Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Maybe My Best Biscuit Ever

I didn't grow up kneading biscuits at my grandmother's knee. I don't think my mother ever made one that didn't pop from a can. There is no genetic reason I should have become a biscuit eater much less a biscuit maker. But I love the feel of the cool, short dough in my hands. For years I have been trying variations, new recipes and flours hoping to pinpoint the masterful fluffy biscuits of Southern breakfast lore.
On Easter Sunday with  a bag of White Lily flour and plenty of butter I finally achieved a biscuit so light the golden brown top reached skyward forging open holes and a shaggy crevasse crying out for melted butter. A movie star biscuit made with my own hands.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pork. Peas, Potatoes

I love peas. When spring markets offer baskets of fresh garden peas I try to use them, and often, while they are in season.
Way back in the freezer was a lonely package of pork stew meat. Sometimes in the winter I'll make a stew with pears or winter squash. Though there is still a chill in the air most evenings those wintery dishes feel out of step with our bright spring days and the lonely pound package pushed further and further back in the freezer. We needed something simple and fresh.
I set out to create a kind of French farmers stew (at least the version from my imagination) with a light broth and bright tasty vegetables. I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and lightly dredged each piece in flour.  One chopped onion and two chopped carrots cooked in hot olive on the stove and when they were softened and just a bit golden I added in the meat and allowed it to brown on all sides. With the meat browned I spilled in about 3/4 cup of white wine, deglazed the pan and let it cook down until reduced -- just about 5 minutes. Next I stirred in some flavor -- 1TB of tomato paste, about 2tsp chopped rosemary, 1 TB fresh thyme, and a pinch (maybe 2 tsp) of chopped fresh sage.  If I'd found some parsley in the fridge or the garden I'd have added in a couple TB too. A pile of potatoes peeled and cut in nice chunky cubes went in next followed by about 5 cups of chicken stock. The stew came to a boil and then simmered for about 40 minutes until the meat and potatoes are tender. Just before serving I added in plenty of fresh shelled peas and let the pot simmer for about 4 minutes more.
In the end we had a spring stew. Not too heavy. Not too thick. Just right with crusty bread for dinner.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fish For Dinner

I suppose it's cheating but around here a fish dinner goes down a bit easier with a little pig for flavor. Tasty but not pretty this is pan seared fresh halibut with a chorizo butter vinaigrette of sorts. Usually I prefer the Spanish style dried chorizo but in a pinch the fresh sausage more Mexican style can really make a dish sing. Simple. Two pans no waiting. In a large non stick skillet I sautéed the fillets until cooked through and golden on each side along with some precooked flattened baby potatoes for crisp golden skin. In a second skillet I fried the chorizo in a mix of olive oil and melted butter until cooked through and then splashed in a couple TB of sherry vinegar (off heat). The fish layered onto of the potato and the chorizo flavored it all raining down messily overtop. Not pretty but this plate was clean soon enough.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

Easter 2014. Roast ham with bourbon brown sugar glaze, scalloped potatoes, pea salad (blanched garden, snow, and snap peas with pea greens in shallot vinaigrette) and flaky homemade biscuits.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chicken For Dinner

"They must be popular because I've never heard of them," our neighbor and self confessed luddite quipped while her daughter and I rattled on trading recipes featuring and professing our affection for Panko bread crumbs.
"James love them too," I said. "In fact he is having them for dinner tonight." And with that our dinner menu was settled.
I butterflied and pounded (just a bit) boneless skinless chicken breasts until about plate sized. I dipped each breast in seasoned milk and then in a mixture of seasoned panko breadcrumbs and grated pecorino Romano cheese. Pressing to make sure the coating adhered I laid the chicken in a skillet with hot olive oil. After about 4 minutes on each side the chicken was tender and cooked through and the crust was flaky and golden brown.
Meanwhile, beet greens -- a gift from this same generous neighbor -- sautéed in a separate pan with olive oil, garlic, and crisped pancetta.
Schnitzel, Milanese, Paillard, chicken fried, Katsu -- nearly every cuisine has a similar dish because it's quick and just plain good.
Crispy, silky, crunchy all one one plate.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Veggies For Dinner

Ever since James and I ventured to Glen Ellen to have dinner with our friend Shari at The Star I've been thinking about their selection of delicious vegetable dishes.
The Star has a minute open kitchen barely bigger than group tables at some restaurants. The center piece of the room and the menu is a understatedly beautiful blue tiled wood fired oven. Seated at the "chef's counter" I watched the kitchen staff deftly maneuver an array of prepped ingredients (par cooked cauliflower, marinated fennel, tomato sauce, ricotta gnocchi) to finish on either the stove top or more likely in the oven. From pizzas to pasta to roasted fish and meat entrées everything was well prepared and tasty but it's the vegetables that are unforgettable. The first section of the menu offers a rotating selection of vegetable dishes served in little cast iron skillets piping hot from the oven. We had brussels sprouts with brown sugar bacon marmalade, blistered snow peas with feta cheese, crisp roasted artichokes, and my favorite, whole cauliflower with tahini, sumac and almonds. We should have made a meal of just veggies dishes alone.
I love the idea of an occasional vegetable dinner so I decided to bring some of the Star to our house with home roasted cauliflower. I carefully cored the beautiful head of yellow or cheddar cauliflower I found at the farmers market, rubbed it with olive oil, sprinkled the head with za'atar and popped it in a 450º for about an hour. Meanwhile I whipped up a sauce with 1/2 cup tahini paste, 1/2 cup water, 3 cloves garlic, juice of a lemon, and S&P quickly mixed up in the blender. When the cauliflower came out of the oven it was brown and crisp outside and silky soft inside. I poured the sauce overtop and sprinkled toasted sliced almonds as a finishing touch.
I generally don't like to make things more than once but this dish was so simple and so delicious it'll be in regular rotation as long as cauliflower is in season.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Turtles Are Back

The fall was dry. The water in the pond got low. Turtles were scarce and barely any birds came to land -- except for the hawks who were thirsty and hungry (far fewer of the migratory birds they often feed on came through with the drought conditions) and perched lower in the tree than I've seen before. The pond seemed barely alive. We feared the turtles were gone for good.
But with spring and a couple good rains comes any number of little miracles. The fields are green. The trees are brimming with little birds. The turtles are lounging lazily on their homemade float and venturing up onto our rocky "beach" for a bit of sun.