Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Voted - Brown Butter Scrambled Eggs with Sage

I always feel a sense of pride when I come out of the voting booth and collect my "I Voted" sticker. I leave the polling place feeling optimistic, and proud of democracy. Then the returns start to come in, and more often than not, my heart sinks, and disappointment sets in. The morning after is like a bad hangover. A headache that's impossible to shake. I've had the "why vote" conversation several times with a few different people over the past few weeks, and this morning I was at a bit of a loss to defend my position, until I heard how few votes it would have taken to pass some of the most important California propositions, and the statistic that if the younger population had turned out in the same numbers that they did for Obama's election, things would have been different.

When I stepped into the voting booth, there was a mother and daughter in the booth next to me. The daughter was 18, and voting for the first time. It was a shared moment of pride between the two of them. I remember accompanying my parents to vote at the church down the street from us. I remember those nights feeling so important and meaningful. Seeing that girls cheeks flushed with excitement and pride, I felt hopeful, and know that I'll do the same some day with my children.

I'm trying to keep the memories of Obama's election night in mind. To stay hopeful about the future. The Bay Area celebration of the Giant's winning the World Series feels a lot like it did that night. A renewed sense of hope and optimism for the underdog, and for the possibilities ahead.

There's not exactly a segue into this dish. All I can tell you is that brown butter lends a nutty flavor to anything you pair with it. Sage is one of my favorite herbs, and the two together with someone as simple as scrambled eggs, brings it to a whole other level. You'll love it.

Brown Butter Scrambled Eggs with Sage

4 large eggs
1 tbsp chopped sage
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

Beat eggs with sage and a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl with a fork until well blended.

Heat butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until milk solids on bottom are a dark chocolate brown. Reduce heat to medium-low, then add eggs and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to consistency of soft porridge with small curds. Serve hot over toast.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rainy Days - Apple Crisp

The rain's been pouring down outside for the past two days. The wind's picked up outside, but inside I've got some homemade chicken soup on the stove, apple crisp just out of the oven, Ray LaMontagne on the radio, and, candles, in lieu of a fireplace. It's pretty cozy in here.

I love rainy days. They make a great excuse to stay in and cook. But they also lend a great moody quality to a road trip. Yesterday found us wine tasting in Dry Creek, just outside Healdsburg. We started the day at Preston Vineyards and ended at Unti. Stopping only for sandwiches, and for quick walk through the dripping vineyards. The valley was positively cloaked in fall, with golden leaves, heavy fog and pouring rain that never let up.

I wanted to stand out in between the vines forever, breathing in the smell of wet leaves, rain and woodsmoke. Simply fall. It's easy to love.

But back to the cozy indoors...where the soup is ready, Ray is singing, and the apple crisp is still warm, steam rising from the bubbling, caramelized juices. And I'm thinking, "This was a good idea."

Apple Crisp

For the apples:
2 Tbsp. lightly packed brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cardamom
5-6 large apples, roughly cut into same size pieces. I used half Rome apples and half Honeycrisp

For the topping:
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 egg, beaten well
7 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375, with a rack in the middle of the oven.

In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. Add the apples, and gently combine. Arrange the apples in an ungreased deep 9-inch pie plate, cake pan or a large glass dish.

In a second bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping the sugar through the salt. Whisk to blend well and then add the egg. Combine by using your hands, mixing thoroughly and squeezing and pinching the dough together until it creates a shaggy mess. Spread the mixture evenly over the apples.

Spoon the butter evenly over the topping, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is browned and the apples are tender. Cool.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Staying Sane - Panko-Crusted Chicken with Mustard Maple Pan Sauce

Lately, if feels a bit as if I'm losing my mind. I forget where my car is parked on a regular basis, I'm constantly leaving my wallet or phone at home, e-mails and phone calls go unanswered, and trying to make even the smallest decision leaves me at a loss.

My friends who've delved into working from home before tease me about my good intentions at the start, "Remember all those yoga classes you were going to take? All the time you'd supposedly have to cook?" I dimly remember thinking I would have more time to do those things. So far, I have yet to make those activities materialize on a regular basis.

The nice thing about it is, there's no time to be bored. There's nothing worse than sitting at a job, watching the minutes tick by and not feeling challenged. That's certainly not my problem, but as you might have gathered, I'm still having some trouble finding a balance to it all. On Monday I blink, and all of a sudden it's Friday. The weekends speed by, too short as always, and all I want to do is get out of the house and onto the road, out into the woods, taking a hike, picking apples, visiting friends. The weekend trips are keeping me sane.

And there happen to be a few on the horizon, I just hope that when they come, I can find a way to stretch out the minutes and hours to make it last just a bit longer.

And if there's one victory to this day, it's that I managed to sneak in half an hour to cook dinner. That's all it took, and the results were delicious. Panko crusted chicken, kind of like a "healthy" fried chicken, but with an amazing sauce. Maple and mustard, oddly enough, they go together, and fit the season as well.

This is a sauce that I've used for pork as well, it's a favorite. Feel free to use chicken breasts or chicken thighs, both are great. Is there anything better than a good pan sauce? No...I think not.

Panko-Crusted Chicken with Mustard Maple Pan Sauce
from Bon Appetit

2 8-ounce skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise in half (alternatively, you can use 4-6 skinless chicken thighs)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coarse-grained mustard
1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter

Using meat mallet or rolling pin, pound chicken in resealable plastic bag to 1/3-to 1/2-inch thickness. Whisk egg, parsley, and 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard in large bowl. Place chicken in egg mixture; turn to coat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Dip each chicken piece in panko; turn to coat. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook until brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, whisk broth, syrup, coarse-grained mustard, and remaining 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard in glass measuring cup.

Transfer chicken to plates. Add broth mixture to skillet; boil until reduced to 3/4 cup, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add butter; whisk until melted. Spoon sauce alongside chicken.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lick the Spoon - San Marzano Tomato Sauce

Lately I've been trying to make a concentrated effort to schedule things into my day aside from work; namely, cooking and having some sort of a social life. To that end, I've accomplished several things in the past week:
  • Attacking a Lamb Ragu recipe I've had in my recipe file for the past year or so
  • Driving up to Sacramento to visit a dear friend
  • Visiting the apple orchards on Apple Hill with said dear friend to try my first ever apple cider donut, oh so good!
  • Wine tasting for the first time in Amador, even the first rain of the season couldn't put a damper on this
  • San Marzano Tomato Sauce from scratch
I've been meaning to make San Marzano sauce for ages, and just never got around to it. Once I did, I finally understood why people say that these tomatoes make the best sauce. So, so good. It was such a comforting thing to have it simmering away on the stove all day while I worked, taking a break every so often to stir the bubbling sauce and inhale the savory fragrance. By the time I finished work I was practically crazy from the heavenly smell, I couldn't wait to dish it over fresh pasta...but I must admit, I snuck in a few spoonfuls before the pasta was ready. This sauce is so good, you'll literally be licking the spoon.

More on the apple excursion later, in the meantime, make. this. sauce.

San Marzano Tomato Sauce

12-15 San Marzano Tomatoes
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 small to medium yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher Salt & pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and in the meantime, score an "X" in the bottom of each tomato and set aside a large bowl of ice water. When the water is boiling, slide each tomato into the water, blanch for about 30 seconds, and then remove the tomatoes and stick them into the ice water bath. Use your fingers to peel the skin right off. Set the peeled tomatoes aside.

Over med-high heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until caramelized. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper; stir to combine. Simmer on low for about an hour or more , stirring once in awhile, and tasting as you go for seasoning (you can simmer for several hours for a deeper flavor) Remove bay leaf. Taste for salt & pepper, and add more if desired. Serve over pasta, or jar to save.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coming 'Round - Cream of Cauliflower Soup

I kept the sickness at bay for a good couple of days, enough so that I could enjoy beer with friends, the farmer's market and the long awaited Arcade Fire concert at the Berkeley Greek. Finally, this morning, it caught up with me. The aching neck and aching bones wouldn't be denied. There was only one thing to do: make a big pot of comforting soup and climb into bed.

And so I thumbed through the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, and stopped on the Cream of Cauliflower soup recipe. It just sounded right; rich and velvety, comfort in a bowl. It doesn't matter if you're not exactly crazy about cauliflower, you will love this soup. It's just rich and creamy goodness. So good, it made me forget my aching bones for awhile. It came together easily, and made my apartment smell amazing. It's the perfect thing for a brisk fall day. Outside, the wind has picked up, and the leaves are swirling around in the street. The fog is low, and slowly rolling in from the other side of the bay. You can smell fall in the air. It's arrived. And this soup is the perfect greeting for it.

I've really come around to fall. I've pulled out the back issues of gourmet and am spending some time going over the best of the season, marking the recipes I have yet to make, and being reminded of a few old favorites that I haven't made in a year or so. I'm feeling good about it. As long as the next recipes live up to the standard this one has set, I think the transition will continue to go well.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup
adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

2 heads of cauliflower (4-5 lbs)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
3/4 cup coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
1/4 tsp yellow curry powder, or madras curry powder
Kosher salt
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and cut out the core. Trim the stems and reserve them. For the garnish, trim 2 cups florets about the size of the quarter and set aside.

Coarsely chop the cauliflower and the stems into 1 inch pieces. Melt 3 tbsp of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, leeks, curry, 2 tsp salt, and cauliflower. Cover with a piece of parchment paper, cut into a circle with a small hole in the middle. This acts as a parchment lid for steaming the cauliflower. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are almost tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and discard parchment lid.

Pour in milk, cream and water, and increase heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the foam from time to time.

Using a hand-mixer (or a blender in batches) puree the cauliflower on the lowest speed, slowly increase until the consistency becomes smooth and velvety. Check for seasoning and adjust if needed. Transfer to a large saucepan and keep warm.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to boil. Add the vinegar and the reserved cauliflower florets and blanch until tender, 4-6 minutes. The vinegar will help keep the cauliflower white. Drain.

Melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter turns a rich golden brown. Add the florets and saute until a rich golden brown, set aside.

To serve, reheat the soup. It should be thick, but if it's took thick for your taste, add water to thin it to the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour soup into bowls and top with cauliflower garnish. Serve hot.