Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Italian Lemon Ice

I find it best to start this process in the morning before serving for dessert at dinner—just to make sure the mixture freezes sufficiently. It is the perfect dessert after a heavy meal or anytime during the summer. Light and refreshing.

1½ cups water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt

1. Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a 1-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the zest, juice, and salt.
3. Transfer to a metal bowl and cool the syrup to room temperature. Refrigerate the syrup for at least one hour.
If you are in a rush, as I usually am, you can put the bowl containing the mixture into a larger bowl filled with ice to cool it down quicker.
4. Freeze the syrup in an ice cream maker.
OR what I usually do
Line an 8 x 8 metal pan with plastic wrap and pour the cooled mixture into it. Place it in the freezer of your refrigerator. Periodically, pull the pan out of the freezer (two or three times) and stir the mixture to break up the ice crystals.
5. Transfer to an air-tight container and freeze until firm, about two hours. Remove from the freezer about 5 minutes before serving.

Makes about 1 quart
Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Sonoma Cookbook Club

In the last week I have had two evenings of great food fun. Both are great ideas which need to be shared and passed around—as all good ideas should be. They originated with Kristin Viguerie of Sonoma’s Junipero and Company, a store that specializes in antique kitchen equipment, new and used cookbooks and food products from around the Napa and Sonoma Wine Country. The first is the Sonoma Cookbook Club and the second (in the blog to follow) is the Junipero Cooking Club.

Last Saturday night eight of us gathered at the Sonoma home of two of our members for a southern-inspired meal based on our cookbook of the month Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, a gorgeous coffee table-sized book which offers up mouth-watering recipes. This group has been getting together once a month for the last four months at each other’s houses for dinner and discussion of the chosen book, among other things. So far we’ve used Anne Willan’s Country Cooking of France, Christine Hanna’s The Winemaker Cooks, and The Silver Spoon, a comprehensive book of Italian cooking. For March I’ve suggested the three cookbooks of Indian food by Raghavan Iyer which I mentioned in a blog a while back.

The host or hostess chooses the cookbook and cooks the main dish and the rest of us chime in with what we would like to contribute. We try to encourage some balance in the dinner, which worked particularly well this last time.

All of our dinners have been fantastic and Saturday night was no exception.

We began with Miss Verba’s Pimiento Cheese with celery sticks, Tapenade, and Spiced Pecans.
Our composed first course was Asparagus with Farm Eggs, and Ham Hock Vinaigrette.
A second course was Fish with Citrus Vinaigrette on a bed of rice.
Our main course was Basque-Style Chicken with Peppers and a lovely Spoonbread, prepared, as is our custom, by the host or hostess.
Autumn Salad with Spiced Pecans, Pears, and Gorgonzola Cheese followed.
Our dessert was Bourbon Panna Cotta with Pecan Sandies. I chose this recipe partially because it required me to caramelize sugar, a cooking trick that I have shied away from. Boiling hot syrup scares me to death. But I did it, survived and was quite pleased by my accomplishment.

We each carried home a small wax paper bag of Macaroons and Oatmeal Cookies.

Eight is about the right number. The group’s only “rule” is that everyone who comes to the meal has to make something to contribute. If more people were involved, the number of dishes would be overwhelming and we would end up stuffed like little piglets. We each bring a bottle of wine but fortunately don’t consume them all. If we did, we would be tipsy and stuffed little piglets.

So isn’t this a great way to try new cookbooks, experiment with cooking recipes or exploring new cuisines, and then have a wonderful dinner with old and new friends?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Junipero Cooking Club

On Tuesday, March 1, a group of 14 met in a Sonoma home with a good-sized (but not a professional) kitchen to celebrate an early Marti Gras by learning to cook foods from New Orleans: Shrimp Remoulade, Seafood Gumbo, and Bananas Foster. Our chef, and cooking instructor, was Stephen Viguerie, Kristin’s husband, a native of Louisiana who has the food of New Orleans in his blood. We paid a nominal fee to cover expenses and his time and effort. We got copies of the recipes and were invited to participate in the cooking to whatever extent we desired.

Southern food has held a special place in my heart from having lived in Durham, North Carolina for 20 years. I have eaten vast quantities of pork barbeque and deep fried hush puppies and cooked lots of southern dishes myself but have had very little experience with food from Louisiana which has an aesthetic and culture all its own. So this was my chance to learn.

I began with a Bloody Mary, garnished with pickled okra and a celery stick, which Stephen made for anyone who asked. I must say, a perfect way to start the evening. Many folks brought bottles of wine to share. There were also spiced pecans and crackers to stave off hunger.

The Gumbo process began with making a roux, a mix of flour and oil which cooks for at least 40 minutes until the mixture turns a rich brown without even coming close to burning. If it burns, you start over. That’s it.

While the roux was simmering, Stephen made his remoulade from scratch, whirling up his own mayonnaise in a blender and then adding the parsley and lemon juice once the mayo was done. He finished the dish by folding chilled cooked shrimp into the sauce and placing it on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce.

When the roux was done, he added the trinity (onions, celery, and green pepper), various seasonings, stock made from shrimp and crab shells among other things, frozen okra and finally shrimp and crab meat and legs.

The Bananas Foster involved melting brown sugar in butter, adding bananas and rum, and setting the whole thing on fire. Pretty spectacular. Served over ice cream, it was so good.

A memorable dinner.

Watching Stephen work and having the chance to stir the roux and watch it change color was invaluable hands-on experience. He also offered excellent tips, such as adding Kitchen Bouquet to a recalcitrant roux and using frozen okra instead of slimy fresh.

I’m not saying that everyone can duplicate an evening like this. Kristin and Stephen put a huge amount of work into making it happen. But it’s worth considering. Can you hire someone to teach you and your friends something that all of you would like to learn? Can you gather in a regular home kitchen to make the food, drink some wine and eat together? Sounds like a great evening. I’d come.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My 2010 Cookbook Spreadsheet and Cookbook Recommendations

Perhaps some of you will remember from last year (January 26, 2010 blog) that I keep a spreadsheet of all my cookbooks and write the date next to the title every time I use one of them. At the end of the year, I can analyze which books I’ve used and what type of cooking I’ve done the most. All of this is really quite fascinating to me but perhaps you are not as engaged as I am. After all it’s what I’m eating, not what you’re eating. Bear with me.

Over the course of 2010, out of a total of 543 cookbooks, I used 86 of them, 32 for the first time. I prepared 218 recipes from these 86 cookbooks, 14 from magazines, newspapers, cooking classes, or the internet, 86 from my blog, and 36 of my own devising, coming to a total of 354 recipes.

This information tells me that I am still quite wed to cookbooks in the paper form, ones that I can crack open, check the index, scribble notes and paste photos. I’ve begun to use Epicurious and Big Oven apps on my IPad, sending myself emails of interesting recipes, but those numbers are still really small. The 86 from my blog are those recipes I am getting ready to post and need to photograph, as well as those I just love and “keep” using again and again.

I cooked 43 recipes from West Coast and West Coast Wine Country cookbooks, 34 from cookbooks featuring European or English food, 28 from the Healthy or Vegetarian cookbooks, and 21 from the Quick cookbook category.

I used FARMfood a whopping 18 times. This is a beautifully designed book, published by Indiana University Press. Daniel Orr is a Hoosier (from Indiana); I’m a Buckeye (from Ohio). So at our roots, he and I are neighbors—and I feel that every time I use his cookbook. He ventured away to see the world and to learn to cook but has now returned to Bloomington, Indiana and has opened a restaurant, FARMbloomington, which supports local farmers and ranchers by buying their produce. His recipes are really good.

I used The Illustrated Quick Cook and Martha Stewart Living’s Everyday Food: Great Food Fast a combined 15 times. I love spending time in the kitchen, as most of you know, so speed is not my highest priority. But I also realize that it is for many of you and I’ve been trying to find great quick recipes that are tasty and fun. Both of these cookbooks meet that criteria. There are also lots of good photos.

Aloha Days Hula Nights came in at 12 times. This Junior League cookbook from Honolulu is truly marvelous. I took it with me to Hawaii over New Year’s 2010 and used it a bunch at the beginning of the year. There is nothing slick about it. Just good recipes, well tested, and delicious.

Without Reservations came in at 10 times. I took Joey Altman’s cooking class at the Ranch in 2009, bought his book with few expectations and found it to be totally admirable.

I would highly recommend any of these five. I would love to know if any of you has tried them and what you think of them.

My 2010 Dinner Spreadsheet

I have another spreadsheet which I don’t think I’ve told you about before. You know that I write in a small dinner journal every night, noting what I’ve eaten for dinner and any wine or other beverage. On the left are a couple of pages from my 2010 journal. (Most pages don't have photographs.) I put the basic information month-by-month on a spreadsheet, see below, so that I can calculate at the end of the year how many dinners I’ve cooked at home or when traveling, how many times I ate leftovers, had guests to dinner (and who they were), ate in restaurants or had someone (bless them) cook for me. It’s really interesting to see the results. Or at least I think so.

Sorry this isn't clearer, but you get the idea.

Here are the numbers for Berkeley or Sonoma:
Guests came to dinner 39 times
Cooked 98 times (137 including for guests)
Ate leftovers 73 times
Ate in restaurants 47 times
Purchased prepared food and brought home 1 time
Friends cooked for me 15 times
Shared preparation for dinner 10 times

And here are the numbers when I’m traveling:
Cooked 9 times
Ate in restaurants 53 times
Friends cooked for me 12 times
Shared preparation for dinner 8 times

So during the course of 2010, I ate in restaurants 100 times (27%), cooked and ate my own food 219 times (60%) and had friends cook for me 27 times (7%). Six percent for everything else. Pretty interesting, don’t you think?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Italian Sausage with Red Grapes

This is the last of the sausage recipes I have to give you. As you know, I truly love good sausage and I find them one of the quickest ways to get a delicious meal on the table. This recipe is no exception. The polenta will take you a bit of time but a nice loaf of bread would work just as well. A salad or the spinach suggested below and you're done.

1 medium onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage (about 4-5 sausages)
Note: I buy Caggiano Sweet Italian in Sonoma; buy fresh good quality Italian sausage, usually with fennel seed, where ever you are.
1 pound seedless red grapes, stemmed
Note: You can also use 1 cup Oven-Roasted Grapes (August 13, 2009 blog).
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary or thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet, add the onions, and cook until they are soft and amber. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Heat remaining olive oil in the same skillet over moderate heat until hot. Brown the sausages on all sides, poking them with a fork each time you turn them. This will take about 8 minutes.
3. Add ½ cup water to the pan, cover and turn the heat to low. Simmer the sausages until they are cooked through, about 10 minutes, turning once. Remove all but ¼ cup of the remaining liquid.
4. Add grapes and cook, stirring occasionally, until grapes are softened, 5 minutes or so. If using Oven-Roasted Grapes, you only need to cook them for a few minutes to warm them up.
5. Remove the sausages from the pan. Add the reserved onions, half of the rosemary or thyme, and the vinegar to the grapes and stir to mix everything together. Taste for salt and pepper and add as you see fit.
6. Cut the sausages in half and return to the pan. Heat briefly until everything is nicely hot. Sprinkle with remaining rosemary or thyme.

4 servings
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, October 2005

I often serve this with Creamy Polenta (June 11, 2010 blog) to which you can add the liquid in which the sausages have cooked and Spinach (May 31, 2010 blog).

Salmon with Swiss Chard

This is perhaps my favorite fish dish in the world. It’s taken me a long time to get it on the blog, primarily because I have had a hard time getting a good photo of it. The last time I made it, I was so eager to dig into it that I forgot to take a picture until the dish was in shambles: messy, half-eaten, unappetizing. So at last I have a photo that is good enough. What’s more I’m not waiting any longer to share it with you. You will love this dish—or at least I hope so.

2 pounds Swiss chard, red or green, about 2 bunches
5 ounces pitted Kalamata black olives
1½ pounds salmon fillets, cut into serving size pieces, skin removed if you desire

Marinade (chermüla):
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika or smoky sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon ground chile molido or any chile powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon salt

1. Remove the stems from the chard; save for another purpose or compost. Wash the leaves very well to remove all the dirt and cut into ½-inch strips.
2. Put it and the olives in the top of a steamer. Cover and steam over high heat for 5-10 minutes or until the chard is al dente. Remove from the heat. Take off the lid, cover with a cloth, and leave the chard to cool.
Note: You can do this step the day before you’re making the dish, preferably before trying to stuff the unwieldy bunches of chard into your fridge.
3. Combine all the ingredients in the marinade. Rub it all over the fish and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours in a cool place. Less time is fine too.
4. When you are ready to roast the fish, spread the chard and olives on the bottom of a baking dish. Place the salmon fillets on top of the chard, skin side down, surrounded by the marinade. Pour the liquid of the marinade over everything.
5. Roast at 425ºF. for about 30 minutes, checking after 25 minutes to see if the fish is done to your liking. The time depends on the thickness of the fish fillets.
6. Serve with bread to mop up the delicious sauce.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Anissa Helou’s Street Café Morocco

Ginger Pots de Crème

I have fussed over this recipe repeatedly because I didn’t seem to be able to get the excellent ginger flavor I wanted. I tried many different solutions and finally found the one that worked: using my trusty micro-plane. I am satisfied that if you make this lovely dessert, you too will be totally pleased with its deliciousness.

2 cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
5 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and grated with a micro-plane
2 yolks and 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
¼ teaspoon salt
Diced candied ginger or Raisin Compote, see recipe below

1. Combine the cream and the sugar in a saucepan. Bring it to the point where it is just barely boiling and the sugar has dissolved. Add the ginger. Remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let it steep for 1 hour or longer.
2. Strain out the ginger, pressing to release as much liquid as you can.
3. Add the eggs and egg yolks to the cream. Stir gently to mix well. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer.
4. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
5. Pour the mixture into 5 or 6 4-ounce ramekins. Place them in a baking pan and add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake until the custard is just set 40-50 minutes. The custard should be soft in the center when lightly shaken. They will firm up as they set. Remove from the baking pan and cool. Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
6. Before serving, garnish with the candied ginger or Raisin Compote.

5-6 servings
Adapted from Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens

Raisin Ginger Compote

½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup chopped candied ginger
¼ cup ginger syrup (If you can’t find this, use ½ cup maple syrup)
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup bourbon but you could use Madeira, sherry, or marsala

1. Place the raisins and candied ginger in a bowl. Add the remaining liquids and let the raisins and ginger macerate for an hour or more.
2. Spoon some of the fruits and the liquid over the pots de crème and serve.

Makes about 1½ cups
My own devising