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Archive for June, 2009

Kissin’ Callas!

From the moment I saw these kissin’ Callas, I’ve had little orphan Annie’s exclamation, “Leapin’ Lizzards!” running through my head.  Maybe I’ll start using this phrase instead, which sounds somewhat cuter…

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Let’s see….like when I find a line of ants trailing through my living room…”Kissin’ Callas!”

Or when I find that traffic is backed up all the way into Oakland as I’m trying to cross the bridge to SF, “Kissin’ Callas!”

Or when I come home from a day in Tomales Bay and find my poor shoulders as pink as those flowers, despite the Number 50!!! sunscreen I had slathered on, “Kissin’ Callas!”

…And by the way, doesn’t it sort of look like Big Calla is whispering sweet-nothings in Little Calla’s ear?  I wonder what they’re saying…

“Hey baby, nice leaves.”

“Did you get that lovely shade of pink from your momma?”

“Wanna join me for a run through the sprinklers?”

Kissin’ Callas!

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P6240006My sincere apologies for the quick-snapped shot of this delicious chicken, but we were starving.  And it only occurred to me to take a photo after half of it had been carved.  But the aroma was calling, calling, calling us to eat.  And I just couldn’t delay any longer!

This is another recipe out of The Herbfarm Cookbook, which has served as my mid-afternoon-sit-down-with-a-snack–and-read book for the past number of days.  We ate it along side that yummy Marjoram-scented cornbread

I baked it in a 9×13 baking dish, and when it was half-way done, I added some salted zucchini and red onions chunks.  Mmm, good.  If you want to serve it with carrots or potatoes, salt them and add them to the pan, under the chicken, before putting the chicken in the oven.

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Bay Laurel roasted chicken adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook, by Jerry Traunfeld

Note that you must use only fresh Bay Laurel leaves for this recipe.  California Bay and dried Bay are far too strong, but you could easily substitute sprigs of another herb such as thyme, or marjoram.  Also note that baking this chicken creates a lot of smoke as the fat spatters around in the oven.  Be sure to turn on your ventilation fan (or open the windows if you have poor ventilation, as we do!)

  • 1 3-1/2 pound chicken
  • 2-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 6-8 fresh Bay Laurel leaves, depending upon their size
  • optional 2 cloves garlic, sliced

One to two days before cooking, sprinkle the salt over all sides of the chicken, including the cavity.  Use your fingers to loosen the skin around the breast and legs.  Gently crush the Bay Laurel leaves.  Stuff 2 of them into the cavity, and the remaining leaves with the optional garlic under the loosened skin.  Place in the refrigerator to “cure” until you are ready to cook.

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.  Place the chicken, breast side up, in a 9×13 baking dish and set in the oven to bake.  Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the juices run clear in both the breast and the thigh.  Pull from the oven and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving and serving.  (And if you’re like us, you’ll save the chicken fat from the bottom of the pan for sauteing vegetables in the future!)

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I’m sorry we don’t have any pictures of this yummy little thing.  But… well… we devoured it.  Plus, I have to admit that it was a little funny looking since I used cornmeal made out of blue corn that I bought from Full Belly Farm last year.  I figured that I’d better start using it up since we’ve come full circle, and fresh corn is back on the market stands!

The recipe came out of one of my new favorite cookbooks, called The Herbfarm Cookbook.  The name of the book is the same as the restaurant which is up in Seattle, Washington.  It’s filled with loads of yummy recipes that burst with fresh herbs from the garden.  It also has a whole section about growing, harvesting, and pruning herbs.  I’ve bookmarked tons of pages as “recipes to try”.  We ate this cornbread with the Bay Laurel roasted chicken, and it too, was wonderful.

I have quite a few herbs in my own garden, and I keep track of things in my neighborhood that I can use too.  Like the Bay Laurel tree right around the corner.  And those of you who live close to me are welcome to swing by for a few sprigs of this or that.

Herbs currently in my garden: marjoram, oregano, sorrel, chives, thyme, savory, rosemary, sage, spearmint and chocolate mint fennel, scented geraniums, and tarragon

Herbs on the way: basil, shiso, parsley

Marjoram Cornbread adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook, by Jerry Traunfeld
yields 1 8×8-square bread

  • 3 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 rounded teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup whole-milk buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped chives
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Shmear 2 teaspoons of the softened butter in the pan with your fingers or a paper towel.  In a medium bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cornmeal, and sugar.  In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and eggs, whisking to combine.  Pour the liquid into the dry ingredeints, all at once, and stir just until all the ingredients are moistened.  Stir in the marjoram, chives, and 4 Tablespoons of melted butter.  Pour the batter into the pan.  Brush the top with the remaining 1 teaspoon of softened butter to help it brown nicely. Bake until the cornbread is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  Cool slightly in the pan before serving.

*I think I’ll try baking it in a cast-iron pan next time, because I always love the crispy crust that it creates!

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Jammin’

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I make a lot of jam through out the year to give as Christmas and Hanukkah presents during the holidays.  One of my past roommates put Bob Marley’s “Jammin” as his ringtone and would call himself so that I would hear the ring whenever he heard me clanking around in the kitchen with all my canning supplies…

And strawberry jam is the one that usually starts off the season.  The berries appear at the market in early spring, and somehow manage to last all the way in to September.  I always taste the berries from each farm since they really do change from week to week.  But my favorite always seems to be Dirty Girl.  They attend the Tuesday Berkeley market, as well as the Saturday Ferry Plaza market in San Francisco.

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The thing about strawberry jam is that strawberries are really juicy!  And that’s not always good for jam making.  The idea when making jam is to cook the fruit as little as possible, to preserve the fresh fruit flavor.  So if the fruit is too juicy, you have to cook it for a long time, reducing it down until you get the right consistency.  (That being said, you could also use pectin, but I just don’t like dealing with it).  I came across a “sun dried” strawberry jam recipe in the Chez Panisse Fruit book and wanted to give it a shot.  But since we were  without sun for so long, I used my oven instead.

The recipe turned out great!

“Sun Dried” Strawberry Jam adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit

I used one flat (12 baskets) of strawberries and made the recipe twice, yielding a total of 9 half-pint jars.  I used my 12- quart dutch oven to create a large surface area for easy evaporation while the fruit was cooking.

  • 12 cups hulled and cut strawberries
  • 4 cups sugar (add up to 1 cup extra sugar if your berries area a little tart)

Toss the cut strawberries with the sugar in a large, non-reactive pot.  Stir and allow to sit for about 15 minutes.  Then place the pot over high-heat, stirring regularly.  When it comes to a boil, allow it to continue cooking, stirring often, for 10 minutes.  Skim any foam that rises to the surface.  Pour the jam into two large flat-bottomed baking dishes, so that the depth of the jam is no more than 1/2-inch thick. * Place the baking dishes in the oven, turned to it’s lowest setting.  (“Warm” on my oven is around 150 degrees.)  Watch it carefully, as ovens vary widely.  It took about 4 hours for me. When it reaches the consistency that you like, pour it into sterilized canning jars and process in a water bath for 15 minutes.  TaDa!

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*The Chez Panisse method is to put the baking dishes in a sunny spot in your kitchen (choosing a place that is inaccessible to ants) and letting it sit for a few days.

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I would hereby like to thank the sun for finally coming out from behind those clouds.  Both my garden, and my disposition are more cheerful now.  Grazie, and good night.

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Attending the Saturday farmer’s market is good for my soul.  I love it no matter the season.  It just always seems to fill whatever void needs filling.  I welcome the rain and wind in the winter, when fewer people attend and a sense of peace and quiet pervades.  The crowds are lighter and I can wander easily.  In the fall, I find the crisp air refreshing, and the vibrant root vegetables a glory to see.  The spring brings the crowds, but it also marks the beginning of short-season crops like asparagus, peas, and cherries.  I always buy as much as I know we’ll eat, not wanting to waste a moment of their short-lived bounty.  And here we are on the eve of the summer solstice.  Summer squash is everywhere, as is basil, and the first tomatoes are making an appearance.  It’s this time of year when I know that I must put a limit on the amount of money I bring with me, because I tend to want to buy one of everything.  And I love coming home and spreading it all out on the kitchen counter and thinking about what I’ll do with it all.

This past week, we put together a wonderful summer vegetable stew, inspired by a recipe I found in Local Flavors, by Deborah Madison.  The ingredients can and should vary, depending on what you find.  It’s a perfect place to use up late-season, starchy peas, tough, mature, green beans, or little odds and ends that don’t have another home.  Choose enough veggies to accommodate the number of people you plan to serve.  Use things like potatoes, peas, green beans, carrots, onions, summer squash, fresh shelling beans (need to be precooked), garlic, herbs, sweet peppers, and tomatoes (fresh or canned). It looks fairly ordinary, but all the flavors meld together and become absolutely delicious.

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Summer Vegetable Stew

  • Prepare your vegetables depending upon their shapes and sizes.  For example,  young carrots might be split down the center, patty-pan squash could be cut into wedges, green beans cut into bite-sized lengths,  young potatoes halved, and onions sliced into wedges held together by their roots.
  • Warm some good olive oil with a bay leaf in a non-reactive dutch oven, or large casserole.  Add onion wedges, a few garlic cloves, a few sprigs of herbs, and a sprinkle of salt.  Cook gently, covered until they just begin to soften.
  • Add the dense, longer-cooking vegetables like carrots and potatoes.  Give them a sprinkling of salt.  Add a little water to help them steam, cover and cook for, maybe, five minutes.
  • Add the remaining vegetables and give them another sprinkling of salt.  If you’ve used canned tomatoes, you’ll want to use some of the liquid.  Cover again, and allow them to stew.  Check it in a few minutes to make sure that there is enough liquid in the pot.  If not, add water and maybe a little white wine.  There should be liquid that comes at least 1/2 way up the depth of the vegetables.
  • Allow the vegetables to stew gently until everything has become tender.  Pay special attention to things like carrots and potatoes, which will take the longest to cook.  It’s okay if the green peas and beans become drab in color.  This isn’t an al dente dish.  Their texture will become smooth and tender
  • When the stew is ready, taste it for salt and stir in a handful of roughly-chopped basil.  Spoon it into bowls and enjoy.

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Crunchy Chewy WowzersYes.  It was really that good.

A few nights ago we had our lovely friend Big Dan over for dinner.  Not that he’s big.  It’s just that he’s bigger than his roommate, Little Dan.  And since they are roommates, and both named Dan, and since we never knew Little Dan’s last name, we renamed them.  And plus, referring to Big Dan as such, is much easier than referring to him as: my husband’s sister’s husband’s sister’s son.  Which he is.

He showed up for our little mini-gathering sans Little Dan but avec his fancy-shmancy, super-expensivo camera in order to document our lives (or at least a few hours of it).  And rather than take pictures of our faces, he took pictures of dinner!  And made me drool over the things that his fancy-shmancy, super expensivo camera can do.  But then he proceeded to show me how to use my pretty-darn good, not-nearly-as-expensive camera.  I got a whirlwind tutorial of aperture settings, f-stops and shutter speed, which totally thrilled me.  And it made me realize that my pretty-darn good, not-nearly-as-expensive camera truly is pretty darn good.  And then, seeing my new-found satisfaction with my own camera, he declared, “Look Scott, I just saved you money!”  And that’s why we love Big Dan.

But back to that lovely picture, taken by the truly talented Big Dan.  That was dessert.  I used Crimson Baby nectarines, and David Sun peaches from Blossom Bluff Orchards.  They grow some of the tastiest stone fruit all summer long, and I just can’t keep away from their stand at the farmer’s market.  If you ever attend the Berkeley Farmer’s Market, be sure to find them and taste their wares.  Seriously.  Don’t miss out.

So I’ve had this tart on my “to make” list for a few months now, and have been waiting for the fruit to come in to season and really hit it’s stride.  And finally, the opportunity presented itself.  The galette turned out really well.  The crust was buttery, flaky, and nicely crisped, even on the bottom.  And the fruit just melted right into the crust with a nice balanced acidity and sweetness.  Be sure, when you’re baking, to choose fruit that has nice acidity.  The sub-acid, or low acid fruits are great for eating out of hand, but are not so great for baking.  I personally prefer the higher-acid fruit, even for eating out of hand.  And remember that high-acid doesn’t mean under ripe.  The acidity and sweetness should balance each other out, complementing the overall flavor of the fruit.  Think about these things next time you’re tasting peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums, and you’ll see what I mean.

The recipe for the crust as well as for the whole galette, came from one of my favorite books, The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook.  It’s contributors include Flo Braker, Julia Cookenboo, Marion Cunningham, David Lebovitz, Lindsey Shere, and Peter Reinhart.  And the recipes are just great.

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Peach-Nectarine Galette from The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook, recipe by Lindsey Shere

Basic Tart Dough (Pate Brisee)
makes enough dough for one 9-inch tart or 10-inch galette

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon-and-sweep)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup cold water, or as needed

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl.  Cut in half the butter with a pastry blender (or run it between your fingertips) until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. (above picture #1)  Cut in the remaining butter until it is in pea-sized bits. (above picture #2)

Sprinkle the water in evenly, tossing the flour mixture with a fork as you do so, adding just enough water so that the mixture is completely moistened and holds together when pressed between your fingers.  (above picture #3) Gather up the dough and press into a 1/2-inch-thick disk.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  (The dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead, wrapped, and refrigerated.  It can also be frozen, overwrapped with aluminum foil, for up to 2 months.  Defrost the frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.  If the dough is very hard and well chilled, let it stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes.  Then pound the dough, vertically and horizontally, with the rolling pin until it is pliable but still cold.)

Note:  The two-step process of cutting in the butter has a double purpose.  The small butter “crumbs” waterproof the gluten in the flour, keeping it from forming the invisible strands that will toughen the dough.  The larger pieces of butter separate the dough into layers as it bakes and provide flakiness.

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To make the galette
makes one 12-inch galette, 8 to 10 servings

  • tart dough (see above)
  • 2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 7 Tablespoons sugar
  • 4 each, medium ripe nectarines and peaches (8 pieces total), unpeeled, pitted and cut into 1/3-to 1/2-inch wide slices

Position a rack in the center of the oven.  If you have one, place a baking stone on the rack, and preheat to 400 degrees.  Line a rimless baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a very thin (no more than 1/16-inch thick) 14-inch-diameter round.  Roll out the edges a bit thinner than the center so that when the edges are folded over to make a border, it won’t be too thick.  Transfer to the baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine the flour and 2 Tablespoons of the sugar with your fingers and sprinkle over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border.  Arrange the nectarines and peaches in concentric circles on top on the sugar, leaving a border.  Sprinkle the fruit with 4 Tablespoons of the remaining sugar.  Fold the border of dough over onto the nectarines.  Lightly brush the dough with a little water and sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tablespoon sugar.

Bake until the edges and bottom of the pastry are quite brown (lift up an edge of the galette with a spatula to check), 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Immediately slide the galette off the pan onto a large wire cooling rack.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  If the nectarines and peaches have given off syrupy juices that have collected in the galette, brush them over the fruit to make an instant glaze.  Let the galette stand for at least 10 minutes, and serve warm or at room temperature.

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