzlement. Despite using over 6 carrots for the root vegetable dish there were hardly enough carrots to go around. What happens when one cooks carrots? No matter how many one cooks it seems like there are never enough. Do they become the “angel’s share” like wine while they are cooking? Do aliens invade the kitchen and beam them out of the pots and pans? Have the dogs acquired opposable thumbs and had a snack? It is extremely perplexing to me.

Irregardless, between 4 adults and 1 teen, almost all of the thigh meat and a breast were consumed in one sitting. Only a 1/4 cup of the roasted cranberry sauce remained and perhaps a tablespoon of gravy. Gravy is another mysterious substance, there is never enough of it no matter how much you try to make! All, sweet mysteries of life!
Holiday dinner

We laughed and talked and toasted each other the Russian way with icy crisp vodka. A hearty toast was made to R___ for his impending birthday, and to the darling daughter for surviving finals week at school. Finally we toasted our friendship and family and our wishes of joy, happiness, peace and health for Christmas. Nostrovia!!
Prosit!
A frozen peace
Peace phone

The wine for dinner was a special treat for the birthday boy. A gorgeous lush Hendry Zinfandel, Block 28 from 2005. It was just released this year and is drinking well. I really prefer not to let Zins age too much as I feel they lose their lush fruitiness with the sands of time. This Zin was elegant, lightly tannic, spicy with black pepper and currant, a perfect match to turkey. If you ever get a chance to try Hendry’s wines I commend you for your good taste. George and Mike Hendry are great winemakers, not to mention that Mike is the cutest vineyard manager / winemaker I have ever met.

Holiday dinner is
(A plateful of holiday joy. Mmmm, turkey! Sorry for the cruddy pictures, I do my best with my cell phone)

A Speedy Turkey Dinner

Although I don’t have the ingredients used in the brine from last night, here is a brine that I have used and loved. Brines are like any recipe, you can add what ever you have on hand so please count this ingredient list as a guideline, with the exception of the salt to water proportions. If you are really pressed for time you can skip the brining, just be sure to season the bird well on both sides with salt and pepper and chopped herbs. I love brining poultry now because it gives you such insurance against drying out the meat if it cooks faster than you expect. I love that peace of mind, and the flavor just cannot be beat.

The Briney Deep:

a thawed 14# organic turkey
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar (omit if you are using juice)
1 gallon water, vegetable stock, white wine or a combination of them
1 Meyer lemon, sliced
1 head of garlic, sliced in half
2 apples, sliced in half, then sliced into 1″ pieces
2 onions, sliced in half, then sliced into 1″ pieces
1 T peppercorns
bunches of fresh herbs: sage, thyme, bay leaves, a little rosemary, marjoram, oregano
1 gallon cold water or half water, half apple juice or apple cider

Bring the water/broth/wine to a simmer with the salt and stir until dissolved. Add herbs, savories and spices, and cold water/juice/cider. The brine should be cold before immersing the turkey, or at least cool. In a XL Zip Lock bag or a brining bag add the turkey and the brine, press out as much air as possible from the bag, place in a large bowl or pot (insurance in case the bag leaks) and refrigerate overnight. Or, brine in the morning and cook the turkey that night.

A few hours before cooking, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Let rest in the refrigerator uncovered on a rack. This allows the skin to crisp up during roasting.

To Roast the Turkey and Root Vegetables:

1 pound carrots, cut into large chunks
1 celeriac or celery root, tough skin cut off with a paring knife, and flesh cut into large chunks
3 onions, cut into wedges
8 oz whole trimmed crimini mushrooms
S&P
3 T olive oil
1 tsp granulated garlic

Remove the backbone and tail from the turkey using a sharp knife. Save backbone and tail for stock or turkey bone soup! Turn the turkey over and flatten breastbone by pressing very firmly on the cartilage of the breast. Tuck under wings and tie the legs together.

On a baking sheet arrange large chunks of root vegetables and mushrooms. Place turkey flat upon the vegetables and place in a preheated 450 F oven. Roast for 80-120 minutes, rotating the pan after 40 minutes. Internal temperature of the turkey should be between 165-170 F in the breast and thigh.

Remove turkey from roasting pan and let rest, covered, for 15-20 minutes.

Meantime, remove vegetables from the roasting pan and taste for salt and pepper. Keep warm. Make the gravy (see below).

Carve turkey into serving pieces and serve on a warm platter drizzled with some gravy. Don’t forget to keep the breast and thigh bones for the stock pot!

The Gravy:

1 cup red wine
1 cup water (if needed) or unsalted chicken broth
2 T cornstarch, dissolved in 3 T cold water
dash Port
1 T fresh lemon juice
S&P

Pour off drippings from roasting pan into a sauce pan. Pour wine into roasting pan and scrape up all browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula, pour into sauce pan. If there is not a sufficient quantity of juices to make ~1 1/2 – 2 c sauce, add water or broth. Let juices simmer for 5 minutes, taste for salt and pepper. Add Port and lemon juice, taste to balance the sweet and the acid. While juices are simmering, whisk in half of the cornstarch slurry and test for appropriate thickness (should be like half and half), add more cornstarch if necessary. Let simmer for one minute more then pour into a warmed sauceboat. Strain if desired, but I like a rustic gravy sometimes.

——-

Next time you see turkey on sale at the market, please toss one in your cart and give this cooking method a try. You will love the freedom of good turkey in a hurry.

**********************

A Postscript:

Now as you know, hopefully, from reading my post-Thanksgiving article, there is nothing I love more than a turkey sandwich. A few days ago my hosts had a nice lunch in the Richmond district of turkey and cheese panini and A___ had been obsessing over them ever since and really wanted to have one today with the leftover turkey. Since she and R___ had some errands to do in the morning, I took it upon myself to get some of the prep work done before they returned. A___’s vision was sliced turkey and cheese on a halved ciabatta loaf with caramelized onions. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

With a Strauss Dairy eggnog latte in hand, I set about caramelizing the onions. I must say as much as I love cooking and all the tasks involved including prepping vegetables, making perfect tiny brunoise, stirring risotto constantly to attain the perfect texture, even washing up the dishes (but not the silverware), the one task I find tedious is caramelizing onions. It takes time, attention and you cannot rush the process. Even the redoubtable Cooks Illustrated’s quick version of French Onion Soup requires a minimum of 20 minutes standing there and stirring. Yawn. Fortunately there is Twitter to keep my occupied, plus the fun of trying to keep the dogs out of the kitchen while I am in there, a Sisyphean task. Some clever person out there could make a killer business by selling tubs of caramelized onions to high end grocery stores. If you do this, please send me a lifetime supply of onions as my reward for gifting you with this idea.

By the time my hosts returned home, the onions were a deep coffee brown and the dogs were dancing with joy at seeing their “parents” home. Oh, and it was their meal time. That makes anyone popular, yes?

They are getting close!

I am not going to give the recipe for the sandwich here. Anyone can make a great sandwich without a recipe!! But here’s what I did in case you want to duplicate our delicious lunch today. I lightly broiled the bread and we spread the top half with a light coating of mayo and some dijon. On the bottom of the bread half we spread the caramelized onions and topped that with slices of turkey gently warmed up in the microwave with the left over gravy. Swiss and Gouda slices topped the turkey and we ground a little fresh pepper over the top. The bread halves were placed on a foil-lined tray and broiled until the top half was just warmed (and removed at this point) and the cheese was melted and bubbling on the bottom half. We put the bread halves together and placed the sandwich back under the broiler for a moment to warm up the top of the bread and provide a little crunch. A___ had cleverly scored the top piece of the bread in two places, equally dividing it into 3 large pieces. This really made cutting the hot sandwich a snap with the bread knife. We cut each 3rd in half again and served the sandwiches with the leftover cranberry sauces.

I loved adding large spoonfuls of cranberry sauce into my sandwich. I do admit I have an addiction to the ubiquitous jellied cranberry sauce in the can, but this roasted cranberry sauce was really incredible. The combination of the crunch of the bread, the ooziness of the cheese, the tender moist turkey, the unctuousness of the onions and the cool tang of the cranberry sauce was divine. The only thing that could have improved this sandwich would have been leftover stuffing, however that’s a post-Thanksgiving Day tradition, alas. Or, perhaps next week, when I get the urge to have turkey again in a big hurry.

Panini love!

A big thank you to my dear friends for such a wonderful dinner and lunch and all of the good times.

Have a great weekend!

Feeling Crabby?

(updated)

I often do this time of year… But not because of PMS or cold rainy winter weather or crowded holiday shops (no comments please). It is crab season!!

One of the bazillion things I love about living here is the start of the crab season. Our local Dungeness crabs are so amazingly luscious, rich huge chunks of meat with lots of crab fat, large legs and bodies, sweet succulency, ahhhh.. Paired with a good beer, a loaf of sourdough bread and a few lemon wedges there is no finer dinner, *ever*. It is my family’s favorite meal this time of year, in fact we had fresh crab the day before Thanksgiving, and hopefully again before Christmas. My sis and I would regularly head to the wharf with a stick of butter, a knife and a lemon in our pockets, buy a freshly cooked crab and some Boudin sourdough and sit on the Aquatic Park steps and devour our crab like little gluttonous otters. What great memories!

Last week over at A___ and R____’s beachy place we went to the local Asian market and picked up humongo live crabs, and a few other necessary ingredients. We deviated from the usual sourdough side because the sound of zingy ginger garlic noodles really sounded appealing with freshly steamed crab.

If you have access to live crabs I really encourage you to give it a shot and cook them yourself. The only hard(ish, and not really) part is cleaning them. But it is not really hard at all, just a little messy and then it’s done, and your dinner awaits.

For seafood lovers I would recommend a crab per person. If you will be serving more side dishes then you can probably safely buy one crab per two people but to me that would be a sad, sad day. The whole point is to feast on crab, cracking and picking out the fat morsels of snowy white sweet meat until your fingers are pruned, your hands and forearms sticky with crab juice and bits of crab shell in your hair and all over the dining room.

On this night we bought 3 large crabs, over 3 pounds each, and a bunch of herbs, garlic, ginger, fresh Chinese egg noodles and Asahi beer. And an extra roll of paper towels!

When we got home the crabs hung out in the sink in a plastic bag, a very crinkly plastic bag. We tried not to think about that. I started water boiling for the ginger garlic noodles and A___ hauled out the big 15 quart stock pot for the crabs. While the noodles were boiling, which took just a minute, I began peeling a huge chunk of fresh ginger with a teaspoon (it’s so easy to remove the skin that way), and diced it up finely, I think there was about 3/4 of a cup of minced ginger. I also minced up a half of a head of garlic and popped all of these fragrant goodies into a large bowl with a 1/4 cup of vinegar and soy sauce and 1/2 cup of grapeseed oil. A___ chopped a bunch of green onions and cilantro and added them to the bowl. After a teaspoon of Asian chili and garlic paste (sambal) and a little white sesame seeds were stirred into the mix I added a dash of ponzu sauce and tossed the still warm noodles in this savory, tangy sauce.

Garlic Ginger Noodles
(tossing the noodles, the herbs and green onions haven’t been added yet)

Noodleporn:

Meanwhile, A___ started the base in which to steam the crabs. She popped open the two monster-sized cans of Asahi beer and poured them into the big stock pot. A few handfuls of fresh herbs went in (parsley, dill, celery leaves), a quarter packet of some commercial crab and shrimp boil spices (about 1/4 cup) and a little Ancho chile powder also got mixed into the beer. They simmered for a while.

The crab sauna
(crab sauna)

Once the crab base had simmered for a bit, and we were almost full from picking at the noodles in the mixing bowl (oh, oops!), it was time to start the crab.

Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it??

Brave R___ popped the crab into the pot, and we added cans on top of the lid to prevent any clattering noises from inside to disturb our serenity of watching Poirot in the other room. 15 minutes later, we returned to the kitchen, and voila! They were done! No drama, no Annie Hall-esque accidents. We pulled them out and let them sit on the stoop in a wide bowl to cool off and joked about the possibility of raccoons squeezing through the front gate to get at the crab. After about 5 minutes we retrieved the unmolested crabs and I set about cleaning them.

Here’s where it gets a bit messy. Next time I will film this cleaning process but frankly we were getting really hungry and we just wanted to start our feast!

I kept the plastic bag from the grocery store for the cleaning portion of the evening. It sat in the sink next to the colander of crab and an extra bowl. I like to work over a colander to avoid getting any crab shells down the garbage disposal (or in the case of the sink at The Roost, there is no disposal so it’s important to prevent getting all the bits from going down the drain). This site has an excellent picture of the undercarriage of a crab should you need a little reference.

First, you carefully remove the legs from the body by grabbing them near the joint where they attach to the body, and twist. The legs pop off very easily this way. Toss the legs into the serving bowl.

Turn the crab so that the flappy tail thing is facing you, and using a table knife or a spoon insert the utensil under the shell by the base of the flap. You just need to get a little purchase here to be able to reach in with your fingers and pull the crab back off the body. Toss the top shell.

With the water from the tap flowing into the colander, rinse the crab body out. There will be mysterious goopy bits that just get washed out into the colander. Many people like to save the yellowish “crab butter” however I am not that fond of it so I just rinse it out. Should you want to save it, scoop it out with a spoon and place in a small bowl. It does have excellent crabby flavor for sauces or soups.

You are almost done now! Then, you will see some feathery finger things, the gills, and you pull those off and toss them. Finally, the two white lobes of the crab body are ready to be broken in half, rinsed well and put into your serving bowl. That’s it! I like to use a big chef’s knife to crack the thick joints of the claw and the knuckle portion of the legs. I was done in under 5 minutes, so it’s really easy.

Set the table with crab crackers, little forks to help get the meat out of the shells, a big bones bowl for the empty shells, tons of paper towels, bottles of cold beer, and some lemons and Tabasco for those who care for it. Dig in and enjoy!!

PS: Don’t forget to take out the trash before you go to bed! Trust me on this.

A Chickeny Night

You would think that after the Thanksgiving feast and accompanying leftovers I would be slightly fatigued with the poultry family.  Not so!

I was ever so excited to see a new roasted chicken recipe via Peter @Kalofagas on Twitter and forwarded it to my dear pal A___, as any good friend does, she completely shares my obsession with chicken.   When she phoned me yesterday saying she intended to make it for dinner last night I hopped on the bus and presented myself at her doorstep and we proceeded to make an amazing dinner.

Lovely chicken, mashed and beans!

This recipe has some of my favorite herbs, lemon verbena and tarragon, which I had never conceived to combine with roast chicken. The herbs with the lemon and olive oil is really superb.  Between A___ and Rabbit we devoured the chicken in its entirety (almost, there was a wing left) and also consumed a vat of creamy mashed potatoes and green beans with browned butter and sliced almonds.  Heaven!   Then we relaxed in front of the fire with the snores of giant doggies and finished the wine, happy with this cold winter evening and the company of great friends.

Anna's mashed potatoesSimple green beans

Kalofagas’s Crispy Roast Chicken With Tarragon and Lemon Verbena (with HAL adaptations)

1 whole chicken, ~4.5 pounds
1 lemon
3 T fresh tarragon
2 T fresh lemon verbena, chopped (or 1 1/2 tsp dried)
2  cloves garlic, minced
3 T olive oil
1/3 cup + 1 T dry white wine,
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 minced shallot
2 T port

Oven at 400.

Wash and dry chicken.  Combine olive oil, half of the garlic, 1 1/2 T of tarragon and 1 T of lemon verbena. Juice the lemon into a separate bowl. Into the chicken cavity put remaining garlic, herbs, the lemon husks plus a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Truss well.

Massage in the oil and herb mixture onto the chicken and season generously with salt and pepper on all sides.  Place on a roasting pan with a rack.  Pour over half of the lemon juice and put 1/2 c of hot water into a corner of the roasting pan.  Roast for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add another 1/2 cup hot water to the roasting pan and reduce the heat to 375.  Roast for another 30 minutes.

After 1 hour total roasting time, remove chicken from oven and tilt the bird so that the juices from the body cavity drip into the roasting pan.  Repeat for the juices in the neck.  Add a little more lemon juice to the pan and more hot water, and roast until the internal temperature of the chicken is 165 in the breast and thigh.  For our chicken last night this took an additional 40 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a tray, cover with foil and a kitchen towel and let rest 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove roasting rack from the pan, and spoon off any accumulated fat from the pan.  Deglaze the pan with 1/3 c wine, scraping down the browned bits into the drippings and add the shallot.  Add water drained from mashed potato preparations if there aren’t enough juices to make a gravy (I like 1 1/2 cup total liquid), simmering for 10 minutes or so.  Taste for salt and pepper. We added a dash of port to the gravy as well.  In a small bowl mix remaining 1 T wine with cornstarch, combine well, stir into boiling gravy and whisk to incorporate. Let simmer for a minute or two, then pour into a warmed gravy boat, reserving 2 T of gravy in the pan.

Carve the chicken and mix any accumulated chicken juices on the platter with the the reserved gravy and glaze the top of the chicken with this thinned gravy.

Serves 3 very hungry people, or 4 people normally.

(original recipe here)

Carved chickenCarved chicken w lemon verbena and tarragon

I have some terrific meals planned this week but I fear they will pale in comparison to this lovely dinner.

My Ongoing Love Affair with Chicken

chicken sliced for presentation

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

I love chicken, all kinds of chicken, cooked and “on the hoof” and as an art form. I have even knitted a chicken!

INVISIBLE_TEXT

CHICKen collage
Isn’t she cute?

IServes 4.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

NVISIBLE_TEXT

INVISIBLE_TEXT

Thursday night I was jonesing for chicken again and offered to cook dinner for my dear friends Anna and Robert. Fortunately they took me up on the offer and suggested I cook at their place. I love cooking in Anna’s kitchen, it is such a warm and loving home, created out of thin air by Anna’s superior thrift and estate sale shopping know-how, and her kitchen is huge (by my standards) and she has a gas range. Heaven…

INVISIBLE_TEXT

Anna's beautiful dining room/garden

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

First we stopped at Andronico’s, the Tiffany’s of food. They remodeled and their prices reflect it, but the quality is superior and they have a parking lot. We were tired, hungry and in a hurry. $60 later we left with bags of goodies for dinner.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

A rainbow of cauliflower
A rainbow of cauliflower

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

I brought a lovely bottle of wine, Clos Saron’s Pinot from their Home vineyard, ’07 and just released. I purchased it last year and dear Gideon delivered it to my home last week along with a bottle of their Tickled Pink Rosé (see it here in my Salmon BLT lovefest), funny thing was that I completely forgot that I had pre-ordered it and it was very nice of him to drop it off, even though he was treated to the delightful sight of Heather with The Most Hideous Cold On The Planet, poor guy. I know he was scared! At any rate, Robert decanted the lovely Home Pinot and it was tough to wait for it to breathe but we did and it was divine. Really truly amazing.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

I, however, could not touch a drop until I started dinner because I decided to make Anna’s second favorite chicken (and mine), the Red Cat Pan Seared chicken. Our favorites are the beloved Anna’s Chicken cutlets or my Greek Lemon Chicken however that is for a post another day. The Red Cat chicken is a snap to make, after you bone out the bird, hence no wine for me until I was finished playing with über sharp knives.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

Boning the chicken is actually pretty simple and takes 5 minutes if you have done it before or 10 if you have not. I use a very sharp blade and cut the skin at the back of the backbone of the whole bird and cutting against the frame removed the ribcage. You have to cut the joint at the thigh and at the wing, and be careful along the keel bone of the chest to avoid cutting through this thin area. Then, with a cleaver and great whacking chop (which scared the dog!) I removed the chicken’s ankle bone at the drumstick. The rest is a snap, boning out the thigh bone and the chicken knee joint, then pushing the bone out from the drumstick. A little trimming here and there and the chicken was ready for a liberal seasoning of salt and pepper and into a hot pan skin side down until richly browned and gorgeous.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

chicken collage

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

Then, I turned the chicken over and sprinkle with handfuls of chopped herbs and a head of garlic separated into its cloves and the zest of a Meyer lemon. I popped the whole thing into the oven for 20 minutes. Isn’t that easy? I removed the cooked bird to a platter to rest and reduced the pan juices with a dash of vermouth and lemon juices, spooned off the extra fat, and poured the whole lot over the chicken. I have to say I am getting hungry again just thinking about how juicy and perfectly cooked this chicken was, with the crispy bits of whole sage leaves.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

The roasted garlic cloves were shimmering away with the pan sauce waiting to be squeezed onto a slice of hearty artisan bread, and we used the bread crusts to sop up the chicken juices from our plates.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

Reducing the pan juices

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

artisan bread with goat butter

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

Anna made her amazing mashed potatoes which I adore, so naughty and so delicious.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

Mashed potato heaven

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

I also made up a batch of slivered green beans in browned butter and slivered almonds. While I was playing with the chicken and the filet knife, Anna used “the guillotine” I gave her to sliver the green beans, it is the most fun gadget and ever so handy. The beans are a snap, they need a quick bath in salted water and a good draining in the sink while I melted a huge knob of butter in a large skillet, added the almonds and when the butter got all foamy and started to turn the perfect shade of brown, the almonds were perfectly toasted too and in went the beans for a quick toss to reheat in all that buttery toasted almondy goodness. Dinner is served!

INVISIBLE_TEXT

green beans collage

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

We did inhale it, I have to say, and finished the Pinot and opened a fabulous bottle of Kline Zinfandel ’05, what a treat that was, and then finished off the night with a bottle of Bogle Zinfandel ’07 and a crystallized ginger pineapple macadamia truffle bar from Sterling Confections that I purchased after tasting his amazing truffles at the Chocolate Salon this winter. The truffle bar is a work of art in chocolate form, the crunch of macadamias, the zing of ginger in a dark chocolate ganache and the delicious fresh taste of pineapple in a white chocolate ganache, lordy. Perfect with the wine, perfect with the peachy sunset, perfect with the sounds of our childhood of Bud and Travis and the Kingston Trio with a little Diana Krall and Joni Mitchell thrown in for good measure (courtesy of YouTube). What a perfectly delightful evening with friends, and doggies.

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

trufle collage

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT

Red Cat’s Pan Seared Chicken (modified)

INVISIBLE_TEXT

1 whole chicken, boned through the back

1 T peanut oil

zest of a Meyer lemon

½ cup mixed chopped herbs (thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano – whatever you have on hand and like)

a head of garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled

½ bunch of chopped Italian parsley

sea salt and pepper

slosh of white vermouth or dry white wine

INVISIBLE_TEXT

Preheat oven to 450.

Season the boned chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a skillet large enough to hold the chicken and heat until very hot and the oil is shimmering. Brown the chicken, skin side down, until golden and flip over. Add herbs, garlic, lemon zest and place in oven for 20 minutes. The chicken is done when it measures 165 degrees at the thigh and the juices run clear. Remove to a platter and let rest 10 minutes. Reduce the juices in the skillet over high heat, adding the vermouth and a little lemon juice until thickened. Remove extra fat and pour juices over rested chicken. Slice the chicken into serving pieces, I like to slice into 2” thick slices diagonally. Toss over parsley and serve.

INVISIBLE_TEXT

Serves 4.

INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT
INVISIBLE_TEXT