Out of the darkness

Posted by Anita on 03.16.09 8:45 PM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*Daylight Saving Time arrived this week, and with the longer days come the final few nights of the Dark Days Challenge. We’re also deep into the second full week of our “no new meat” freezer clean-out plan, which is going remarkably well.

Work’s been keeping us both insanely busy, so it’s a treat to be able to eat a home-cooked meal even on the nights when we don’t make it home until well after dark. And, as a side benefit, we’re finally able to see our freezer shelves again.

This week’s dinners included successful renditions of cassoulet, spaghetti and meatballs, and posole verde. But lest you think it’s been an endless buffet of effortless delights, I’ll admit that one night’s dinner — reputedly lasagne — resembled nothing more than a watery bowl of soggy, sausage-flecked dough. (Not sure what happened there; baked pasta always freezes well… or at least always has in the past.) It didn’t taste bad, but it certainly doesn’t count as one of the successes.

As nice as it is to work our way down the freezer inventory and pull a ready-to-heat meal out of storage, it does feel a little anticlimactic. After a few days of thaw-and-reheat, I begin to miss the prep, not to mention the actual cooking. Happily, most of the stuff in the freezer is bits and pieces, not entire prepared dishes, which means that there are plenty of chances to create a dish out of old leftovers or combine assorted remnants with a fresh ingredients to make a dinner that’s more than the sum of its parts.

Dark Days Eat Local ChallengeOur favorite meal this week: A simple paella that used up some orphaned chorizo, leftover roast chicken, and red pepper strips we froze last summer. It’s not the most authentic Spanish dish, but it’s easy enough to get on the table for a midweek meal, and undeniably delicious. And, as an added bonus, we got to sample the season’s first fava beans — a little dash of spring in our final Dark Days meal. With the exception of the pimentón and the saffron, everything came from within our 100-mile radius.

When it comes to paella, the sausage you want is firm Spanish chorizo — the refrigerated sort that’s a similar texture to andouille, definitely not the soft Mexican kind, nor the dry charcuterie style. The Spanish Table in Berkeley sells an assortment of brands; we used the locally made Neto’s.

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Weeknight Paella
- makes 6 to 8 servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/2 inch slices on the diagonal
1 small onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped or 1/2 cup bottled red-pepper strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon pimentón, or to taste
2 cups short-grain rice
1 pinch saffron threads
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
8oz roast chicken, skinned, deboned, and torn into chunks
1/2 cup peas or shelled fava beans
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F.

Heat oil in a very large skillet (ours is 14″) or paella pan over high heat. Add chorizo and cook until browned and fragrant. Drain off most of the chorizo fat, leaving just enough to saute the vegetables. Add onion, red bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes.

Add rice, pimentón, saffron, and bay leaves. Stir to combine and coat the rice, about 1 minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add chicken, peas (or favas); stir to combine.

Transfer skillet to oven. Cook uncovered until rice is tender and no liquid remains, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Fluff with a fork and serve immediately.

Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes


40 days with my freezer

Posted by Anita on 03.11.09 11:49 AM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*Two weekends ago, I nearly lost a toe.

I’d been rooting around in the upstairs freezer (yes, we have two — doesn’t everyone?), looking for some mysterious recipe ingredient, when the Jenga pile that is the meat shelf gave way. Luckily, I jumped back just in time to avoid an avalanche of frozen bricks, but it was a near thing.

With no time to spare, I shoved everything back in as neatly as I could, and added “re-organize the freezer” to my to-do list. It took me a while to get there, but one cold and cloudy morning, I tackled this long-overdue task. I took everything out of both freezers, inventoried the contents, and put it all back in the least-precarious and most-logical way possible. Admiring my newly tidy spaces, I felt so virtuous.

But as I surveyed the inventory list, that virtuous feeling vanished. How in the world had we managed to squirrel away enough food to fill two standard freezers? Just the list of our frozen fodder filled an entire letter-size page!

Happily, this is one embarrassing problem we can literally eat our way out of.

Dark Days Eat Local ChallengeI sat down and quickly mapped out 14 meals we could easily make by combining two or more components of the freezer. (Beef plus chorizo plus buns equals Sloppy Joes. Beans plus pork plus sausage equals Cassoulet.) And that wasn’t even counting the dozen or so ready-to-eat meals — like beef stew, coq au vin, and chili — that we’d set aside. I quickly realized we could go for weeks, eating very well without buying anything but fresh vegetables.

So, just in time for Lent — which we don’t celebrate, but definitely respect — I floated a new house rule: No new meat until we eat down our glut. Which, if we’re diligent, I predict will happen right about Easter Sunday. Cameron happily agreed, with one exception: Bacon. There will be bacon. Because it’s just not the weekend without everyone’s favorite cured meat.

So far, I have to say that our experiment’s been a wild success. We’re clearing out the freezers — I can see shelves! — while we save time and money, which are never abundant, but seem to be in even shorter supply this month. The oldest thing we’ve eaten so far? A bag of Rick Bayless’s ancho beef chili dated 6/07, which tasted surprisingly fine.

One of the winningest put-togethers so far is a new variation on an old favorite: chicken pot-pie. With a bag of pie-crust scraps begging to be used, we decided to take a break from our usual biscuit-topped recipe. I’m glad we did, because the rich, warm flavor of the sherry and the savory pop of mushrooms in this version make it a worthy variation.

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Chicken Pot Pie
– adapted from Kitchen Sense

3-1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (a generous pound by weight)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
6oz small mushrooms, quartered
1 tsp thyme leaves (stripped from the stem)
1/3 cup peas (not in season yet, so we omitted)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sherry or dry white wine
5T all-purpose flour
2 cups poultry stock
1 bay leaf
1T chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 recipe of your favorite pie crust (enough to cover a 9-inch pie pan)
1 small egg, beaten with 1 T cold water

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Melt 3T of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft, the add the carrot and celery and continue cooking for another 3 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook until the mushrooms give up their liquid. Add the peas, 1 tsp of salt, and pepper to taste; stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Deglaze the pan with half of the sherry; remove the cooked vegetables and their juices to a bowl and set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet, then whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the paste takes on a blonde color, Whisk in the stock and the remaining sherry, then add the bay leaf, thyme, 1 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer until thickened.

Add the cooked chicken and sauteed vegetables to the sauce. Transfer the mixture to a 1-1/2 quart baking dish (such as a deep-dish pie pan) and set aside in a warm spot near the oven.

Roll out the pie dough about 1 inch larger than the diameter of the baking dish and about 1/4-inch thick. Place the dough atop the pie filling, and press the overlap to the outside of the dish. Place the filled and covered pie on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg, then make a few slits to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425°F until the crust has risen and begun to take on color. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve.

Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes


Visitamos Contigo

Posted by Anita and Cameron on 03.03.09 7:44 PM

(c)2009 AEC *all rights reserved*

Meeting a friend you’ve only known online can be a nervous affair. Will you get along? Will they be cool in person? What if they have a funny voice and a big nose? When the moment comes and they turn out to be even more fabulous than you’d hoped, the elation feels like a glassful of Champagne… or cava in this case.

Elation was definitely the order of the evening Saturday night when we finally met Contigo, the new Spanish restaurant from our friend, Chef Brett Emerson. If you’re a fan of his blog, In Praise of Sardines, you’re probably familiar with the saga of Contigo’s opening, from the thrill of Brett’s snagging of a rare new-restaurant permit in Noe Valley, through the agony of multiple construction delays. I don’t know how Brett feels, but after tasting his food at a friends-and-family dinner before Contigo’s formal opening, I think all the drama was all worth it.

The space is beautiful, simultaneously contemporary and cozy. It’s not large, but it feels expansive thanks to five distinct dining zones — chef’s counter, lower dining room, cava bar, upper dining room, and a heated, covered outdoor patio surrounded by herb gardens.

Contigo’s ingredients are locally sourced, but not slavishly so — there’s jamón from Spain (and Iowa), alongside meat and vegetables from the usual assortment of local farms. And the food on the plate is every bit the equal of its gorgeous environment. We had a devil of a time deciding what to order; everything sounded appealing. Like an Iberian version of our favorite SPQR, Contigo offers an assortment of small pica-pica plates ($8 each, or $21 for three). Venerable tapas like crisp patatas bravas and marinated sardines take their place alongside an assortment of salads with Spanish twists. In the latter category, we loved the remojon: salt cod, oranges, and olives atop white radicchio.

We tried a couple of larger platillos as well. The juidones a la segovia were a dreamy assortment of delectable pork parts (belly, ears, yum!) atop creamy butter beans. The chorizo-y txistorra burger was fabulous, but be ready to share it with a friend; it’s too good to miss, but a little too rich to eat as an entree.

We weren’t sure how we managed to save room for dessert, but we were happy we did. We made short work of the not-too-sweet almond cake, filled with a dollop of pastry cream and a schmear of olallieberry preserves, a sweet nod to the restaurant’s history.

Contigo opens tonight, and there’s sure to be a line; reservations are accepted only for parties of 6 or more. But there’s a stand-up drink rail along the entryway, where you can enjoy a glass of cava and a nibble or two while watching the cooks work their magic in the beautiful open kitchen.

Contigo Kitchen + Cava
1320 Castro Street (x 24th Street)
San Francisco, CA 94114

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