Dark Days, warm salad

Posted by Anita on 02.28.10 5:33 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*I used to work with a woman who brought in a sleeve of bagels, a tub of cream cheese, and a carton of orange juice every Monday. She parked them in the office fridge and then religiously ate the identical breakfast every morning, for weeks, months, years.

Just the memory of it makes me a bit twitchy, but also more than a little envious — think of how much time I could save if I could be content with monotony! But though I crave familiarity as much as the next person, I could never be one of those people who eats the same thing over and over, day in and day out. Heck, I can barely stand to repeat a dinner menu more than monthly.

So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself craving — and then making — the same salad three times in two weeks. Originally, the recipe appealed because I found myself the proud owner of three heads of escarole, courtesy of our latest Mariquita Farm mystery vegetable box. I’d intended to use this broad-leafed chicory in a variety of recipes: in Zuni bread salad, in brothy Italian sausage soup, and sauteed simply and scattered with pine nuts. But once I’d tasted this salad, I couldn’t stop making it.

It bears more than a passing resemblance to salade lyonnaise – that heavenly mixture of pleasantly bitter frisée and thick lardons of bacon, crowned with a poached egg — but requires a lot less fuss. You can boil the eggs and fry the bacon hours ahead of time, then whip everything together when you’re ready to serve. And it’s interesting enough to hold its own, or sit happily alongside a simple main course like the roast chicken we made for this week’s Dark Days Challenge dinner.

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Warm Escarole Salad
- adapted from Bon Appétit

1 small head of escarole, torn into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
1 large slice bacon
1T extra-virgin olive oil
1T balsamic vinegar
3T finely chopped shallot
1 hard-boiled egg, diced

Over medium heat, cook the bacon until just crisp. Remove to paper towels, reserving the bacon drippings in the skillet. Chop bacon and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil and vinegar together. Reheat the bacon drippings in the skillet; add shallots and sauté until slightly softened but not browned. Add olive oil mixture and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide escarole between two plates, and drizzle warm vinaigrette over the top. Sprinkle with egg and bacon, and serve warm.


darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: escarole
Shasta Valley Farm, Gazelle (via Live Culture): bacon
Bariani, Sacramento: olive oil & vinegar
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: shallot
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: eggs and chicken
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt

exemptions: black pepper

Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes
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Dark Days, deep dish

Posted by Anita on 02.22.10 12:12 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*I find it fascinating how some recipes languish in my clippings folder for months, years even, before I set my mind to trying them. It’s not that they don’t sound appealing — clearly they do, or I wouldn’t have bothered putting them aside — but maybe the moment’s not right, the ingredients aren’t at hand, the quantities are best saved for a party.

Not every recipe gathers dust, though. Some send me sprinting to the kitchen as soon as I read them. And our friends Michael and Jen’s deep-dish pizza is one that I absolutely had to try right away.

I saw the original version of the recipe on Jen’s blog, Last Night’s Dinner, almost a year ago. We made it ourselves fairly soon thereafter, and we liked it. But we’re rather set in our pizza-making ways here, generally leaning toward thin-crust Italian-style pies when we decide to go the home-pizzeria route. Seeing Jen’s photos of Mike’s latest tweaks to his deep-dish recipe reminded me that we have a giant stash of Italian sausage waiting in our freezer, and got me thinking how well it would complement a sauce made from last summer’s home-grown tomatoes for this week’s Dark Days Challenge meal.

We gave Mike’s new edition a try — actually two tries in one week, that’s how much we like it — and weren’t surprised that it’s even better than the original pie. I made a few tweaks to the crust to adjust it to our taste; unfortunately, these changes turn Mike’s relatively painless recipe into a process that’s less convenient for weeknight preparation, so you may very well prefer his streamlined version. I often like to make and rise my pizza dough after dinner on one night,  then tackle the second rise on the next. If your schedule’s a little more compressed, you can quick-rise the dough — as Mike’s master recipe does — and the end result will still be very, very good.

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Deep-Dish Pizza
Adapted from Last Night’s Dinner, with crust tips from American Pie

- Crust
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1C warm water
3T unsalted butter, softened
1tsp table salt or 2tsp kosher salt
3C unbleached AP flour [15oz]

Grease a medium bowl with olive oil and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, butter, and water; let sit 5 minutes or until frothy. Add the flour and salt, and combine at low speed. Increase speed to medium and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and crawls up the dough hook, about 1 minute. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water if dough is dry; add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour if dough is wet. Continue to knead (in the mixer, or by hand) until dough is silky smooth and passes the windowpane test.

Form the dough into a ball and place in the oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough ball with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in bulk, about an hour. Punch down, reshape, and let rise again (covered) in the refrigerator, at least 2 hours or overnight. Bring the dough back to room temperature 2 hours before you plan to roll it out. (You can also use the dough immediately after the first rise, or even let it complete the second rise at room temperature, but the texture and taste will be better if you proceed with the second, slower rise.)

- Sauce
1T extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
2T shredded carrot
1-1/2 T chopped fresh thyme
a 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed with your hands
1/4 C red wine or port
salt, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt; sauté until soft and golden, then stir in garlic and cook until soft. Add carrot and thyme and continue cooking until the carrot is soft.

Add tomatoes and their juice, plus wine. Lower the heat and cook until the sauce is thick, about 30 minutes, seasoning to taste as you go.

- Finishing
1 recipe crust
1 recipe sauce
1/2 lb Italian sausage
2T olive oil
3/4 to 1 pound button mushrooms, quartered
8 oz mozzarella (if fresh, torn into 1-inch pieces; if drier, shredded — we like half and half)
1/2 cup freshly grated hard cheese (such as Dry Jack or Parmesan)
1/2 cup fresh basil or spinach leaves, chiffonade

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add 1T olive oil and crumble Italian sausage into the skillet. Brown, adding more olive oil if needed, until cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage to a plate lined with paper towels, leaving the fat in the skillet. (If your sausage is on the fatty side, you might remove some of the fat, but be sure to leave the skillet well greased.)

While sausage is cooking, saute the mushrooms in a large skillet: Heat 1T olive oil over medium heat, then add the mushrooms and saute until they lose their liquid. Salt if desired, and set aside.

Pat or roll the room-temperature dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Let rest for 5 minutes — this will help keep the crust from shrinking — then transfer it to the skillet. Press dough down into bottom of skillet and partway up the sides. Drizzle a little olive oil over the crust, then layer the sauce, sausage, mushrooms, and mozzarella. Bake on bottom rack of oven for 30 minutes. Start checking the pizza for doneness; you want the pizza crust to be golden brown, and the toppings to be just starting to brown. Remove pizza from oven and top with grated cheese and basil.


darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
Guisto’s Vita-Grain
, South San Francisco: sea salt, flour
Bariani, Sacramento: Olive oil
Catalán Family Farm
, Hollister: onion
Iacopi
, Half Moon Bay: garlic
Ottimino
, Occidental: Rancho Bello Zinfandel (for sauce)
Shasta Valley Farm
, Gazelle (via Live Culture): Mangalitsa Italian sausage
Far West Fungi
, Moss Landing: button mushrooms
Belfiore Cheese Company
, Berkeley: mozzarella
Vella Cheese
, Sonoma: dry Jack cheese
Mariquita Farm
, Watsonville: spinach
Anchor Brewing, San Francisco: beer
…and our own homegrown carrots, tomatoes, thyme

exemptions: yeast, sugar

Dark Days challenge, locavore, other blogs, recipes
7 Comments »

 

In a (carrot) pickle

Posted by Anita on 02.19.10 8:02 AM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at canning but held back because it seems complicated, consider getting yourself into a pickle.

Pickles are one of my favorite canning projects, because I am both lazy and messy. When dealing with simple brine — instead of the sticky goo of preserves, or the splattery plop of tomatoes — canning becomes almost too easy. You prep your vegetables, mix the pickling liquid, and put everything into jars. And because of most pickles’ high acidity, the chances that anything bad will happen during storage are practically nil. They’re the perfect beginner’s canning project.

The best part is, you don’t even have to wait until cucumbers are in season. Sure, those dilly spears are America’s favorite pickle, but canning books are jammed full of an international variety of vinegar-preserved vegetables. Even the bleakest winter farmers market usually has a decent assortment of root vegetables, and many of them — especially carrots and dense radish varieties — make excellent pickles.

If you’ve ever eaten the Vietnamese heaven-on-baguette sandwich known as banh mi, you’ve almost certainly enjoyed the type of pickle I made for this month’s edition of Tigress’s CanJam. Typically made with little more than carrots, daikon, ginger, vinegar, and salt, the version here adds star anise to give the julienned garnish a mysterious note.

They’re rather on the sweet side, but that makes a nice foil for the meaty, salty goodness of their signature sandwich partner. As the canning gurus at Ball tell us, “The job will go faster if you have a mandoline to julienne the vegetables”. But I managed a half recipe using just a very sharp knife and a lot of patience.

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Vietnamese Carrot and Radish Pickle
- from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

3 C white vinegar
3 C filtered water
1-1/2 C sugar
2 tsp grated ginger (microplaned)
2 pounds carrots, 1/8-inch julienne
2 pounds dense radish (such as daikon or watermelon) 1/8-inch julienne
6 whole star anise

Prepare canner, lids, and 6 pint jars according to the usual method.

Tigress Can JamIn a large non-reactive saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add carrot and radish; stir for 1 minutes, then remove from heat.

Place a star anise into each hot jar. Using a funnel, pack vegetables into hot jars up to just shy of 1/2 inch of the rim. Ladle hot pickling liquid to cover vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace; wipe rims and apply lids and rings.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and process covered for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid; wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check for seals, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

CanJam, preserving & infusing, recipes
6 Comments »

 

Dark Days, my valentine

Posted by Anita on 02.15.10 10:45 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*We hardly ever go out for big holidays like Valentine’s Day. It just seems so fraught, in so many ways. Somehow you always end up paying through the nose for a prix-fixe menu full of things that really aren’t what you’d want to order. And expectations are so high — not only because it’s everyone’s Special Night, but because, hey, you walked through fire to get that prime 8pm reservation — that there’s hardly any way a restaurant could rise to the occasion, much less impress.

So for as long as I can remember, we’ve chosen to stay in and cook ourselves a special meal. This year, we both decided we wanted a classic steakhouse dinner: A big, crisp salad with chunky bleu cheese dressing, a nice grilled ribeye big enough to share, a giant baked potato with all the fixins, a luscious ramekin of creamed spinach, and a special-occasion bottle of red wine.

With a little careful shopping, we managed to combine our romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for two with this week’s Dark Days Challenge meal — a wonderful match, if I do say so. Better still, we got to spend our evening cooking together, rather than circling endlessly looking for parking and jostling for a harried waiter’s attention.

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Steakhouse-Style Creamed Spinach
– serves 2

10oz fresh spinach
3T butter (divided use)
3T all-purpose flour
2T diced onion
1 small bay leaf
1 whole clove
2 C whole milk
pinch of nutmeg

Blanch spinach in large pot of boiling, well-salted water just until tender. Drain, then cool the spinach in a bowl filled with ice water. Drain well, then roll up spinach in kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Transfer spinach to food processor and chop.

Melt 2T butter in skillet over medium heat. Add flour and stir until light golden. Stir in onion, bay leaf, and clove. Whisk in milk, stirring until mixture boils and thickens, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until sauce is very thick. Remove bay leaf and clove, and add a pinch of nutmeg.

Add spinach to warm sauce. Simmer over low heat until spinach is heated through, stirring often. When ready to serve, stir in remaining tablespoon of butter, and season to taste with salt and pepper.


darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: spinach
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt, flour
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onion
Claravale Farm, Paicines: Raw milk
Little Organic Farm, Marin: potatoes
Clover Organic, Petaluma: sour cream
Prather Ranch, MacDoel: ribeye
Ottimino, Occidental: Rancho Bello Zinfandel
Star Route, Bolinas: Little Gem romaine lettuces
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, Pt. Reyes Station: Bleu cheese

…and our own homegrown bay and radishes

Exemptions: pepper, clove, nutmeg

Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes
5 Comments »

 

Dark Days, soup again

Posted by Anita on 02.07.10 9:16 PM

(c)2010 AEC *All Rights Reserved*Yes, yes — soup again. I’d really hoped to have something better to share by the end of the week, but I’m still fighting the after-effects of a particularly nasty cold. Making dinner is doubly complicated: Not only do I not feel much like cooking, but I often have to trick myself into eating something I’m craving before my appetite disappears again.

Early last week, the only thing I could really get worked up about making was tortilla soup. We’re still at least a month away from local avocados at our farmers market, but I couldn’t imagine this classic soup without them. Sometimes it’s worth it, I rationalized, to make an exception for an ingredient that has no reasonable local alternative.

As luck would have it, Cameron found semi-local organic avocados at our co-op — California is better than Mexico, right? And we have plenty of local tomatoes in the pantry, so I didn’t have to venture too far off the local path to satisfy my sick-kid whims.

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Sopa Azteca / Tortilla Soup
- adapted from Mexican Everyday

2 cups diced tomatoes in juice
2T ground pasilla or ancho chile
2T chicken fat (or mild vegetable oil)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 quarts chicken broth
1 large sprig epazote (optional)
2-1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, skinned, and cubed
6oz (about 1-1/2 cups) shredded mild cheese, such as asadero, Jack, etc.
6oz (about 4 cups) broken tortilla chips
1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges

Preheat the broiler. Drain the tomatoes, reserving the juice, and place on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. Broil the tomatoes until beginning to blacken; turn with a spatula and cook a little longer on the other side, until toasted and aromatic. Remove from oven and set aside.

Melt the chicken fat in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. Add the ground chile and cook for another minute or two; be careful not to burn the chile — add water and/or adjust the heat if you smell it getting too hot. Remove the vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving behind as much of the fat as possible, and transfer to the blender. Process until smooth, adding only as much of the tomato juice as you need to get a puree going.

Return the pan with the fat to medium-high heat. When hot, add the puree and stir constantly until the puree is thickened to a paste. Puree the roasted tomatoes and the reserved tomato juice, and add them to the pot along with the broth and the epazote. Bring the soup just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt. Add the chicken to the simmering broth and heat through.

Divide the avocado, cheese, and tortilla chips between four individual bowls. Serve the lime wedges separately at the table.


darkdays09-10_bugFarmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Tierra Vegetables, Santa Rosa: chile powder and garlic
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: chicken
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: Jack cheese
Primavera, Sonoma: Corn tortillas (for homemade tortilla strips)
Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: limes

…and our own home-canned chicken stock and tomatoes, and homegrown epazote

Exemption: avocado (California organic)

Dark Days challenge, locavore, Mexican, recipes
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