Monday, March 29, 2010

Cucumber Salad(s)

It's not summer yet, but it was definitely time for a cucumber salad. I'm German, so my standard (and so far favorite) version of a cucumber salad is very simple - just thinly sliced, with a dill sour cream dressing. Though this is not what I made. Encouraged by the super yummy Chinese version (cubed cucumbers with lots and lots of garlic, and a little salt) I ventured into new territory, inspired by Mark Bittman's cucumber salad in 101 Salads

I started with making Ricotta - heat milk with a little acid (lemon juice or vinegar), be patient, wait for it to curdle then ladle it into a cheesecloth, then wait an hour) (plenty of recipes on the internet, though perhaps one of these days I'll publish mine...). Then I sliced a cucumber very thinly, added gazoodles of capers, the ricotta and some nice Californian olive oil. A touch of fleur du sel on top - sooo good!

And in case you're interested in my traditional German cucumber salad, here's the recipe:

German Cucumber Salad

1 English Cucumber
1 bunch dill
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt, pepper

Slice the cucumbers very thinly, salt them, let them sit for a while. In the meanwhile prepare dressing: Chop dill, add to sour cream, add pepper, mix. No not add any more salt.... Just before serving drain the liquid from the cucumbers, then add the dressing, mix and enjoy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Real Chinese Food

While I'm starting to cook again here I figured I'll do a quick recap of the food highlights on my recent China trip. Many memorable dinners, whether it was Peking Duck in a fancy restaurant in Beijing, or a $14 dinner for 3 with plenty of beer in some hole in the wall. However, two things stood out:

First: A pineapple based side dish
Despite my significant other's whining (he hates pizza Hawaii and other fruit in his salty food) I persisted in ordering the dish - pineapple with lime. Not only was it beautiful, it was also hands down the best pineapple based dish I've every had. I made it the first night back home so I didn't forget what was in there:
1 small pineapple, sliced thinly, juice of one lime, fine slices of the zest, a red hot fresh chile, and - SALT! Mix, let stand for a while, then serve chilled. It may be even better if the salt goes on in the last minute, and if it's a coarse salt like Fleur du Sel or grey sea salt. This is how it should look like:

Second: Cooking school in Yangshuo
We had a quiet weekend in the beautiful surroundings of Guilin and Yangshuo. It's very likely you've seen the scenery - just plug the city names in Google and look at the images... It's also on the 20 yuan bill, that's how famous it is in China. While the entire weekend was lovely my favorite part was cooking school. First we made egg dumplings. They are essentially little omelettes that are folded over a filling, and then cooked finished by cooking them in a bit of water, and crisped after the water has evaporated. The filling is ground meat with spices to your liking. Hey, the recipe is even published:

It's a little tricky but well worth the effort:

The remainder of the menu was also wonderful - here is the menu:

And here are the dishes that I made - and they tasted and looked like really good Chinese food - much to everybody's surprise:

I can highly recommend it if you're in the neighborhood :-)

Ok, will have to work on dinner... Stay tuned for new posts with original food!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

(Almost) Vegetarian Day - Quinotto, Omelettes, and Pickeled Veggie Salad

Got the double challenge today. Hubby is on low carb to lower his blood sugar, and we have a vegetarian coming for dinner. What to make? I have a lot of happy eggs in the fridge, and we'll be gone for 2 weeks. And I just got Julia Child's "Mastering The Art of French Cooking", so what better to do than work on my omelette making skills. And I can slip in some of the slab bacon that I have in the fridge in the form of lardons in the eggs for the carnivores around the table. The vegetarian will get an Omlette au Fromage with loads of Parmesan.

And what else? Barbara Lynch has a great salad recipe in her book "stir", and Food & Wine now has it on their website:
I'll forgo the soft boiled eggs in lieu of the omelettes, and use the veggies I have on hand: beets, celery, parsnip, carrots, and red cabbage. I'm sure she'll approve. It's a really pretty salad, but it also tastes heavenly, and it's easy to make. And you can mix up the ingredients for different tastes, and different seasons.

Finally, to ensure that we have some healthy carbs after all I'll make my creation of quinoa risotto. Or should it be "quinotto"? What is quinoa? It's like a grain, though it's a relative of leafy greens like Swiss chard or spinach. Aside from being super healthy, high in protein and fiber, I prefer its texture and taste to rice.

For that I'll saute some green, young garlic, a shallot, and some mushroom, and then cook the quinoa together with the veggies with sherry and broth. A peek in the pot while I'm cooking and stirring:

When the quinoa is done (about 1/2 hour) I add the Parmesan. The photo shows the quinoa pretty done, you can see that the little quinoa grains are fully translucent, and don't have a white center anymore

So, how does it all look put together? You'll have to try for yourself. It was delicious, but the omelette making for 4 people got quite hectic and I didn't take a picture of the completed meal. Note to self: Only make 2 egg omelettes the next time, 3 eggs are pretty hard to handle in the pan.

Quinoa with Mushrooms
1 shallot
1 green garlic (similar to a scallion, just in garlic) Replace with garlic if not in season
1/2 tablespoon butter and olive oil each
1/2 lb mushrooms, the more adventurous the better the outcome
1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup sherry
1 - 1 1/2 cups broth, preferably mushroom or veggie
Cream - if desired
Salt and Pepper to taste

Saute the minced shallot and garlic in the butter / olive mixture for a few minutes, add mushrooms and sautee a little longer, then add quinoa. Add sherry and about 1 cup of the water or broth, simmer on low, stir every once in a while and check liquid levels. Add more liquid as needed (when using water add a bit of salt). When the quinoa is done, it'll be translucent and fluffy. Add Parmesan, cream, salt and pepper to taste. Add minced scallions just before serving to give it a fresh taste.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Not Your Mother's Meatballs

There is a lot of very edible meat on every cow that isn't a steak or a roast. Morris's website says a typical split half consists of 15 lbs pounds steaks, 17 lbs roasts, 7 lbs stew meat, 11 lbs chuck and round steaks and 35 lbs pounds ground beef. That's a lot of ground beef. Being 2/3rds through my first quarter cow I've gotten pretty inventive. 

Today it's barbecued Asian meatballs. Or sliders in Romaine leaves. Call them what you want. Just look at them - pretty little jewels, and so yummy!

I start off with mixing the meat with onions, ginger, chile, garlic, some chopped peanuts, a few drops of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce, an egg and some rolled oats. Mix it all together, carefully, not too much or they become tough.


While the meatballs go on the BBQ I mix up a little dipping sauce with more ginger, chile, a scallion and soy sauce. Serving is easy: Make little salad cups our of romaine or - preferably - buttercup lettuce leaves, or any other salad leaves, place the meatballs in the cups, drizzle a little of the dressing on it, and dig in. Makes a great appetizer, or as in my case today, a great lunch after having packed up the kitchen to get ready for the remodel. 


Chile Ginger Meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1/4 finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
some chopped chile - how much depends on the chile, and how spicy you like it
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 handful of peanuts, chopped
2 tablespoons of rolled oats
1 egg
a few drops of Asian fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce
Mix carefully, form 1" diameter meatballs, barbecue or pan fry. 

Gingered Dipping Sauce
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1 scallion, chopped
some chopped chile
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
Mix together. 

Serve meatballs in lettuce cups, with some dipping sauce drizzled over. Hoisin Sauce also works well. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lamb Shoulder Steak with Farmers Market Loot

Ok, no beef tonight after all, I had some lamb shoulder steaks that were waiting to be eaten. And I had been at the Farmers Market in Santa Cruz and came home with some beautiful loot that want to be eaten!

Let's start with what I brought home - watermelon radish. It's exactly what I love about Farmers Markets, you get things you've never seen before, challenging your senses, your cooking, and tasting very good. So what is watermelon radish? They are a relatively unknown radish, about double the size of your standard grocery store radish, and surprisingly sweet and tender. And they look spectacular!

Beautiful, huh? And now you understand why they're called watermelon radish? Ok, they'll be part of the salad, perhaps sliced on top? Oh dang, my mandoline is already packed up for the kitchen remodel. Hm. Braised radish? We'll see!

Next comes the lamb: Karin Sinclair's lamb is superb, very tender, and not muttony at all, to a point where I almost could use a bit of mutton! It gets marinated, with market fresh sage, pepper, salt, and good German mustard. This is how it looks like before the mustard gets smeared all over:

Ok, braised radishes it is. Delicious as it cuts some of the sharpness. Together with the BBQed mustard marinated lamb steak - delicious!

Recipes (exceedingly easy):

Lamb steaks with Mustard Sage Marinade

2 lamb shoulder steaks
1 tablespoon minced sage
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard or similar
salt, pepper

Add sage, mustard, salt pepper to steaks, spread over steaks, let marinate for a few hours, then barbeque till desired doneness.

Sage Braised Radishes

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sage - or more if you feel like it!
1 lb radish - watermelon, daikon, summer radish
salt, pepper

Melt butter in a wide pan, add sage until a little crisp, add radish, mix, cover for a few minutes on medium heat, salt, pepper to taste.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beef Pickup Day!

I'm ready - my mini-freezer compartment is cleaned up, ready to take on the next portion of my quarter of a cow. My cow lead its happy life in San Juan Bautista, which is about 45 minutes south of San Jose, at the farm of Morris Grassfed Beef. Rather than buying a freezer and taking the entire split half at once I opted for the CSA delivery, where I pick up the meat on 3 dates over the year.

How do I get the meat? Joe Morris drives it closer to me. At the appointed time I show up at Doerr Park in San Jose, where his refrigerated truck is parked. At the last pickup it was sunny, and lots of people were getting extras, so there was quite a happy line of waiting customers with their coolers. Today it's pouring rain, so no line. Yeah! Joe's truck is his little office, with a laptop with his customer's info on it. We chat a while - nice to know the people that are growing your food, and he's a keeper! And I'm all stoked, they'll put my recipe for brisket in their next newsletter! Yeah! Anyways, Joe's helper finds my box and loads it in my car, I pay, and the 3rd of the quarter cow is mine.


I get in the car and get my loot home as quickly as possible, I want it to stay frozen after all. Perhaps I should get a larger ice chest after all?

So what's really in the box? The Morrises give you a good rundown on their website - - but I thought it would be interesting to show it. So here it is. For a close-up view click on the pictures.


Top layer: Eye of Round, Short Ribs, Sirloin Steak (see my other post on how delicious that looks), Swiss Steak (???) and Beef Stew (no, the cats were not part of the deal....) 
Bottom layer: Two more sirloins, another Swiss Steak, two more Beef Stews, and a bunch of ground beef. I feel that I forgot something, but I can't recall.

Earlier shipments included more roasts, I think they are trying to split it up that you have more steaks in the summer, and the roasts in the winter. 

And yes, you see it correctly, it's all labeled NOT FOR SALE! It mainly means that it's not packaged for individual sale, and no, it's not bad for you (or cat food, as you may think from the pictures). Au contraire, it's good for you, much healthier than grain fed, and much better for the environment because the beef gets to graze the grass and isn't force fed corn. Their website has some neat aerial photos where you can see that their land is super healthy and green.

So now I'll have to plot what my last meal in the old kitchen will be.... A steak? A stew? Meatballs? Hmmmmm......

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Best Caesar Salad

One of the beauties of local, pasture raised eggs is that they are far less likely to have any problems with salmonella, so eating raw eggs isn't like playing Russian roulette... Caesar salad has long been my favorite salad, but since I developed my version of a dressing I'm usually underwhelmed in restaurants. So here's dinner tonight: Silke's Caesar with Sirloin slices.

How to make the perfect caesar dressing? Start with one raw egg, zest and juice of 1 lemon, some chipotle powder or fresh chiles or red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and plenty of anchovies.


Slowly drizzle in about 1/2 cup of your favorite olive oil while whisking, especially the first few drops. (My favorite EVOO is either from California, or out of the backyard of my friends that live in Antibes in between beautiful olive trees.) Mix nicely until everything is emulsified and thickened.


Toss in romaine salad, cut up an avocado (shortcut: dice avocado while it's still in the skin, then scoop out with a spoon or the rounded side of a Santoku knife), grate Parmesan over the salad and add some fresh ground pepper, toss the salad, and voila, you'll never want to have caesar salad at a restaurant again!