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Thursday, December 31, 2009

crostini appetizer-- a foolproof formula

i know the holiday party season is coming to a close, but i can't resist posting about an appetizer/party food idea. in my oh-so-humble opinion, crostini with goat cheese is one of the best creations of all time. for one, as our friend scott once astutely observed, "goat cheese, like william shatner, makes everything better." but the true genius of goat cheese crostini is its versatility-- it can be an appetizer, part of a lunch or dinner antipasti spread, it can punctuate grilled veggie salad, and it can easily be topped with just about anything you can find in your fridge, pantry, or garden.

for my recent crostini appetizer plate, i started with a gorgeous, seedy baguette from tall grass bakery at the ballard farmers market. sliced and toasted the bread, smeared goat cheese on top, and searched in the fridge for other toppings. i had one leftover roasted golden beet and a bag of salad greens, both from full circle farm. i sliced the beet, picked the arugula out of the bag of greens, drizzled with some thick balsamic vinegar, and had a plate of appetizers ready to go.

for crostini toasts:

slice baguette.
brush both sides of slices with olive oil, and season with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
toast in oven at 350 for about 5 minutes, or grill until toasted.
slather on plenty of softened goat cheese.

for toppings, anything goes! depending on what's in season, here are some ideas:

slices of roasted beet, apples, pears, peaches, melons, figs, roasted peppers, or artichoke hearts
dried fruits like cranberries, dates, or apricots
berries, cranberries, olives, cherry tomatoes, ground cherries, capers, or nuts
prosciutto, pancetta, or smoked fish
chutney, marmalade, jam, tapenade, relish, or pesto
fresh herbs or greens, such as dill, basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, chives, arugula, fennel, or watercress
edible flowers, like nasturtium, pansy, or allium (oh man, this would be BEAUTIFUL!)

final touch:

good quality olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, or finishing salt

i think the next one i'd like to try is fig and prosciutto with honey. when summer rolls back around, a halved cherry tomato with a dollop of pesto sounds spectacular. let me know your brilliant combination ideas!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

last day of fall, dec 20

oh fall, you always deliver. thank you for all that you are.

until we meet again,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

pork chops with cranberries-- delicious and easy!

i'm heading across the country to spend the holiday with my family tomorrow, but really wanted to get one more post out because... i found cranberries!! dance and prance of cranberry joy! it's not that i exactly adore cranberries, or even that i've done much cooking with them. it's that one winter night two years ago rob and i found a pork chops with cranberries recipe that we decided would be our perfect saturday night dinner, and then were completely deflated when we couldn't find cranberries anywhere. evidently, after the holidays have passed, grocers don't stock them-- not even frozen ones.

i had no idea cranberries grew around here, so was completely surprised to see the box of bright and happy, organic, marble-sized berries at the foraged and found edibles booth at the farmers market. such an unexpected find! i cooked them up with pork chops from skagit river ranch (seriously-- can these guys do anything wrong? i continue to be blown away by the quality of their meats...) and we finally had our cranberries and chops experience.

the only thing i changed was to serve with kale and mashed celery root instead of the chard. so good! the chops were juicy, buttery and briny (despite having not been brined!), while the berry sauce was rich, earthy, and sour. they were perfect together. the recipe is really easy, too. as evidence, i burned the crap out of my left hand when i grabbed the handle of the skillet that i'd just pulled out of the oven (let's hope i'll be a one-trial learner of that lesson...), but was able to finish the dish one-handed.

another couple of pounds of cranberries are now in my freezer. any suggestions for what to do with them next?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

balsamic-braised cipolline onions

like many of us, there was a time when i HATED onions. my poor parents had to sit across the dinner table and watch me pull every last tiny sliver of onion out of my bowl of chili for at least 10 years. "you can't even taste them!" they would say. but i was convinced they tasted like moths. (i don't know-- there's no explanation for it.)

now, not only does every dish i make begin with an onion saute, i seek, buy, braise, photograph, eat, swoon over, and blog about, whole onions.

these red lovelies are organic cipollines, a mild, sweet variety that has its origins in italy. it took me several weeks to finally decide on a menu where they could shine, and shine they did. a medium rare grass-fed top sirloin from skagit river ranch (one of the best pieces of beef i've had in a long time! such flavor...), brussels sprouts with cream and mustard (recipe from edible seattle), and a simple roasted delicata squash made up the plate.

balsamic cipolline onions
adapted from bon appetit, nov 1999

4 cipolline onions
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup beef stock
2 Tbps butter
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
salt and fresh cracked pepper

blanch onions in boiling water 3 minutes. trim ends and peel.

whisk other ingredients together in skillet over medium heat. add onions and bring to a simmer. cover and cook 30-40 minutes, turning them over occasionally, until cooked through to desired tenderness. taste sauce and season with salt and pepper.

this is a relatively savory sauce as is-- add more sugar and balsamic for a sweeter, tangier sauce. last time i made them i left out the worcestershire, added more sugar and stewed everything with golden raisins-- totally delicious!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

gnocchi with romanesco and bacon. tastes good, looks cool.

i go to the farmers market every week with a list and an open mind. i'm usually planning on a couple of recipes for the week, and the other nights are to be filled with a tbd market surprise. inevitably something new and strange makes it home with us.

one such market discovery is romanesco. this gorgeous vegetable which rob and i call the "fractal fruit," abandoning accuracy in favor of alliteration, is similar to cauliflower in texture and taste. its architecture of spirals built of spirals built of spirals is absolutely hypnotizing.

best of all, it can be carved into a seussian tree. oh, to live in a grove of these!

it's terrific roasted with plenty of olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. it also makes a damn fine gnocchi sauce.

gnocchi with romanesco and bacon
serves 2

1/2 lb prepared gnocchi
1/2 head romanesco, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken (or veg) broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
3 slices of bacon, chopped

blanch romanesco for 5 minutes in boiling salted water. drain and reserve.

cook chopped bacon in skillet over medium heat to desired crispness, remove from pan and reserve. drain all but 1 Tbsp bacon fat from pan and return to heat. deglaze pan with wine, scraping up browned bits, and reduce 5 minutes. add broth and reduce 5-10 minutes. add cream and reduce slightly, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

add blanched romanesco to sauce and cover, cooking 10 minutes. stir in parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper.

cook gnocchi in boiling salted water until it floats. drain, and pan fry gnocchi lightly in butter. (frying is optional-- my latest gnocchi batch is a little loose and needs this step to firm it up. plus, i like the texture of the fried bits.)

serve gnocchi with sauce, bacon, and grated parmesan cheese.

Friday, December 4, 2009

homemade beef stock

i don't use a ton of beef stock, but it's necessary for french onion soup, which i make a lot of in winter, and it's useful in braising. while there are a couple of brands that i don't mind using off the shelf (pacific foods is one), i've been curious for a long time about homemade. i finally took the plunge last week.

it's easy, but unlike chicken stock, it takes forever. fooooreeeever. one full day of cooking, about 12 hours, and another hour the next day to skim, bag, and freeze. i'm hoping the results will be worth it-- i've tasted it, and it tastes great, but haven't tried cooking with it yet.

these lovely bones are from island grown farmers co-op. they were roasted with veggies and then simmered for about 11 hours. my yield was 6 cups plus 1 ice tray of stock.

homemade beef stock

3 lb meaty beef bones for soup
2 large carrots, chopped in big chunks
1-2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped in big chunks
1 medium onion, quartered, skin on
1 tsp peppercorns
lots of filtered water

preheat oven to 375 degrees. put bones in single layer in large roasting pan and roast uncovered 45 minutes. add carrots, onions, and celery to pan. roast another 45 minutes, uncovered. if bones or veggies begin to burn, remove from oven early.

remove veg and bones to large stock pot, about 12 quarts. cover with several quarts of filtered water-- i used around 6 quarts, i believe. use some of that water to deglaze the roasting pan, scraping up any browned bits, and pour the mixture into the stock pot. add the bay leaf and peppercorns and bring to an active simmer over medium heat. skim accumulated scum from the surface. reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered or partially covered, at a very low simmer (there should only be the occasional bubble coming up from the bottom of the pot) for 6-12 hours. skim fat and scum from the top every 30 minutes to 1 hour. do not stir.

start tasting at 3 hours cooking. it takes a long time to get a rich, beefy flavor, but it doesn't hurt to taste it every hour or so to see how it's going. at this point i started adding salt in small amounts, a teaspoon at a time, every hour. don't stir, but gently work salt in from the surface. (some recipes i've read do not call for salt, but i find it's easier to tell where i am flavor-wise if i add a bit if salt. don't add too much-- most salt will be added in the final recipe.)

if necessary, add water during cooking to keep bones covered.

when it is significantly reduced and tastes like what you want, remove from heat and pour through a cheesecloth-lined colander. let cool, and refrigerate over night.

as it cools the fat will rise to the top and solidify. underneath is a yummy, gelatinous, bronze stock. skim fat from the top and either use stock immediately or freeze.

cooking time varies depending on your desired result. it thickens and the flavor concentrates as it reduces. i learned a little too late that the bones (which i was absolutely pained to throw away-- they still looked so substantial!) can be reused to make a remouillage, a second, weaker stock that can be added to the next batch of beef stock instead of water, or can be used on it's own in soups. sigh. next time.

i'm happy with my first successful attempt. i'll let you know how it goes when i make my next onion soup!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

edible seattle "wants farmers to be as famous as rock stars," and i think that's rad.

this is my favorite magazine. with a focus on sustainability and conservation, it is dedicated to showcasing the food traditions and bounty of the puget sound region. but edible seattle is more than amazing recipes and utterly beautiful photography. each issue is a crisp farm visit, a damp foraging adventure in the woods, a mouthwatering kitchen-table chat with a baker, and a garden tour of what's in season. they profile local chefs, pie makers, turkeys, grappa, CSAs, family farms, wineries, fishers, ribeyes, mixologists, chocolate, cheese makers, doughnuts, cooking oils, food-based self-development programs, urban chickens, bistros, and artisans of all kinds... just when i think there's no locally-produced stone left to turn, a new issue arrives to prove me wrong. they also have book reviews, food-related news highlights, and an events calendar featuring everything from seafood feasts to tree plantings.

i'm telling you, any locavore/foodie in this area should be reading this magazine.

for locavores/foodies not in this area, you're in luck-- edible seattle is one of the edible communities publications, a group of over 50 magazines in the US (and a couple in canada) that "celebrate local foods, season by season." each one is dedicated to a unique culinary region, and each is started and created by people in that region for people in that region. that is to say, while the magazines all share a mission, they are not stamped out of a mold with a couple of key words and photos changed. they really are custom produced with all local information.

the usual suspects are included-- san francisco, boston, austin, portland, chicago, los angeles, nyc (manhattan, queens, and brooklyn)... but there are plenty you wouldn't expect-- there's edible bozeman, blue ridge, south shore (massachusetts), wow (southeastern michigan), hawaiian islands, metro and mountains (atlanta), and the list goes on.

so, if this sounds like your kind of thing, check it out! you can find the publications listed here.