Sunday, April 15, 2012

Braised Kale & broccolini Salad

One more new (at least to me) recipe for the record from tonight's dinner:

Braised Kale and Broccolini Salad Recipe

1 bunch of Kale or Mustard Greens - trimmed and cut into one inch pieces (and all yellow/brown parts trimmed off, as is inevitable when cooking with week old veggies as I did tonight)
1 bunch of Broccolini (or Broccoli Rabe) - trimmed and cut into one inch pieces
Chicken/Veggie Broth
White Wine
Olive Oil
8 cloves of whole garlic
crushed red pepper flakes (or black pepper if you are scared of the red stuff, you know who you are)
salt to taste
Simple lemon salad dressing (recipe below) AKA our house dressing (or lemon juice if you are in a super hurry or just don't feel like it)

Add 4 garlic cloves to a large skillet with high sides along with the olive oil and heat to medium high until garlic cloves are very a slightly golden. Do not allow to burn.
Add half of the chopped greens, and when they cook down (30-45 seconds) add the remainder of the greens and the 4 remaining garlic cloves.
As the greens continue to cook, add salt to taste and pepper flakes, along with a good glug of white wine and chicken/veggie broth.
Bring to low boil, cover, and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes on very low heat.
After 10 minutes, check to see how your greens are coming along and if needed, add a tiny bit more chicken/veggie stock and wine. Taste to make sure salt and pepper is to your liking and cook about 5-6 more minutes, covered and on low heat.
After the veggies have reached your desired level of al-dente, add lemon juice or lemon dressing,
and serve immediately.

Lemon Dressing AKA our house dressing
Squeeze a meyer lemon or two (or a lemon + an orange/tangerine) into a small glass jar with lid, and add a pinch of salt, a pinch of cayenne and sugar or splenda to taste. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
Add EVOO to above, making sure that the amount of oil is no more than a quarter to a third of the quantity of juice - reversing the traditional salad dressing ratio is key to this dressing.
Cover jar, make sure it is tightly closed and shake. Taste and readjust seasonings and Voila - now you have your very own preservative-free, low labor salad dressing that works well on all salads plus braised veggies like the one above.

Channeling Sandra Lee, and going one better?

We were getting hungry for dinner, and I hadn't made it to the Farmers Market or grocery store, so I had to come up with something quick and easy and relatively healthy from the fridge and pantry, and thus was born the Whole Wheat Flatbread Pizza.

Whole Wheat Pita
Spinach - small handful (can sub with Arugula)
1 egg (farm egg if possible) at room temperature
Your favorite melting cheese (mozzarella/pepper jack slices
or brie or goat cheese or cheddar if that's all you have on hand
Crushed Red Pepper (optional)
Cooking spray or butter for the pan
Parmesan for grating (optional)

Preheat oven to 500 or 550.
Spray an oven safe pan with cooking spray (or butter for those so inclined) and heat.
Add the pita and let it crisp a little
Add cheese
Lightly saute the spinach in the space left over the pan next to the toasting pita,
and add a tiny bit of salt lemon juice if you like.
If using arugula or other salad greens, toss with salt and lemon juice and set aside.
As the cheese begins to melt, add the sauteed spinach or raw arugula.
Break the egg on top and carefully transfer pan to oven and turn oven dial to broil.
The egg should cook in a couple of minutes to soft set. You could also skip this step
and add a poached or lightly fried egg with a soft yolk instead.
Sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes, and grate the Parmesan on top if using.
Transfer carefully (using a fish-spatula or regular spatula) to dinner plate and
eat while warm!

Hope Springs eternal every Spring

I'm finally absolutely sure of one thing and that is that Spring is my absolutely favorite season!
Everyone else I know seems to love Fall and Winter, and the change of seasons but I just don't get it. It's easy for me to hate Winter - I love heat and sunshine and long hours of daylight and hate being cold, so it's pretty much a no-brainer! In my mind, cold and rainy days are good for one thing and one thing only - staying indoors and lazing around all day without feeling a shard of guilt.

I have to admit that Fall in the Bay Area is gorgeous - filled with warm Indian Summer days, but that's small consolation for the end of Nectarine and Pluots Season, shorter days, the falling leaves, and the worst offenders, the end of Daylight Savings Time followed by anticipation of the dreaded advent of Winter. And the litany of sorrows continues: the Christmas carols beginning in October, the forced cheer of the Holiday Season, winter weight gain, dogs who believe that they are going to melt in the rain (but then maybe they are taking their cue from me?) and refuse to go outside. I'd be remiss however to not mention the only saving grace of this season: Cyber Monday scores! Now if I could only find a deal on Louis Vuitton, Fall and I might begin to repair our relationship. Maybe there's a Relationship Counselor out there we could go see?

But I digress..I digress from the hope that is Spring, hope that is spilling out of my every pore as I sit outside in our backyard in the sunshine. All around me are the signs of anticipation: the roses that will be a riot of color by next week, my first real clematis about to bloom, the heady smelling orange blossoms that dream of growing up into fruit. The hope that the tiny green apricots and pluots will survive the squirrels, that the hummingbirds and blue-jays will continue to party it up and feast on the brilliantly pink Fuchsias. The hope that this year I'll finally manage to grow arugula, and lots of it. The hope of a weed-free garden that takes care of itself, the hope that Obama will win in November and that I will actually manage to post regularly to this blog again. And then the hope spills over into dreams big and small: to be thinner, taller, rich(er). To have a perfectly organized closet; that the Supreme Court will see the errors of their current ways, that the conservatives will stay out of my womb, and that of all my sisters; the hope that Palestine and Israel will learn to peacefully coexist. And if I can hope and dream for all that to come true, maybe I can hope to win the lottery too (even though I never play - talk of miracles!). As they say, a girl can always dream!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How dinner made itself AKA the advent of summer!

Since we finally made it to our local Farmers' Market today, I knew that summer was finally here! I tasted some sweet ripe California strawberries, the tiniest little clementines, and inhaled the delicately heady aroma of green garlic. Given the relative short season for green garlic, buying them was a no-brainer, but then my brain ached as I worried about how to showcase them without overwhelming them. But inspiration soon hit and it all fell in to place: I found some fresh oyster mushrooms and asparagus, and on the way home, I stopped by Trader Joe's (how did I ever cook before TJs?) to pick up some dried pasta, goat cheese and mache.

Our good friend Michele was over, and we went to work. We roasted the oyster mushrooms with some thinly sliced green garlic, tossed in extra virgin Olive oil, Salt, Pepper and some thyme from the backyard at 350 degrees for about 17-18 minutes - watch to make sure that it does not burn, and use your tongs to move the mushrooms around the cookie sheet a few times. Then we cooked about 1/2 a cup of diced pancetta, poured out the excess, added 8 oz of mascarpone to the pan, and heated it through, adding the cooked mushrooms to the pan at the very end. In the meantime, the dried pasta (pappardelle in this case, but fettucine or orichette would also work) was cooked al dente and added to the mushroom sauce and served with some grated pecorino romano at the table. Accompanied by a 2001 Scherrer Pinot Noir, it made a sublime dinner!

We also had a warm goat cheese salad and roasted asparagus, but the pasta was so incredible (and so simple!) that it warranted a blog post, at least IMHO.

And thank you Michele, for sharing in the inspiration, the cooking and the eating, and most importantly, for being my friend!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

My friends Dola & Laura asked me what I thought of this much acclaimed film... Frankly, I did not think much of it, and I fail to understand why it has become such a critics' darling. On second thoughts, maybe I have an idea why: it's timing - Slumdog set in Mumbai happened to be released just before the Mumbai massacre in November 2008. And with the world's attention focused on this city and its misfortunes, it is easy to fall in love with this vibrant hopeful movie set in Mumbai, even if it is seriously flawed as a film. Yup, the sympathy factor.

First and foremost it suffers from an identity crisis - it cannot decide whether to be a fable, a fantasy love story or a gritty art house film. It tries to be all of these, plus throws in a healthy dose of Bollywood Music for good measure and mass appeal. Granted, many movies combine genres with great panache, but in order for a such a combination to be successful it has to do so seamlessly. And have a heart. And for me, this is where Slumdog fails. The present day story is inter-cut with events from the Protagonist's past: These flashbacks are intended to explain his current predicament and advance the narrative - however, they end up feeling forced and the back and forth slows down the story significantly, and create a disconnect from the main characters.

If you have heard that is extremely violent, you've heard right. And the violence is excessively graphic - so bad, that ultimately I felt numbed by it. In spite of it though, or perhaps because of it, this film succeeds in one very big way: it brings to light the awful and very real living conditions of the slum dwellers in India. And if this helps even a small handful of these children escape those conditions it would be worth it. They don't need to become millionaires, they just need a real lifeline out of there...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

That moment in time

My afternoon was pleasantly unremarkable by the standards of most people, but for me it was a very special time. Perhaps the stars had aligned: I happened to be working from home today, on an unseasonably warm January day (~ 69 degrees in the sun) and I happened to be reading a heartwarming book about love and wine Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes from a Marriage while taking a very late lunchbreak in our backyard. And my feet were being warmed by our lab Sammie while our sun worshipping dachshund Masala snoozed on her little bed right next to me.

It felt like spring had sprung early: the birds were chirping loudly enough to drown out the traffic outside, the sky was a brilliant cloudless periwinkle, and the callas that had just come into bloom were being ravished by a couple of butterflies. And the best part of all was that my two favorite girls were curled up side by side at my feet. Sammie and Masala are not known for their affinity for each other and it is a rare sight to see them sleeping close enough to touch! I desperately wanted to take a photo to preserve this tableau for posterity, but I knew that getting up to get the camera would ruin the moment. My only choice was to record it in my mind's eye.

And that's when it hit me - this was one of life's most perfect moments - the kind you wish you could bottle and preserve forever. And although I am lucky enough to have experienced a few of those moments with my amazing Sweetie, I cannot say I have ever wanted to freeze time while I was alone (minus other humans that is). And here I was today, experiencing a perfect moment of profoundly peaceful solitude, literally in my own backyard. True self-contentment. It was an enlightening and quietly empowering moment, and I have my dogs to thank for it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Anderson Valley: My Happy Place

When life gets too hectic, my favorite escape is to the Anderson Valley, specifically to The Other Place . I wish I could say that it is really my other home, but sadly that is not the case :). It is a dog friendly rental home perched high above the town of Boonville and Hwy 128, and we like to go there once or twice a year for our vacation with the pups.

The dogs get a couple of fenced acres of their own to run around unfettered, and dig for moles and voles to their hearts' content. Sammie likes to swim in the pond, which also doubles as Kevin's Kayaking training area. And then there's a few hundred acres of private land to hike around on. Our favorite cottage is The Oaks, named after a couple of ancient oaks that shade it, and it offers 270 degree views of the mountains that surround Boonville.

I love the bucolic nature of Anderson Valley -- It is green and lush and still a whole lot unspoiled, at least compared to Napa & Sonoma. No fancy tasting rooms, low/ no tasting fees, no attitude, and no drunken frat boys veering wildly on the road. It is mercifully free of fancy hotels and resorts, and celebrity chef restaurants. What is has instead is several very good wineries -- most specializing in dry Alsace Whites and dustier, earthier Pinot Noir.

Navarro is a long time favorite of ours and we served some of their dry whites at our wedding - they are also very dog friendly, and have a nice picnic area -- make sure to taste their late harvest dessert wines -- sweet, but with enough acidity to make it interesting. We also like to stop by Roederer (preferable to go during the week when it's less crowded) Greenwood Ridge (the prettiest picnic area, and a very cool tasting room designed by one of Wright's disciples), Handley Cellars (with a female wine maker making some kick-ass wines) and Husch (their lighter white and dessert wines are a great value) and a comparatively new presence in the area: Zine Hyde Cunningham. I would be remiss not to mention, Golden Eye - they are the pinot arm of the venerable Duckhorn empire, but that venerability comes at a slightly higher price, at least by Anderson Valley standards. It is certainly worth visiting, especially if you can do a tasting in their beautiful outdoor tasting area overlooking the vineyards.

Our latest winery discoveries in this area are two of our favorites next to Navarro, and definitely fall in the not-to-be-missed category. And it is not just because they are really nice dog people, but also because they make great wines and are warm and welcoming when you visit. The first is Londer - chances are you will be tasting with Shirlee Londer in her kitchen, with her dogs at your feet. My favorite is their dry Gewurtaziminer but I also like their syrahs and pinots, especially the Anderson Valley Pinot.

The 2nd is Toulouse, which we found entirely by accident since they were one of the last ones open at the end of an afternoon of wine tasting. We really liked their wines and enjoyed talking to the owner, Vern, and his friends and bought a couple of bottles. The next day we went back and retasted the wines to make sure that our judgement had not been impaired the previous evening. We liked the wines almost as much, and bought quite a bit more. We have pretty much drunk our way through our Toulouse stash, and recently when I called to see if we could restock, learned that they had sold out of all our favorites. And that is also when I looked through their website and discovered that some their wines had been reviewed very favorably by both the Wine Spectator and SF Chronicle. Go Vern, we said, but we were just a little bit sad that it was no longer "our" secret winery. But we are happy at their most deserved success and wish them all the best!