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.
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!
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
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!
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.
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!
Last Saturday, my husband and I set out for a fun day of berry picking! We packed up a picnic, drove over to Pescadero, and went to Phipps Country Store & Farm where you can pick your own olallieberries. I was excited, but a little bit worried that it would be slim pickings. When we went last year, we ended up with only a few pounds of berries. The annoying part about this is that they charge you an entrance fee of $3.00 per person on top of the $3.00 per pound of berries, so it’s only worth it if you go to get lots of them. Of course, it’s still lots of fun, no matter how many berries you end up with, but my main purpose in going is to get enough berries to freeze for winter berry pies, and to make jam with to give away as Christmas presents or thank you gifts. Well this year, we got a fun day AND lots of berries. The olallieberry bushes were heavy with sweet, plump berries. So much so, that we only got through one row of berries before we had too many buckets to carry. We ended up with 14 pounds of ollalieberries! In addition to olallieberries, Phipps also sells a wide array of dried beans. Most of them are locally grown, and many are heirloom varieties. So I couldn’t help myself…I picked up five different kinds of beans. Two of them were particularly interesting-looking: Spanish Tolosanas and Anasazi.
After picking and paying for our loot, we sat down for a late lunch on one of the picnic tables outside the country store. The picnic was fabulous, and consisted of a fresh tomato, avocado, and homemade goat cheese salad, homemade bread, salami and cheese, strawberries, and beer. Lunch hit the spot. Here is a picture of it:
So after lunch, we headed home, but first stopped at my parents’ house to drop off some berries for them. My mom wanted to come berry picking too, but was too busy getting ready for an upcoming trip, and asked me to pick up some berries for her. When we arrived at my parents’ place, it turned out that my dad had just finished picking a huge bag of plums from their front yard. The plum tree stands just above the driveway, so when they ripen, they inevitably end up all over the car and need to be cleaned up. Since they were leaving for a little while, my mom was set on getting as many of those plums out of the tree to avoid having them end up on her car. So of course, we ended up with over half of the plums (about 8 pounds of them). On top of that, we had just gotten 4 pounds of plums (of a different variety) from a family friend. So let’s review: After giving my parents 3 pounds of berries, we ended up with 11 pounds of olallieberries, 8 pounds of yellow plums, and 4 pounds of red plums, equaling 23 pounds of fruit. Oh dear.
There’s really only one thing you can do with that much fruit: make jam. So the next morning, we got up bright and early, and set out to preserve all of these delicious summer fruits. I’ve watched my mom make jam every summer of my life, and pretty much learned how to do it from her. She doesn’t always use pectin, but I decided to use it this year, just to have peace of mind that this fruit would not go to waste. I pretty much followed the instructions from the pectin box. However, I did reduce the amount of sugar in both the plum jams by about a cup each, even though the instructions strongly discouraged that. I had no issues though- all of the jams set beautifully. This was my husband’s first time helping out with the jam-making process, and he was great! That much fruit made this a 2-person job, so it was wonderful to have some help! After 5 hours of work, we now have 35 jars of jam to eat or give away to family and friends. It may seem like a lot of work, but berry picking and jam-making is one of those summer traditions that I love.
Well I figured that given the name of this blog, I really should post something about making homemade bread early on. Good quality bread is the foundation of any mouthwatering tartine. I’m no Poilâne in the bread-making kitchen, but I’ve been experimenting for a while now, and have had enough successes and failures to feel fairly confident that I have something to contribute to a bread-making newbie.
Many people would probably wonder, why make your own bread when it’s so readily available, and relatively cheap, at the grocery store? Why go through all that hassle? The short answer is that it tastes better. If you’ve ever had homemade bread before, you know that none of the cellophane-wrapped breads that you find in a grocery store aisle can compete with it. Now, if I lived in France and could walk down to the local bakery for fresh bread every morning, this would be a different story. I would have absolutely no reason to make my own (other than for the fun of it). I don’t remember ever tasting a bad loaf of bread in France, but that’s because the French take their bread very seriously (almost as seriously as their cheese). The man I mentioned earlier, Mr. Lionel Poilâne took over his father’s baking business in the 70s, and was so successful that he became a sort of bread celebrity in France. His bread, known as “Pain Poilâne,” is equally well-known and coveted throughout France. Mr. Poilâne was so famous that when he died in a helicopter crash in 2002, it was all over the French news, and the country mourned his death. That’s how seriously we take our bread in France. Luckily, Pain Poilâne continues to live on, thanks to Poilâne’s daughter, a Harvard grad, who has taken over the family business. No, my bread will probably never reach the level of Poilâne’s but, it’s worth a try.
- I’m all about making things from scratch, so why not bread too?
- I like knowing what goes into my bread. When I started looking at labels and saw how many unpronounceable ingredients go into bread, I became a bit wary of it and started thinking about making my own. Bread really only needs a handful of ingredients, so I don’t know what all those other ones are doing there.
- I specifically want to avoid eating foods containing high fructose corn syrup, which is in almost any of the processed foods on our grocery store shelves these days. I wasn’t too surprised to see it in things like soda, fruit juice, and cereal bars, but was shocked to see it in my bread!!
- I can be creative with it, and add sunflower seeds, flax seeds, or different combinations of flours to see what works best. That’s fun for me.
- It’s true that bread is fairly cheap at the grocery store, but it really does save me money to make my own. Especially since I would be buying organic, whole wheat bread, which would probably require that I go to a health food store and spend more money. By making my own, I can use organic ingredients that will make many loaves of bread for a fraction of the cost of a comparable loaf at the store.
- I can control where my ingredients come from, and try to keep them as local as possible. The closest source of whole wheat flour I’ve found is Bob’s Red Mill brand, which is based in Oregon. I’m also working on joining a grain CSA based out of Davis, CA, but haven’t been able to coordinate that yet.
So now, onto the actual bread-making process. I recommend that you start by trying to make white bread until you get the hang of it, since this is much easier to pull off than wheat bread. The best explanation and recipe I have found for a basic loaf of white bread is from a post on The Simple Dollar. He has some great pictures on there of each step involved in the bread-making process. I used this recipe the first several times I made bread, and they all came out beautifully.
The tough part came when I decided to try making whole wheat bread. I tried just substituting some of the white flour for whole wheat flour, and each time, I ended up with a brick-like loaf of dense “bread.” It’s just hearty, right? No, it really wasn’t very tasty. I was ready to give up, when a friend of mine suggested that I try adding gluten flour to the bread. She said that our flour contains less gluten than it used to, because many people have gluten allergies these days, but that it’s a necessary component to a good loaf of bread. So I visited my neighborhood health food store, found the gluten, and voila! A miracle. The bread has turned out perfectly every time. Over several trials, I developed a recipe that I like, that makes great sandwich bread, and wonderful tartines.
- Warm the bowl you will be using by rinsing it with hot water. Add the first 7 ingredients to the bowl, and mix them a little so that they’re combined, and the salt, honey, and yeast are dissolved.
- Add 1 c. of white flour, 1 c. of wheat flour and 3 tbsp. of gluten flour to the bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix this on low speed for about 2 minutes.
- Next add 1/4 c. of whole wheat flour, and mix for 1 minute.
- Add another 1/4 c. of whole wheat flour, with 1 tbsp. of gluten flour, and mix for 1 minute. Do this two more times, adding whole wheat flour in 1/4 c. increments, with the last 1 tbsp + 1 tsp of gluten flour. Let the dough mix for 1 minute each time you add flour.
- Switch to the dough hook attachment. Add 1/2 c. of sunflower seeds, and turn the mixer on low speed for 10 minutes.
- Spray another large-ish bowl with canola spray, or olive oil spray. Remove the dough, form a nice ball with it, and put it in the newly sprayed bowl. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel, and set it aside to rise on the countertop. Here is where I made my mistakes when I first started making bread. The dough needs to rise in a warm place, but it does not need to be too warm. I used to put it in the oven on the “keep warm” setting. This turned out to be way too warm, and killed the yeast, giving me a brick. Just set it aside, and let it rise for 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours. Basically, until it doubles in size.
- Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. After the dough has risen, punch it down, and shape it into a long, flat rectangle. You don’t need to knead it much, just push it down a few times with your fists. This will do just find. Once it’s in a flat rectangle shape, roll it into a log, and place it, seam side down, in the loaf pan. Once again, cover it with the clean kitchen towel and let it rise for about an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Once your dough has risen, carefully put it in the hot oven. Bake for 28-30 minutes. I usually check it after about 25 minutes, and let it bake for another few minutes. 28 minutes seems to be the magic number in my oven, but will vary from oven to oven.
- Take the bread out of the oven and immediately take it out of the pan. It should sound hollow when you tap the bread if it’s ready. Let it cool on a cooling rack.
- Cut off a slice, and enjoy with your favorite tartine topping. My personal fav is a little butter with some honey drizzled on top. Delicious!