Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Year Without A Crab, Almost

"Just in. We have fresh crab from Washington."
The in-store announcement rang out like music to my crab deprived ears.
Every year James and I anxiously await the opening of Dungeness crab season, November 15th in our part of California. Crab for thanksgiving has become our own beloved family tradition.
But nature intervened.
On November 5th the Department of Fish and Wildlife shut down the California Crab season indefinitely when a potentially fatal neurotoxin was discovered in the Dungeness. For fisheries to reopen the crabs have to show safe levels of domoic acid for two straight weeks. No California crab for thanksgiving.
We looked North, hoping.
Oregon and Washington also announced they were delaying the start of their seasons. The algae bloom that causes the toxin, brought on by unusually warm waters, is affecting fisheries up and down the West coast.
Just two days ago there was a ray of hope. Though the coasts are still closed to commercial crabbing, Dungeness from the area around Gray's Harbor, Washington where the Quinault Indian Nation maintains a large crabbing operation, have consistently tested safe and the tribe opened their season (a decision reached in conjunction with Washington State) just in time for thanksgiving crab, in limited supplies (and at a premium price).
We had already resigned ourselves to a crabless thanksgiving but when I saw these beautiful beasts nestled in the ice I had to take a couple home. A pre-thanksgiving treat.
The tradition lives on.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A New Regular

This is a terrible photo.
I should be ashamed.
I am.
But, this was -- despite what the wise ones say about eating with your eyes first, completely delicious.
Crazy delicious.
And easy.
It's cheeseburger meatloaf.
I mixed together 2 lbs of ground beef, one finely chopped onion, 2 eggs, about 1/3 cup of bread crumbs (I had panko so that's what I used), 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 3 cloves minced garlic, S&P, and two dashes of worcestershire sauce. After the mixture was formed into a good sized loaf (enough for dinner and a couple days of sandwiches) I laid strips of bacon over the top, tucked each strip under the sides to hold them in place and baked the whole glorious mess for 55 minutes at 375º. The bacon was pretty well cooked but I gave the meatloaf about 3 minutes under the broiler for an extra crisp.
"This can be part of the regular rotation," James declared.
I didn't know we had a rotation.
I'm going to start one so I can make cheeseburger meatloaf again.
Crazy delicious.
And easy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Roast Chicken

Not much to say. The ultimate one pot (okay pan) dinner. Roast chicken, slathered in butter, thyme and lemon cooked to crisp perfection on a bed of potatoes, red onions, and carrots.
Forty five minutes at 425º. As the bird rested I tossed spears of romaine in the flavorful pan juices and served with plenty of Dijon mustard.
Dinner. Done. One pan to wash.
Weekend flavors on a regular weekday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken

I figure when I can't even find a bottle of soy sauce in the house I've really got to go shopping. But I do hate to admit defeat. I had a lonely little kabocha squash sitting on the counter and decided to roast that tossed in chili power, brown sugar, and butter. Done. But what to go with it?
The freezer turned up a package of chicken breasts. Since I started with Japanese pumpkin I was leaning towards something vaguely Asian and had all settled on soy sauce chicken only to find the jumbo bottle that seemed like it would never be used up was gone. Stuck.
When I first get home I am so happy to be there I really don't want to leave, even to go to the store. So, when I come in at night -- too late for grocery shopping -- it tends to get put off . .  too long.
But I digress -- I had to do something about dinner.
Pouring through recipes and online ideas I came across a dish from one of my favorite restaurants, San Francisco's Slanted Door. Black pepper chicken, at once sweet and savory, peppery and caramelized. And easy.
Following Charle Phan's recipe, in a small bowl I mixed together 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup fish sauce, 1/4 cup water, 3 TB rice wine vinegar, 1 tsp minced garlic, about 1 tsp minced fresh ginger (Phan of course calls for fresh ginger which I didn't have so sadly I substituted powdered), 1 tsp coarsely ground pepper, and two fresh chilis. I happened to have chilis in the house since our very generous neighbors had a bumper crop. The rest couldn't be easier.
I sautéed 1 thinly sliced shallot in about 1 TB of oil for about 4 minutes until soft. Then I added in the fish sauce mixture and the chicken cut into 1 inch pieces. The mixture simmered over high heat for about 10 minutes until the chicken was cooked through and I ladled it out -- with plenty of the appealingly sweet sauce, over steamed rice. Maybe not culinary artistry but another episode of food from nothing -- my favorite kitchen game.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Spaghetti Genius

Maybe I hedge my bets, but I like a surefire winner when I make it home to make dinner.
James loves spaghetti and if I have to be completely honest I rarely miss when I start off with his favorite brand.
But why settle for the home run when a grand slam is fully in reach? Combine two favorites, hamburgers and spaghetti. I decided to make a meaty ground beef ragú barely held together by slow cooked tomatoes and serve it with plenty of parmesan cheese.
True Italian? Italian American? Who cares! It's delicious.
I started with a chopped onion in olive oil over medium high heat and then tossed in 4 cloves chopped garlic and a couple chili peppers fresh from our neighbor's garden. After about 4 minutes I added in 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (and S&P) and let it brown all over until almost cooked through. Next step was pouring in a bit of red wine -- about 3/4 cup and letting it cook until just about evaporated. Then I poured in one 28oz can of puréed tomatoes, about 6 oz of tomato paste and about 1 cup of water and let everything simmer away on top of the stove at a slow bubble for about 2 hours.
Confidence was high as I mixed a portion of the sauce into the drained pasta along with a healthy dose of grated parmesan.
My new name around here? Spaghetti genius! And today I think I deserve it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Pie For Dinner

Not for dessert.
Pie for dinner.
Looking through the freezer, somehow a waiting lard pie crust, some chopped celery and carrots, and meat leftover from a hearty Neapolitan Ragú said meat pie. A savory, French Canadian, spice scented meat pie.
Traditionally a christmas dish I thought ground meat in a flaky crust doused in deep brown gravy would be a good dinner and a good dish to keep in the fridge for James while I made a quick trip out of town . . . again. Traditionally Tortière is made with a mix of ground meats or game or even fish in coastal communities. My pie combined cooked beef, pork and Italian sausage sautéed with onions, celery and carrots and baked in a pastry crusty with grated potatoes cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.
Because I was working with cooked meats I started by browning a couple slices of chopped bacon in a frying pan with 1 finely chopped onion and a clove of garlic. When the onion had softened I added in two  chopped carrots and several ribs of celery, 1 cup chicken stock, a bay leaf and the cooked meat finely chopped in the food processor. After bringing the liquid up to a boil the mixture simmered for about 7 minutes. I mixed in 2 medium grated potatoes, a heavy 1/4 tsp cinnamon, S&P, and dash each nutmeg and ground cloves and let the meat filling cool for about half an hour before layering into the waiting pastry filled pie plate. I topped the pie and popped it in a 375º over for 45 minutes until golden flaky brown.
The Christmas carols haven't started yet but I am already in the mood for holiday dishes and cozy nights at home with James.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

One More Dinner Before I Go

Chicken soup with thick egg noodles.
Impossible not to like.
Great for a fall. Great for the freezer. Great for James to heat up for dinner while I am gone.
I always start the same way, with a whole chicken and chicken parts, one onion (not peeled, sliced in half), 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, a whole head of garlic sliced through the middle, 2 bay leaves, about 10 peppercorns and a handful of fresh thyme (or parsley if that's all I have) all covered in water. Sometimes if I am feeling adventurous or cleaning the fridge I might add in a turnip or asparagus stalks other trims but carrots, celery, onion and garlic are the basic go to list. I bring everything up to a boil and then simmer for about 90 minutes. That's great chicken stock with plenty of flavor.
I strain the stock and let the cooked chicken cool and start on the soup. Later I'll shred the chicken to add to the pot.
Today I decided on an old fashioned slightly thickened Southern style soup. I started with around 3 TB of butter and added in chopped celery, peeled and sliced carrots (about 2 cups each), and 1 chopped onion and let the vegetables cook until just soft. Then I tossed in two cloves of chopped garlic. After 30 seconds or so I added about 4 TB of flour and let it cook in the butter and coat the vegetables for about 2 minutes so it was just golden colored and the vegetables were coated. Then in goes the strained stock, a dash of hot sauce, a splash of worchestershire sauce, a bay leaf and S&P and everything comes up to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Sometimes I'll add chopped potatoes and let them simmer along with the stock.
If I am ready to serve James his soup I'll keep going and add in the chicken I deboned and shredded, plenty of chopped parsley and a package of egg noodles. I always add too many noodles and the soup become more of a stew but James never complains. After another 10 minutes I add in frozen peas (when I have them) or corn kernels because James loves them and a handful of chopped fresh dill. Though I am not usually a big dill fan it does something wonderful to perk up the flavor of chicken soup. 5-8 minutes later our soup is ready to ladle into bowls. Sometimes just before serving I'll squeeze in half a lemon for an extra note of brightness.
Homey supper for an early fall night.