Saturday, December 20, 2014

DIY Foodie Treats Make Great Last Minute Gifts: Hot Fudge Sauce and Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Receiving and giving gifts feels good. What doesn't feel so great is shopping during the last week before Christmas. Parking lots are full. People are distracted so their driving is dangerously erratic. A good alternative to shopping in this competitive environment is to stay home, have a cup of coffee, listen to a podcast and make gifts in your kitchen.
I have two favorite recipes I want to share that are easy-to-make gifts guaranteed to bring pleasure to your friends and loved ones: hot fudge sauce and Moroccan preserved lemons.
Hot fudge sauce for hot fudge sundaes is a treat with delicious contrasts of warm rich chocolate, icy cold vanilla ice cream and crunchy almond slivers. 

Moroccan preserved lemons are used to make tagines, the wonderful meat and vegetable dishes that are served in conical dishes. Tagines seem exotic but at their heart they are braises. What gives them their unique flavor is the addition of preserved lemons. During a cooking class on a press trip in Morocco, we were shown how to make vegetable picklestagines and preserved lemons. Ready to eat within two weeks, the longer they are kept in the jar, the more flavorful they become. 

Both recipes are simple and easy to prepare, using no additives or preservatives and filled with the wonderful flavor of natural ingredients.

Hot Fudge Sauce for Hot Fudge Sundaes

Read the labels of store-bought hot fudge and there will be ingredients you did not want to put on your sundae. The beauty of this recipe is it's simplicity. Cream and good quality chocolate are all you need.

Four ounce canning jars are good for gift-giving. Buy canning jars (Ball and Kerr) because they will not break when placed in a warm water bath to reheat the hot fudge. 

Use good quality chocolate with no preservatives. I like to use Belgium chocolate with 70% cacao. The quality of the cream is no less important. The only heavy cream without preservatives I have found is sold at Trader Joe's. 

Yield: 6 four-ounce canning jars

Ingredients

6 four-ounce canning jars

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 1/4 cups dark chocolate, cut into dime-sized pieces

Directions

Place the canning jars in a large pot. Fill with water to cover the jars. Place on a burner and bring the water to a boil. Keep the water boiling for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Drop the canning lids into the hot water. Set aside.
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the cream until simmering. Remove from the flame.

Add the chocolate pieces.
Use a large wire whisk to mix the chocolate into the warm cream. Stir well until the chocolate is incorporated into the cream.
Remove the sterilized jars and lids from the water. Dry well. 

Fill each jar within 1/4" of the top. Seal with a lid.

Keep refrigerated.

Before serving, place a small saucepan on the stove on medium heat. Remove the lid and place the jar of hot fudge in the water. Simmer ten minutes or until the chocolate has heated. 

Drizzle onto scoops of ice cream. Top with caramelized nuts (see below recipe) and whipped cream (optional).

Caramelized Almond Slivers

Trader Joe's got me hooked on their blanched almond slivers. They are inexpensive and easy to use. The nuts can be used raw or lightly toasted. Caramelized, they are the perfect topping for a hot fudge sundae.

When I caramelize almonds, I make a lot because they are delicious as a sweet snack or used in cakes, cookies and muffins.
Serves: 20-25

Ingredients

8 ounces raw almond slivers

1/4 cup raw sugar

Directions

Place a large frying pan on a low flame. When warm, add the slivers and toss to lightly brown. 

Add the raw sugar. Mix well with the almonds. Use a non-stick silicone spatula to toss the sugar together with the almonds.

Continue tossing together until the sugar begins to melt. Be careful the sugar doesn't burn. 

Remove from the flame and allow to cool. Do not allow the slivers to form clumps.

When cooled keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

The lemons will keep for many months in the refrigerator. The longer they cure, the more fragrant their flavor. Mixed into a sauce, they have a unique citrus-perfume.

Yield: 6 eight-ounce jars
Ingredients

6 eight ounce canning jars

25-30 lemons, medium sized, preferably Meyer lemons, unblemished

1 1/4 cups kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

18 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

Directions

Place the canning jars into a large pot. Fill with water so the jars are submerged. Place on a burner and bring the water to a boil for ten minutes to sterilize. Remove from the burner, drop in the lids and set aside.
Rinse and scrub well the lemons. Dry and set aside.

Remove the jars and lids from the water. Dry.
Set up the dry spices and jars on a counter so you can work assembly style.

Into each jar, place 3 bay leaves, a 1/4 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns and a pinch of hot pepper flakes.

Pick out 18 of the nicest formed lemons, with smooth skin and set aside. Juice the remaining lemons as each jar is filled. All the remaining lemons may not be needed, depending on how juicy they are.

Each of the whole lemons to be preserved will be cut into quarters but kept whole by cutting 2/3s of the way down the lemon. Rotate the lemon and make a similar cut so there are 4 sections of lemon still attached on the bottom.
Each jar will have three lemons. Place the first lemon cut side up in the jar. Spread the lemon open and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Press down to release juice. Do the same with the next two lemons. Pour in lemon juice so the lemons are covered, just below the lip of the jar. Seal with the lid and place in the refrigerator.

Once a week, check the jars to see if more lemon juice should be added to keep the lemons covered. Periodically shake the jars for even distribution of the spices.

Refrigerate.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Cracked Olives

On our press trip we traveled around Morocco from Casablanca on the coast to Fez in the east and then into the center of the country with stops in Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains where we had our cooking lessons. The tagine is a basic dish with an infinite number of variations which depend on the seasons, the region and the personal taste of the cook. 
If you do not have a clay tagine, a Chinese clay pot or a heavy bottom large sauce pan will work almost as well.

Serves: 4

Ingredients


1 whole chicken, washed thoroughly
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/3 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of 1 package powdered saffron
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, peeled, stem removed, finely chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, cut into rounds
2 celery stalks, ends trimmed, washed, sliced
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)

1 preserved lemon peel (per above recipe), white part or pith peeled off and discarded

1 cup cracked olives

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Directions
Cut the chicken into wings, legs, thighs and breasts. Place the chicken pieces into a container. Cover with water. Add kosher salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Put the bones into a pot, cover with water and simmer 60 minutes. Strain and discard the bones. Refrigerate the stock to use in the tagine. 
Remove the chicken from the brine. Wash and pat dry.
Skim off any fat from the stock.
Bend the cilantro in half to better control and finely cut. Place the garlic and cilantro pieces into a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board and mash together.
Place the chicken pieces in a tagine or in a pot with a cover. Add the garlic-cilantro paste, oils, spices and toss well to coat. Place on a medium flame. Cover.
Use tongs to turn frequently to brown.
Add chicken stock and stir well to create the sauce.
Add carrots, celery, chopped raw onions, finely chopped preserved lemon peel and cracked green olives. 
Simmer 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt or ground pepper.


Continue cooking until the chicken pieces are tender, place the covered tagine on the table and serve with steamed rice as a side dish. If a tagine is not available, transfer the chicken and sauce to a covered casserole dish.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Winter Pick-Me-Up: Roasted Vegetable Salad


Roasted kale and celery root salad.

In summer, a ripe tomato salad mixed with peppery arugula leaves and bits of salty, creamy Bulgarian feta can be a meal in and of itself. When the weather cools and a weakening sun denies farmers the heat they need to grow nature’s leafy wonders, we still hunger for salads but now it’s time to look to hearty greens and root vegetables to satisfy that craving.
In winter, walking through the local supermarket’s fresh produce section, it’s easy to believe we live in a one-season world. Vegetables and fruit that require summer’s heat are stacked high in the bins. But one taste and it’s easy to tell, these delectables have been grown out of season or traveled long distances to reach our tables.
Root vegetables like celery root, beets, turnips and potatoes grow well in the colder months. When roasted, their starches convert into sugar, coaxing the best out of these subterranean gems.

Winter produce is perfect for roasting

Sturdy leafy greens, like kale, especially black or Tuscan kale, come into their own at this time of year. Delicious raw in a salad, tossed with toasted hazelnuts, and a simple vinaigrette, kale reaches new heights of deliciousness when roasted.
When roasted, oil and heat drive moisture out of the kale, creating an airy crispness. That delicate texture beautifully complements the earthiness of roasted root vegetables when combined in a warm vegetable salad.
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Celeriac, celery root, peeled and cut in half. Credit: David Latt
Having only recently tried celery root or celeriac, I had to look beyond its decidedly unattractive exterior. Put simply, celeriac may have a pretty name, but it is a very ugly duckling.
You have to wonder at the leap of faith it took the first person who ate celeriac. What possessed that brave diner to bite into the pale brown bulb, stippled with stiff, hairy roots?
Only when the woody outer skin is peeled like a pineapple is the pale white flesh revealed. Cut into matchsticks and tossed with olive oil or mayonnaise, raw celeriac makes a refreshingly crisp salad. Like kale, however, celeriac achieves its best self when roasted.

Winter’s Best Salad: Roasted Black Kale, Celery Root, Shiitake Mushrooms, Shallots and Garlic

Simple and easy-to-prepare, a roasted vegetable salad can combine any of your favorite vegetables. For this dish, I wanted to complement roasted kale’s crispiness with tender, savory roasted celery root. Shiitake mushrooms, whole garlic cloves and large shallots added flavors to round out the umami of the dish.
Serves 4
Ingredients
2 pounds celery root or celeriac, washed, peeled, cut into batons 2 inches by ½ inch, yields 1½ pounds
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, halved
3 garlic cloves, root ends and skin removed
1 bunch black kale, washed, stems removed
3 large shallots or 6 small shallots or 1 medium yellow onion, root ends and outer skin removed, washed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
Directions
1. Heat the oven to 350 F.
2. Separately, toss each vegetable with a drizzle of olive oil, season with sea salt, pepper and cayenne (optional).
3. On a large baking pan lined with a Silpat sheet, parchment paper or aluminum foil, lay out the vegetables separately because they cook at different times. Place the pan in the oven.
4. Every five minutes, use tongs to turn the vegetables for even cooking, using the following times as a guide: kale leaves (10 minutes), shiitake mushrooms, shallots and garlic cloves (20 minutes), celery root (30 minutes).
5. Except for the kale, using a paring knife, check each vegetable for doneness.
6. After cooking, roughly chop the shiitake mushrooms, shallots and garlic cloves.
7. In a flat bowl, toss together the celeriac, shitake mushrooms, shallots and garlic cloves. Top with the crisp kale leaves.
8. Serve immediately to avoid the kale leaves losing their crispness.
Variations
  • Together with the other vegetables, roast 2 large carrots, ends trimmed, peeled. Cut these into 1-inch rounds, seasoned with sea salt, pepper and olive oil and added to the chopped salad after roasting.
  • Roast 2 large beets, whole, stems and leaves removed, washed, drizzled with olive oil. Place these on a lined baking sheet and cook in a 400 F oven for 45-60 minutes or until a paring knife pierces the flesh easily. Use rubber gloves to handle the beets. When cool to the touch, trim ends and peel off the skin. Rough chop the beets and toss with olive oil, sea salt and pepper separately so they do not color the other vegetables. Place them on the bottom of the serving bowl before adding the other vegetables.
  • Season the vegetables with your preference of herbs, such as fresh rosemary, sage or tarragon, or toss any one of the herbs with olive oil and roast on a lined baking sheet in a 350 F oven for five minutes. Remove the leaves, finely chop and sprinkle over the cooked vegetables before tossing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Favorites Meet at the Table

We picked up the turkey this morning, shopped at the Santa Monica farmers market and stopped to get an espresso at Starbucks. So, we're ready to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with 18 family and friends arriving at 3:00pm. Fun and a lot of things to do so the meal runs smoothly and everyone has what they want to eat.
To prepare the turkey I'm consulting my own e-book: 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes.
As important as having good recipes, good planning and sharing the effort makes all the difference: Planning Well Makes for a Better Thanksgiving

Step 1 - invite the guests and see who will bring their favorite Thanksgiving dish
Step 2 - pull out the recipes we want to make
Step 3 - clean the house
Step 4 - borrow extra chairs
Step 5 - pull the extra table out of the garage
Step 6 - shop
Step 7 - cook
Step 8 - eat
Step 9 - clean up
Step 10 - lie down

Dietary restrictions are part of the calculations since some guests need to avoid gluten, some land-animal proteins, others eschew sugar and for a few nuts are an issue. Avoiding those ingredients doesn't mean missing out on the fun.

Included in the mix of dishes there will be a pan charred salmon seasoned simply with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. The galette, this year's "apple pie," will not have almonds.

For everyone who can enjoy the traditional favorites there will be a large turkey stuffed with my wife's Corn Bread Stuffing with Italian sausages, pecans and dried apricots, which is a labor of love because she eats neither corn bread nor sausages (nor, for that matter, turkey).

The appetizers will include my personal favorite, deviled eggs with anchovies and capers, as well as delicious cheeses supplies by our friend from Paris who stayed with us last week, a selection of olives, charred pistachios in the shell flavored with dried spices, sea salt and cayenne pepper and turkey liver-shiitake mushroom pate, another personal favorite.

For side dishes there will be freshly made cranberry sauce, roasted whole tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes--the little ones which are sweeter and not starchy--, garlic-parsley mashed potatoes, oven roasted Brussels sprouts--quartered, seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar and roasted whole tomatoes.

Salads this year will be arugula with persimmons, a beet "carpaccio" salad, toasted hazelnuts and cheddar cheese, black or Tuscan kale tossed with a vinaigrette and homemade rosemary croutons and, again my personal favorite, frisee with blue cheese and chopped green olives.

And there will be pickles: kosher dill and Moroccan mixed vegetable pickles.

Friends are bringing desserts--mixed berries and ice cream, pumpkin and pecan pies. I will contribute a plate of my almond-dark chocolate ganache chocolates, the galette and a slow cooked passion fruit custard.

Have a great Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the recipes for our dinner.

Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans

Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1/2 - 1 cup turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.

Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add 1/2 cup of the stock, toss well and summer 15 minutes. Add more stock as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. 

Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.



Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

Toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasoning, put in a roasting pan with enough room so they don't sit on top of each other. Roast in a preheated 350 F degree oven 30-45 minutes, turning every 5-10 minutes for even cooking.

They'll come out of the oven so warm and sweet, they'll get eaten before they arrive at the table.

Roasted Whole Tomatoes

A side dish, full of flavor and perfect to serve alongside turkey and stuffing.


Ripe and over ripe tomatoes work best. If you shop at farmers' markets, keep an eye out for discounted tomatoes. 

When they're roasting, tomatoes give off a clear liquid. The flavor is pure essence of tomato. The wonderful chef, cookbook writer, and founder of Fra'ManiPaul Bertolli was famous for hanging tomatoes in cheese cloth and capturing the clear tomato water that he called "the blood of the fruit."

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the whole tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 90 minutes. When the tomatoes are removed from the pan, be certain to spatula off all the seasoned olive oil and tomato water. That liquid is full of flavor. Spoon the liquid over the tomatoes.

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 F degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately.


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Impact of California's Drought on One Farmer - James Birch and Flora Bella Farm

Walking in a farmers market, I'm looking down at the great produce. I only notice the farmers behind the flat tables loaded up with fresh leafy greens, stone fruit and root vegetables when I pay.
Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2001

Flora Bella Farm holding pond 2014

Years ago I hung out with one of the farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market because we were talking about doing a cookbook together (he would talk about the "farm," I would talk about the "table").









James Birch has a farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Fresno. The farm has a lovely name: Flora Bella Farm. But these days the farm has a problem. The area where he lives is called Three Rivers. Right now there are no rivers.



Flora Bella Farm 2014
For Zester Daily, I wrote a profile of James and the way the drought is threatening agriculture in the West and California in specific. When the Water Runs Out: Farming in the Drought.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Need A Pan That’s Smokin’ Hot? Reach For Carbon Steel

Carbon steel sauté pan on high heat, smoke rising from the blended oil. Credit: David Latt
To create beautifully charred meats and crispy skin fish filets, restaurant chefs use sauté pans designed to take high heat. Searing caramelizes the outside and locks in flavor. In the home kitchen, cast iron and stainless steel pans are favored by many, but carbon steel has advantages over both. No health issues are associated with using carbon at high heat and cleanup is easy. Like woks, once a carbon steel pan is seasoned, the surface turns black so there is no need to brandish a scouring pad and cleanser.

Working with carbon steel


Available in cooking supply stores, the pans are half the cost of stainless steel and twice the price of cast iron. Once seasoned according to the manufacturer’s directions, the pans are virtually indestructible and designed to last a lifetime.Some additional care needs to be taken. Never soak a carbon steel pan in water or place in a dishwasher. Simply scrub with a little soap to remove particulates and grease, rinse, then heat the pan on a stove top burner until dry and the pan is ready to use again. Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice and tomatoes can affect the seasoning of the pan, but that is easily remedied by following the manufacturer’s directions.
The pan I use is a French-made de Buyer 12.6-inch Mineral B Element. A bit lighter than a comparably sized cast iron pan, the extra long handle never gets hot when used on the stove top. At high heat, the surface of the carbon steel pan becomes nonstick with the smallest amount of oil.
Very much like Chinese stir-frying, cooking at high heat requires all ingredients to be prepped before cooking begins. To avoid risking a burn, experts suggest using a pair of long metal tongs, 12 inches or longer to manipulate the ingredients in the pan.

Get ready for some serious heat

A good exhaust hood with a fan above the stove is also necessary. High heat’s sweet smoke can turn from pleasure to pain if unvented. Many a meal has been spoiled by the annoying screech of a smoke alarm.
Use an oil that can tolerate high temperatures. A proponent of high-heat cooking to prepare his signature crispy salmon filet, chef Taylor Boudreaux of Napa Valley Grille in West Los Angeles, Calif., recommends a blend of canola (80%) and olive oil (20%).
Keep a premixed bottle on hand in the kitchen and you’ll always be ready for a smokin’ good time.
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A medley of vegetables -- carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions and garlic -- sizzling on a carbon steel sauté pan. Credit: David Latt

Pan Seared Bone-In Ribeye Steak

I believe a little bit of steak goes a long way, so my preferred portion is 6 to 8 ounces. Quality rather than quantity makes the difference in this supremely easy-to-make, protein-centric dish. Buy the highest quality steak available.
A good steak deserves good accompaniments that are entirely personal in nature. One person draws pleasure from a side of fries, another prefers a baked sweet potato with butter. Some diners wouldn’t eat red meat without a glass of red wine. I enjoy a charred steak with caramelized onions and shiitake mushrooms served alongside garlic-parsley mashed potatoes, a carrot-broccoli sauté and an ice-cold perfect Manhattan up with a twist. But that’s me.
The times indicated in the recipe are estimates. The thickness of the steak will affect how long the meat needs to be cooked to reach the desired level of doneness.
Serves 1
Ingredients
1 bone-in ribeye, T-bone or Porterhouse steak
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon blend of canola oil (80%) and olive oil (20%)
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional, see variations)
1 garlic clove, peeled, root end trimmed (optional, see variations)
½ teaspoon finely chopped chives, or the green part of a scallion (optional, see variations)
Directions
1. Wash and pat dry the steak. Season lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
3. Place the carbon steel pan on a burner on a high flame.
4. When the pan lightly smokes, drizzle the oil into the pan. In seconds the oil will smoke.
5. Using tongs, place the steak in the pan. Press down gently along the edges and the meat next to the bone. Pressing too firmly will force juices out of the steak which would diminish the flavors.
6. Allow to cook and sizzle. Steaks are best served medium-rare. Make adjustments as to time if you prefer yours less or more cooked.
7. After 3 to 5 minutes, turn the steak over. After another 3 to 5 minutes, press against the middle of the steak. If the meat feels solid, it is cooked. If it can be pressed down easily, then it probably requires more cooking. To be certain, use a sharp paring knife to make small cut in the middle of the steak. Inspect and determine if the steak has cooked to the state of doneness you enjoy.
8. Serve hot with your preferred sides and beverage of choice.
Variations
1. Use a combination of stovetop searing and oven baking, as many restaurant chefs do. To do this, sear the steak for 2 minutes on each side, then place in a 400 F oven for 5 minutes. To remove the pan from the oven, remember to use an oven mitt. The handle that rarely gets hot on the stove top will be very hot after spending time in the oven.
2. Test for doneness as before. If not cooked to your preference, place back in the oven.
3. After removal from the oven or the stovetop, drop a teaspoon of sweet butter and a crushed garlic clove (peeled) into the pan. Spoon the butter-garlic mixture over the steak, bathing it in the sauce. Discard the melted butter and garlic before serving. Place the steak on the plate with the sides.
4. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives or the green part of a scallion over the steak just before serving.

Caramelized Farmers Market Vegetables

Perfect as a side dish or as an entrée with noodles or rice, the vegetables should be charred but not overcooked so their texture is al dente. Using the freshest, highest quality vegetables will create a better tasting dish. Butter is optional, but a small amount can add a level of umami that turns a good plate of vegetables into an outstanding one.
Serves 4
Ingredients
2 large carrots, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, cut into rounds or 1 -nch oblongs
1 medium onion, washed, root and stem ends removed, peeled, julienned
3 garlic cloves, skins and root ends removed, smashed, finely diced
2 cups broccoli florets, washed, sliced long ways into bite-sized pieces
2 cups Brussels sprouts, root ends trimmed, cut into quarters or julienned
1 cup shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, stem ends trimmed, thin sliced long ways
1 teaspoon blend of canola oil (80%) and olive oil (20%)
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sweet butter (optional)
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Directions
1. Assemble all the vegetables on the cutting board, ready to use. If serving with steamed rice or cooked pasta, have that prepared as well.
2. Set the burner on the highest setting. Place the carbon steel pan on the burner. Allow to heat until a small amount of smoke begins to form.
3. Drizzle in the blended oil. When it smokes, add all the vegetables.
4. Using the tongs, toss the vegetables frequently to prevent burning. Toss for 3 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked al dente.
5. Remove the pan from the burner. Because the carbon steel is still very hot, continue tossing the vegetables. Add the butter and cayenne (optional). Toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional sea salt and pepper.
6. Serve hot as a side dish or with the pasta or rice.
Variations
— If caramelized onions are preferred, cook them separately until they take on a golden color, then add the other vegetables.
— Substitute or add vegetables you enjoy, such as zucchini, turnips, kale or kohlrabi. Since some vegetables cook more quickly than others, learn which ones need to go into the pan ahead of the others. For instance, small diced turnips and kohlrabi would go in first before adding the other vegetables.
— Instead of adding butter and cayenne (optional), add 2 tablespoons soy sauce or an Asian sauce (optional), and for added heat, add 3 tablespoons finely chopped Korean kimchi (optional).

Monday, September 22, 2014

These Days I Spend As Much Time at Starbucks as I Do at Home

Right now Starbucks has a "Sweet Receipt" promotion that rewards customers who stop by in the morning and return after 2:00pm. Bring the morning's receipt, choose any of the pastries and pay $1.00 instead of $2.45-3.45.
The promotion has been on-going for several weeks. Starbucks has promotions through out the year. Usually they are advertised with inclusive dates. But "Sweet Receipts" was on my recipe today, so next time you stop for your morning beverage and breakfast, ask for the receipt and read on the bottom to see if the $1.00 offer is still in effect.
You can have any of the baked goods: the almond croissant blossom, muffins, coffee cakes, sliced loaf cakes, croissants and scones. My personal favorites are the pecan tart and the George Washington Apple pound cake. Ask for them heated, on a plate.

Specialty coffee stores vs. Starbucks
The explosion of specialty coffee shops like Intelligensia Coffee & Tea, Caffe Luxxe, Stumptown, Groundwork and Handsome Coffee to name a few shows that people care more about their coffee than they used to. As a matter of personal taste, I prefer Starbucks. That's as much for the coffee as for the culture of the stores that invite customers to spend as much time as they want.

As a food writer I attended Starbucks Coffee College in Seattle. The experience was similar to a wine tasting. We were shown how to "cup" coffee to taste if it was full-bodied. And, just like a wine tasting, there was a lot of sniffing, swirling and spitting into a bucket. We learned about the growing and harvesting process in a slide show. At the end, we were led into a cavernous room stacked high with heavy sacks of sun dried coffee beans. In the middle of the room there was a large barrel shaped roasting machine.
The room was scented with the thick aroma of warm coffee.You could taste the thickness of the coffee-secented air as it floated onto your lips.
Starbucks looks like a college study hall
These days I spend as much time at Starbucks as I do at home. It is the best place to write. I'm amazed at Starbucks' business model. Stop by most Starbucks stores these days and they look like a college study hall. Just about every seat is in use. Long tables, four-tops and easy chairs are taken by people reading, writing or talking for hours on end.
The stores all have air-conditioning and free WiFi. All the stores in our area have been recently built or remodeled using a clean, airy design of dark wood tones and large picture windows. In the Southern California area, I have visited probably two dozen stores in the past year. No two have the same design.

The easiest way to engage with Starbucks is to download the APP and put money into your account. Depending on how often you use your account, you will be offered rewards and benefits, which include free brewed coffee refills every day and a free beverage or food item for every 12 purchases or stars.

I don't need the "Sweet Receipt" promotion to encourage me to stop by Starbucks, but it is definitely nice to have the pecan tart at the end of the day as a break from writing.

I'm glad this business model works for Starbucks.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer’s Last Salad - Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

How can summer be over? Honestly, it seems only a few weeks ago that we were in the park watching 4th of July fireworks. Now it seems as if every day the sun leaves the sky earlier and earlier. 

Walking through our farmers market, the tell-tale signs that fall is closing in are everywhere. The mounds of corn at our farmers market are smaller. The tomatoes aren’t as acidic-sweet as they were last month. The peaches still look beautiful but they aren't as full of flavor with firm flesh.
In these last moments before temperatures plunge and skies cloud over, now is the time to seize the day and celebrate summer before it disappears completely.
Dylan Thomas said that we should “rage against the dying of the light” (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night). Personally I prefer a good chopped salad to ragging against the inevitable.

Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

Always examine the ears of corn closely before purchasing. That is always true but at the end of summer, choosing ears carefully is even more important. Ideally the husks should be green and pliant, the tassels moist and the kernels plump. Dimpled kernels are a sign the corn is losing its sweetness. A worm or two isn't a problem. The presence of a live worm says the corn is organically grown. Just cut that part of the cob off and discard.

Use whatever fresh vegetables you enjoy.

My preference is to cut the vegetables into a small dice so they are similar in size to the corn kernels.

Charring the corn adds a smoky-sweetness.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 basket or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed, dried, cut into eighths
2 ears fresh corn or 4 cups of kernels, husks and tassels removed, washed, dried
1 large bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, stem cut off and discarded, cut into a fine dice
1 medium avocado, washed, skin and pit removed, small dice
1/3 cup green and black olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 red or yellow pepper, washed, dried (optional)
1 cup croutons, homemade preferable
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar (made from 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar reduced on a low flame)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place the ears on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Char the ears of corn either on the barbecue or in the oven. On the barbecue turn the ears frequently over medium-high eat to char but not blacken. Remove and let cool. If in the oven, preheat to 350F, place the ears on an aluminum foil or Silpat lined baking sheet and roast fifteen or twenty minutes, turning every five minutes for even cooking.

When cooled, remove the kernels from the cobs with a sharp chefs or paring knife. Place in a large mixing or salad bowl.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame. Allow to cool.

If using a pepper, char a whole red pepper on the barbecue or over an open flame on the stove. When the skin has turned black, remove and allow to cool. Under a stream of cold water, rub off the blackened skin. Place over a bowl. Using a paring knife, remove the stem. Cut open to release and capture the oils inside the pepper. Discard the seeds. 

Finely dice the cooked pepper. Add 1/4 cup to the salad. In a sealed jar, reserve the remainder to be used in stews, soups or another salad. The cooked pepper will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Add the reserved pepper oil to the salad.

Add the cut up pepper (optional), cherry tomatoes, avocado, parsley, olives, carrots and croutons to the bowl with the corn kernels. Toss well. If desired, add crumbled feta cheese.

Season the salad with olive oil, reduced balsamic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Variations

Use grated cheddar or crumbled blue cheese instead of feta.

Add a chopped protein like cooked chicken breast or grilled shrimp.

Add 1 tablespoon chopped red onions or scallions.

Add 1/4 cup fresh chopped bell peppers, preferably red and yellow.

Add 10 asparagus spears, woody bottom part removed, washed, charred on the barbecue or roasted in the oven, chopped.