Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Pretty Simple Approach, 10 Lessons, Summer Salsa & More #PrettySimpleCooking #PrettySimpleDinnerParty


Back in February, I hosted a Pretty Simple Dinner Party to celebrate the release of  the cookbook A Couple Cooks - Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Real Food by Sonja and Alex Overhiser.* When Sonja emailed that they were hosting a second event, I was in immediately. I emailed some friends and told them to come hungry.


When I pulled the cookbook off the shelf, I started marking recipes I wanted to make for the #PrettySimpleDinnerParty v.2. Turns out that two of them I had already made - for the first dinner - including the Lemon & Pepper Green Beans and the Artichoke Lentil Stew with Salsa Verde. At least I'm consistent with my tastes, right? So, I went back in and picked different recipes to share this time around.

But I also wanted to delve more into what I love about this cookbook - besides the recipes. I love their philosophy towards food and cooking. And it can be summed up in their chosen hashtag for the events: Pretty. Simple. Cooking. They define their approach this way (pg. 6). Pretty simple cooking:

  • Balances beautiful, creative recipes with accessible concepts
  • Uses methods that are approachable, though not always quick
  • Produces bold, inspired flavors without too many hard-to-find or expensive ingredients
  • Features wholesome, seasonal, and quality ingredients
  • Emphasizes creativity and playfulness over list making
  • Is a lifestyle approach to everyday cooking

Also, their 10 lessons is pretty darn awesome (pg. 8). They are common-sense, but it's great to see it in a succinct list. Yes, I am a listmaker!

  1. Cook real food.
  2. Slow down.
  3. Love the (creative) process.
  4. Face your fear.
  5. Seek balance.
  6. Be mindful.
  7. Yes, you can.
  8. Gather and share.
  9. Respect the ingredients.
  10. Have fun.

So, I embraced their pretty simple approach and picked some recipes that were easy and delicious. And, once again, my guests didn't miss the meat at all. We started off with chips and salsa, a cheese board; we had mixed greens with peaches and a repeat of the Lemon & Pepper Green Beans; our main dish was their Rainbow Soba Noodle Bowls; and the evening ended with Fresh Berries with Mint and cinnamon whipped cream. What a feast!

Summer Salsa
a loose adaptation of their Peach Salsa

For this offering, I started with their Peach Salsa, but I wanted to include some garden tomatoes and fresh strawberries I had gotten from my CSA box. So, it became a summer salsa.

Ingredients
  • 2 organic ripe peaches, pitted and diced (approximately 1 C)
  • 1/2 C diced organic tomatoes (I used heirlooms from my Wombat's Garden of Edibles)
  • 1/2 C diced organic strawberries
  • 1 organic jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely diced
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
  • handful of fresh herbs (I used organic cilantro and mint)
  • juice from 1 organic lime
  • freshly ground salt

Procedure
Mix all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. Add a few grinds of salt. Let stand for 5 minutes to let the flavors meld. Eat immediately with tortilla chips. 

A World-Traveler Cheese Board

You can read my post about Building the Perfect Cheese Board. But, in this case, I was focusing on countries to make a board with cheeses from around the world. I picked a harvarti from Denmark, a double cream Gouda from Holland, and a Tomme de Savoie from France. To accompany the cheeses, I offered fresh figs, marcona almonds, raw almonds, baguette slices, and their Rosemary Olives with Lemon Zest (I had a hard time finding organic lemons, so I used a lime!).

This time, over dinner, my friends flipped through the cookbook as we ate and chatted. And one of them wanted to try California Toast with Almond Butter and Berries the next morning for breakfast. So, I let her take my copy home. And, I've heard, that another guest went right home and ordered a copy for herself and one for her sister. I love it!

This is definitely one of those books that inspires people into the kitchen and isn't just a beautiful book for the table that never gets used. It is beautiful. Don't get me wrong. But it's beautiful and useful. That make a winner in my mind!

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.


Here's what everyone else read in August 2018: here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Skip the Butterbombs and Pair Champagne with Alpine Cheeses Instead #Winophiles


This month the French Winophiles are opening and pairing Grower Champagne with Martin of ENOFYLZ Wine Blog at the lead. You can read his invitation here...and his preview of the online gathering here.


I'll readily admit: when I first saw the topic, my first thought was, "What the heck is Grower Champagne?!!?" You can read Martin's Q & A in the invitation linked above. But I was instantly intrigued and wondered just how many I could find in the month I had to prep.


First, I had to learn HOW TO: Read a Champagne Label...and look for those tell-tale letters. R and M. I didn't know it at the time that I bought the Louise Brison, but that bottle was a Grower Champagne.

If you're reading this early enough, feel free to join us on Twitter at 8am (Pacific time) on Saturday, August 18th. You can follow along with the hashtag #Winophiles. And certainly take a look at what the other bloggers are contributing to the discussion.


Pair Champagne with Alpine Cheeses
For my post, I decided to pair a Grower Champagne with cheese because, well, because I am a devoted caseophile. One of my favorite family field trips is to North Berkeley's Cheeseboard Collective. 


The blackboard, with its meticulously maintained list, is daunting in its length. Then there are the cases and cases of cheese where the only thing stopping me from whispering, "I'll take a little of everything," was my wallet. It's a cheese-lover's dream realized. Gorgeous rounds and wedges. Pungent to floral. Draped in cabbage or wrapped in straw. Bliss! Of course, whenever I see it, I buy the Camilla cheese! How could I not? 


Camilla, a young goat's-milk disk cheese by Italian cheesemaker Caseificio Reale, has just a little cow's cream added to give it lushness.

But I wasn't going to make it up to Berkeley before the event, so I stopped by the Cheese Shop in Carmel Plaza instead. These are photos from a few trips ago, but the shop is the same - fun and cheesy!


For years, my go-to cheese pairing with Champagne were triple crèmes. Buttery, oozy, and gloriously decadent. Those butterbombs seemed to fit well with the wine's effervescence, basically bubbling your palate clean for more cheese. That's not a bad thing.

However, I would urge you to skip the butterbombs and look to some alpine cheeses instead. I know it sounds strange, but the dense, aged mountain cheeses of France and Switzerland boast nuttiness of browned butter and roasted hazelnuts that can perfectly match the yeastiness of Champagne.

With the Vilmart "Cuvée Grand Cellier" Brut Champagne, I had a shopping list that included Comté which leans to the sweeter side; Gruyère which tends to be more nutty; and Appenzeller is a bit more on the spicy side.


When I asked the cheese monger for his favorite alpine cheeses, he added Mardi Grass, a Swiss-made cheese similar to Gruyère, and Schnebelhorn, a complex raw cow’s milk cheese with plenty of deliciously pungent sharpness, to my bag. And, when I asked for his pick to pair with Champagne, he selected Piave Vecchio which is a nutty, pasteurized cow's milk cheese from the Veneto -  in northern Italy. Its sweet, crystalline paste has a slight almond bitterness. I felt I was definitely on the right track with pairing bubbles with nuttiness!


Jake and I decided that our favorite match was actually one that wasn't on my original list. We loved the Schnebelhorn with the Champagne the best! Great call!

Gooey, Gorgeous Raclette

Perhaps, one of my favorite ways to eat alpine cheese: Raclette. Gooey, gorgeous raclette. Don't fuss - you don't need any fancy raclette equipment to have this delicious, cheesy dish at your house. Here's how...


Ingredients
  • small organic potatoes, quartered
  • salt
  • assortment of pickles (I had pickled asparagus, lemon cucumbers, and onions)
  • Raclette cheese, sliced to  ¼" thickness
  • olive oil

Procedure
Bring potatoes to a boil in salted water and simmer until fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Drizzle a bit olive oil onto a skillet and tilt to coat the entire surface. Put the cheese slices in a single later in the skillet. Place the skillet over a flame or under a broiler. Cook until it is melted and bubbling and just starting to brown at the edges.

While the cheese is cooking, serve some potaotes and pickles on individual plates.When the cheese is ready, use a spatula to slide the melted Raclette over the potatoes.

In the Glass

Vilmart "Cuvée Grand Cellier" Brut Champagne is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay and has a sophisticated nose that blends stone fruits and citrus. The palate matches the aromas with peach and nectarine flavors meeting an vibrant acidity. This is an elegant wine that is crisp and intensely focused. Sipping it invigorates the palate while the cheeses leave you satisfied and full. Cheers!


Next month the group will be pairing and writing about Cahors with Jill of L’Occasion. Stay tuned.

Ajo Blanco (Almond Garlic Soup) #SoupSaturday


Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm kicked off this group: Soup Saturday Swappers. And, this month, Sneha is also hosting. She asked us to share our favorite soups made with almonds. She wrote: "Share a soup that contains almonds in any form. Almond flour, sliced almonds, roasted almonds, crushed almonds, almond milk.as there are so many options out there."

I decided to whip up one of my favorite Spanish soups: Ajo Blanco.

Traditionally it's made with bread, almonds, grapes, and cucumbers. The bread acts as a thickener. This version is made with bread, blanched almonds, almond butter, and green grapes. I skipped the cucumber altogether because I didn't have any. Also, next time, my vampire husband asked to cut the garlic. Nonsense!

But, first, here are the other almond offerings...



Ingredients makes 4 servings
  • 2 C bread, crusts removed and cubed
  • 1-1/2 C vegetable stock
  • 2 C seedless organic green grapes + more for serving
  • 1/4 C almond butter
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar + more for serving
  • 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 C blanched slivered almonds + more for serving
  • 4 t thinly sliced lacinto kale for serving
  • fleur de sel for serving


Procedure
Place all ingredients together in the bowl of a food processor.  Blend until smooth. You can strain if you wish. I didn't. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

To serve, ladle into a shallow bowl and garnish with 1 T kale, a few grape slices, and slivered almonds. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Drizzle with vinegar.


Next month, we're making soups with potatoes. Do you have a favorite potato soup?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs #FishFridayFoodies


It's time for Fish Friday Foodies' August event. I don't remember why I missed July's event. Darn it.

In any case, we are a group of seafood-loving bloggers, rallied by Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm, to share fish and seafood recipes on the third Friday of the month. And this month, Wendy is also hosting as we share picnic fare that includes seafood. She wrote, "Share a recipe that is perfect for taking with you on a picnic. Think salads, sandwiches, spreads, dips, potluck side dishes."

Before I get to my recipe. Here's the rest of the #FishFridayFoodies' picnic menu...




Ingredients serves 4
  • 4 hardboiled eggs, peeled and halved*
  • 2 T mayonnaise (here's my homemade version)
  • 1 T diced smoked salmon + more for garnish
  • 1 T capers
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

*I know a lot of people have their favorite method for hardboiling an egg. This is mine: place eggs in a pot and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil, let the eggs boil for five minutes. Remove from heat and let them cool completely in the cooking water.

Procedure

Place the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl. Add in mayonnaise, salmon, and capers. Blend with a fork until well-combined and fluffy. Season to taste with salt and pepper, as needed.


Spoon the filling back into the cooked egg whites and top with a thin slice of smoked salmon as a garnish.

Trading Socorrat for Sunflowers


A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who was getting ready to leave on a 3-week trip to the Italian Alps. When I offered to cook for her boys a few nights while she and her husband were gone, she said the boys would love it. So, for two evenings this week, I've been feeding five boys! On Tuesday I made paella for the boys and they brought me flowers. It was perfect!


It was nice to spend an evening with them. The older one is now 21-years-old, but when he was a teenager, I looked at him...and his parents...with comfort that there is hope that my kids will like me and continue to communicate with me through these tumultuous teenage years.

Here was my trade: soccarat for sunflowers!

Ingredients serves 8
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled (peels and heads reserved)
  • 8 T olive oil 
  • 1 organic onion
  • 3 to 4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 1 bell pepper (I used a yellow bell pepper)
  • 3 ripe, organic tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 C Spanish paella rice
  • 1 generous pinch saffon
  • 1 Carmencita Paella Spice Mix sachet+ 
  • 5 to 6 C fish stock, warmed

+Juan, my Spanish friend who taught me how to make paella, used this and they brought some back from Spain for me, so I use it. But, in a pinch, you can add a blend of paprika, pepper, and clove to the pot. These packets also include a food coloring that makes regular paella a rich golden color. 

Procedure

Peel and dice the onions. Deseed and dice the bell pepper. Heat olive oil in your pan. Add onions and bell pepper. Sauté until the onion is slightly softened. Add the chicken and cook through.


Stir in the garlic. Add in the tomatoes and cook until they have lost their shape slightly, approximately 6 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle the seasoning packet into the pot and add the saffron to the side so it's not where the heat is most concentrated.

Tip in the rice. Pour in the stock. At this point, do not stir. Gently shake the pan to distribute the rice and seafood evenly. But do not stir. Ever. As Juan, my paella guru, instructed me: "This is not risotto."

Bring the pan to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Watch the pan and keep turning it so that the rice cooks evenly. As it cooks, the stock will be fully absorbed.

You will see fewer and fewer bubbles popping up through the top. When it is completely dry, it's done. The rice should also be crackling. It reminds me of rice krispies. Snap, crackle, and pop!


When you no longer see any bubbles, remove the pan from the heat. Tent it with foil and let it steam for 10 minutes.


To serve, use a flat spatula to scrape the soccarat from the bottom. Invert the scoop onto the individual plates to show off your soccarat, that delicious, crusty goodness on the bottom of the pan! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Spiced Rack of Lamb #BacktoSchool


Okay, before you get huffy that rack of lamb is not a back-to-school dinner, let me tell you a story.


My little one started high school this month. And the day before school he said, "I'd like to request some food since it's my first day of high school." Okay. 

He picked Off-to-High-School Crêpes for breakfast and rack of lamb for dinner. I had him rub the spices on the lamb before we all ran out the door for the day. He wanted a Middle Eastern-spiced lamb, so he added some harissa. And, when we got home, I stuck the lamb in the oven and took him to the store to get notebooks and other supplies for school. I told him that he needed to keep it under 45 minutes; we got home six minutes before the timer went off. I pulled the lamb out of the oven and let it rest while we chatted about his first day of school. Success!

But, before we get to the recipe, here's what the other bloggers are sharing for back-to-school...

Spiced Rack of Lamb

'Rack of Lamb' might sound fancy, but it's just like any other roast. Really. And it literally was our back-to-school dinner! I served it with a simple salad and finished off the evening with some Mini Peach Galettes for dessert. And if you have two hungry teenage boys in your house, be sure to double this and get two racks!

Ingredients serves 4
  • rack of lamb
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 1 t harissa
  • 2 t ground turmeric
  • 2 t ground paprika
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t ground cardamom
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil

Procedure
Mix all of the spices - up to the cardamom - together with a splash of olive oil to create a thick paste. Rub the paste all over the lamb and refrigerate until ready to cook. Remove the lamb from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking. Place the lamb in a roasting dish, meat-side up, and drizzle liberally with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the rack stay in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let rest for another 10 minutes before slicing.

I remember lamenting, for years, that my boys didn't care for lamb. Now I joke that I wish they didn't like lamb. My monthly meat budget would be a lot cheaper No, I am grateful for their adventurous palates and really happy that they like lamb because it's one of my favorites!

Poulet au Porto #FantasticalFoodFight


I love the Fantastical Food Fight coordinated by Sarah of Fantastical Sharing of Recipes. For more information about the event, click here.

I haven't been very good at participating, but this month, I couldn't resist. Our theme for the month is: Julia Child in honor of her birthday; so the group must be a Julia Child or Julia Child-inspired recipe.

The Julia Child Fantastical Food Fight

Poulet au Porto
Chicken with Port Wine, Cream and Mushrooms

I'll just start with this: this is a very loose adaptation of the version at juliachildsrecipes.com (here). Very loose. I was inspired by her recipe, but wanted to have crispy chicken skin...and I didn't have any cognac to set aflame though I am certain that my boys would have loved that detail. In any case, this is my version of a Julia Child recipe; this is not her recipe. For example, she starts with already roasted chicken. I opted to cook my chicken thighs on the stovetop.

Ingredients 
serves 4 to 6, depending on appetite
  • 6 to 8 organic bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T butter + 2 T butter, divided
  • 8 ounces crimini mushrooms, brushed clean
  • 2 shallots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 C organic heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 C port wine (I used a 10-year old tawny port)
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Procedure
Chicken
In a heavy skillet, melt 1 T butter in olive oil. Place the skin side of chicken down and cook for 25 to 30 minutes.



Turn the chicken over and cook for another 25 to 30 minutes. In the meantime, make the sauce.

Port-Mushroom Sauce

Melt 2 T butter in a large skillet and add in the shallots. Cook until the shallots are softened and beginning to turn translucent. Stir in the quartered mushrooms and turn to coat completely with melted butter. Stir in the lemon juice and port. Cook until the mushrooms are softened, but not completely soggy. I like them to still hold their shape!

Pour in the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce is thickened to your desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


To Serve

Move chicken to serving platter and spoon sauce over the top. Serve immediately. We served this with a spinach salad and a nice red wine.

Kimchi Soondubu Jjigae (Kimchi-Tofu Stew) #FoodieReads


When I was preparing for our annual family camping trip last month, I started asking friends for book recommendations because between the hikes, the canoe rides, and family meals, I tend to spend several hours of the day in my hammock! And someone recommended Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.* So, I bought a copy.


On the Page
I really enjoyed this book - so much so that I slowed my pace of reading towards the end because I didn't want it to end. There were so many threads of stories from a fishing village in Korea to Japan and to America and back to Tokyo. However, I also found the story incredibly tragic.

Pachinko is a sprawling saga that spans almost eight decades. It begins with Sunja, a teenager, who runs a boarding house with her widowed mother. She meets a fish broker who seduces her, gets her pregnant, and, then, tells her that he has a family in Japan. Her reputation is preserved when a missionary staying in the boarding house offers to marry her and raise the child as his own. They move to Japan where Korean immigrants are not well-respected. In fact, even Japanese-born Koreans are still considered visitors and are forced to register once they turn fourteen and, then, have to re-register every three years after that.

While Sunja makes a comfortable living selling, first, kimchi, then, sweets, she is still very much part of the working class. Pachinko, the slot-machine-like game ubiquitous throughout Japan, is the primary mode that ethnic Koreans can find work and accumulate wealth. Pachinko is, in a sense, the way to a better life, despite its criminal underbelly.

I don't want to spoil any more of the story than I already have. If you're interested in a compelling family epic, this will fit the bill.

In the Bowl
So, when I thought about what to make that was Pachinko-inspired, I was drawn to making something with kimchi as it represents Korean national pride and social mobility. Both Sunja and her sister-in-law, Kyunghee, make and sell kimchi. Noa, Sunja's son, is embarrassed when he smells of the pungent ingredients when he goes to school. He views being Korean as a burden and wants nothing more than to be Japanese.

So, full disclosure, this is my interpretation and it's an amalgam of different recipes I had found. One poached eggs in the fiery broth; one included marinated pork belly; one used a homemade anchovy broth; one added sliced shiitake mushrooms. I took lots of ideas and put them all together for my version of Kimchi Soondubu Jjigae. And some things are completely my own addition - I added in some ginger and lemongrass for added flavor!

Ingredients

Anchovy Broth
  • 1 ounce anchovy fillets (I used canned anchovies in oil)
  • 2 to 3 pieces of dried seaweed
  • 1 whole organic onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 whole organic black radish, peeled and quartered
  • 6 C water


Pork Belly
  • 1/2 C skinless pork belly, cubed
  • 1 T mirin (rice cooking wine)
  • 1/2 t ground black pepper

The Rest
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 2 C kimchi with juice
  • 1 organic white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 t freshly grated ginger
  • 1 t finely minced lemongrass
  • 1 t hot sauce (I used a version of Sriracha)
  • 1/2 t red pepper chile flakes
  • 1 T garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 1 C thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 block firm tofu, drained and thickly sliced
  • 1 C broth or water (I used a pork stock)
  • 1 T fish sauce
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced for garnish
  • cooked rice for serving

Procedure

Anchovy Broth
Place all of the ingredient in a medium pot. Bring to a boil. Keep at a boil for 20 minutes. Strain out the onions, seaweed, and black radish. The anchovies might have dissolved completely. Set broth aside.


Pork Belly
Place cubes of pork belly in a glass bowl. Pour mirin over the top and sprinkle with black pepper. Stir to combine. Let stand for at least 15 minutes.

The Stew
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 T sesame oil. Once hot, add the pork belly and marinade. Cook until the meat is cooked and some of the fat rendered, approximately 7 to 8 minutes.


Peel and press your garlic cloves. I have become enamored with the Garject from Dreamfarm when they sent me one to review, you can read more about that here.

Stir in the onions, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, red pepper chile flakes. Cook until the onions are softened and beginning to turn translucent. Stir in the kimchi and the hot sauce. Pour in the anchovy broth, additional broth, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Add in the mushrooms and continue to cook until they are softened, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. 


Gently lower the tofu into the broth and simmer for another few minutes.

Just before serving, carefully break the eggs into the simmering broth. Cover and let the eggs steam and poach for at least 4 minutes.


To serve, ladle stew into individual serving bowls. Sprinkle with green onions. Serve with rice on the side.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

 
Here's what everyone else read in August 2018: 
here.

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