Dark Days entertains

Posted by Anita on 11.06.07 4:18 PM

(c)2007 AEC  ** ALL rights reservedI don’t know about you, but it seems lately like my life is exploding with insanity. It’s not just work, either; it’s home and dogs and life in general. It’s all rush-rush, crazy nonstop chaos… and it’s not even the holidays yet.

I knew things had gotten out of hand when I realized we hadn’t seen Paul & Sean — friends we saw nearly every week in the summertime — in more than a month. Worse yet, we hadn’t hosted a dinner party in so long that I couldn’t even remember who had come, or what we’d served. Clearly, something had to give.

Now, the last thing any frenzied soul needs in the midst of a swirling storm of busy-ness is the stress of planning a soirée. So we resolved to keep things simple: A small guest list, a casual menu, and an early start time so as not to keep folks up late. Ah, autumn entertaining… the very best kind, don’t you think?

Contorting our weekly menus into the Dark Days Challenge hasn’t been much of an effort, truth be told. But then, it’s hard to feel too smug when your whole meal plan involves soups, pastas, and meat-potatoes-veg plates with a green salad to start. Weekday dining is pretty fanfare-free at our house, and we like it like that.

But for company, it seemed like a nice touch to try at least one recipe that was just a little more haute than humble. For months, my recipe file has held a strange-sounding starter — Leek & Potato Soup with Melted Leeks in Ash — from rising star chef James Syhabout (of PlumpJack Cafe fame when the article debuted, now chef de cuisine at two-star Manresa… ooh-la-la!). Just as I’d hoped, the soup was special but not too fancy for the casual entree of braised lamb alongside bean-and-rice salad. And then there was that dreamy spice cake, frosted with icing made from local cream cheese and butter… a lovely kickoff to fall, if I do say so myself.

Thanks to the generosity of party guests Cookie and Cranky, we are now in possession of a bag each of whole-wheat flour and cornmeal, both grown by Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley. And — wonder of wonders — I found locally made dried pasta. Although neither organic nor sustainable in any discernible fashion, Eduardo’s Pasta Factory could hardly be more local: They’re just over the neighborhood line in Bayview, pratically visible from our back deck. Better yet, they make a pretty nice assortment of pasta types; this week we bought rotini, linguine, and penne, and there’s a few more shapes awaiting our next shopping trip. All in all, a good week for local carbs.

New to our pantry this week, sorted by distance:
Eduardo’s Pasta Factory dried pasta – San Francisco
Sicilian-style hot Italian sausage – San Francisco
Mastrelli house-made cheese raviolini – San Francisco
Divinely D’Lish
granola – San Francisco (+local farms)
milk chocolate chips – Burlingame
Amy’s Organic
canned split pea soup – Petaluma
Jimtown Store
deli artichoke spread / pasta sauce – Healdsburg (Sonoma County)
Alexander Valley Gourmet
Manhattan-Style Pickles – Healdsburg
Full Belly Farms
certified organic flour and cornmeal – Guinda (Capay Valley)
Sierra Nevada Cheese
Gina Marie cream cheese – Willows (near Chico)

(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved(c)2007 AEC ** ALL rights reserved

Last week’s Dark Days Challenge meals included:

Beef stroganoff
- Prather Ranch beef chuck, Far West Fungi white mushrooms and dried porcini, Eatwell onions, Clover Organic sour cream, homemade stock
- Eduardo’s Pasta Factory rotini and Dirty Girl haricots verts

Sunday lunch with friends
- Leek-Potato Soup: Little‘s potatoes, Eatwell leeks, homemade veggie broth
- Braised Lamb: Marin Sun Farms leg of lamb, Hedonia preserved lemons, Eatwell onions, Chateau Souverain sauvignon blanc, homegrown thyme, Happy Quail roasted peppers
- Bean & Rice Salad: Eatwell onions, Happy Quail sweet peppers, Rancho Gordo beans, Massa Organics brown rice
- Raita: Hamada cucumber, Chue’s cilantro, Redwood Hill goat yogurt
- Spice cake: Gina Marie cream cheese and Clover Organic butter, Alfieri almond brittle
- Wines: Chateau Souverain syrah, Merryvale Starmont sauvignon blanc

Soup & salad
- Pasta Fazool: Home-canned Mariquita tomatoes, Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, Fatted Calf pancetta, homemade chicken stock
- Pear salad: Little‘s lettuce, Apple Farm pears, Point Reyes blue cheese, Glashoff walnuts, Bariani olive oil, O vinegar

Stacked chile verde enchiladas
- Prather pork, Quail Hollow chiles and tomatillos, Eatwell onions, homemade stock, Rancho Gordo tortillas and beans, Spring Hill colby-jack cheese

Friday (…is always pasta night)
- Mastrelli ricotta raviolini topped with Hedonia marinara sauce
- Molinari hot Italian sausage, grilled
- Salad: Little’s lettuce, Glashoff walnuts, Three Sisters Serena cheese, Chue’s green onions, Bariani olive oil, O vinegar
- Rosenblum 2005 San Francisco Bay Zinfandel (from Alameda!? Who knew!)

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Comment by Chubbypanda

I hate how busy it always gets during the end of the 4th fiscal quarter. Everyone is trying to celebrate holidays and finish everything up for the year.

Posted on 11.06.07 at 5:37PM

Comment by cookiecrumb

That soup was dreamy. Not heavy, and (strip me of my credentials now), I couldn’t even tell it was leek and potato. Ethereal. With an earthy green dab in the middle.

I know Eduardo’s pasta! We love their cappellini (birds’ nests). Not locally grown, but homies nonetheless.

You’re doing great with the Challenge.

Posted on 11.06.07 at 6:22PM

Comment by Bri

Kudos on participating. Wish I’d known about it sooner since I’m inclined to make mostly local meals anyway. Aren’t we spoiled in California? By the way, I love Amy’s stuff. Their cheeseless pizza is divine.

Posted on 11.06.07 at 7:40PM

Comment by s'kat

Good to see I’m not the only one in the midst of may-jah insanity! And yes, you California types are utterly spoiled by the local bounty. ;)

Posted on 11.10.07 at 7:50AM

Comment by Nicole

I would be curious to hear about the technique for melting a leek in ash. It sounds interesting and vaguely dangerous! *grin*

Posted on 11.12.07 at 4:31AM

Comment by Anita

Panda: Yep, and it’s only gonna get worse. Argh!

Cookie: Yeah, not local ingredients, but locally produced. Which is as much as anyone local is doing, to the best of my knowledge.

Bri: Totally spoiled, yes! I got an email back from Amy’s PR person on Friday. and again they’re unable to use local ingredients (too large a scale, she says) but they are mostly made in Northern CA.

S’kat: It seems to be going around, that insanity thing.

Nicole: The leek in ash is actually not nearly as impressive as it sounds. :D But the technique is in the newspaper recipe I linked to from the post:

>>For the melted leeks: Preheat oven to 500°. Wash the leek free of grit from top to bottom. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil, and place the leek on the tray. Put into oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the leek is completely charred on the outer layers and softened. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Clean the leek by peeling off the outer charred layers. Crumble about 2-3 of the layers as fine as you can [[I used a cooffee grinder]] until they resemble ash. Set aside separately. Roughly chop the tender inner layers of the leek, and place into a mixing bowl. Stir in the reserved “ash,” and mix in olive oil and salt to taste.<<

Posted on 11.12.07 at 8:29AM

Comment by Tartelette

You are such a source of inspiration! I try to purchase as many local ingredients as I ca but it is difficult around our part. We finally got a slow food/ eat local restaurant in town, but they chare and arm and a leg for anything. The farmers’ market is still the best place to go to. Lovely soup and thanks for listing all your different resources, it makes me dream!

Posted on 11.16.07 at 1:44PM

Comment by Sean

I didn’t realize Eduardo’s was new to you. We’ve been fans for years. I especially like the palo e fieno.

Posted on 11.16.07 at 7:27PM

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