Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sycamore Kitchen

Grain bowls are all the rage these days. Once relegated behind the dimly lit doors of  health food stores and vegetarian restaurants, today's trendiest spots (and more mainstream Chipotle) feature rice or quinoa combos even a meat eater can like.
Today I ventured into LA's Sycamore Kitchen, a casual spot run by the Michelin starred couple who brought the tasting menu specialist spot Hatfield's to Los Angeles diners.
I ordered at the counter and settled in for their Jerusalem bowl, a bed of wheat berries, barley and lentils accented with za'atar spiced chicken and roasted green chilis topped with 2 fried eggs. With one bite I thought. . . "Why don't I cook like this at home?"
A simple collage of flavors that could be a really good day at the Whole Foods salad bar, grain bowls -- like Japan's donburi or Korea's BiBimBap -- are a perfect vehicle for leftovers and the components can be prepared in advance. Brought together with a spirited sauce (pesto, tahini, vinaigrette) your collection of grains can be a special dinner or lunch ready in a flash. Avoiding the sprawling bakery counter at Sycamore Kitchen isn't easy but digging into a heathy breakfast on the their pleasant patio is.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Steak and Potatoes

We had so many guests and big meals over the holidays in the aftermath we were surviving on leftovers and fruit for days. With James packing for a trip I couldn't let him face one more plate of re-heated green rice and salad. I had to make a dinner he would remember (and want to come back home to).
I couldn't just let the leftovers go but I could disguise them. Starring into the white void of a bowl of mashed potatoes I added in 2 egg yolks, 2 TB of flour, S&P, and 1/2 cup of grated parmesan. After thoroughly mixing I rolled the newly formed mixture into walnut sized balls which I left to chill in the fridge.
Meanwhile I marinated sirloin tips cut into manageably-sized triangles. Kind of a leftover too, the sirloin was the last package of meat from our recently expired CSA membership. I mixed one of my favorite flavors harissa (1/2TB) with 4 chopped cloves garlic, 1 TB brown sugar, 2 TB soy sauce, and 4 TB olive oil and left the meat to marinate (refrigerated) until dinnertime. Easy. Dinner waiting in the fridge just waiting for a salad.
Just before I was ready to serve I heated 1/2 inch of canola oil in a sauce pan and breaded the potato balls first in a beaten egg and then in seasoned bread crumbs. The potato croquettes fried for about 2 minutes on a side until golden brown while the meat sizzled in an olive oil coated pan for 3 minutes on a side.
A flavor twist on an American classic combo.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Double 8 Dairy

The holy grail of gelato.
I've known about Double 8 Dairy for a while now and even came close to finding time to sign up for a tour to meet the buffalo but I haven't been able to try it. Until now.
I searched out the gelato cart in Pt Reyes. Nothing. I got no response when I tried calling the dairy to find out where their product is sold (other than restaurant accounts like French Laundry, Osteria Stellina, and A16). Then when I least expected it, while lunching at Marin Sun Farms (a favorite burger place near the dairy's farm in Valley Ford) I spied the orange and red package. I quickly grabbed two flavors and paid before I even checked the price.
The gelato has the same clean, clear taste as buffalo mozzarella. There is no fatty aftertaste as you can get with American style ice cream filled with cream and eggs. Buffalo milk has a much higher fat content than cow's milk so no additional cream is required. The simple 3 ingredient recipe (and artisanal process) pays off in the fresh flavor.
Andrew Zlot of Double 8 Dairy is not the first American to try water buffalo farming. But most operations have failed. Buffalo (especially the buffalo in North America that haven't benefited from the superior genetics of centuries of milking expertise) are known for low milk production. Low production combined with cheese making which reduces the milk's weight before it's ready for market make for a difficult bottom line. Double 8's genius is that they started with gelato. Instead of a pound of cheese for every four pounds of milk they get 2 pounds of gelato for every pound of buffalo milk. Still not an easy path, but developing a premium delicious niche product with little waste might just be the start a new dairy needs. And it may -- I hope -- keep them alive until they start cheesemaking (and building up the herd) down the road.
For now I'll keep searching out their cheery packages (though honestly if I didn't know the name of the dairy I'd have missed that it was buffalo milk from the package design) and bringing home this special treat for James.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Meyer Lemons

Delicious nearly sweet Meyer lemons.
Native to China a sample of the tree was first brought to the US in 1908 by -- you guessed it, Frank Meyer, a USDA employee. Largely thought of as ornamental as in their native land, Meyers flourished in the states until the trees (mostly reproduced by cloning) were found to carry a virus dangerous to other citrus. In the 1940's most of the Meyer lemon trees in the US were destroyed. It took until 1975 for a new disease free "improved" Meyer lemon tree to be released. Still seen mostly for their beauty Meyers didn't become a popular culinary ingredient here until the 1990's when chef's like Alice Waters promoted the fragrant delicacy.
Thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange (or a mandarin), their thin skins make shipping difficult so Meyers are rarely commercially grown (though I am seeing them more and more in stores like Whole Foods). If you're lucky enough to have a tree or a farmers market nearby try substituting this winter fruit for regular lemons in sauces, vinaigrettes, and cakes. Make a jar of preserved lemons. You won't be disappointed.
Or better yet -- plant your own. I harvested this healthy crop from a potted tree that lives year round on our sunny south facing porch. A winter treat with more to come.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

I'm not superstitious in the least or much for most tradition. But, I do love a food theme I can, so to speak -- sink my teeth into. Though I did not don the traditional red underwear of Italian New Year's eve, I did gather up a meal of lentils and sausages. The round lentils representing coins are said to bring abundance and good fortune in the coming year.
Usually the sausage would be cotechino (I've done that some years), something like an uncured salami that is generally boiled for several hours before serving. Our hurry up version of the Italian classic was just hot Italian sausage which I browned in olive oil (with onions and garlic) and then -- with a cover on the pan -- cooked through with a splash of red wine and water (the sausage steamed through for about 15 minutes -- I tossed in pre-cooked lentils for the last 5 minutes).
For a little bit of American style I served the sausage in a stack with a smattering of bright green kale -- a harbinger of the dollars to come our way in 2015.
Farewell 2014!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Live Crabs

A beautiful drive with visiting friends to Bodega bay to find live Dungeness crabs. Though I usually buy mine already cooked and ready to roast at home, Sha, my friend and fantastic Asian cook, insists on live for her delicious Singapore style chili crabs.

 We picked half a dozen fairly active beasts from the big purple tub set on the side of the road and brought our bounty home for dinner.
It's so nice to have cooking friends visit. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Beef Tacos

Living here among the cattle ranchers every now and then we are lucky enough to be gifted a choice cut in exchange for a friendly favor or honestly for no reason at all. That's how I came to have a couple pounds of beef cheeks in the freezer. Usually I would go right to a long cooking stew or braise but I felt like something a little different.
Trolling around the internet I came across famous fusion taco chef Roy Choi's recipe for beef cheek tacos and thought I give it a try. Choi marinates the cleaned beef overnight in a brine of 2 TB Kosher salt, juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange and 1 lime, 1/2 cup sugar. 3 peeled and smashed cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 whole dried guajillo chiles, 1/2 cup whole chiles de arbol, 1 cup rough chopped cilantro and 2 quarts of water all brought to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar and left to cool before adding the beef. I didn't have the chiles Choi specified so I used what dried chiles I had along with a fresh jalapeño cut in half. I left the meat in the brine uncovered overnight in the fridge and in the morning brought the whole mixture up to a boil and then allowed the pot to simmer for about an hour.
 I removed the meat from the brine (discard the brine) and let it cool before storing it in the fridge to wait for dinner.
Choi makes a piquant salsa verde to chop his tacos but it's hardly time time of year to easily find tomatillos and honestly James isn't that big on salsa so I improvised with a creamy guacamole and a crisp Latin style curtido, a quick pickled marinated salad of cabbage, carrots, jalapeños, and onions.
For my version I thinly sliced 1/2 cabbage, 2 carrots, 1/2 a white onion and minced a jalapeño. I tossed the vegetable together and poured over a hot brine of 3 TB cider vinegar, 2 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp kosher salt (brought to a boil and poured over the cut vegetables). After an hour covered in the fridge the crunchy salad was the perfect topper for crisply fried meat on gently warm corn tortillas.
Not exactly Christmassy but a fine winter treat none the less.