Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Seven Days of Avocado

I blame Costco. It has a way of making me feel like I NEED things. I walk in thinking I’ll pick up a block of Dubliner and some toilet paper, and I come home with a lifetime supply of zip ties and a 1 gallon jug of Jelly Bellies.

And so again, it happened—Costco made me buy a 5 pack of avocados. In December. That had traveled all the way from Chile. That’s a lot of food miles—about 6,500 of them—for those tasty little avocados to make it to my kitchen counter. Had I waited a month or two, I could have found Haas avocados from California.  Not exactly local, but a heck of a lot closer than Chile.

So to assuage my guilt for eating the exact opposite of local, I decided that I was going to make the most out of those darn Chilean avocados.

I am also trying to grow an avocado plant from the pit. We’ll see how that goes.

Seven Days of Avocado

Smashed avocado on toast with salt, pepper and olive oil (maybe my all time favorite breakfast).

Avocado, Satsuma oranges, thinly sliced white onions, roasted delicata squash, cilantro and spinach, tossed with lime vinaigrette.

Burritos with leftover steak, pinto beans, sour cream and homemade guacamole.

Leftover guacamole on toast (I was serious about this).

Avocado with radicchio and garlic anchovy dressing.

Avocado with toasted walnuts, cottage cheese and salt (an idea from my friend Shannon).

There’s still half of an avocado left in the fridge. I’ll probably eat it on toast, or just scoop it out of the skin and eat it with salt as a snack.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Discussion of Favorites

In general, I am not partial to discussions of favorites—I have enough room in my heart for many good things to be at the top of the list. But if pressed, I would have to say that my favorite food group is charcuterie.

Salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, bacon, sausage, terrine—yes please!
But for being such an avid patron of charcuterie, I have made very little of it myself. The one exception is pate. I make it every December. And usually a few times in between.

For me, pate is a special treat. Like savory frosting—totally over the top, and totally worth it. I like to make it for special occasions. And eat the leftovers for breakfast with toasted baguette and apples.

Warning pate makers: there are quite a few people out there who just do not like pate. So in order to avoid awkward situations and potentially hurt feelings, be careful who you serve it to. Once I brought a plate of homemade pate and cranberry relish to a dinner party, and except for the gluttonous three servings that I had myself, I took it all home with me. On another occasion, a friend gagged after he took a heaping bite full, claiming he thought it was hummus. Pate is not hummus.

But in the right crowd, pate can be the perfect beginning to a celebratory meal.

This is a great country pate recipe that I got from Martha Stewart Living, many years ago. The original recipe calls to serve it with baguette and maple syrup apples. Very good, but I prefer it with something a little tarter, like preserved cherries, or rhubarb compote.

Chicken Liver Pate
2 sticks unsalted butter
¾ # white mushrooms, sliced
½ # chicken livers
1 t paprika
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup sliced scallions
1/3 cup white wine
Coarse salt 
  1. Melt 3 T butter in a large sauté pan.
  2. Sauté mushrooms, liver, garlic and scallions until the livers are cooked through. About 5 minutes.
  3. Add wine, garlic, paprika and 1 t salt. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the mushrooms are really soft.  
  4. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  5. Process in a food processor or blender with the remaining butter and 1 ½ t salt.
  6. Transfer it to a serving dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the top of the pate.
  7. Keeps for about a week in the fridge.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Dark Out

Is it just me, or did the holidays come on like a ton of bricks this year? I swear it was just yesterday that I was trying to squeeze in the last swim of the summer, and buying pallets of fresh berries to freeze for the winter.

But sure enough, now I’ve got a Christmas station programmed on Pandora, and I’m trying to figure out the best way to heat my house without taking out a second mortgage. This time of year comes with mixed emotions for me. I’ll start with the bad.

The days. Are so. Short.

So short that they don’t even make a complete sentence. You need to string a few days together for a phrase, and a paragraph may take the whole month. It takes all my strength not to come straight home from work, put on my pajamas, and wait on the couch with a blanket until a reasonable time to go to bed comes around.

On the upside, people come up with so many wonderful ways to make up for the darkness. I love the lights and the candles. Even the flashing ones have a special place in my heart. I just bought some energy efficient LED lights that I am very pleased with.

And the parties. I guess people have decided that we’re all in this together, this short-dayed stretch, so we might as well help each other out. My friends and family have kicked this season off in high form. I have been a willing and grateful guest at not one but two amazing Thanksgiving dinners, a strata brunch, a birthday dinner, a Venezuelan hallaca making party, and an amazing five course dinner. And that’s all in the last week.

Thank you, friends and family, for making this time of year something special.

And because I may not get to cooking for all of you this holiday season, I’ll kick it off with a recipe that is designed, from its very origin, to be shared. It’s a granola recipe that my mom first received from a hippie neighbor back in the 70s. It makes a big batch, so if you make some, you should share a bit. That’s what my mom always does. The only problem with this recipe is that once you have some, you'll learn what granola is supposed to taste like, and you won't be able to eat store-bought granola again.

This time of year, I like to eat it with some frozen berries that I packaged up last summer, which I guess wasn't yesterday.


2# rolled oats
1 c usweetened coconut flakes
1 c walnuts
¼ c quinoa
1 c raw pepitas
1 c honey
1 c canola oil
½ cup hot water

  1. Mix the dry ingredients.
  2. Mix the hot water and the honey in a separate container.
  3. Add hot honey mixture and oil to the dry ingredients and mix.
  4. Spread it out on 2 cookie sheets.
  5. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes.
  6. When you pull it out of the oven for the last time, don’t stir it, and let it cool on the pan. This will ensure that you get some some good clumps, which are the best part.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Steam Cleaning

I just got back from five days in New York, and if I were to sum up the trip in two words, they would be “art” and “food”. Or maybe “looking” and “eating.” And I guess "walking" should probably be in there somewhere too.

We saw some amazing art. David Hockney at Pace Wildenstein, Vasily Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, Enrique Chagoya at George Adams, and Maya Gold at Mike Weiss, to name a few.

And we ate some amazing food. Cavatelli with sausage and sage, Korean bar-b-qued cow’s tongue, duck rillette, horseradish and chili vodka (I know that’s not food, but it was really good), salt bagels with cream cheese, fish cake in garlic sauce, arepas with shredded chicken. 

But after five days of eating my way through New York, and a bumpy flight home, what I really wanted was something clean, healthy and homemade. My tummy was ready for a steam cleaning.

Back in my early vegetarian days, I used to love to make my way to Broadway, sit at the counter of Gravity Bar, and order vegetables and hummus. I was in highschool, was proud to be a vegetarian, and envied the flame colored dreadlocks of the waitress. Gravity Bar has long since closed, and the thought of being a vegetarian sends chills through my spine, but every now and then a big bowl of steamed vegetables with brown rice (or farro) and hummus is just what I need. 

Farro with Vegetables and Green Hummus
1 cup farro
Brussel sprouts
Other good steaming vegetables
Green hummus 
  1. Cook the farro. 5 cups water to 1 cup of farro. Boil for 5 minutes, simmer for about 40. Drain.
  2. Steam the vegetables. Beets will take the longest, so let them steam for about 10 minutes before you add the other vegetables for about 7 more minutes.
  3. Serve with green hummus.
Green Hummus
1 can garbanzo beans
1 clove garlic
Fresh leafy herbs (I like tarragon, or a combination of basil, Italian parsley and chives)
5-6 T tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Drain the beans, preserving the liquid.
  2. Puree all the ingredients in a food processor.
  3. Add back the bean water until you achieve your desired consistency, usually about half of the water.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Naps, Mugs and R&B

I was mugged twice last week. The first time was downtown. I was standing with my dad, holding my wallet in my hand (yeah, I know), and a guy came up, knocked it out of my hand and ran. My dad and I chased him and did a lot of screaming, but all said and done, the guy ended up with my wallet.

The second time, however, was glorious. A few weeks back I ordered two mugs from Caroline Douglas, and they finally arrived in the mail. They each tell a little story—peach and teal (a phase I'm in), mixed animal bodies, crowns and stripes, women dreaming. They’re amazing.

I wanted something really beautiful to go in them for their debut. So on Sunday afternoon while my apple cake was baking in the oven and Eric was napping on the couch, I turned on a little John Legend and made cranberry tea. It’s a steamy simmer that makes the house smell like fall, and at the end you’re rewarded with tangy, hot pink bliss.

While the first mugging was really unfortunate and a little unnerving, I’d say the second one more than made up for it.

Cranberry Tea
12 oz fresh cranberries
6 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
5-10 peppercorns
15-20 cloves
8-10 cardamom pods
1 orange
5 T sugar

  1. Simmer cranberries, water, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom and the peal of the orange for about 30 minutes, until the berries are mushy and paler in color.
  2. Remove from heat and add the sugar and the juice from the orange. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Strain.
  4. Serve hot in a really special mug or cold with seltzer.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Some Assembly Required

It’s been a busy week—month, actually. And as a reward, we spent the weekend at these amazing little cabins in Mazama, WA. They’re situated in a way that make you feel like you have your own set of mountains to look at, specially lighted and framed with aspens for your viewing pleasure. The cabins are little with just enough space. And that space does not include a kitchen. All this means that not a lot of cooking happened for me this week.
But it doesn’t mean that we didn’t eat well. 
I love the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. Ina Garten’s recipes are not exotic, or overly creative, but they are tasty and consistent. Every recipe I have tried from her books has come out well. One of my favorite Barefoot Contessa gems is a section in the back of her first book called “Assembling for Parties.” She raises the art of food assembly—or pairings—to a new level, and highlights the fact that picking and matching foods is an important step down the path of being a good “cook.”

I ate a lot of well assembled food last week.

Below is a list of some of my favorite pairings, with an autumn slant. If coffee and cream were considered a pairing, it would be on the top of my list, but I think that’s cheating. And I’ll admit that for a few minutes this weekend I swore that yogurt pretzels and champagne was a great combination, but I think I was a little too into the cabin getaway idea, or maybe the champagne. It’s actually kind of gross.

Fall Assemblies
  • Radishes with sea salt and pepper, sliced landjaeger, castelvetrano olives
  • Dubliner cheese and apples
  • Smoked almonds and pumpkin beer
  • Potato chips, oil cured olives, cornichons
  • Pickled carrots, smoked black cod, seedy crackers
  • Endive, gorgonzola, toasted walnuts (this one’s from Ina)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Come here, pumpkin.

I am prone to using gratuitously sweet terms of endearment. Names like snuggle buns, honey dumpling and schnoogie pots come too easily for me. In fact, I called Eric “little sugary monkey” this morning. Sorry. But over the years I have realized that most people don’t like to be called those names, so for the most part I try to keep them reserved for pets and small children. I call my niece little bacon.  So far she’s fine with it.

One of my favorite terms of endearment, and a name that I’ve found goes over the most favorably with adult subjects, is pumpkin. My mom used to call me pumpkin. It’s sweet and huggable, but not over the top. Pumpkin sounds smiley like a jack-o’-lantern, and useful. “Come here, pumpkin.”

But I am reminded every fall that despite their sweet earthy flavor, pumpkins are actually quite a pain to cook with. Peeling a whole pumpkin hurts my hand, and the flesh is solid and hard to cut through. This year, I decided to get it all out of the way at once. I bought two, five pound sugar pumpkins from Alm Hill Gardens, and peeled, cubed and froze the whole lot. Now I am set for pumpkin treats for the next couple of months.

My first recipe from the bounty was pumpkin mostarda—an Italian relish that can be made out of most any kind of fruit. It’s sweet and salty, with a spicy mustard after taste. We had it for breakfast it on toasted baguette with ricotta, salt and pepper. I’ll try it with roasted pork and as a filling for ravioli.

Pumpkin Mostarda
This recipe was adapted from a recipe I found on La Cucina Italiana.

2 ½ pounds fresh pumpkin, peeled and cubed (whew!)
1 ¼ cups water
2 ½ cups sugar
1T lemon
3T dry mustard
4T white wine
1 t salt
  1. Dissolve the sugar and water in a large, heavy bottom pan by bringing it to a low boil for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the pumpkin and lemon juice, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft but still keeps its shape.
  3. Remove the pumpkin from the syrup.
  4. Add the mustard, wine and salt to the syrup and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Put the pumpkin in a heat proof storage container (I use canning jars or glass tupperware), cover with the mustard syrup, cover and refrigerate.
  6. Let the mostarda sit for a few days. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Turntables and a Microphone

Two turntables and a microphone has been my favorite composition for a weeknight dinner for seven years now. The turntables are vegetables and the microphone is the meat. There’s no real connection besides the fact that there is one item paired with two items, but it caught on, and it stuck. I end up having it for dinner at least once a week, and while I don’t always call it two turn tables and a microphone, especially when guests are around, the label almost always crosses my mind. It’s simple, it’s healthy, and it’s tasty.

This week, my friend had me over for an amazing caribou dinner. He caught and killed that caribou on his own. The treat of wild game made me nostalgic for the days when two turntables and a microphone was conceived.

Fresh out of college, I lived with a guy from Montana. His family introduced me to the expression “happiness is a full freezer.” They generously kept our freezer stocked year-round with wild game. It was mostly elk: elk steaks, elk chorizo, ground elk, elk stew meat, elk sausages. A freezer full of elk is amazing because it’s healthy, lean meat, with no antibiotics, from the freest range, and is responsibly harvested. But it’s even more amazing when you’re young, and trying to make ends meet in the Bay Area by temping in a construction trailer in south Oakland.

The original microphone was elk sausage, and turntables were usually winter squash and chard, maybe beets. Unfortunately, I don’t have a wild game hook-up anymore—this week’s caribou dinner was my first wild game feast in years. Let this serve as a standing acceptance—think of it as the opposite of a standing invitation. If you say, “Abby, want to join me on a hunting weekend? I have all the supplies and I’ll show you how to do it.”  I will respond, “Yes, I’d love to.”

But until I become a hunter, the best substitute I can come up with is responsibly farmed local meat from the farmers’ market. Today I bought some goat chops from Toboton Creek Ranch for this week’s meal. I’ll serve it with kale from Alm Hill Gardens and Chioggia beets from Willie Greens.

Two turntables and a microphone—some ideas:

Goat chops
Fresh kale salad with ricotta salada and shallot dressing
Roasted Chioggia beets

Spicy Italian pork sausage
Sautéed spinach with parmesan
Roasted acorn squash with butter, brown sugar and cayenne

Roasted chicken breast with fennel seeds, salt and red chili flakes
Radicchio salad
Green beans

Flank steak
Broccoli rabe with oil and salt
Roasted cauliflower

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spicy Carrot Martini

My family is a two-cocktail family. That doesn’t mean we always stop at two, or that we think 2 o’clock is the right time to start, but when it’s cocktail hour, there are essentially two choices: brown or clear. We drink manhattans and martinis. On a hot summer day, when there’s guacamole around, we may make up a batch of margaritas, but for the most part we try not to mess around with too many mixers like tonic or coke or juice.

So it’s a little surprising that it took us so long to come up with the Spicy Carrot Martini.
I’ve been pickling for a few years now, and my go-to pickle of choice is definitely the spicy carrot. I like them almost as much for how they look in the jar as I do for their crisp, vinegary taste. I love the marigold shades or orange, how the tidy shapes of sliced carrot spears line up with the chilies. And they don’t shrink up in the jar, so how ever I manage to cram them in before I pour in the brine, is how they will stay all winter, waiting to be pulled out of the cupboard to join a plate of cured meats or accompany a honey crisp with cheddar. And now they will be summoned to dunk in a Spicy Carrot Martini.
It’s as simple as it sounds. Gin martini, hold the olives, add the carrot. And it’s great. It was my brother’s concept, and he has already tested it out on some friends—a crowd pleaser.

Below is my carrot recipe, but it also works well with other vegetables with a similar pH level, like green beans and asparagus. Today I made a batch with cauliflower and ghost chilies. I’m working on pumping up the spice level. We’ll see how successful I was in a few weeks.

Spicy Pickled Carrots
This recipe is adapted from a recipe for Pickled Okra that I found on Martha Stewart Living in 2007. Makes 8 pints.
5 # carrots
1 quart white vinegar
6 tablespoons pickling salt
3 cups water
Optional: fresh or dried chilies, dill, garlic, coriander seeds, mustard seeds
8 pint sized canning jars, lids and bands
  • Boil jars in a hot water bath to sterilize.
  • Wash, peel and slice carrots to a size that will fit efficiently into your jars.
  • Make the brine by bringing vinegar, salt and water to a boil.
  • Sterilize lids and bands by boiling them. Leave the lids in the hot water.
  • Remove the jars from the hot water bath, one at a time, and fill them with carrots. Stuff the carrots in as tight as you can—they’ll give a little once they cook. Repeat with all the jars until your carrots are gone.
  • Add optional flavorings.
  • Fill the jars with hot brine, leaving about a quarter inch of space at the top, and fit the jars with lids and bands
  • Return the jars to the water bath, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes.
  • Store in the refrigerator
Pickling is a science. If you’d like to keep these in the cupboard through the winter, check out some resources like Iowa State University’s Making Pickles and Pickle Products or the National Center for Home Preservation to make sure you’re being safe.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Still Life is a Party

This summer, some friends and I were sitting in the sun on the deck at Doe Bay, drinking coffee and reading magazines. We were on the kind of weekend getaway where coffee bled into lunch, and lunch bled into afternoon cocktails, and the next thing you knew, it was time to do it all over again. Flipping through a design mag, I saw a still life painting with sparkly oysters and a black velvety background. Apologies to the artist because I forget exactly who it was, but it looked something like this, or this. It was exactly what I needed for my blank wall—it was sensual and inviting, told a story and begged to be a guest at dinner parties. But, as a friend pointed out, that painting was at the Louvre, and I probably couldn’t afford it.

So we decided to have a Still Life Party.

Here’s the concept:
  • Everyone brings an object for a still life - flowers, overripe fruit, crusty bread, whole fish, a skull, a vase, a leather satchel, a revolver, etc.
  • I set up romantic little areas with nice lighting
  • We drink wine and arrange still lifes and take pictures
  • I will pick my favorite and have it painted at Storybrush
I feed everyone. They deserve it for being such good sports
Because I have the most amazing and creative friends in the world, the still lifes were incredible.

For dinner, I wanted something baroque-esque, easy enough to eat with just a fork as I can’t seat 14 people at a table, and hands-off enough that I could be making still lifes before dinner. After a brainstorming session over lunch with my mom and her friend Vickie, we came up with this.

Still Life Party Menu

To start:
  • French cheeses
  • Salami
  • Homemade pickled peas, beans, carrots and asparagus
  • Smoked black cod
  • Crackers
Main course:

  • Endive, romaine and radicchio with garlicky dressing
  • Lasagne duchi de ferrari from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s first cook book, or as we like to call it, Noah’s lasagna because it calls for 8 different kinds of meat.
  • Crusty Italian bread

  • Pluot crumble adapted from Orangette’s recent post. I was a little late in the season for the Italian plumbs that she called for, but I used Washington pluots instead, and their fiery red color was a beautiful substitute.
  • Crème fraiche whipped cream
  • Fernet-Branca