Tag Archives: Recipes

Prevent Scurvy, Drink Gimlets!

Our version of summerish weather is here, if you discount the odd day of rain. When it’s over 65 degrees out, we consider this a *hot* day and one’s mind wanders to gazpacho, tall iced drinks and, for me, gimlets with fresh lime juice.

There is nothing more sublime than a chilled cocktail glass brimming with shimmering opal green elixir, the lime gimlet.

Lime gimlets

It’s all about the proportions: gin, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup, all shaken over ice until your hand aches from holding the frosty shaker and you can swipe a finger through the rime of frost. I like adding fresh basil to the shaker, stems and all, and floating a few leaves in the glass to further perfume the drink.

One decadent Sunday night I had a friend over for “framily” dinner and made up a batch of the basil gimlets. It was 74 F in the kitchen and the cool tart sweet drinks went down easily as we watched the sun turn the buildings on the hills peach and pink then lavender and grey. The two limes I had on hand made just enough for us to have a glass and a half, almost too much and not quite enough.

The next day I was determined to find more limes.

Thinking creatively, I found 6 limes from Walgreens of all places. I was able to walk there and back quite successfully, but iced my ankle when I returned to work, that might be the farthest I have gone on my own with crutches! It was totally worth it, and who would have thought that the limes from the drug store would be so large and juicy!

That night in my kitchen I juiced up all six of them and measured out the proper proportions for the gin and simple syrup into a large mixing bowl and filled a wonderful antique stoppered bottle I found at an estate sale. The bottle was full but there was more left in the bowl, enough to generously fill my cocktail shaker. There is a mysterious wonder in this world when all things become synchronous in this fashion.

I tossed in a few branches of basil and shook and shook and then sat down at my little kitchen table and poured myself my lovely drink. It was again a superb sunset, and I tarried there a while until the light dimmed and faded.

The full bottle is reposing in my fridge and I’ve been shaking it up when I see it as the lime pulp has floated to the top. I calculate I have a few more days in which to drink up this batch of gimlets, and what a fine few days they will be.  Best of all, I will definitely *not* get scurvy this month.

Cin Cin!

Recipe:  Gimlets with Basil

 

Sunday Meals with Framily

I am delighted to find a way to offset the dreaded Sunday blues I have been feeling by having a “framily” dinner – a dinner with friends who are like my family.

This Sunday sadness is an odd phenomenon for me.  For many years I thought it was because on Sunday afternoon I remembered I had to go to work on Monday to a job I hated. As time passed and I changed jobs, then changed jobs again, I was in a series of long-term relationships with men who lived out of the City. Sundays meant either they left to go home, or I did, and there again leaving me feeling lonely at dinner and facing an evening of dread anticipating work.

Osso Bucco dinner

Work got better but I was always seemed to end up alone Sunday night and in my societally-programmed brain Sundays are meant to be spent with family or friends, with a well anticipated family meal capping off the weekend’s adventures with each other, or hopefully, at the minimum, the successful completion of chores that inevitably pile up. But that is not my life, and now that I am single and even without a cat roommate I find the sorrow and loneliness is sometimes overwhelming. Some Sundays I even spent watching Hallmark Channel movies and dabbing at the eyes with tissue, such a deplorable state in which to find oneself.  The Hallmark Channel!!

Last weekend however, I invited friends over for dinner and we had such a nice evening together, full of laughter, silliness and great food, even if it is a challenge to cook in my tiny kitchen astride a scooter. I realized, even after they went home, that I didn’t feel as lonely as I usually do, and this is because my dear friends are my family and that this simple family meal felt right and true and I felt like a member of a family, a family of friends, my “framily”.

I spoke honestly about my feelings over that dinner and found that some of my friends feel the same way.  Either they’re not in a relationship right now, or their partner lives far away like mine used to, or the child custody arrangements mean half of the Sundays they say goodbye to their children and go home alone.  I have proposed a standing Sunday dinner or midday supper going forward where we gather and relax and enjoy.  I know it can’t happen every weekend but I hope it will.

This weekend, despite the 6.1 earthquake that rocked the Bay Area and severely damaged the town of Napa, we in SF were in good shape, a little shaken but not stirred, if you know what I mean.  Saturday, before all of the excitement, I prepared an osso bucco with a large format beef shank from my amazing local butcher, 4505 Meats.  I love making osso bucco and it is very nostalgic for me and I haven’t made it for four years.

Osso Bucco dinner

I made a variation of my usual osso bucco and added shitakes and some local bell peppers, just because I had them, and used a bunch of whole carrots scattered across the top.  Everything cooked away in the oven while I practiced crutching around the apartment.

I was so proud of myself for using crutches almost the entire day, except when I made myself a sandwich for dinner.  It was quite a gourmet sandwich made from leftover smoked beef brisket but once I had made it I couldn’t figure out how to transport it to my dining table.  I tried wrapping it in a paper towel but couldn’t hang onto it while holding onto the crutches and it fell on the floor, happily still wrapped up.  Then I put it in waxed paper and tried sticking inside my tee shirt, but it fell out!  So much for passing the pencil test then, I chuckled to myself.  Then I put it in a ziplock baggie and held it in my teeth, like a dog.  Utterly hilarious.

When my sandwich was done, so was the osso bucco and I let it cool a bit on the stove before packing it up for my friend’s place.

On Sunday, D___  made a gorgeous pot of polenta with lots of butter and cheese, and we reheated the sauce first to thicken it a bit then added the meat and carrots to warm up. While it was heating I chopped up a huge mound of gremolata, the magical mixture of garlic, lemon zest and parsley that is scattered over the top of the osso bucco and livens up the dish.

Osso Bucco dinner
(once you make gremolata you will want to put it on everything)

Another friend made a beautiful salad of avocados and ripe tomatoes and brought some tomato basil bisque to start.

Osso Bucco dinner

Osso Bucco dinner
(from the Unsafeway, delicious!)

We sipped on Prosecco then rose, while the young man in the house enjoyed his milk in a wine glass.

Osso Bucco dinner
Osso Bucco dinner
(there is a huge mound of cheese-laden polenta under that sugo!)

There was a moment during dinner where the conversation just halted and we all felt so replete and blissed out.  Having a luxurious and hearty mid-day meal on Sunday was so pleasant and relaxing, it was the perfect moment.  Afterwards we chatted and played games and I knitted a bit while the sun streamed in the window while the room was chilled by the Pacific breezes.  We all felt really happy!  Mission accomplished!

 

Next weekend, tacos!

Recipe:  Overnight Osso Bucco

Work in Progress: Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Sweet Peppers

peppers

It seems like at every supermarket they sell miniature sweet bell peppers in red, orange and yellow and they’re so delicious to eat in many different ways.  Usually I just saute them but I was in the mood for something more feisty.   I picked up a bag of them at a farm stand on the way back home from my mom’s house, along with a pound of bacon from a fantastic place in Lockeford. I got to thinking that it might be a pleasant change from the spicy jalapeno stuffed peppers to use these sweet peppers instead.

When I got home I realized I did not have cream cheese but I did have goat cheese, and I found a wedge of Tallegio, a marvelously flavorful and stinky soft rind aged cheese. When I opened the fridge door my erstwhile bottle of Sriracha sauce fell out, again, and the idea for stinky bacon wrapped Sriracha sweet peppers was born!

I used about three ounces of Tallegio cut into small pinky-shaped pieces, and shoved those into the hollowed out peppers first, followed by a topping of goat cheese.

Each little pepper was wrapped in bacon, and then I prepared a cutting mat with a puddle of Sriracha sauce and mound of Demerera sugar.

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Each fat little pepper got rolled in the hot sauce, and then rolled around in the crunchy sugar and placed on a little baking sheet covered with mushed up tinfoil to make an impromptu rack.

Because I’m still using the kneeling walker/scooter thing I can’t use the big oven, but my convection toaster oven is pretty fantastic, despite my not having all of the required equipment, like mini baking racks.

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I baked them at 425 F for 15 minutes until the bacon was a crispy and bubbly and the sugar and Siriracha melded together for a savory sweet spicy coating.

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My apartment smelled mercilessly of Tallegio and bacon and chilies, but I didn’t care, I was just waiting for them to cool down my enough that I could eat them.

photo.JPG

I call this recipe a work in progress because obviously they baked up too dark, but they still tasted amazing.  Next time I will lower the heat and maybe add more bacon.
photo.JPG

While I waited for the peppers to cool I mounded a few of them on a little plate and mixed up a vodka Gibson. I was expecting a dear friend to come over but didn’t know exactly when she would arrive, and wouldn’t you know, the moment I sat down my doorbell rang. Perfect timing!

The heat from the Sriracha was exactly enough to make you want a sip of your cocktail, and the sweet pepper, cheesy baconiness was the perfect snack for a tipple when the sun pasts the yardarm.    We knocked back the Gibsons and then made another batch and chatted about her travels while noshing on the peppers.   Then we made pizza!  It was a perfect Sunday evening.

Work in Progress:  Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Peppers

For The Zucchini Overwhelmed – Tiger Salad

Some lucky people are swamped with zucchini these days. Imagine a garden in your own yard, filled with summer produce and zucchini and herbs popping out all over. Since I am an urban dweller and dirt-deprived I am quite envious of people with gardens. We just passed the annual “sneak some zucchini on your neighbor’s porch” day, and sadly no one did this to me, but in my urban highrise it would be likely snarfed up by other garden-free zucchini-hungry neighbors.

Photo courtesy of Faith Kramer - Blog Appetit

Photo courtesy of Faith Kramer
Blog Appetit

If you are overwhelmed with zucchini you might like to try the refreshing salad I made for the Bay Area Food Blogger’s picnic.  It’s a riff on a traditional Thai salad that calls for cucumber and celery.  With my weird food intolerances I cannot eat those vegetables so I decided to go with thinly sliced zucchini and fennel to approximate texture and found the combination even better than what I remembered having at my local Thai restaurants.  It was really refreshing with the mint and cilantro leaves and a hit of heat from red chile flakes.   I served with an Asian marinated chicken legs and that was a terrific combination.

My little double-edged mandolin made quick work of the prep, I sliced up the zucchini right into the mixing bowl, then carefully sliced the fennel.  I picked off leaves from the bunches of mint and cilantro, added a pinch or two of the red chile and added shiso dressing until everything seemed moistened enough.  After an hour in the fridge I tossed the vegetables again as the zucchini expressed a lot of water from their contact with the soy shiso dressing.   Before leaving for the picnic I mixed up the vegetables one last time and lifted them out of the mixing bowl with a slotted spoon to leave behind the excess liquid.  I plopped the salad into my picnic serving box and added some more herbs and toasted sesame seeds on top, into my cooler it went and I was off to the park!

Many thanks to Faith of Blog Appetit for sharing her photo of the salad!  Now I need to make her vegetarian paella.

Recipe:  Zucchini Tiger Salad + Shiso Salad Dressing

Grown Up Boozy Treats – Negroni Jelly

I was invited to attend a craft night by a local art and yarn shop this week. Our hostess provides wine and nibbles but welcomed contributions so naturally my thoughts turned to cocktails.  Knitting and drinking a cocktail is positively the best thing ever.

The Negroni is my favorite cocktail these days, equal parts of St. Georges Terroir gin or #209 gin, Campari and Carpano Antica sweet red Vermouth, stirred with ice and served up in a swanky glass with a bit of orange peel. The diehard Italians serve it over ice in a highball but I prefer it my way.

I drink alone, yeah, with no body else! #Georgeknows

It’s not often convenient to bring a cocktail shaker and ice and cocktail fixings with you to a craft night, especially when the venue is a comic book store, so why not resurrect the old 80’s favorite of Jello-O Shots in Negroni form? Since these are grown up boozy treats I like to call them jellies as the British do.

Negroni jelly is shockingly easy to make. Actually, I forgot to make these until about 12:45 am and rousted myself from bed and mixed them up in under 2 minutes.  I heated up a cup of water in a measuring cup, added a few pieces of orange zest and two packets of unflavored gelatin and microwaved it until the gelatin was completely dissolved. Every 20 seconds or so I would stir the mixture with a fork. Then, I poured this into my small casserole dish, and measured in equal parts of  #209 gin, Campari and Cinzano Rosso, gave it another stir with the fork, and put it in the fridge.

To serve, cut little cubes with a spatula, plop into a cup and serve.

Negroni jelly

I preferred to eat the jelly with my fingers, a kid at heart always!

Negroni jelly

Besides being visually stunning, their flavor was truly zingy.  The presence of the orange was lovely and subtle, the flavor of a good Negroni was really clear and the jelly had a pleasant, bitter tang of gin and Campari. We couldn’t stop eating them and wiggling them at each other.

The evening was really fun and a bit surreal.  We were a bunch of pretty girls (and one cool guy) sitting in a comic book store knitting and eating boozy jellies and sipping wine.  The regular customers were pretty cool about our being there but there was a distinct feeling of being in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Although the Negroni jelly had a strong alcohol flavor it doesn’t really have much alcohol, so one can eat them with without compunction. I will be making more jellies of a boozy nature for the upcoming craft nights. What flavor should I do next?

Negroni Jelly

Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls

I freely confess that I am a big fan of the Pillsbury orange sticky rolls that come in the cardboard tube at the grocery store.  As a kid we were not allowed junk food except a box of any cereal we wanted around our birthdays, Hostess ding dongs when we went sailing, and these orange sticky rolls around the holidays.

pillsbury

Ohh, naughty!

As an adult, naturally, I felt the wild rush of freedom and indulged myself frequently in these rolls and then felt quite guilty for consuming a product full of trans fats and who knows what else.

This weekend I deliberately did not book anything for Saturday so that I could have a rest day at home. I planned to knit and recreate my childhood favorite holiday treat but in a healthier fashion.  It worked for the most part but I learned an important lesson.

The recipe I concocted for the sweet roll dough was quite healthy, it is a yeast risen dough similar to that used for cinnamon rolls but instead of egg yolks and lashings of butter I used fruity olive oil from Lodi.

The dough rose in my giant Wovo salad bowl for 90 minutes while I watched scifi shows on Netflix, knitted a shawl and sipped lungo shots of espresso.

Olive oil dough rising
This is a 10 quart salad bowl, almost brimming over with yeast dough

For the filling I zested some citrus – oranges and a grapefruit – with a microplane grater and mixed this into sugar, then added some juice to make a slurry to spread over the dough.

Getting busy with a citrus sweet roll filling
my apartment smelled wonderful at this point

I used a few tablespoons of the fruit juice to make a paste, then sprinkled over walnuts from Sonoma County that I toasted in a skillet.

This filling was inspired by some random food show I saw where a diner chef made enormous sweet rolls well sanded with sugar and butter.  In trying to make these healthier I omitted the butter entirely.

I rolled out the dough to a large rectangle, applied the filling and then rolled up the dough on the long edge to form a log about 16″ long.   I cut the log into about 12 even pieces and filled up a buttered pyrex baker.

Citrus walnut sweet rolls rising
About halfway risen

You can see how generous the citrus-sugar filling was and there were plenty of walnuts to go around.  I think perhaps I should have put fewer rolls in the pan though.

I had too many to fit so I made up an extra pan in a tin pie plate.  Lagniappe for the chef!

Bonus pan of sweet rolls
Ready to rise before baking

My apartment was nice and warm on this very foggy, dark day, and after about 45 minutes the rolls were puffed and yeasty and looking pleasantly plump – ready for the oven.

After baking I made up a quick frosting with more of the citrus juice and powdered sugar.  Despite using almost a full box of confectioners sugar there was barely enough icing to cover the rolls in both pans.

There is never enough icing
browned to a toasty golden

The aroma from the oven was mouth-watering.  A whiff of orange with a hint of grapefruit, the sweet sugar icing melting in between the rolls, citrus sugar caramelizing the walnuts, the yeasty baked rolls with a tang of rich, fruity olive oil, they smelled just like Christmas in my childhood home.

The citrus sticky rolls were best eaten warm out right out of the oven, but truthfully I think they would be much improved with some melted butter in the filling.  The icing wasn’t quite what I wanted either, I need to tinker with that a bit I think.

Citrus walnut sweet rolls

So luscious

I won’t admit how quickly this pan of rolls disappeared and will firmly disavow any knowledge of my actions.  They needed to be reheated if you don’t eat them right away.  Despite the liberal buttering of the baking pan they were hard to remove because of the caramelized sugar on the bottom.  They were not as tender the next day either and this is where I think the butter is essential.

The recipe includes the addition of butter but you can omit as your conscience dictates.  They were really wonderful and toothsome as is, but next time I make them I will use butter.

Citrus Walnut Sticky Rolls recipe 

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.

carlos

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!

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—–

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!

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Oysterfest

This weekend I was invited to a wonderful Northern California treat, an oyster picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. Oysters are a perfect protein and a great example of sustainable and environmentally responsible seafood farming in California. Located along the Tomales Bay, the Hog Island Oyster Company, among others, grows over 3 million oysters a year, all Food Alliance Certified Sustainable.

My friends have an annual tradition of picnicking at Hog Island with their family and friends and I was delighted to be included this year in their wonderful picnic, which includes raw and grilled oysters fresh from the bay, plus wonderful wine and side dishes brought from our homes.

For years I have had oyster parties where we would buy a couple of boxes of medium oysters from Drake’s Bay Oysters (formerly Johnson’s Oysters) and grill them over mesquite with a variety of savory sauces or just lemon and hot sauce. Drake’s days of operation are coming to a close because the National Park Service decided to shut them down, and fabricated and misinterpreted evidence and have steadfastly ignored all scientific evidence to support their claim they operate sustainably while protecting the environment. We are continuing to hope they can get the NPS to overturn their irrational and puzzling decision and listen to Drake’s and all of the environmental and scientific groups supporting them to let their oyster farming continue.

I no longer have a place to grill at home but remember my oyster parties fondly and was very excited to have a chance to join a party of oyster lovers. My dearest friends joined me, D___, my little friend Bug and L___ are major oyster aficionados also so we packed up the car and hit the road.

Love this view

The drive north and west was quite pleasant, despite a bit of traffic along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that leads from San Rafael all the way to Highway 1. The slow pace afforded us time for a natural history lesson given by yours truly on some of the wildflowers and trees in bloom in the chaparral, riparian and redwood forest environments. We passed through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a beloved place for creek walking, picnics and hiking, and I hope to go there soon to do some of that with my friends.

Arriving at Hog Island on a weekend is an adventure. Highway 1 is lined with cars trying to park precariously on the side of the road to access the various oyster companies and restaurants that line Tomales Bay. We were very lucky to snag the last spot along the bed of oyster shells along the shoulder near Hog Island’s spot. Each night after the oyster farm closes they dump wheelbarrows full of shells along the shoulders, where cars crunch them into pure white and rather fragrant gravel.

We trudged along, carrying our loads of picnic baskets and apparatus to the reserved group picnic tables that hug the edge of the cove. If you don’t have a reservation don’t bother going, it is so very crowded there and the lines for oysters and a spot to sit were ridiculous. Instead, buy oysters to go and find a picnic spot in Point Reyes National Seashore; there is nothing finer than slurping oysters while sitting on the beach!

Pretty sunny day
(windblown but happy with the great view)

The sunny sky dotted with dragon and dolphin shaped clouds was perfect, just enough sun, the wind was up but it wasn’t too strong and we didn’t need coats at all, which is a complete miracle for the unpredictable weather along the bay. As experienced picnickers in Northern California we were prepared for everything, including wool hats, thermoses of espresso and flasks of whiskey, to sunhats, SPF 30 and chilled wines. Both D___ and I have glorious picnic baskets with all the accourterments required for sophisticated picnicking.

I brought a foie terrine to the picnic today
(a treat from D’Artagnan)

Cheese plate: chèvre, St Andre, Dubliner
(chevre, Dubliner and St. Andre)

Fun nibbles
(a trio of fun nibbles including chicharonnes from 4505 Meats)

We laid out our pre-oyster feast of savory tidbits along with L___’s batch of divine lemon meltaway cookies, bite sized lemony buttons that were egg-free (for me!) and D___’s enormous container of beignets fried up freshly that morning, just like the ones from Cafe du Monde! She even brought along a container of powdered sugar to redust the fluffy pillows of fried dough. Such evilly delicious treats and both sweet treats were the hit of the day.

L___ looked at me with a glint in her eye and said,

“Yes, I am really going to go there…. oh yeah……. I am!”

She then spread a bite of beignet with the foie pate. Oh my stars, did that ever look amazing. I had to try it too and it was true evil genius.

An evilly brilliant idea, pâté on a homemade beignet

After a very long wait in line our oysters arrived. Oysters really are just the perfect picnic food. Contained within their rugged and ruffled shells are the perfect bite (or two) of saline, oceanic goodness. Hog Island provides each group reservation with a bag of ice, a huge bag of oysters, a tray, gloves and an oyster knife and shucking instructions if you want them, and mesquite charcoal for the grills, plus all the oysters and mignonette sauce you desire. C___’s mom brought up a pair of sauces that were sloshed on the oysters as they grilled: a red Thai curry sundried tomato sauce and a delicious garlic herb butter. I had intended to bring my amazing garlic butter for oysters but a mishap in the kitchen that morning prevented its use, next time!

LunaRaven13s photo of our oysters

(L___’s photo of our enormous sack of oysters – please check out her other photos and art here and photos of our picnic here)

Everyone got into the fun of shucking and the shucking jokes flew fast and wild. N___, D___ and I took up our knives and started prying oysters open, some to slurp just then and some to put on the grill. Even young master Bug had a go and we were soon drenched in brine and well dusted with bits of shells, miniature mussels and limpets. Oddly this year we noticed the oyster shells were really crumbly and flakey but no one seemed to mind much the bits of extra calcium in their treat. No pictures though, shucking oysters is a messy business.

My method of grilling oysters is simple. Over a bed of coals, you place the rounded side of the oyster on the grilling rack and watch them. After a few minutes liquid will start to bubble and burst out of the shell. At this point, remove them from the heat with tongs and using a towel or hot pad and an oyster knife it is quite easy to slide the knife between the two shells. Remove the top (flat) shell and discard, and cut the oyster free from its curved bottom shell. It’s much easier opening oysters this way than trying to pry them open for a raw bite. If you ever watch an oysterman or a chef at a raw bar open oysters you must understand just how physically tough they are.

Now, return the oyster in its open shell back onto the grill and dollop in a little sauce and watch them again. Remove the oyster from the grill when the sauce is bubbly. Repeat until everyone is full. If you are grilling for more than 30 minutes you will need to add a few more pieces of charcoal to the bed of coals to keep the heat going – I bank them along one side of the grill and move away the oysters from the live flame.

Mini sweaters were a big hit
(lots of wonderful wines and my mini sweaters were a big hit although the whimsy was lost on a few folks. I think they are an essential part to any table.)

The 50 pound bag of oysters seemed large but it didn’t take long to go through them all. We opened more wine and sat back and watched the beautiful view and chatted with each other in a sated fashion.

My BFFs @Biggie and R - such a fun day
(Bug is taking a break after all the pate and oysters in his glamorous Mom’s lap!)

We are all very excited about N___ and C___’s impending move to the Bay Area. I looked around the table and realized that these people, all so near and dear to my heart, were all friends that I found through Twitter.

Picnic buddies @lunaraven13 @knit1eat1 thanks for having us!!!
(C___, N___ and L___)

L__ and I met and bonded over Massa Farm’s duck harvest one year, and she knew D___ from food blogging so the three of us had a blast one night organizing a dinner of the Bay Area Food Bloggers and have been the best of friends ever since. We are like sisters and it’s a wonderful thing.

Mustache gang(the Bay Area Food Bloggers infamous mustache incident on our first excursion together)

Two years ago we had a twitter-sourced meet up of local knitters, crocheters and dyers and met N___, who is an incredible knitting designer and artist, and his husband C____, who graciously kept us company and allowed us to geek out over fiber and fun. Through the magic of Twitter and Facebook we have deepened our relationship and having them move closer is going to be fantastic.

We are planning another visit to Tomales Bay this summer for more oysters and picnicking. I shall be sure to correctly prepare my garlic butter sauce but in the interim will enjoy it on prawns and grilled fish.

Fondue of Butter for Seafood
2 cubes of unsalted butter (1/2 pound or 1 cup)
1 head of garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. shallots or onion powder (if desired)

In a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook very slowly without simmering for an hour or until the garlic is extremely soft and tender and yet not browned. It is very important to monitor the heat of your stove to ensure the butter does not boil and brown and the garlic stays creamy white. When the garlic is super tender use a fork or an immersion blender to puree the garlic. Add salt to taste, the paprika and the shallot/onion powder. Keep warm while grilling the oysters in a small pot on the corner of the BBQ and dollop spoonfuls into the oysters. Grill until bubbly.

Also, if you are feeling too challenged by dealing with placing the oysters on the grill to finish with the garlic butter, you can place a grill-safe skillet on a corner of the grill and fill with the butter, and plop in the oysters as you open them after their initial grilling. Your guests can use a cocktail fork or spoon to scoop up an oyster as they wish.

Printer-friendly recipe

A few notes: Please buy your oysters and seafood from reputable, sustainable sources. On the West Coast you can gather your own shellfish but the red algae that plague our waters can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), particularly in mussels, therefore a quarantine applies to our coast from Oregon to Mexico and shellfish are generally unsafe between March and October. You can phone the Biotoxin Information Line 1-800-553-4133 to get updates on current quarantines and health advisories throughout the year. Other types of shellfish, including oysters and clams, and commercially harvested mussels from certified companies are not included in the quarantine. The commercial companies test their shellfish and are certified as toxin-free.

Perfect Protein:

This summer I will be writing about sustainable seafood as part of the Perfect Protein project, created by Eric Ripert and Mario Batali. The book, “The Perfect Protein: A Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World” by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless, is a new, thought-provoking book on why and how we should and can quickly increase the amount of wild seafood in our oceans; as well as how as consumers we can shop and eat more of the right seafood to help feed the world, address hunger and improve the world’s health. I am proud to be part of this project this summer as I have long been a proponent of wild and sustainable fishing, whether fished by myself or by commercial sources. Since I was a teen I have carried a copy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s guide in my wallet, and now have their app on my phone. I love seafood, and feel especially lucky to live on the California coast with all the wonderful edible creatures off our doorstep.

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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!

Farmers Market Day and Red Cooked Pork Belly

My favorite Saturday activity, when I don’t have a pajama day, is heading to the farmer’s market with a friend to shop and to have a little something tasty for brunch or lunch.

We stopped at the Italian butcher first, Guerra’s Meats, where I scored a fat ribeye, breakfast sausage, some cheeses and milk, for another $30. I like getting my weekend protein first, then filling in with vegetable and other items from the el cheapo farmer’s market.

This weekend I spent $20 at the farmer’s market, including my fantastic huarache el pastor lunch. A huarache is a bean filled masa dough pancake, shaped like a football, and topped with something meaty with the perfect amount of salsa, crema and a handful of chopped cilantro. You can buy them at La Palma Market on 24th Street if you don’t go to the Alemany farmer’s market.

A huarache was the perfect lunch, leisurely nibbled while sitting on a tiny clear spot of a loading bay next to a nice farmer’s truck. It was good to rest a bit after doing all of our shopping and to kick our heels against the back of our cement perch like we were little kids again. For some odd reason a diet soda tasted awfully nice but as it was a rare treat for me I just enjoyed it (mostly) without guilt.

String market bag

My new knitted string market bag performed superbly, I could not believe how much it held, and how nicely everything stayed. It was stuffed with broccoli, obscenely large leeks, the freshest green onions I had ever had the pleasure to hold, pale green zucchini and yellow ball zucchini, a huge bunch of mint and rosemary, crimini and ugly shiitake mushrooms, enormous yet light sourdough English muffins and cranberry walnut bread. I should have taken a picture of it stuffed and outstretched but still comfortable and incredibly stylish on my shoulder.

(If you would like to make one of your own, please visit The Inadvertent Redhead)

I have enough food for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the entire week and probably into the next week, supplemented with more protein from my freezer.

After unloading my friend’s groceries at her place and doing some menu planning while petting her pretty cats and slugging back the necessary glass of red wine, I headed home and started cooking.

My huarache was quite filling but around 4:30 pm I made a snack of Humbolt Fog cheese and the cranberry walnut bread. With my pollinosis the cranberries were a little troublesome but not enough to dissuade me from eating the bread. I started on a pot of red cooked pork belly.

The pork belly was trimmings from the Mangalitsa pork I bought a while back. I had to trim the raw pork belly so that it would fit in my brining bags and the excess, uneven pieces were about 2 pounds. The red cooking, or a slow braise in a soy, Chinese rice wine, ginger, spices and garlic broth, is a traditional way to cook pork belly and other fatty meats. It couldn’t be simpler, I put all of the ingredients in my 5 quart pot, brought it to a boil, covered it and simmered it until the meat was super tender. The aromas it generated as it simmered were amazing, I felt full just by being in the kitchen.

After 2 1/2 hours and another 10 minutes of cooking on high to reduce the sauce I poured off the fat and decided I was too full to eat anything so into the fridge it went!

Sunday morning I dined fabulously well on a huge toasted sourdough muffin, one side buttered, one side smeared with raspberry jam, and a handful of tiny Italian breakfast sausages.

Meantime, I cooked the ribeye in some bacon fat from the red cooked pork belly and sliced it thinly for work lunches. The bok choy I brought home from work on Thursday was quickly steamed and given a light dressing of oyster sauce and chilled. The pale green zucchini and yellow squash were cut into planks along with some onion, the rosemary and some lemon zest and olive oil and roasted until just crisp-tender. They were packed into a tub for the fridge. The mushrooms were sliced and browned in my biggest and yet too small skillet, the last slosh of port in the bottle went in along with some dried herbs from last summer and a bit of butter. This was packed up with the sliced steak.

Getting quite tired of the kitchen by now, I steamed some basmati rice and wondered what happened to the bag of jasmine rice I bought a few weeks ago, a desultory search in the pantry and auxiliary pantry bags did not yield it. Huh…. I made myself a little bento lunch of rice, the jade green bok choy and the red cooked pork belly.

Bento

Later in the the week I’ll roast the broccoli for lunches and make a leek and bacon pasta. I might make a pizza one night with some of the zucchini. I also have some frozen ground pork which would be wonderful stuffed in the ball zucchini.

It was really fun prepping good food for the week and I enjoyed my domesticity. I also washed up the kitchen and dumped the trash and did some hand laundry. The vacuuming didn’t get done nor did the dusting but I will fit that in some night when I don’t have an extracurricular activity.

I sunk into my comfy Martha Washington chair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some knitting and mindless television before going to bed. It was a fun and productive weekend, nourishing to the body and soul.

REC: Red Cooked Pork Belly

(printer friendly)

3 lbs. of fresh pork belly, cut into cubes
3 pieces of palm sugar or 1 1/2 ounces rock sugar
3 pieces of whole star anise
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp. five spice powder
3″ piece of fresh ginger root, sliced into 1/2″ medallions – no need to peel
2 T light soy sauce (this is less salty than regular soy sauce)
3 T dark soy sauce (I use Tamari)
1/4 cup Shao Xing wine – or a white vermouth
2 cups chicken broth – low sodium is best
1 bunch of green onions – whole

Place the pork and all of the other ingredients into your heaviest pot with a lid or a Dutch oven, my 5 quart Le Cruest pot was perfect for this dish.  Bring everything to a boil, stir and cover with a lid.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.  Test the pork, it should be very, very tender when pierced with a fork.  

Remove the lid and simmer over medium high heat for 10 minutes, stirring, to thicken the sauce.  Pour off the fat and remove the ginger, anise and green onions and compost them.

Serve with plain rice.  Serves 4-6.