Friday, February 29, 2008

Another day, another dollar – Another day, another dinner!

Note: I've had the flu this this should have been up on Monday, oh wells!

We're heading into the next week with busy schedules and an appetite for more. Schaefer is working late on Tuesday at an offsite event, so I'll be using my spare time to make up a batch of Green Chile Stew. And Schaefer's going to take advantage of my tax season status to whip up some stew of his own for when I get home.

Weekly Menu

Monday: Potato Pancakes with Apple Bacon Sauerkraut and Red Cabbage –Served with Three Horses Dutch Beer
Tuesday: Green Chile Stew (involving the application of Ms. Manion's Horseman Haven's Level 2 Death Sauce!) – Served with Full Sail LTD Lager
Wednesday: Chorizo with Clams -Served with Bonny Doon's Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
Thursday: Blue Cheese "Mac & Cheese" with an arugula salad - Served with a Pinot Noir
Friday: Spinich and Ricotta Deep Dish Pizza

Eric reminded me that I need more pictures so….heres a picture of the steamed fish we did last week:

Season's Eatings

You've heard it time and time again, eating seasonally is actually eating smart. Whether you're shopping at Safeway, Trader Joe's or your local Farmer's Market, knowing the seasonality of the produce will save you time and save you from craptastic veggies. Seriously, the best part about trying to eat seasonally has nothing to do with sustainability (which is great) or about consumer choice (which is also great), instead it is really about keeping the costs low and the flavor high. For instance, a tomato in December is going to cost you a lot and taste like crap, however a tomato in early April is going to be reasonable and flavorful, but a tomato in July is going to be amazingly cheap –and- amazingly good! When you think about it this way, it really doesn't make much sense to ignore the seasonal produce. This is especially true if what is in season is something you've never eaten before. Trying to follow the seasonal patterns will introduce you to a whole range of fruits and veggies you've never known were out there. So onward we trek brave revolutionaries…get out there and get eating!

I'm going to try to briefly note anything of seasonal interest when I notice it around here, however the best thing for you to do is to contact your local farmer's association and try to locate your local seasonality calendar. A great place to start looking is:

Here in San Francisco, as we dive into early March, the first of the spring fruits and veggies are starting to make their appearances at the farmer's market and it is once again time to say goodbye to our winter favorites. For instance, if you're a big fan of pears, their season is very near it's end, so it is (a little past) time to stock up and make some preserved pears or pear sauce. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are just getting started. We're already seeing some "Heirlooms" showing up at Trader Joe's, so the local produce can't be far behind.

- Tiffany

Recuerde, para el hombre no hay mal pan...

Continue reading "Another day, another dollar – Another day, another dinner!."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Guerrila Gourmet, A Manifesto (Part Two)

Warning: This post rambles on a bit. so I've posted several pictures of Fergus, our impossibly-cute adopted Russell terrier-mix, and hope you keep reading.

As I said in my earlier post, Tiffany and I muddled along nicely for about a year eating decent food that didn't require much effort. It was a pretty good time, and easy. Spend fifteen minutes at Trader Joe's and you can put together a decent little weekly menu! Consider:

Monday: Breaded halibut served with roast-pepper potatoes, and arugula salad.
Tuesday: Lemon-pepper papardelle, calimari alla marinara, and arugula salad (a bag is good for two meals).
Wednesday: Chicken tacos with mexican rice and carribean-style black beans.
Thursday: Cilantro-habanero chicken sausages, with chipotle-ranch fries, and refried beans.
Friday: Turkey burgers with chipotle-ranch fries and cole slaw.
Saturday: Pot roast with green beans and wild-rice pilaf.
Sunday: My parents' house (they live pretty close).

Nothing on this weekly menu took more than an hour to make or cost more than $10 or $15. The secret? The vast majority of what we ate came in a box, bag, can or jar, and needed just a bit of time in the oven. The pot roast just needed three minutes in the microwave! Now, I'm not a health freak or a snob, but, as I said in my earlier post, I became restless. My belly was full but it was not satisfied. I worried about preservatives. I felt guilty, like I was giving up. Being a recent liberal arts graduate, I did the obvious thing and turned to books. I ransacked the cooking sections at the bookstore where I worked, desperate for a solution to my plight.
There is no shortage of cookbooks on the shelves of America's bookstores. This country is perhaps more interested in food than it has ever been before, and the shelves of the cooking section, groaning under explosively colorful, lavishly produced volumes of near-pornographic proportions, could be easily be mistaken for the art and photography section. I felt confident that I could find an answer to my plight. In my admittedly haphazard research, cookbooks and cooking literature seemed to fall into two camps.

The first camp says "cooking is harder than it looks". You've all seen these books, crammed with full-page, four-color pictures of obscure dead animals draped asymmetrically over vegetables you've never seen at Safeway and drizzled with neon gastrique. The chef (usually in impeccable white jacket) may be casually sipping a glass of wine or lounging around with a basket of carrots, but the message is clear. Unless you live around the corner from Dean & Delucca, have an eight-burner, 5,000 BTU Viking range in your apartment, and keep your Berlitz French-English dictionary handy, you should think of food as a spectator sport. Next time you have guests over, just pass your favorite cookbook around the table and let everybody get a good, long, drooly look at that green curry sea bass risotto. Then order a pizza or something.

But do not despair; if the expectations of gourmet food are too high, simply lower them! This church of "cooking is easier than it looks" is here to save you, and Rachel Ray is its prophet! These books still have lots of close-up photos of arty presentations, but with turkey burgers and bacon. They patiently explain in clear, slow, plain English 100 things you can do with a boneless, skinless chicken breasts and corn flakes in the 15 minutes you have between Jack's soccer practice and Jill's ballet lessons. The cover invariably displays an amply-bosomed "regular mom" surrounded by prominently-branded pots, pans, and boxed chicken stock. The message here is equally clear. Grab whatever is under plastic wrap at Safeway, push it around a pan with some EVOO, give it a cute name, and you can have your kids fed and packed off to bed in time for you to curl up on the couch with a bottle of chardonnay and Desperate Housewives. This school of cooking frankly doesn't offer much more than the the frozen stuff I was eating before.

Again, I had reached a dead end. Tomorrow, the great breakthrough...
Continue reading "The Guerrila Gourmet, A Manifesto (Part Two)."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Recipe: Romance (via Rib of Beef)

Recipe: A Romantic Dinner for Two

A Highly-Belated Valentine's Day Post

Tiffany has far outpaced me with her posting lately, but today I hope to make up for it. So, here we go.

I made this for my lovely co-blogger (and so much more) on February 14th. She loved it. But Valentine's day was more than a week ago, so this post about a "Valentine's day dinner for two" is really more of a "romantic weeknight dinner for two that you can do any time you want because Valentine's day is kind of a madeup Hallmark holiday anyway". So here's a recipe to knock YOUR lover's pretty silk stockings right off!

The Audience:

The Menu:
Roast rib of beef au jus, with Tuscan kale and mixed mash. The idea here is simple elegance, hold the William-Sonoma bullshit. I think a beautiful piece of meat served with elegant comfort-food sides is the way to go and the rib is the perfect size for a modestly carnivorous couple. Also, a good cook can turn a rib of beef into a heady amuse-bouche for other pleasures of the flesh... That recipe follows. Instructions for the kale and mixed mash can be found here and here. And to give credit where it's due, the trick with the mortar and pestle is from Jamie Oliver's new book and much of the spirit is from Anthony Bourdain's slightly-older volume.

Main stuff:

One rib of beef. (Also called a "Cote de Boeuf" in France and sometimes "Cowboy Steak" in America.) This two-pound monster is going to be the star of your little seduction, so treat it right. Find solid butcher that sells serious organic beef. This is a person you love, so stay away from the shrink wrap. I'll get seriously into meat in a separate, and probably very long post later, but this time just trust me. If you happen to be in San Francisco (I suspect that most of my readers right now are people I know personally, so you probably are) this place , or this place should do. Oh, and be prepared for sticker shock. At $15 (or more) per pound, these things are more "gourmet" than "guerilla", but this is someone you love, so eat lentils for a week or something. (We'll make up for the splurge by treating it simply and by saving on the rest of the menu.)

A knock-out bottle of red wine. Much like the beef, this is going to be a star, so don't hold back. I would take Anthony Bourdain's advice here and serve something staggeringly expensive in cheap glasses, followed up with a chaser of casual impertinence.


One horseradish root. If you can't find one (I must sheepishly admit that I couldn't) the nosebleed-strength Kosher Beaver stuff will do.
Zest of one lemon.
A couple of sprigs of thyme.
A clove or two of garlic, minced.
Salt and pepper
Olive oil.


Pull your beef out of the fridge a good half hour before it's going to hit the pan; that bad boy is chilled deep. And stay away from the meat mallet, you cretin; this is one night you shouldn't need to beat your meat. Also, pat it nice and dry and season liberally with salt and pepper, too, or you won't get the nice carmelized crust you're looking for. Bash up your lemon zest, garlic, olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme in a mortar with a pestle and rub down both sides of the steak, using the sprigs of thyme like a little mop. Like I said, let it sit for a half hour, while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the time is right, heat up your very best oven-proof non-stick pan (you do have one, right?) to medium-high and lay the beef in. There should be enough oil on the meat, so don't add any to the pan. Now leave it there for a full five minutes. Seriously, do not poke, push, prod, wiggle or jiggle anything or you'll ruin that infamous crust. In fact, put down your tongs (did I mention that you should be handling this with tongs rather than a fork), step away from the stove, open the wine to breathe and whisper a few sweet nothings in your lover's ear. After five minutes, then you can lift and peek. When the bottom of the steak AND the bottom of the pan are deep brown, flip the steak and leave it at least another five minutes. Put down your tongs and get some grated horseradish and cornichons in pretty little bowls. When both sides are browned, flip it back to the original side and pop in the center of the oven until done. I did mine 15 minutes for a nice medium-rare. The meat inside should be the deep pink of a blushing maiden (if it the garish red of cheap lipstick, give it another five minutes.)

Remove your star from the pan and allow to rest for ten minutes. Again, no poking, no prodding. Take this time to set the table (a single rose and a few candles make a lovely centerpiece). Put a little music on. Not Al Green, please. SO cliché. Madeleine Peyroux is much more elegant. After ten minutes (and only after ten minutes!) sharpen up up your biggest, baddest blade, and carve the rib into nice thick slices. Remove the flowers and candles from the table, and place the cutting board directly in the center. Accompany with the grated horseradish, cornichons, as well as the juices from the roasting pan AND cutting board.

And that's as far as I can take you! Continue reading "Recipe: Romance (via Rib of Beef)."

Recipe: Wilted Kale

Wilted Kale:

This method works with most greens you can find, so get whatever looks best when you're shopping.

Two bunches of Tuscan Kale. (This method works for any bunch of leafy greens. Chard will need less time to wilt, collard greens may take a bit more.)
Five or six clove garlic, crushed and roughly-chopped. (any less and greens taste like rabbit pellets to me.)
A few peeled and thinly sliced shallots.
A double handful of garlicky croutons.
A shot glass of balsamic vinegar.
Olive oil.

Remove the rooty bits, then give your leaves a rinse and pull them from their stems. Don't pat them dry, as you'll want the extra liquid. Peel and slice your shallots thin as you can without losing a finger, and get some olive oil smoking in a nice, big sauteé pan. Toss in the shallots and stir them five minutes or so to soften. Add a few cloves of smashed garlic and stir till you can smell it, then add the kale. Pour in the vinegar all over it, then slam the lid on the pot. Let it hiss ans simmer merrily until the greens are wilted to your desire. (I give kale about 8 minutes.) Pull the greens out with a slotted spoon (I don't like them too wet) and get them into a serving bowl. Just before serving, toss up with some croutons. I like croutons in braised greens, it adds a bit of garlic crunch to the muddle. Continue reading "Recipe: Wilted Kale."

Recipe: Mixed Mash

Mixed Mash

Try this in the winter, or any time you get bored with potatoes! I like low-key, carroty-sweet parsnips with earthy turnips, but you can mix and mash with just about anything!

Three turnips. Get them with their greens on, if you can, and cook them up like this.
Three parsnips.
Half a cup each of milk and butter.
Salt and Pepper.

Method: Cut your root vegetables in half (don't bother peeling them). Cover them with water, and boil till pierced easily with a knife. It takes about 15 minutes in my kitchen. Dump them into a colander and let them cool a bit. In the meantime, put the milk and butter into a separate small saucepan and bring it just to a simmer. Return to you roots, and pull the skins off. I know it hurts, but get to it, soldier! Dump the roots back in their pot and mash away, adding the milk and butter until it looks the way you like it, then serve. (The lumpy versus smooth debate is not something I'm going to get involved with.) Once you figure out how much liquid it takes to make you ieal mash, you can dispense with the extra saucepan and heat the butter and milk in the same pot you do up you mash in. Continue reading "Recipe: Mixed Mash."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Shove it in your face! What’s going on down at the ranch this week…

Getting off to a banner start, we’re actually phoning it in a tiny bit this week, partially due to Schaefer having to work late a couple of days. Weekly menu’s going to look something like this:

Monday: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and box o’ Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup a’la Trader Joes.
Tuesday: Chicken noodle soup with roasted green chiles, kohlrabi, carrots, parsnips and whatever looks good at the Canyon Market that night.
Wednesday: Pineapple Fried Rice –actually involving the disassembly of a real pineapple.
Thursday: Blue Cheese “Mac & Cheese” with an arugula salad.
Friday: Schaefer’s thinking steamed whole fish of some variety, we’ll see what happens.

Of note from last week, for Valentine’s Day, Schaefer made an amazing Cote de Boeuf served alongside parsnips and turnip mash, fresh bread and sautéed kale. I’ll be positing pictures to the feed sometime today or tomorrow. We also did a “Farmer’s Market Frittata” this weekend which we hope to make into a weekly shifting recipe, showcasing whatever looks fresh and yummy at the market on Saturday morning. I’ve got some pictures of the one from this weekend, and some from past weekends which will go up soon.

I recently discovered Afghan food at the farmer’s market, and look forward to trying more and writing some about it. Also, I’ll be writing up a bit of info about kohlrabi this week- it’s an unusual love child of turnips and cabbage…ahhh messed up veggie lovin’ is the best kinda lovin’.

Hope everyone had a good Valentine’s Day/President’s Day long weekend.

- Tiffany

Recuerde, para el hombre no hay mal pan...

Continue reading "Shove it in your face! What’s going on down at the ranch this week…."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Leek: Yummy vegetable or evil mutant cousin to the onion?

The leek does not in fact leak, nor does it grow in leaks or require the presence of leaks. In fact there is no similarity between it and it's similar sounding verbiage…nope none at all. So, you can officially stop sautéing rusty pipes now. Actually, a leek is a root fruit bridging the gap between onions and garlic. Consider how many times you have thought to yourself, now I don't want to use garlic – too strong and I don't want to use onions – too weak, what to do? Well, curiously enough, leeks have been there just waiting, begging, for you to invite them to dance.

They've been around since the Romans, and they are an absolute hit in European countries, but here in America, we seem to give them some distance. Why? Is it because they look like freakishly large mutated green onions? Or, maybe it is simply because we get nervous around new veggies that we haven't already tried fried? Either way, leeks are primed to make a big comeback in the next few months. We've had a great season in California for them, which will result in trendy markets being filled with them and equally trendy restaurants charging an arm and a leg for a teaspoon of leek sautéed in lamb's milk. So before we get to that point, lets take the leek on as our own root fruit and enjoy it before they remember it's out there.

Test Drive
So you're ready to give leeks a go? Here's a great recipe that brings out the full flavor of the leeks.

Roasted Chicken Breast with Pancetta, Leeks and Thyme
adapted from the amazing Chef Jamie Oliver’s recipe:
One skinless chicken breast or leg,
One large leek,
Four slices of pancetta or bacon.
You will also need white wine and olive oil, as well as salt, pepper, and garlic to your taste.
Come to think of it, grab several sprigs of thyme while you're at it.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the leeks as thinly as you can, and crush each clove of garlic.
Put the vegetables in a bowl with a healthy splash of olive oil and wine, and season with pepper. (You can add a bit of salt too, but remember that the pancetta is very salty).
Stir everything round a bit, then lay in an appropriately sized roasting pan or just make your own custom pan from heavy aluminum foil.
Tuck the chicken into the bed of leeks for a nap, and cover the pan with a comfy blanket of bacon. Make sure that nothing is peaking out.
Let the whole thing roast happily for half an hour, then dish out with something earthy. Perhaps a few turnips, sautéed up with their greens? Or perhaps you’ve got some roast potatoes and parsnips?

Either way, this recipe is low prep, delicious, and delightfully elastic. The leeks steam their peppery flavor into the chicken, and the thyme rounds things out. The pancetta keeps the leeks and chicken from burning, and drips its lovely fat down to keep everything moist while it crisps on top. The ingredients listed here are for a single serving, just double it up for additional people.

Picking and Choosing
You should look for leeks that are firm and straight. Ideally, you want to see dark green leaves and bright white bulbs. Yay for mutant green onions! As is the case with root fruit, always go for smaller bulbs (1-1.5 inches) and try to make sure they're all roughly similar in size.

Nutritive Breakdown
A cup of boiled leeks yields roughly 32 calories, 1.14 mg of iron and 4.36 mg of vitamin C. Luckily for the carb conscious among us, that cup only yields roughly 8 grams of carbohydrates with about one gram coming from sugar. Despite this, you're only looking at about one gramof protein as well, so you're going to want to make sure to pair this with meat or beans.

Leeks are Allium veggies, which are said to lower LDL cholesterol (Nasty Fat Bartender Stuff) and promote HDL cholesterol (Think the trace amounts of fat Lance Armstrong may have). Due to their close relation to garlic (health nut's favorite root fruit), leeks have the reputation of curing everything from Ovarian Cancer to headaches and insomnia. We'll leave it to you as to if you are buying that. And, if you're sautéing them in butter, broiling them or generally covering them in yummy fat stuffs, then the nutritive properties remain the same, but you level up on some steadying calories.

So there you have it, leeks are an amazing veggie, versatile and widely available in the winter. Plus, they are cheap, so you really have no excuse not to give them a go.

Recuerde, para el hombre no hay mal pan...
Continue reading "Leek: Yummy vegetable or evil mutant cousin to the onion?."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Guerrila Gourmet, A Manifesto

Part One

I grew up with good food, and lots of it. Both my parents loved to cook, and every night of the week was a succulent feast. My dad favored the Frenchish cooking of Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey. My mother preferred more california/mediterranean fare plucked from her library of Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines. A typical week’s menu might look like this:

Monday: Tortellini Carbonara
Tuesday: Teriyaki roast chicken with crispy potatoes and snap peas.
Wednesday: Veal Piccata with pasta and arugula salad
Thurdsday: Broiled Halibut with pesto. Orzo with cherry tomatoes and zucchini.
Friday: Steak Diane, (usually filet mignon) with mashed potatoes and spinach.
Saturday: Tequila marinated shrimp, with Mexican rice and calabacitas.
Sunday: Bratwurst with garlic potatoes and sauteed cabbage.

I may be seeing the past through rose-colored glasses, but there was meat every night, and nothing (not even meatloaf!) was boring. Sounds good, right? I loved it! So when I graduated college and left the school cafeteria’s steam-tray chicken-fried steak behind me for good, I was ready to cook for myself. Pretty soon, I got a job in the big city (at Starbucks) and a great (studio) apartment. The menu that first week on my own probably looked something like this:

Monday: Mushy tortellini in bacon grease with still-frozen peas. (Was I supposed to pour the fat out?)
Tuesday: Singed chicken in soy-sauce puddle with burned potatoes and chartreuse mush. (I guess I'm still working out a few kinks...)
Wednesday: Ramen and hard boiled eggs. (Wow, I already blew most of my grocery budget.)
Thursday: Ramen and hard-boiled eggs. (My mouth is all dry; how much salt is in that season packet?)
Friday: Ramen and hard-boiled eggs. (Isn't there a can of chipped beef in the back of the cupboard?!)
Saturday: (I know I shouldn't blow my money on a pizza, but...)
Sunday: (My god I’m hungry. I wonder what Mom is cooking tonight...)

I learned two lessons that week. One, I couldn’t really cook. Two, I couldn’t afford to eat like I had at home. So I did my best with Trader Joe’s frozen dinners, and variations on the ground beef and onion theme. My belly was full, but I was not happy. Soon I began to sense that I could do better, that gourmet eating was within my grasp, but that it would take nothing less than a revolutionary approach... Continue reading "The Guerrila Gourmet, A Manifesto."