Thursday, July 29, 2010

Peaches with Ricotta, Rosemary and Honey

I am sure you all have tasted dry, bland peaches before. I always feel a tiny bit nervous when I am picking peaches out at the grocery store. It always seems a bit like a toss up whether I will bring home a bag of treasure or duds. Of course there is Frog Hollow Farms, which as far as I can tell seems to be completely immune to the fate of dry, lifeless peaches. But I can only find those little gems when I am visiting San Francisco, and they are a bit pricey. My favorite regionally local producers of peaches here in northern california are Chaffin Family Orchards, Sunsmile Farms and Bierwagens. Organic peaches grown by local farmers! Yesterday I picked up some of these peaches and they were bursting with flavor and sweet juice. And, of the many ways to eat peaches (canned, frozen, blended, straight, pies, cobblers, jams, compotes, chutneys, salsas!) I have added one more. Hope you like it as much as we did at dinner last night! Not a new dish, but I simplified it by keeping the peach raw and soaking the rosemary in olive oil to soften it.

Peaches with Ricotta, Rosemary and Honey

3 med. peaches
1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta room temperature
1 tbls honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbls rosemary chopped
lemon zest

Place rosemary in olive oil and let sit for 30 minutes.
Slice 6 pieces of zest off of lemon and cut into 1 inch pieces.
Slice peaches into 1inch slices.
Spread ricotta onto a serving platter. Try to spread ricotta about 1/2 inch thick and 6 inches round. Place peaches on ricotta, and drizzle honey on top.
Spoon rosemary out of olive oil and scatter on top of peaches. Top with pinch of sea salt and lemon zest. This dish is best at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Creamy Corn Soup with Grilled Radicchio

This past weekend we were in San Francisco. Two wonderful food events happened. I went to Delfina and back to Bistro Aix which had been closed for months for a remodel. I ate cream of corn soup at Bistro Aix that was outstanding. I really enjoyed the contract of flavors from the sweet, yang of the corn and the bitter, yin of radicchio. When we got home, I picked up my vegetable share and there was a big head of radicchio  included. Local corn was at the coop, so it was a done deal. I was going to create my own version of the wonderful dish at Bistro Aix. Radicchio is a bit of an unknown to some people. I am the only person I know who buys it somewhat regularly in fact. Mostly I grill it with olive oil and salt and chop it up for pasta or farro salad.  I think I am drawn to it because it is a bit of a vegetable outsider. That means there is a lot of room for creativity. I have sauteed it with pine nuts and orange zest too, which I enjoyed. The bottom line with bitter vegetables in my humble opinion, is to pair it with a bit of something rich. My recipe has a bit of heavy whipping cream, stock and corn. Corn this time of the year is very sweet and tender. I sliced off the kernels, sauteed them in butter, shallots and onion. Threw in a splash of dry vermouth and cream and voila! creamy corn soup. I normally do not used heavy cream for recipes, but I made an exception this week. M loves fresh strawberries with whipped cream so I used a bit of that. I highly recommend Straus heavy whipping cream. It has a wonderful flavor and it is worth the extra money it costs.
Thank you Bistro Aix for the wonderful inspiration, and thank you to my lovely CSA farm for providing the most wonderful head of radicchio I have ever eaten!

Creamy Corn Soup
4 servings

1 tlbs diced shallot
1/2 cup diced onion
2 tbls. butter
4 cups stock (I used chicken stock)
2 ears of corn kernals sliced off
1 tbls dry vermouth
4 tbls heavy cream
fresh pepper and salt
1 cup grilled and chopped radicchio
1 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves

In a heavy bottomed pot, sautee shallots and onion in butter for 10 minutes on med. low heat. Add corn and vermouth and cook for 10 minutes more. Add stock and cream, then simmer for 10 minutes more covered.
With an immersion blender, blend the soup until chunky but starting to smooth out. I blended for about 3 minutes. Test for salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm.

Toss freshly washed radicchio in a bit of olive oil and sprinkle of salt. Grill on both sides until starting to wilt and brown (about 4 min. each side). A bit of charring is fine. Remove from grill and roughly chop. You want pieces small enough to take bites fo soup with, but not larger. Set aside.

In a blender add basil and olive oil. Blend for 5 seconds. Pour oil through strainer to remove basil.

Ladle soup into bowl and top with a spoonful of grilled radicchio. Drizzle a teaspoon of the basil oil on the soup.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

East Coast Visitor!

Cousin Grace is visiting us for three weeks. Fresh from the east coast a couple days back. As you can see from the top photo, she has some serious fans. My daughter is crazy in love with her, and for good reason. She is awesome.
Today we took her to our local river spot. We who live here find it magical. I think after today, she might too......

Friday, July 16, 2010

Japanese Tea Garden Adventure

We came to SanFran to get out of the heat. When it reaches 95 degrees and above at my house, I melt. With no air conditioning in my house, I just get crabby. M and I decided to try the Academy of Sciences  in Golden Gate Park yesterday, and I am glad we did. It was only mildly crowded and it is right next to the Japanese Tea Garden which may be one of M's favorite places on the planet. As we walked in I heard a little girl say as she passed by us "this is the most boring place ever!" M looked at her in shock and horror and somewhat offended I am sure. This is her special place. Before we called it a day at the tea gardens, we had climbed the bridge 5 times, played follow the leader, looked for secret paths, crossed a creek 6 times,  hid under a secret bridge, ate mochi, drank jasmine tea and miso soup.

I think I have mentioned before that M was born in a japanese tea house that we used to live in.  I wonder if the tatami mats and shoji screens in Shoboan (the name of our dear home) imprinted in her early memories that started a love of Japanese culture. I have wondered  how mothers in Japan deal with delicate rice paper shoji doors like ours, that were continually wrecked by M's little toddler hands. I eventually gave up, and left them tattered and torn until we moved out and then spent days repairing them with a cornstarch mixture as glue and rice paper from the craft store. Getting back to Japan is something I look forward to. This time my husband and I will have our perfect travel companion to share the excitement with!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mochi Stacks

Japanese Turnips came in my vegetable share today. Do you find turnips intimidating? I think that I could say that they are not a very popular vegetable. In comparison to carrots, broccoli or asparagus, turnips may not get a fair shake. I know there are turnip lovers out there though. My friends kids fight over them when they show up in their vegetable box. They eat them raw!
So, today I wondered how I could make turnips superstars. Something I would serve at a party. A dish that might make me crave them over and over. They turned out that way, but in the process they turned into a great kid dish as well. I was inspired by a recipe in a Japanese cookbook that combined baked mochi with nori and a slice of cheese. I wanted to see if I could cook mochi on the stove instead of in the oven. It is just too hot to turn on the oven these hot summer days.  Turns out you can "bake" mochi on the stove if you use a pot with a lid. Mochi is a sweet, short-grained, very glutinous rice that comes in thick sheets you can bake or sautee. It is also used in sweet confections. I don't use it very often because it is so glutenous and rich. This recipe was a great compromise because although it is rich,  a couple of "stacks" go a long way. The recipe is simple. A light sautee of the turnips in a bit of butter (or substitute olive oil) and soy sauce. Slice the mochi and heat in a seasoned pan while covered, and top the whole thing with very, very thinly sliced lemon. I think it would be brilliant to add some chopped rosemary with the turnips too. Easy dinner. Tell me your secret recipes for turnips! I am always up for a new idea!

Mochi Stacks
(makes 4 servings)

1 package of mochi (I used mochi that had hemp and flax seeds too)
4 small turnips or med. sized japanese turnips
1 tbls olive oil or butter
2 tsp. soy sauce or tamari
1 lemon

Measure out soy sauce onto a plate and set aside. In a non-stick or seasoned pan, heat olive oil or butter on med. heat. Slice turnips into 1/2 inch slices and dunk each into soy sauce and then put in sautee pan for 4 minutes each side. Remove from heat.

Slice mochi into 2 inch squares. Cut each square in half longways so it is only half as thick, but still 2 inches square. Place mochi in a nonstick or seasoned pan on med-high heat and cover. Peek under the lid in 5 min. to make sure it is not burning, or the flame is too low. You will see the pieces slowly start to puff. Keeping the lid on the pan is essential to them puffing. It takes 10 min. (give or take a couple of minutes) for the mochi to puff. Remove from heat and stack a piece of mochi, then a turnip slice and then a thinly (as thin as you can manage to cut the lemon) sliced piece of lemon on top. Repeat if you would like.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Porcini Crusted Tofu with Nectarine Salsa...and the first baby tooth

Three days ago M. pulled out her first baby tooth. It was a happy and sad moment for me. The sands of time slipping away. I will never look at her mouth filled with all baby teeth again! The tooth was definitely not loose enough to come out on its own. She had decided the tooth was coming out that day no matter what. I thought I could help by attempting to pull her tooth out for her, but that lasted about 10 seconds and I practically starting gagging at the thought of pulling it out prematurely. She took matters into her own hands, and twisted it out with a tissue.  She screamed with delight despite the small amount of blood that started filling her mouth. Really, it must have been a good thing because her permanent tooth was already breaking the skin behind the baby tooth.

Tonight I made a great tofu dish. I created the recipe around some local baby bok choy I picked up, and braising greens from our farm share. I have used dried porcini mushrooms before to crust steak and it is fabulous. I thought it would be fun to try it with tofu and pair it with the sweet and tart nectarine salsa. Braising greens of any kind always poses a slight issue for me. Greens always release their juices when braised. This can make them watery. I like my greens to have a lot of flavor, not watery. Two ways of preventing this from happening is to lightly braise them, and then squeeze out excess juice with tongs before plating. Then you can drizzle a sauce you have made and reduced in a separate pan. The other way is to braise the greens and push them to the side of the pan and then reduce the juices in the other half of the pan. In this recipe I did a bit of both of those techniques. The nectarine salsa was juicy with its own flavor so the greens did get a good coating of sauce. I buy porcini mushrooms dried. I use a coffee grinder to make it into a powder. You could add lots of interesting ingredients to the mix...dried mustard or chipoltes perhaps? Porcini mushrooms have a earthy smokiness that I really enjoy. A very distinct flavor. I also use sprouted tofu these days. I cannot taste any difference from regular tofu, and the texture is the same. I pondered grilling the tofu slices, but did not want to risk the fragile slices sticking. I opted for my trusty cast iron skillet instead.

Nectarine Salsa

1 med/large nectarine cut into small cubes
1/2 lime zest
1 tbls. fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. heaping chopped red onion
1 tbls. olive oil
1 tbls. tamari or soy sauce
1 tbls. rice vinegar
1 tsp. honey
2 radishes slice thin
1 tsp. salt
1 tbls freshly grated ginger

Slice radishes and soak in a bowl with 1/2 cup water and the 1 tsp. of salt. Let sit for 10-15 min. I do this to take the burn out of the radishes.
In a bowl, combine the nectarines, cilantro, onion, honey, tamari, lime juice and zest, vinegar, ginger, olive oil and drained radishes. Let meld for 10 min. before using.

Porcini Coated Tofu

1 package of tofu cut into slices just shy of 1 inch thick. I cut mine longways so the tofu slices looked like a deck of cards
1/3 cup dried porcini powder (use a coffee grinder to grind into a powder)
pinches of salt
2 tsp. olive oil

I used clean dish towels to dry the tofu slices as much as possible. I wrap the tofu and leave it on a plate while I make the sauce. You want the tofu slices as dry as possible before dredging in porcini powder.
On a plate mix salt and porcini powder with your fingers or a spoon. Dip each side of the tofu into the porcini powder, shake of the excess and set on a plate to be seared.
In a seasoned or non-stick pan, heat olive oil and sear tofu for about 5 minutes on each side on med. high heat.

Braised Greens

5 cups Greens (I used 2 cups baby bok choy and 3 cups mixed greens)
You could use chard, kale, mustard greens, arugula or any greens you like
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 tsp soy sauce

In a deep skillet heat olive oil and add greens and soy sauce. Greens will begin to wild immediately. After about 3 minutes push greens to the side of the pan to reduce the liquid in the pan. You can also remove the greens and reduce the remaining liquid and then pour it on the greens after reduced.

To plate:
Put one forkful of cooked greens on plate. Top with 1-2 pieces of tofu and a big spoonful of salsa.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Red White and Blue Potato Salad

Yesterday was u-pick raspberries. Today was u-pick cherries. Oh this ripe fruit in california! And, it cooled down to the low 80's yesterday just in time to pick. My girlfriends and I have our own social network of dates, times and farms to pick every summer. It is like clockwork every June. Today at the cherry u-pick, I was the first customer to pick sour cherries. 6 pounds later I was dreaming about my 4th of July pie.
We have acclimated back to life since our airplane ride. M seems ok too. I have thought many times about that family and how they are. It is interesting how life just keeps going, and I have already integrated this experience into my mind.
One thing I realized on my Chicago trip is how much of a Californian I have become. In the ten short years I have adapted to the country life and its pace. Farms, food, rivers, people, weather and style. Perhaps it is age, but I feel that now I have found my lifestyle niche. I am always happy to come home to the golden hills of california.
This week I made Red, White and Blue Potato salad twice. Usually I do not make my own recipes more than once. I know that must sound a bit crazy. It is like I get it out of my system and then move on to the next creation. But I craved this salad so much that I made it three days later. I was telling my friend Kate about it today and she pointed out it was red, white and blue (with green thrown in)!! Red beets, white chevre, and blue potatoes. Duh. How did that escape me? I had thought it a great 4th of July recipe because it was a potato salad. But, this makes it an official 4th of July salad! I realize though, that beets are the deal breaker. My husband for example, does not particularly care for beets. I like them. I do not love them however like my daughter does. But with our farm share starting, we are going to get beets, and I am going to keep eating them, conspiring ways to eat them in the most tasty fashion.  So, if you like beets, this might be a great addition to your 4th of July table. I really liked how the sweetness of the beets contrasted the peppery arugula. The potatoes and chevre brought everything together. The snap peas bring an unexpected crunch and sweetness to the whole dish. I imagine you could even add a couple of crumbled hard boiled eggs on top. Well, happy holiday everyone!

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad

2 cups boiled blue potatoes cut into 2 inch cubes (purple would be fine too)
1 cup sugar snap peas (shelled or if tender cut into 1 inch pieces with pods)
1 1/2 cups steamed or roasted beets cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces (roasting will have better flavor)
1 4oz. package chevre at room temperature
1-2 tsp. vinegar of choosing (I used cabernet vinegar)
zest of one large lemon
1 tbls fresh lemon juice
1 tbls (or more if needed) good quality olive oil
2 1/2 cups fresh baby arugula washed
salt to taste

I placed sugar snap peas in a colander and poured the potatoes and the water I had boiled them in over the peas to slightly blanch the peas. You could also just blanch them separate if you like. Drain well and set aside.
Place steamed or roasted cubed beets in mixing bowl. Add olive oil, salt, zest, lemon juice and vinegar. Add the potatoes and snap peas. Mix gently and then add chevre. Mix gently to combine, but only a little bit so you still have some little chunks of chevre left. Add arugula and mix again just to incorporate. The heat of the potatoes and beets will wilt the arugula slightly. This is what you want. Potatoes will be starting to fall apart by now, but be careful not to mix too much.


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