Friday, October 30, 2009

Olives update

I have just tasted one of my cracked green olives that I've been soaking in water for ten days, changing the water daily. It's still very bitter. They will probably need another week.

Yesterday I noticed that most olives in the neighborhood trees are turning red, so I picked almost three pounds. They are large, firm, beautiful fruits. I cut each olive with a sharp knife, prepared a brine, dissolving a little under 1 cup of plain salt in 10 cups of hot water, let the brine cool, and brined the olives. I'll check these in the end of November.

What am I going to do with all these olives when they are ready? Last year I ate olives with every meal, gave jars of olives in oil and olive tapenade to everyone who likes them, and still couln't use all of the 6 pounds that I made. This time it's 7 pounds. My half-size refrigerator won't hold them all. Is there a good way to preserve them?

Update 11/09/2009: Bought another 2 pounds of Sevillano olives at the Farmers Market yesterday; they were just too big and beautiful (or am I getting obsessed?). The recipe that the olive man gave me: Make two cuts in the sides of each olive, or cut the top and bottom off. Brine in a closed container with 1 cup of salt per gallon of water for two weeks; shake daily. Remove from brine, cover with cold water, change water daily for 10 days. Place in brine with spices, cover with a little olive oil, keep in a closed container - no refrigeration required. And yes, he confirmed that size doesn't matter.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Market finds: broccolini, rapini, organic chanterelles and shitake mushrooms

The farmer's market never stops to delight and educate. Especially in Marin. Especially in fall.

Last week I was all excited about broccolini, the Italian baby broccoli that tastes the way broccoli was designed by god to taste. I added it to my chanterelle mushroom pasta sauce, and found that broccolini and chanterelles complement each other perfectly.
I made a minestrone with the seasonal vegetables - acorn squash, red onion, mini sweet peppers, carrot, baby white cabbage, green peas - and broccolini shone like a star in it, both the texture and the flavor.
I even made a broccolini and ham pizza topping, and the topping was delicious, but, as always, I messed up the pizza dough.

This week's discovery was rapini, aka broccoli rabe. It is a relative of a turnip, and it looks like a very fat turnip flower, or a baby broccoli with yellow flowers on top. The flavor is strong, somewhat bitter, and it doesn't have the cabbage smell that broccoli has. Most recipes call for leaves and florets only, discard the stems. I found that the rapini that you get at the farmer's market (and where else would you get it? Your garden? Then you can pick the best) are tender enough to cook with the stems, just cut the dry bottom part off.

Pork medallions with rapini and shitake mushrooms

serves 2

1 pork tenderloin, trimmed, cut into 1 inch thick medallions

For the brine:
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 bay leave, torn
1 rosemary sprig
3 thyme sprigs
5 sage leaves
3 juniper berries, crushed
10 black peppercorns, crushed
3 cups water, or to cover

For the vegetables:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sliced shitake mushrooms
salt, pepper
1 bunch rapini, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 glass white wine

To cook the medallions:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt, pepper

Place all brine ingredients and 3 cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; stir to dissolve the salt and the sugar. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature. Place the pork medallions in a glass or plastic bowl, cover with the brine, add more water at room temperature if needed to cover the pork completely, refrigerate overnight or up to three days.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, stir for about 1 minute, until it begins to brown and smell wonderful. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cook, stirring, until the mushrooms soften and release the juice. Add the rapini, stir, add the wine, reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes. If the rapini start to dry out before they are fully cooked and tender, add a tablespoon of water.

Remove the pork from the brine, dry with paper towels (discard the brine).
Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan. Cook the pork medallions, turning, until golden brown on all sides, and cooked through - about 12-15 minutes. Remove from pan, keep warm.
To make the sauce, deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping with a wooden spoon to dissolve all the brown pieces on the bottom. Reduce the sauce, whisk in the mustard and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the pork medallions over the vegetables, spoon the sauce on top.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Seasonal tradition: home-cured olives

I just checked my post from a year ago, and at this time last year I was already curing black olives. This summer was short and cold (the damn promised global warming didn't happen, so give me a little local warming, I'm ready), and then last weekend it changed abruptly into the fall.

We still see some sunshine - it's California, after all, - but more often it's a strong wind, followed by a downpour. I am lucky to have taken a picture of my sunset flame tree that used to greet me on the corner on my way home. Almost all the leaves are gone now.

And on the cross street, lined with olive trees, the still green olives are being kicked off the branches and roll under my feet by a thousand. I still hope for some black olives that I like better later on, but with this weather there may be few left to ripen. So this Monday I stopped on the way from work, and within 40 minutes collected four pounds of green olives from the ground.

Just in time I found this wonderful blog with a green olive post and learned about the Greek water curing method. After cleaning and sorting my olives I divided them in two parts; one I brined with the salt water (1 Tbsp kosher salt dissolved, not without difficulty, in 1 cup of water, to get the brine as salty as seawater) to be cured slowly; in the other batch I split each olive with a sharp paring knife, covered them with cold water and put a napkin on top to keep them submerged, and I change the water daily - with this water method they should loose their bitterness much faster.

Note to myself: I started both green olive batches on October 20th. 2 lb black olives from downtown Los Altos cracked and started in brine on October 26.

The first release is planned, as always, for the end of November.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!

We were lucky to have the last warm and sunny day for our paella party. Today it's cold, raining, and a Monday. But my and my brother's actual birthday is today, so instead of going to the office to help the US economy, I was spending a beautiful cold and rainy day at home, calling my brother (we have 11 hours time difference; not easy to arrange a call at a reasonable time while it's October, 12, in both places), cleaning the house, and baking these lemon tarts.

Then I went to my now super-extra clean kitchen, made Turkish coffee, and sat by the fireplace to celebrate.

The dough for the tarts is the same as in my apple post, made with flour and almond meal.

For the filling I mixed:
grated rind and juice of 3 organic lemons
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp creme freche
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks

I then rolled the dough into 6 small and 3 large circles, lined my 3-inch and 4-inch tart forms, pressed the sides with a fork, poured in the filling, and baked at 350 degrees until the filling set and began to turn golden, about 20 minutes for the small tarts, and 35 minutes for the larger ones.

Warning: both R. and I don't like very sweet desserts, and there tarts are just what we like. If you want very sweet, you should use much more sugar in both the dough and the filling.

The smaller tarts make more sense because they are a perfect serving size; 4 inch tarts are way to big for after dinner (good for a birthday celebration though). However, every time I use my silicon baking form, which is a flexible silicon sheet with six 3-inch depressions, I swear that it's the last time. Because of its flexibility, the form is extremely difficult to handle when filled. Surprisingly, it's also difficult to clean. I understand, it's modern technology and a fashion, but I'll better go get regular metal 3-inch forms with removable bottoms for the next time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Seafood paella in the park

My birthday is one of the prettiest days in October, so for the birthday party I usually do a picnic in some interesting place. In the past we've done a wine party in Buena Vista winery in Sonoma, a seafood grill on Angel Island (that wasn't the year when the island burned, sadly, on my birthday), opening the oyster season on Tomales Bay Oyster Farm. This year I was making paella on a grill in China Camp park.
Cooking paella outdoors for ten people can be labor-intensive, because of all the ingredients, the challenge of maintaining the heat in our afternoon wind, and all these good friends walking around impatiently - is it ready yet?

But it's pretty, tasty, serves the crowd (if you have a right pan, and I do, thanks DK who gave me this professional 15-inch paella pan years back), and cooking paella over an outdoor fire is the traditional way. I do cut corners by using canned tomatoes, even in the middle of the tomato season, and by buying the seafood frozen; it thaws on the way to the park, but doesn't require ice to keep it cold.
Some days are windier then others, so I bring my portable gas stove as an insurance. If it's very windy and difficult to maintain the heat on the grill, I'll fire the stove, screen it from the wind with the picnic basket, and cook on the gas heat. This time the wind was moderate by SF standards (15 knots or so, nothing to worry about), so I just started the sofrito on the stove while R. was getting the grill ready, then moved the pan over to the grill.

Most recipes fo paella say that the rice should be ready in 20 minutes. When cooking outdoors, it usually takes much longer. This time, with the pan being somewhat bigger then the grill surface, so I had to rotate it, the wind chill and all, the entire process took close to two hours. Then, when it was almost ready, R. decided that there is not enough heat to finish it - or that he hadn't have enough fun with the charcoal and the lighter fluid, and it's his last chance - anyway, he added more charcoal and made a huge roaring fire right under the pan. I thought it would burn and ruin the dish, but instead it created that wonderful golden crust on the bottom!

While the paella was getting done, the guests were entertained by Portugese green wine, marinated baby octopi, fire roasted peppers, very smelly cheeses that K. picked up in Whole Foods on the way there, and Martin, K's teenage hound, who attempted to eat everything in sight, tear to pieces everything that he didn't eat, and lick everyone to death. No, we didn't eat Martin, but we surely discussed the possibility.

For the seafood stock, every time I buy shrimps in the shells with the heads on, I put the shells and the heads in a pan with water to cover, add salt, pepper, a couple of thyme sprigs and a bay leaf, and simmer for 30 minutes, strain and freeze. Or, if you have a whole fish, do the same with the bones.

Seafood Paella for ten

1/2 cup olive oil
1 extra-large yellow onion, chopped
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup green peas
1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 lb whole small squid, cleaned
1 lb baby octopus, cleaned and cooked for 30 minutes in salt water, drained
1 lb salmon fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb cod fillet, cut into bite-seze pieces
10 sea scallops
1/2 kg (a little over a pound, 1/2 bag) Valencia or Bomba rice
1 Tbsp Spanish smoked paprika
1 pinch saffron
1 tsp sea salt

1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled, the top 1/4 cut off
2 cups unexpensive white wine
6 cups seafood stock (or clam juice)
20 medium shrimps, peeled, deveined, tails on
20 cooked green mussels on half-shell

2 red or yellow bell peppers,fire roasted, cut into narrow strips, to serve
2 lemons, cut into wedges, to serve

Make the sofrito: Heat the oil in a 15-inch paella pan over hot coals. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, untill transparent and just beginning to turn color. Add the tomatoes with the juice, break up with the spatula. Cook until almost all the liquid evaporates.

Add the green pepper, the peas, octopus, scallops, salmon, and cod; stir. Add the rice, season with paprica and salt, sprinkle on the saffron, breaking the threads between your fingers.

Add the rice and stir for about two minutes to cover the rice with oil. With a spatula, even out the surface of the rice. Push the head of garlic in the center. Pour in the wine and about 4 cups of the stock. From this moment, don't stir! The goal is to cook the rice while keeping the grains separate, and stirring would loosen the starch on the surface of the grains, making them into a risotto. You can turn the pan, add liquid as needed, carefully taste the rice for donness, - but don't disturb the rice!

Different types of rice will take different amounts of liquid, so see if the rice goes dry after a few minutes, and if it does, carefully add more stock, or water. After about 20 minutes, start tasting the rice. When it's almost done, place the shrimps and mussels on top, pressing them into the rice. Allow the steam to cook the shrimps and warm the mussels. You may have to turn the shrimps over if there is not enough steam to cook them through; or just cover the pan with aluminum foil for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Now, we want to create this delicious crust of caramelized rice on the bottom of our paella. If you nare cooking on a stove, turn up the heat for a couple of minutes. If it's on a charcoal grill, the heat would be down to meduim by now, so add more charcoal, light it up, and build a serious fire under your pan.

Take of the grill, serve in the pan, decorated with roasted bell peppers and lemon wedges.

R's birthday is the second prettiest day of October, but this time it was cold and overcast, so I just got out for long enough to grill our pork tenderloin and vegetables, and then we ate inside by the fire:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The apples are falling

I've been browsing food blogs, and it seems that everyone in the Northern hermisphere is baking now. I am not big on sweets, but I got the seasonal bug too. Cold nights, falling leaves, apple tarts...

My landlord, A., has a large apple tree of unknown variety that produces tons of small, sweet and very fragrant apples. He usually picks them sometime in the middle of October, and gives them away by a bucket. Most apples are not ready yet, but the ones that are fall to the ground, so A. let me pick as many as I needed for these apple tartlets. When the seasonal deluge of apples hits us, we'll be prepared, with pie and tart recipes, and clean glass jars for jams and jellies.
This recipe makes one large tart, or, as I had it this time, 6 3-inch and 2 4-inch tartlets. I don't have a food processor, so my manual process seems somewhat complex (it's not). If you do have a food processor, half of the work is taken care of.
Apple Almond Tartlets

For the dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 stick/8tsp/1/2cup cold unsalted butter
4 tsp ice water

For the almond cream:

1/2 cup almond meal
2 tsp sugar
2/3stick/5tsp unsalted butter at room temperature, sliced
1 egg
1 egg white

5 small apples, cored, thinly sliced, brushed with Fruit Fresh or lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown

For the glaze:

2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp cognac
2 tsp lemon juice

Chill a large bowl in the freezer. Put flour, 1/2 cup almond meal, sugar and salt in the bowl. Cut the butter into small chunks, add to the bowl. With your fingertips, work the mixture to the consistency of a fine crumb. Add 3 tsp of ice water, knead with your hands. If the dough doesn't come together, add water, a little at a time. If the dough gets wet and sticky, add a little flour.

Roll the dough into a ball, flatten with your hand, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a cookie sheet into the oven.

Make the almond cream:

Mix the almond meal, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the egg and egg white, whisk to smooth and creamy consistancy.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, let sit outside for a few minutes to soften, cut into pieces (in my case, 6 small and 2 medium), place each piece of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, roll out to about 1/8 in. thick. Remove the dough from the wrap and drape it loosely over the tartlette forms. Press in with a fork. This dough breaks very easily, but it's also easy to repare. pinch off pieces of the dough and press them on to close any holes, reinforse thin edges, etc.

Spread some almond cream on the bottom of each tartlette, fan out the apple slices and place on top (1/2 of a small apple for 3 inch tartelettes, whole apple for 4 inch tartellete).

Place the tartellettes in their forms on the hot baking sheet, bake for about 20 minute, or until the filling is set. Remove from the oven, let cool on a wire rack.

To make the glaze, mix the cognac, sugar, and lemon juice in a small pot. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Brush the glaze on the tarts. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Farewell, summer

The summer is over. We still have a few hot sunny days left, but these are short, and the nights are cold. As always, I haven't had enough. I want more.

My little fig tree tries to console me, giving me two or three ripe figs every day, R. brings tropical flowers, reminding me that it's summer somewhere now, and the farmers market delights with the early fall abundance. I still mourn the summer. Summer, come back!

Which doesnt't mean that I am not taking advantage of all these autumnal fruits and vegetables. Figs are wonderful just eaten whole, but they are also very good sliced, with a little goat cheese, honey, salt and pepper added. And they pair well with proscuitto, and with about any California wine, Lake County Sauvignon Blank and Zinfandels from Russian River and Dry Creek being the favorites.

The super-ripe, super-cheap tomatoes from the market ask to be slow-roasted:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Line a wide shallow roasting pan or a baking sheet with aluminum foil, brush with olive oil.
Wash and dry medium-size ripe tomatoes. Cut in half crosswise. Arrange in the pan in one layer, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Scatter oregano leaves on top.
Roast for about 3 hours to concentrate the flavor. During the last hour check the tomatoes every 15 minutes to make sure they do not burn.
Let cool in the pan.
Store covered with olive oil in a glass jar in the refrigerator up to two weeks. Add to sandwiches, pizzas, pastas; serve on crackers as an appetizer; mix with fire-roasted bell peppers and grilled eggplant and onion for a filling salad.

Acorn squash, cut in half and with the seeds removed, looks like an exotic flower. One day I'll slice it thin with the skin still on, and bake or fry beautiful chips. This time I have ruined the beauty again: I made a soup.

Winter squash, pepper and garlic soup
serves 2
1 small acorn squash, or other winter squash, cut in half, seeds removed with a spoon and discarded
1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and sliced
1-1/2 cup chicken stock

To serve (optional):
2 Tbsp pesto (see my old post for recipe)
2 strips of bacon, fried, dried and crumbled
2 basil tops
1 tsp grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the top 1/4 in. off the head of garlic to expose some flesh.

Brush the cut sides of the squash and garlic with olive oil, wrap the squash halves and the garlic head in aluminum foil, bake until soft, 35-40 minutes.

Remove squash and garlic from the oven, set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out of the squash halves, and squeeze out the garlic cloves out of the skin. Add roasted bell pepper slices. Puree in a blender. Add the stock.

Pour into a pan, stir, reheat over low heat.

Serve with a spoonful of pesto and some bacon bits. Garnish with basil.

When makins the soup, save some of the squash/garlic puree to make a pasta sauce.
Here, capellini pasta is served two ways: with pesto, and with the squash and garlic puree (bacon bits and parmesan on both, of course):

I have started my next food styling class. So my shopping list today looks like this:

- Chiabatta rolls 6 ea.
- Burger buns 6 ea.
- Sliced ham 1 lb. pkg.
- Sliced salami 1 lb. pkg.
- Sliced mozzarella 1 lb. pkg.
- Curly lettuce 1 ea.
- Red onion 1 ea.
- Large heirloom tomato
- Ground beef 2 lb.
- Something to eat