Monthly Archives: July 2008

Herbed goat cheese and heirloom tomato salad

Remember those heirloom tomatoes I wrote about a few days ago? They completely lived up to their heirloom expectations- they were flavorful, fresh, and juicy. I used them on some homemade pizzas, in several batches of salsa, and in a delicious herbed goat cheese and tomato salad. I got the idea for the salad from my friend Jennifer who described a similar dish she ate at Chez Papa in San Francisco. I haven’t tried it myself, so I don’t know if my creation is similar to the dish from the restaurant, but it was extremely simple to make, and delicious. Even Trevor, who’s not the biggest tomato fan, was savoring each bite.

Here’s what you need:
2 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes
1/2 c. soft goat cheese
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh herbs, finely chopped (I used chives and basil)
a pinch of sea salt
Using a sharp knife, cut a thin slice from the bottom of each tomato, so that the finished product will have a flat surface to sit on. Carefully slice the tomatoes so that they can be stacked back up into tomato form. In a small bowl, mix the goat cheese, herbs and olive oil until the mixture is smooth. Spoon a thin layer of goat cheese mixture between each slice of tomato as you stack them back up. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy.

Lychee and Grand Marnier Granita

I’ve never given much thought to what I would do with a pound of lychees. I don’t buy them very often, and the few times I have I just peeled them and ate them fresh. I’m also fairly certain that they don’t grow locally, so I wouldn’t tend to buy them unless I have a serious lychee craving (something I have yet to experience). But when my friend Henry brought over a pound bag of lychees the other day, I decided to take it as a challenge. They sat in my fridge for a few days, staring at me. I wanted to make something refreshing and interesting with them.

I finally settled on a lychee granita. I’d never made a granita before, but knew that it’s basically a way to make a sorbet without the ice cream maker. You put some sort of fruit puree or juice in a bowl in the freezer. Periodically, you take it out and break up the ice with a fork and then put it back. You keep doing this until it makes a nice, frozen slush. Seems simple enough.

I peeled and pitted my lychees- not really worrying about how they looked, since I knew they would end up in puree form. Then I saw some grapes that were sitting on the counter, waiting to be eaten. I decided that these might be a nice complement to the lychee flavor. I thought that the mixture would need some acidic component, since lychees and grapes are both very sweet. The lime I had leftover from last night’s margaritas would work perfectly! And to top it all off and to fancy the dessert up a bit, I added a shot or so of grand marnier. All these ingredients went into my food processor (a blender would also do the trick) and pureed until it made a smooth juice-like mixture. I put it all in the freezer and mixed it around with a fork every 30 minutes or so. The result was quite refreshing and tasty. The skin from the grapes didn’t blend down as much as I would have liked, so I may leave those out next time in favor of some shredded apples instead. Overall though, I think it was a success!

Here is an approximate breakdown of the ingredients:
3-4 cups peeled and pitted lychees (canned would work too)
1 cup grapes (or try 1 peeled and shredded apple…and let me know how it turns out!)
juice of 1 lime
1 shot of Grand Marnier (Triple Sec or Cointreau would work too)

Gems of the farmer’s market

I always look forward to Fridays. Not necessarily because the next day is Saturday (although that does help), but mostly because of the San Pedro Square farmer’s market in downtown San Jose. It’s beautiful, cheaper than other farmer’s markets I frequent and it’s walking distance from my apartment! What more could I ask for?

Farmer’s markets are my weakness. My husband will confirm that farmer’s markets are to me like candy stores to a small child. Or like REI to him. It’s kind of an addiction, really. I can relate to another food blogger who admits to being a “food shopaholic.” At least I’m admitting the problem, right? And because I hate the idea of wasted food, it always gets eaten. So there’s actually no problem. Okay, maybe I reneged on my admission.

Today I stopped by one of my favorite sellers at San Pedro Square and he had a table full of huge, beautiful heirloom tomatoes. For $2.50 per pound! I couldn’t resist and bought 5 of them. Now I’m sitting hear day dreaming about what I’ll do with my loot. Maybe I’ll just put them on my bedside table and look at them when I fall asleep at night, like Zuzu and her flower from It’s a Wonderful Life. Or maybe I’ll make a beautiful tomato, herb and mozzarella salad with them. Decisions, decisions…

Lazy locavores?

The New York Times is going local again. An article from described how a San Francisco man started a business where he comes to your house and creates an organic vegetable garden for you, right in your backyard. He also weeds, harvests the produce, and then leaves the vegetables for you on your back porch. Wow. I have to give the guy props for a brilliant business idea. I imagine that he can charge a pretty penny for his gardening services, and he gets to do something he loves (hopefully) without having to own any farm land himself. In addition, he avoids having to market and sell his produce during the tiny window between ripeness and rot. Bravo!

However, it did strike me as odd that people would actually pay someone to do this. If your motivation is fresh, local produce, why not just go to the farmer’s market or join a CSA? And if you really are passionate about seeing your vegetables grow from seedlings, it seems to me that you would also want to have a hand in growing them. That’s part of the fun! What this indicates to me is that there’s another motivating factor at play here- trendiness. Apparently, local food is becoming trendy, like pomegranates or flax seeds, and frankly I’m a bit conflicted about it. On the one hand, I am glad because it means that more people will be buying local food, which means more money will go to the farmers. But on the other hand, I’m afraid that “trendiness” will become “elitist” and that mainstream Americans will come to believe that local produce is somehow unattainable. This would definitely be a step in the wrong direction. Delicious, healthy, seasonal food as a trend is almost comical. There seems to be some sort of role reversal here. Fresh tomatoes in December. Now that’s elitist. I hope the trend stops before it’s too late for local food to become the norm.

Halibut and Gratin Dauphinois

Tonight’s dinner renewed my love of good food. Not that it ever went very far, but with my summer school classes keeping me busy, I haven’t had all that much time to make “gourmet” meals lately. Plus, I’ve been spending a good chunk of my “allotted cooking time” trying to perfect my bread recipe and making jam, so there hasn’t been much time left for fabulous dinners. Well, the streak ended tonight, and surprisingly enough, I have Costco to thank for it. That’s right, Costco. I was there yesterday to pick up a few random household items, when I stopped to check out their fish selection. I always check the seafood to see if they have anything that fits the “best choices” on my Seafood Watch list that I carry around in my wallet. This is basically a list of good, okay and poor choices if you want to make sure that you’re buying seafood from sustainable sources. For example, Salmon (wild-caught from AK) is under “best choices,” Salmon (wild-caught from CA, OR, WA) is under “good alternatives,” and Salmon (farmed, including Atlantic) is under “avoid.” The fish under the “avoid” category are there because they are “overfished and/or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.” Lately, Costco has only been carrying farmed Atlantic salmon. Still, I check the fish section each time I go just to make sure and yesterday I hit the seafood jackpot! Not only did they have wild-caught salmon, but they also had Pacific Halibut- both of which are in the best and good alternative categories. I bought one of each- the salmon to cut into smaller fillets to freeze, and the halibut for tonight’s dinner.

I don’t often buy halibut because it’s a fairly expensive fish. But at Costco prices, how could I resist? I brought my precious halibut home and started searching for recipes on how I would cook it. I’m not all that familiar with cooking fish. It’s something I would like to work on because I know how delicious and healthy fish can be. I ended up finding a recipe on Beyond Salmon– a blog primarily focused on cooking with fish. The recipe was for Seared Halibut with Potatoes and Tomatoes. I was a little bit skeptical about combining tomatoes and potatoes, but the combination turned out to be delicious! I also discovered a new appreciation for my mandoline, which had always lived at the bottom of my drawer. Since I had some extra potatoes, I ended up making a few ramekins of Gratin Dauphinois, which is a French sliced potato gratin.

  • 1 lb. yukon potato, sliced very thin
  • 1-2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • salt
  • pepper
  • nutmeg

Here is how I made the gratin dauphinois: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter two small ramekins and layer a few slices of potatoes in each. Add a little salt and pepper, and  a little bit of milk. Then add another layer of potato, a few small bits of butter, and a tiny bit of milk. In a few of the layers, add a small pinch of nutmeg. Just a very small amount will do the trick- too much nutmeg can be overpowering. Continue until the ramekin is almost full. Don’t fill it completely, though, because the milk will likely boil in the oven and can overflow if it’s too full. The trick is to add just a small amount of milk after each layer of potatoes. You may be tempted to fill the ramekin with potatoes and then pour in the milk, but the milk would not be properly distributed. Bake the ramekins for about 25 minutes. The top should have a nice golden-brown color to them. Allow the dishes to cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

it’s the simple things in life…nachos!

Yesterday morning I woke up and decided that I was going to make something with black beans that day. I didn’t know what yet, but I wanted to try these dried beans I’d gotten from Phipps County Store when we went berry picking the other day. I knew that I’d need to soak these dried beans for 6-8 hours, so I had to get them started before figuring out what I’d end up making with them. This is pretty much how I cook anyway. I rarely have a long-term plan when it comes to food, which actually works out for me- most of the time. Sometimes this results in my stressing out over the amount of fresh food that needs to be eaten before it goes bad. But a lot of the time it gets the creative cooking juices flowing. It’s kind of like when Tom Colicchio from Top Chef tells the contestants, “Make something delicious with these three ingredients.” I like the challenge.

So I measured out 1 cup of dried black beans, picked out the shriveled beans and small pebbles that found their way in there, and put them in a bowl with a lot of water. Then I let them sit for 7 hours while I went about my day. When I was ready to cook them, I poured out the water, dumped the beans into a pot, added new water and some oregano and let them cook on medium-low heat for about an hour. At the end, I added salt to taste, cooked them a little bit longer, and drained out the water. By this time, my friend Jennifer was over and we decided that we were going to make black bean nachos. We used a porcelain baking dish, put in the bottom layer of nachos, black beans, shredded cheddar and repeated this two more times. Then we baked the nachos in the oven at 325 degrees for 5 minutes. In the meantime, Jennifer whipped up her tasty guacamole with 2 avocados, some garlic, lime and salt. I can’t really gauge the amounts of those ingredients because it all depends on your taste, and how much you like garlic. When the nachos came out, we topped them with guacamole, and some fresh salsa we had in the fridge, and voila! Easy and tasty.

chicken tacos

I love summer. The long, warm days are always conducive to inviting friends over for a simple and delicious BBQ. Grilling is one of the few food-related things that doesn’t usually fall on me at our house and despite how much I enjoy cooking, I usually appreciate the break! My husband has been working on his skills as a BBQer since we got married and has gotten pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. So when we had my parents over for dinner the other night, I asked him to take care of the BBQed chicken with spice rub. We served a mountain of grilled squash, zucchini and eggplant on the side, and it was delicious.

But what I really want to talk about is the leftovers. I always make sure to make extra when we grill anything because the leftovers are always so delicious and versatile. Plus, our grill is charcoal, so we don’t like to fire it up unless we’re cooking for more than two people.

Usually, before deciding what to make for dinner, I like to take stock of  what we have in our fridge and pantry so that I can make sure to use up all of our fresh ingredients while they’re still fresh. On this day, the things that popped out at me were: yellow onions, green bell peppers, hot peppers, and tomatoes, all from the San Pedro Square farmer’s market in San Jose. I also remembered that I had some masa harina in the pantry. To me this spelled homemade chicken tacos! They ended up being a little messy but very tasty. Here is a picture of the finished product:

And here is the recipe:

First, I made my masa for the tortillas. All this entails is mixing 1 c. of masa harina with 1/2 c. of water. You mix it up with a fork and then your hands. If it doesn’t come together well, you can add a little bit of water, but only add 1 Tbsp. at a time so that it doesn’t get too sticky. Next, form the dough into balls, about the size of golf balls. You should get about 7 or 8 from 1 c. of masa harina. Cover the balls of masa with plastic wrap until you are ready to use them.

Next chop up the yellow onion and sauteed it over medium heat in a nonstick pan.

While that’s cooking, chop the bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes and chicken. Once the onions are translucent, add both types of peppers and let them sautee for a bit. Then add the chicken. Because the chicken is already cooked it just needs to be warmed up. Also, if the chicken already has a nice spice rub on it (like ours did), the only other seasoning you need to add is some salt and pepper (and maybe some red pepper flakes if you like spicy foods). Next add the diced tomatoes to the mix and let it all cook together.

As this is simmering, start rolling out and cooking the tortillas. To roll them, place a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter top, followed by a flattened ball of masa, topped with another sheet of plastic wrap. Then just roll the tortilla out, as flat as possible with a rolling pin. Once it is flat enough, carefully remove the plastic wrap and cook the tortilla on a hot pan with no oil. Flip it after about 1 min., let it cook for another minute, and flip it once more for a few more seconds. Repeat this process with all of the masa, and let guests create their own plates. You can serve the tacos with sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheese and other condiments. One way you can alter this recipe for your vegetarian friends is to substitute tofu for the chicken. I haven’t done this myself but I suspect that thick slices of firm tofu would be really good with a spice rub on the grill. If I were doing this, I would probably put the tofu in a grill basket to keep it from breaking. Maybe we’ll have to give this a try next time!