Friday, April 30, 2010

Thyme Lavender Lamb Loin Chops

When bread and cheese is verboten as a weeknight dinner because I'm trying to loose weight it usually comes down to meat and salad. Stopping by Karin's farm on the way and desperate for a dinner meat I fished the thinnest piece of meat out of her freezer that I could find. And man, was I in for a treat. It was lamb loin chops. 4 of them, for a scant half pound, and all of them for me. I put them up under the windshield as I was driving home so the sun had defrosted them when I got here.

I put together a little rub with a lot of thyme, some lavender salt (that I found at Whole Foods a year ago) and some pepper, rub it into the chops, and put them away at room temp.

Heat your pan. Really hot. Then add oil that can take the heat. Canola, Grapeseed, no olive oil. Test the temperature with the a little corner of a chop. If it start sizzling, really vigorously, everything is hot enough. Put in the chops - I used four just for myself, but if hubby had been around I would have stretched them to last for both of us. Don't touch the chops until they are browned enough to come loose by themselves. Then turn them, leave them in for a little longer - they are so small that they are done really fast, but they are so tender you can't overdo them unless you leave them in for a really long time.

Today I have one left-over little gem salad, which got dressed with a little lemon juice, some of my favorite olive oil, some pepper, some salt. And here is the result - all for me alone!

Thyme Lavender Lamb Chops

2-4 lamb loin chops per person
thyme - as much as you dare
lavender salt - or lavender and salt, about 1/4 teaspoon
pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of canola or grapeseed oil

Make rub from tyme, lavender (,) salt, pepper, rub into chops, let them rest for 2 hours or more. 
Heat pan to high heat, add oil. (I really dislike nonstick for this, it doesn't get hot enough, and you boil the meat instead of frying it.) Test temperature with a corner of a chop - if it sizzles your pan is ready. Put the chops in, but don't crowd the pan. Turn when the chops loosen off the surface without any pulling or scraping. Leave on the other side shortly for medium rare, or till a bit browned for medium well.

Serve with a simple salad, a glass of Dolcetto or other nice red, and enjoy!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Real Food

Hector's post on Rose's Forum got me thinking today. What is real food? Here is my real food:

What's different about these eggs? First off, they are not all the same color, nor the same size, and they taste delicious. But the main point is: I know where they come from. I saw the hens that laid them today, and I saw the ones that will lay them in a few months:


And they all looked as happy as hens can look like, they had their beaks, and they were making quite the ruckus. And tomorrow, when the ground has dried a little bit they'll be moved onto fresh grass. How do I know that? I talked to Karin Sinclair, my farmer, who raises them. And the lamb that I eat, and the chickens that I eat.

You can't do that because you live in a big city? I'm a city girl, I live in Silicon Valley. Yes, it takes planning, but chances are that there is a farmers market in your vicinity. Can't go to the farmers market? Check out and find a farm near you. Yes, the eggs and the meat are more expensive than what you get at Costco. But if you have any doubts that it's worth it watch Food Inc. And chances are, it's probably still cheaper if you go out and eat.

You can't do that because you can't cook? It's really easy. Take small steps. Watch the Food Channel, or look for easy recipes online. Here perhaps? Follow the instructions - in the beginning. Then start experimenting. It's worth it. It's so much better than the stuff you buy in jars or in the microwave trays. And it's good for you, and it's good for your kids.

You can't do that because you have no time? I was working a 60 hour a week minimum job for many many years, with crazy travel schedules. And what did I do when I came home? I cooked. It's time so much better spent than time in front of a TV. Cook, it can be something quick and easy, and then sit down, with a glass of wine if that's your thing, and enjoy it.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now because I have to cook something that these guys helped create. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peppered Strawberries

It wasn't possible for me to pass the strawberry stand at the Los Gatos farmers market last weekend without getting some. They were beautiful. They smelled so good. And they handed out samples - they did me in. The first basket was gone by the time I was home. The second one didn't survive the next two hours. But the third one was safely tucked away in the trunk, and actually survived till today. 

And they were ready for my favorite strawberry treatment: Black pepper and a balsamic reduction.

Reduce the balsamic until it's nice and thick, and all the sharpness is gone. Sometimes I do that for a whole bottle, and keep the leftovers in the fridge, they go well with everything from goat cheese to salads.

In this case: Drizzle over the strawberries, add some fresh ground pepper - and enjoy.

Also perfect together with this guy:

While it looks perfectly innocent, it's not. The cake has mint in it, and the chocolate buttercream is made with chili chocolate. Ok, time to eat, see ya later!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls - with an Asian Twist

I mentioned that there is a lot of ground beef that comes with the quarter cow, did I not? Something like 17 lbs. Which is probably fine for most people, but it's certainly a challenge for me, I'm just not that much of a ground meat person.... So what to do today? Cabbage rolls? Urgh, I used to hate them when I grew up. Boring tastes, cabbagy and with a slimy sauce. Not mine.

What to do? Adapting the filling for the egg dumplings sounded like a good idea. And then steaming instead of sauteing. Let's go for it!

Start with a head of cabbage, put it in a big pot of boiling water, take it out after 10 minutes, peel off the outermost layers, carefully so they don't break, put back in the boiling water, repeat. I had a very small cabbage, and it yielded about 20 leaves.

Next: The filling. About a half pound of ground beef, finely chopped mint, a shallot, a teaspoon of oyster sauce and some salt. Wrap it into your softened cabbage leaves, and put them in the steamer for 20 minutes.


I had another half pound of meat, which I tried to use as a stuffing for tofu, which miserably failed, so I ended up stir frying everything: Tofu, beef, ginger, a half jalapeno, ginger, garlic, a handful peanuts, some Sichuan pepper, some asparagus. There are two tricks to stir frying:

  • Heat up your wok to the point that it smokes. Then lower the heat and add oil. Not the other way around....
  • Once you have stir fried everything, add your flavoring - in my case black bean sauce - and a bit of water, then put the lid on and wait 30 seconds to a minute for the flavors to mingle. Now you have a wonderful sauce, and no need for cornstarch.
This pretty much guarantees perfect results no matter what you put in, in the easiest case you take some garlic, some leafy greens, some soy sauce, and you have a great side dish.

The cabbage rolls were nice and crispy and fresh tasting, thanks to the mint, and the stir fry was a good contrast in textures, especially together with the cabbage rolls.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Accidental Perfect Potato Cakes

Ok, I need a side dish. Quickly. Now. What to do? A look in the fridge reveals potatoes and beets. Both doesn't sound like something that will give me something quickly. Husband is growling in the back - or is it his empty stomach? It needs to jive with the shredded beef with asparagus that I found on my quest to empty the freezer and get it ready for the arrival of the quarter pig.

So what to do? Thin slices are probably a good idea, they'll be done quickly. Get the baking sheet and the mandoline out, turn the broiler on, and slice away, one Russet potato and one beet per person. The beets are - you guessed it - from the farmers market, very pretty things... A drizzle of olive oil, a bit of coarse salt, some pepper, and off they go into the oven.

I have a gas oven with a very powerful broiler, so I put mine in the lower third of the oven and watch them for 10 minutes. When the edges are starting to crisp up I decide it's time to take them out, and test for doneness. Perfect....

The beets are good, nice and sweet, but the potatoes - ohhhh, perfect! They have baked into little cakes that stick together, crisp on the outside, and very tender in the middle. Great as a side dish as you can see. But then we start to think what we could do with them, and we quickly have ideas for perfect little appetizers: A bit of sour cream and smoked salmon or crab meat, or perhaps some olive tapenade for some briny saltiness. Or a sun dried tomato. Stay tuned.....

Update: They were so good I had to make them again the next day, this time with a beet salad topping. The beets were roasted, with a olive oil - orange champagne vinegar vinaigrette, with a healthy helping of capers, for a nice briny tart taste balancing the beets, and giving a great punch to the potatoes. While I still want to try them with sour cream and salmon this was a good start. And really pretty!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Whole Wheat No Knead Bread

I know I know. The no knead bread craze is over. But I'm hooked. I've been baking bread for a very long time, mostly with whole grains, often with sourdough, and am a total fan of Peter Reinhart's books and recipes and teachings. And for the longest time I thought the no knead breads are a fad, nobody in their right mind could want to do a bread like that. Until - until I finally tried it.

Mark Bittman said in his second blog on the topic that you can't follow the "traditional" version when you're using whole wheat. I completely disagree. This is how my whole wheat no knead bread looks like:

In my book that's a fine looking bread. Especially since this one was baked at 6,000 feet, where I had problems with all of Peter Reinhart's recipes.

And the best thing is - it's super easy to make. There is a drawback - the bread doesn't age quite as well as a properly kneaded bread, but that is just a great excuse to eat more bread! While I often use spelt, and wheat and rye in differing proportions my mainstay bread is mostly white whole wheat and a bit of rye to make it moister.

Start with 2.5 cups of white whole wheat (I haven't bought regular whole wheat since I discovered white whole wheat. It's much less gritty, and has a great flavor to it), 0.5 cups rye (I have a very coarse rye ground which I like better than the fine ground rye, but it doesn't really make a difference), shy of 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, 2 teaspoons salt, 0.5 cups seeds or walnuts, and 1.5 to 2 cups cold water. Mix everything together for a minute or two, and adjust the water. You want a wet to sticky dough that's easy to manipulate with a cooking spoon, but not a liquid mess. When you're done shape a round ball in the middle of the bowl, and put everything in the fridge. In a pinch you can just let it rise, but the taste improves dramatically when the dough gets a slow fermentation at least overnight, up to a few days. Yes, it requires planning ahead. Doesn't all baking?

In this case, the dough spent 3 nights in the fridge. When you're ready to bake pull it out and let it come to room temperature. It should have about doubled. Ok, this one probably tripled rather than doubled. Nothing to worry about. Perhaps they should call it the "no worry bread"?

Now the only tricky part of the whole business starts - shaping. Carefully empty your bowl onto a well floured surface. You don't want to deflate it too much. Then shape it - it's a fancy name for basically just folding it over like you would a letter, in thirds, one from each side. Then do it again from the other side. It helps with surface tension of the dough and makes the bread rise like you want a bread to rise, in a nice boule, not flat like a cake, and to give you a nice, artisan looking crust.

Especially when the dough is very wet it helps to use the bench scraper for the shaping. Then the dough then rests some more, ideally an hour. I like to put mine an a banneton for the looks, but any well floured bowl will do. Put it in with the seam on the top, since that'll be the bottom of the bread.

While the dough is going through its final fermentation prepared the oven. The no knead bread gets baked in a Dutch oven. I find this method so good that I bake all my breads that have a wet dough like this - it saves you to add moisture to the oven and gives you an outstanding crust. For the 3 cup bread I either use a 2.25 quart Staub cocotte, or my Grandmother's oblong dutch oven.

Put the empty, unoiled Dutch oven with the lid in the oven and preheat to 500F or as far as your oven will go. Once it reaches the temperature wait another 15 minutes. Then take the Dutch oven out (be very very careful - 500F!), take the lid off, pour your bread dough in, and slash the surface. After experimenting with knives and razor blades I find that scissors work the best. Put the lid back on, stick the Dutch oven in the oven, lower the temperature to 475 or 450, and set a timer to 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid and lower the temperature to 425F. The bread already looks great, doesn't it?

At 6,000 feet, and in the oblong pan I bake it for another 30 minutes, in the round pan probably another 40 minutes. At 1,500 feet I only bake it another 20 minutes. It's also a function of what temperature your dough had when you put it in. Since I don't have a bakery, and am not always able to time things perfectly there is quite a bit of variation in it. However, there is a sure way to tell that your bread is done: The internal temperature needs to be at 210 to 220 F.

Once you take the bread out withstand the temptation to eat it right away: It needs to cool at least an hour. And this is how mine looked today:

Made for a glorious breakfast, with one of my 100 dozen eggs :-)

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

2.5 cups white whole wheat flour
0.5 cups rye
shy of 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
0.5 cups seeds or walnuts
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 to 2 cups of water

Mix all ingredients into a sticky dough, let rest in the fridge at least overnight.
Let come back to room temperature, then shape, and bake per instructions above.

My favorite variation is to use black olives and chopped rosemary instead of the seeds. But the sky is the limit - go and play with it and let me know what your favorites are!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Orange Salad and Eye of Round

Finally meat again! One of the packages in my freezer read "Eye of Round". I had pushed it backwards and downwards, and finally everything in front and on top had disappeared, and there was no more excuse. Everything I found about it read "tough" and "marinate forever" and "really tough".

Hmmmm.... I took it out, and it was a beautiful piece of meat, though yes, it did feel tough. And no fat..... I decided to give it my mustard and salt treatment - lots of mustard, lots of salt, some pepper - and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours before barbecuing it.

Fast forward to the next day. Inspired by the New York Times (do I sound like a broken record?) I decided a Moroccan orange salad would work great with it. In addition to oranges, a green and a red chile and black cured dried olives I put in some minced dates as well as coarsely chopped walnuts.

Add lime juice and good olive oil, toss, let the flavors mingle for a little, and then you're ready.

The meat was on the barbie until it reached 150F, mainly because I was nervous about it being too tough to eat less cooked. We should have probably taken it off once it reached 140, but it came out great, very very tasty, a tiny little tough, but great beef flavor.

What's the lesson of the day? If life hands you oranges turn them into a savory side salad, if you have meat you're afraid of tackle it.

That being said - I should rename the blog: I just bought a quarter heritage pig. We'll get it next week. I'm sharing a half with a friend, and we'll embark on a Prosciutto making adventure. And I'll keep you posted as to what's happening with the remainder of the pig of course!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tahini Soup

Oh..... It came out nice!

Melissa Clark from the NYT published a take on Tahini Soup - and got me thinking. Hummus - hmmmm! Tahini - yum! She made it with carrots as the base, I figured I'd stay a little closer to the hummus originals and went with white beans. And it came out great!

Ok, the photo isn't as nice as hers. I was hungry, and somehow I didn't think of photos while I was cooking. But the taste - oh, so good! I used white beans and parsnip as base - white beans for the consistency, parsnip for it's sweetish round taste. Lemon juice and yogurt balanced the sweetness out, and of course tahini gave it great taste and creaminess.

Tahini Soup
1 cup of white beans, soaked for a day - I used big Lima beans, and took off the skins because they are big and chewy. With navy beans you can just go and cook them without worrying about anything.
1 shallot
3 or more garlic cloves
1 large or 2 small parsnips
1 small red chile and 1/2 dried chipotle chile - I like things spicy, and the chipotle gives it nice smokiness
olive oil
lemon zest
lemon juice
1 cup yogurt
3 tablespoons tahini
optional: 1/2 preserved lemon, 1 garlic clove

Chop shallot, garlic, parsnips and chile and sautee in some olive oil for 5 minutes. Add soaked (and skinned) beans, chiles, lemon zest and water to cover everything by an inch, bring to a simmer and let cook until the beans fall apart. Add salt, lemon juice, yogurt, tahini, and puree the soup. Add water to reach the desired consistency, adjust salt, lemon juice and adjust salt and chile.

I added another garlic clove and some preserved lemon at that point to give it a bit more punch. It depends on your taste and what you have in your fridge...

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Brisket Recipe

When picking up my happy cow in January, I chatted with Joe Morris for a while about all the great food I'd made with it, and how it challenged me to try new meat cuts I'd never try otherwise. I had just made a brisket. No, not "a" brisket, but the first brisket of my life. I had a few friends over for dinner, and the meat pretty much evaporated off the plate - despite my hopes that there would be leftovers for hash the next day. So Joe asked me for the recipe, and I tried it again to be sure. And now it's in their newsletter! Here you go:

Sadly I didn't take pictures.... Sorry, will do the next time.

Regarding pictures, I attained sudden fame! Ok, not quite. The NYT had an article about people that photograph all their meals (I'm not that obsessed, I only take photos of pretty food I made...). And they asked people to submit their pictures. So I'm happy to report that the picture of my watermelon radish and the cucumber salad actually made it on their website:

And since I think a blog entry without a photo is a boring blog entry: Here is my kitchen as of last week- utter chaos!

Since then we've had the plumber and the electrician in, and now the drywaller is working his magic... One more week till the furniture is coming. Yeah!

And while not related to food, I thought I'd share this picture of my cat - excellent taste in beer I must say!

The beans are soaking, so stay tuned for Tahini Soup!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lentils for One

So here I am, all alone, nobody but myself to cook for. Unless I'll make something real to eat I'll be snacking all day, so I think a nice little lentil stew is on order. And since I still have a few of Karin's beautiful eggs it'll get topped by a nice fried egg. Disclaimer - I got the initial inspiration from Food & Wine, but as always I used it as an inspiration, not a hard and fast recipe.

The lentils I have on hand are French lentils, which are great because they hold their shape, and I prefer their flavor over the garden variety brown lentils.

I start by finely chopping a small yellow onion. I love the Trader Joe's onions, in my opinion they have much more taste than their regular grocery store cousins that weight a pound each. Rummaging through the fridge I also find a carrot and the very last inner bits of a celery stalk. Chopped up it gets, along with two good size garlic cloves. It all gets sauteed in some olive oil.... Already smells good!

After a few minutes I add a 1/2 cup of lentils, and two cups of a tomato-y broth I have in the freezer. You can also use broth and tomato paste, or a cut up tomato. Bring everything to a boil, then simmer it on low for 1 hour or so. Once it all comes together I'll fry an egg in a good amount of olive oil, put the stew in a soup dish, top it with the egg including the oil, grate some nice salty cheese (in my case a goat Gouda that's too crumbly to slice) over it, and drizzle a bit of balsamic glaze on it. Oh, the yummy goodness you get when the egg yolk mixes with the stew and the cheese slowly melts in it!

Ok, I have to admit that it came out as sufficient for two, but I'll just BBQ some cube steak I have marinating for dinner today and have the second portion then!

Lentils for one (and a half)
1 small strong onion
2 cloves garlic
1 small carrot
1/2 rib of celery, or even better a bit of celery root
1/2 cup French lentils
2 cups broth
1 tomato
1 egg
sharp cheese for grating, balsamic glaze to top

Finely chop the first four ingredients, sweat in a bit of olive oil. Add lentils and broth as well as the tomato. Let simmer for 1 hour. Fry the egg in olive oil, fill lentils in a soup plate, top with egg and olive oil, grated cheese, and balsamic glaze.

Note 1: I usually keep some veggie or meat stock in the freezer - when I have leftover veggies or scraps of meat I'll turn it into a broth by first browning it in a bit of oil, and then adding water and let it simmer for an hour or two. It's better than tossing the veggies, and gives you a nice stock for dishes like these.

Note 2: Balsamic glaze is really just a fancy name for reduced balsamic vinegar. Set a small pot of balsamic vinegar on the stove, and let it reduce until it's thickened and lost it's sharp vinegary taste.