July 31, 2006

Flip the Diamond - July Recipe Roundup

Time sure flies!

It's time for gratuitous square dance references and another list of must-try recipes.

Without futher adieu:

Two truly inspired entries in July's Paper Chef 19: Seriously Good's Corn Pudding and Bron's Corn Doughnuts.
Orangette's summer tribute to Italy:, Rigatoni with Five Lilies and Ricotta Salata
Prosciutto and Artichoke Schiacciata from Slashfood.
From Acme Instant Food, Shrimp with Green Chile and Pumpkin Seed Sauce.
A couple of "Single Night Suppers" from the Unemployed Chef: BLEATs and Couscous with Halloumi and Spinach.

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July 26, 2006

Move over Vanilla Ice, Meyer Lemon Gelato is in da house...

Okay, so I missed most of the late 80's/early 90's rap scene. My circle of friends was busy swooning over Simon LeBon; we missed out on MC Hammer and Mr. "Ice." But at the risk of sounding like my late mother, I don't get it. The lyrics make no sense.

Go ahead, I dare you.

Google "Ice, Ice Baby Lyrics." Read through them. Sober. If you get it, enlighten me.

Meanwhile, I'll take a stab at making ice cream. Not just any ice cream. Meyer Lemon Gelato, with lemons from my tree.

The Ingredients:
6 whole meyer lemons
1 1/3 cups sugar
6 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
dash salt
2 2/3 cups half-and half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

The Process:

Zest the lemons. Add the zest to the sugar.

Whisk the egg yolks with the cream and salt in a heat proof bowl.

Combine the half-and-half and the lemon-sugar in a medium, non-reactive (non-aluminum) saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Remove from heat. Slowly and carefully whisk the hot half and half into the egg yolk mixture. Return the partially cooked custard to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches the approximate consistency of heavy whipping cream and coats the back of a spoon.

Pour custard into a bowl without straining. Stir in vanilla. Cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming and cool. (We stashed it in the fridge while we went off in search of dinner).

Squeeze lemons to create 3/4 cup lemon juice. Stir juice into cooled/chilled custard. Transfer mixture to ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The Results:

will have to wait, for now. The final product's in the freezer -- but the remnants on the spatula and in the dasher bowl look and taste promising. Stay tuned...

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July 21, 2006

Say Hey! Hay! It's Donna Day - Brilliant Bruschetta

A little bit of internet research reveals that Donna Hay is Australia and New Zealand's answer to Martha Stewart, sans controversy. With bits of Jamie Oliver and Alton Brown tossed in for good measure.

One of my new favorite bloggers is hosting Hay, Hay, It's Donna Day #4. The theme: Bruschetta and Crostini. The photos: exquisite.

I'm no Donna Hay. And I'm certainly no Bron Marshall. But I had to give it a shot.

The timing of this challenge is perfect. In case you've missed the weather report for hell, let me enlighten you. It's hot in this part of the hemisphere. H-O-T hot. So until I can keep my hovel in the comfortable 70-to-80 degree range without assistance from the A/C, low and no-cook meals really appeal. Anything that involves the 'big' oven is out for now.

Toaster oven bruschetta was exactly the low-heat, low-effort weeknight dinner I was looking for. After some deliberation, I decided to center my contribution around a sushi theme.

My first selection was a smoked salmon, meyer lemon creme fraiche and avocado bruschetta. i sliced the bread about an inch thick, and dredged one side in Stonehouse Persian Lime Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Tossed the slices oil-side-up on the cookie sheet that comes with my toaster oven and set it to broil. Meanwhile, I grated the zest of a meyer lemon into about 2 tablespoons of Cowgirl Creamery Creme Fraiche. Added a squeeze of the lemon juice for good measure. Topped the toasted bread with sliced cold smoked salmon, the creme fraiche and a wedge of avocado.

Selection #2: spicy tuna sashimi salad, creme fraiche and ikura bruschetta. I prepared the toasts as above, using the Mandarin Orange infused olive oil in place of the Persian Lime. I diced some sashim-grade tuna and mixed in about 2 tablespoons of some Asian sweet-chili sauce. Topped each toast with a tablespoon of my makeshift spicy tuna, a dollop of plain creme fraiche, and garnished with ikura.

I may not have Bron's photography skills, but I'm pretty pleased with the results of my effort. I knew the flavors would work well together -- this is the stuff with which great sushi is made. My bruscetta also struck a pleasant textural balance -- crispy toast, savory seafood, smooth and soft creamy toppings. With a quick arrugula salad, and a fun, fruity glass of rose on the side, my "sushi bruschetta" served as the centerpiece of a light if not low calorie weeknight dinner. *Without* turning on the oven!

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July 18, 2006

Beatin' the heat with fresh local fare - Black Cod with Basil Cream Sauce

Your heroine is picky about the weather. She doesn't like rain (unless she can curl up in front of a fire with a blanket and a book). Three months later, she's growing weary of an unseasonably hot bay area summer. Six Spare the Air days already this summer and she's looking for a shady respite from the heat. Or at least a dinner option that doesn't involve the oven or the stove competing with the air conditioner...

Thursday's have kind of become my defacto "local night". I've been excited about the prospect this week; I have a variety of locally procured ingredients with which to play. With a gorgeous fillet of black cod caught off of the Marin coast as my protein source, I did little web surfing for ideas and opted to use an Emeril creation as the inspiration behind tonight's dinner.

I started with about a half pound of the aforementioned black cod, which I sprinkled lightly with salt and sauteed in a combination of local butter and olive oil.

Several of my coworkers and close friends are gardeners, so I've been the lucky recipient of a lot of their bounty. I tossed a big bunch of basil from one of the women in finance in the mini-chopper with a clove of garlic and some pine nuts leftover from my corn creation; ground them to a pulp while drizzling in about a tablespoon of olive oil.

I removed the fish from the pan and deglazed with about a quarter cup of white wine. After adding the pesto mixture, I tossed in about 4 tablespoons of half-and-half to "cream up" the sauce.

On the side I served a salad featuring greens from my finance friend and tomatoes from another industrious gardener who dances with us on Sundays.

Turned out quite nice, if I do say so myself. I've got about a half cup of extra pesto sauce that will go great over gnocchi or ravioli this weekend.

Now will someone please turn down the heat a bit?

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July 12, 2006

Better late than never - ELC #2 - One Local Summer

Building on the momentum generated by May's Eat Local Challenge, Liz from Pocket Farm offers an encore of sorts in the form of her One Local Summer event. I'm a couple of weeks behind the rest of the pack, but I'm anxious to put some of the lessons I learned in May into use on a semi-regular basis. "One Local Summer" feels like the perfect opportunity.

Tonight I kept it simple and ate at a reasonable hour (before the sun completely disappeared for the evening). A couple of eggs from my brother in Newcastle, scrambled with basil from Gilroy and goat cheese feta from Sebastopol. A salad made of micro-greens from San Juan Bautista, avocados from Capay, and blackberries from Dinuba. And a "honeykist" nectarine from Winton for dessert. Everything except the salt in the eggs from within my "local foodshed."

Sometimes the simplest preparations are indeed the most satisfying.

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July 11, 2006

Creatures of habit - Trattoria Pasta Grotto (Foster City)

Every time we venture across the bridge to Pasta Grotto, I vow to try something new.

I rarely choose Italian out (it's easy and cheap to make at home) -- yet almost everything on Alex's menu intrigues me. It's a small, hole-in-the-wall strip-mall restaurant. It's typically Alex (the owner) and a couple of guys in the kitchen. One time we ordered the fondue, and Alex darted out to a nearby grocery store for a missing ingredient. It's cloth tablecloths and a faux fireplace in the corner. It's simple and a bit kitchy -- but only a bit. Mostly, it's homey.

This visit would have been the perfect opportunity to venture out of my comfort zone. I were both torn between "the standard" and the daily specials. Fresh salmon ravioli in a light dill cream sauce. Grilled fresh salmon fillets over garlic roasted mashed potatoes with a red onion marmalade.

But in the end I again opted for the familiar.

Rosti Abbondanza. two crispy-tender potato pancakes topped with fresh diced tomatoes. Sweet purple onions, Just-the-right-amount of shredded romaine. Buttery avocado. Sliced grilled chicken breast, still warm from the oven. Topped with melted cheese and a creamy-tart house dressing.

A delightful combination of the best of Swiss and Italian Cuisine.

On a warm summer evening as the sun sets over the bay, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Tratorria Pasta Grotto
1058 Shell Blvd, Foster City

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July 09, 2006

Paper Chef #19 - Adventures with Creamed Corn

8 ears of fresh Brentwood corn.

a handful of pine nuts.

a couple tablespooons of coriander seed.

a pantry full of ingredients, internet access and a little creativity.

Welcome to the story of our adventures with Coriander-Scented Coconut Cream Corn with Pine Nuts, my contribution to Paper Chef #19

The first challenge was how to incorporate the fourth ingredient: “Independence.” An American child of immigrant ancestors, I think what links those of us who call the United States home is a desire to build a better life in a new land. British, Irish and Spanish, Italian, German and Polish, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani and Persian, people come from disparate geographies and cultures seeking the “independence” that comes with a fresh start, a new life. So I chose to incorporate independence by choosing independent sources for as many of my ingredients as possible.

Corn grown by family farmers in neighboring Brentwood. Onions grown by another family in Stockton. Families I’ve gotten to know at my community’s farmer’s market.

Butter from the Strauss dairy in Marin County.

Spices from Penzeys and The San Francisco Herb Company again family-run establishments.

The second challenge was deciding on a direction. There are a lot of things you can do with corn as a base ingredient – especially this time of year. I considered a risotto; a nod to my paternal heritage. Or a summer salad featuring honey-roasted corn and pine nuts. After much thought, I finally decided on a quintessential American classic: Creamed Corn.

I used as my inspiration Alton Brown’s recipe for Better than Grannie's Creamed Corn. And tweaked it a bit to fit my ingredients and my desire to create a cross-cultural “melting pot” – borrowing the best from around the world to contribute to something American at its base but oh-so-much-more.

The Ingredients:

6 ears fresh corn
½ medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
1 stalk lemongrass, halved and smashed
2-3 tablespoons coriander seed, toasted and crushed
2 1-inch pieces gingerroot, peeled
2-3 tablespoons cumin seed, toasted and crushed
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Handful of pine nuts, toasted
(most measurements are estimates)

The Process:

As we often do on the weekends, John and I approached this one as a team effort.

He followed AB’s instructions for shucking the corn – first cutting off the kernels using the sharp edge of the knife, then using the dull edge to abrade the cob and release the corn’s “milk” to the mix. Harder than it sounds, this was easily one of the most time-consuming aspects of the recipe.

Meanwhile, I steeped the lemongrass, gingerroot, cumin and coriander in the coconut milk at medium low heat, infusing the milk with Indian/Asian flavor.

We melted the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan and sweated the onions until they were translucent. We added the corn and sautéed for a few minutes before adding the sugar, the turmeric, and a couple of tablespoons of non-steeped leftover coconut milk for moisture.

John tended the corn, stirring to prevent sticking/burning, while I strained the steeped coconut milk. We added the coconut milk to the corn, reduce the heat, and John kept stirring while I turned to toasting the pine nuts.

Finally, we removed everything from the heat and stirred the nuts into the corn. Photographed the final result and dished it up to try.

The Result:

Not half bad. We both agree this is a recipe we want to play with. The flavors provided by the infused coconut mulk came through, but they were very subtle. I didn't time it, but I suspect it steeped about 20 minutes. Perhaps toasting the spices and steeping the coconut milk a bit longer will lead to a slightly stronger infusion of flavors. But for our first paper chef attempt, we’re pretty pleased with the outcome.

One final thought: I’m glad I didn’t look at the other contributions before finalizing my own. Corn Pudding as a dessert course. A Corn Soup with a coriander-pesto crouton. And Corn Donuts". Wow. Our meager contribution doesn't seem worthy. But I'm honored to have participated with the rest of you and look forward to trying *your* recipes.

July 04, 2006

Happiness is a happy hound! (Happy Hound, Los Gatos)

“Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs.”
(Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1890-1969)

On our way out of town to celebrate July 4 with some friends, a hot dog and a soda was just what we needed to stave off hunger for the drive ahead. Not a lemon-chicken sauage or a quarter pound of tofu molded in sausage shape. A real, honest, all-American all-beef hot dog.

Fortunately, there's the Happy Hound. Family-owned and operated since the 1970's, the small building stands out like a red-headed step-sibbling next to it's glitzy modern fast-food neighbors on busy Los Gatos Blvd. But the line of two dozen people stretching out the door and into the parking lot suggests the folks at the Hound are onto something.

Nine inches of all beef hot dog. Stuffed into a steamed bun with sliced tomatoes & onions and a heatly squirt of mustard. Topped liberally with shredded cheddar cheese. Who needs caviar?

Happy Hound Old Fashioned Hot Dogs and Hamburgers
15899 Los Gatos Blvd., Los Gatos

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