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BikeSpeerColfax.jpgHot days. So many tomatoes.

 tomatoOpalkaSm.jpgI picked the first few plum tomatoes. We have nine (4  San Marzano Redorta; 5 Opalka) plants in all and we hope they will make enough paste to last us all year. We've never grown the Redorta, and the Opalka were grown from seeds I saved from last year, so I wanted to try them before I bothered to store the lot. This first batch of plums, I made into gazpacho.

Sunday afternoon gazpacho for after the U.S. Pro Cycling finale in Denver August 28 - a perfect excuse.

We'd had a few Sierra Nevada beers up at the race finish, but were all pretty hungry after riding around to find the best race viewing positions. The food at the event looked good, but there wasn't that much shade, and besides I had the gazpacho made.

gazpachoMeal.jpgHere's what I did on the day before: dropped six tomatoes in boiling water. Turned the heat off below them, and pulled them out one at a time. Removed the skin, which I put in a stainer over a bowl. Then, I opened the tomatoes and scooped out the seeds, which I also put in the stainer. I cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and put them in a bowls with a chopped green (somewhat spicy) pepper, a garden-fresh cucumber diced, a red onion, a few tablespoons of basil, 3 small minced garlic. The tomatoes were making a juice while all the other chopping was going on, and I went out to the garden to see if there was something else.

chinesecucumber.pngFound a Chinese cucumber that is a cross between a zucchini and a cucumber. (This vegetable must be peeled because it has a fussy skin of little hairs all over it's exterior. My friend Sandy brought these seeds back from Chinatown last winter.  We grew them not knowing what they would turn out to be.)

To all the chopped vegetables I added about ¼ cup of olive oil, 1 cup water, 2 Tbs of dry white vermouth and the water that the tomato seed and peel made.  Just before I served it I added about a dozen ice cubes and let the gazpacho sit out at room temperature.

Martha was assigned the wine for this afternoon, after-race meal, and found that gazpacho is the wine pairer's nightmare. She brought a couple of Spanish reds (a Rioja and its cousin, a Tempranillo) and they were perfect.

CherryPeppers.jpgWe started with some previously marinated eggplant (with parsley/garlic/red pepper) and some green bean marinated in rice wine vinegar.  

We bought a pizza crust from a local pizzeria, Abo's, on the ride home. Stretched it into several pieces and grilled them. First on one side, then flipping them, and adding some chopped garlic, basil and rosemary from the yard. Then we grilled some eggplant rounds. When they were marked well on both sides we piled on cheese and a tomato slice. These were the garnish in the gazpacho that we served with the grilled pizza crust. Enough for six people. There were six of us and we had to share two pieces of leftover piece of semifreddo. It was cold and very frozen, and felt great on this hot afternoon.



Super Bowl Special

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football-fries.pngFrench Football Fries:
These fries are so French. They're exactly like the wonderful fries we first appreciated at a French ski resort. Out in the cold, you come in for a steak and frites, and it's heaven. Then you find out these heavenly potatoes have been fried in beef fat. We decided they'd be perfect for the Super Bowl when every dish suggested seems to be filled with fat and other stuff not so good for anyone.  


Fries-For-Football.pngWe've been making beef stock, so happen to have beef fat around -- organic beef fat -- and we brush it on our organic Colorado potatoes. They're baked not deep fried. (Is this like shaving pennies from the national debt?)

It's Super Bowl Sunday, so we've cut the potatoes and shaped them into little footballs. Brushed them with beef fat and baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until they were golden brown.

We played around with variations on the onion lacing theme. And, of course, added the best French sea salt.

Great on their own or served with the Boeuf Bourguignon made yesterday for a hassle-free, après ski, Super Bowl dinner.

Salmon in a Pastry ... Celebrate

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Saumon en Croutesaumon.png seemed like a big project to take on for our annual New Year's Eve cook-athon. Before the event we practiced, worried that puff pastry was an impossible task for a home cook. Instead, choosing the correct type of salmon turned out to be what required advance knowledge.

The sockeye shown to the right, is dry, and so I sauteed the vegetables before assembling. When we made the dish with farm-raised Norwegian salmon, I chopped onion and mushrooms into slivers, but left them raw. This was a good call and the stuffing was great on both dishes. Timing, however, was more critical to the drier fish, and made the Norwegian a better choice for our big event.

At the Fine Cooking website, I found a great recipe for a quick puff pastry:
  • 12 oz. Fat (suet or butter)
  • Same gram weight flour; 12 oz.
  • 1/2 that weight of water. Water weights the same as it's volume, so 6 oz. is 3/4 of a cup.
Cut the butter and flour together on a cutting board then add the water slowly and pull it together.
puff-pastry-steps.jpgI rolled, folded, then put the pasty in the refrigerator for a couple hours. Just a half hour before putting the whole thing together, I rolled the pastry, again and folded it in thirds, rolled again, and fold in thirds, again. Returned it to the frig.
I  preheated the oven to 450 F.  I cut the onions and mushrooms as thin as I could, and took a look at the fillets before got ready to roll pastry. Straight from the frig, I divided the dough in half, then rolled 1/2  to a thickness between 1/4 to 1/8 inch. I wanted about 1-2 inches around the fillets.

saumon-pastry.pngHere, I've assembled the dish in an enameled pan, Next time was on a cookie sheet and the bottom crust was crisper. First layer: pastry, then place one fillet in the center, lay on the vegetables, second fillet, then the top crust.

It is crucial to the moistness of the finished fish that the two layers of pastry are sealed, so I wet the exposed part of the bottom sheet and then folded it over the edge of the top sheet and pressed it firmly together, letting my finger prints make a ridged border. The last step is to brush the pasty with a beaten egg yolk.

As soon as I shut the oven door on the salmon, I turned the temperature down to 350 F and set the timer for 30 minutes. It was still hard to pierce when the buzzer went off, so I gave it another 15 minutes. Out of the oven, it sat covered with a clean cloth at the back of the stove until it was cut and served. Five or ten minutes less would have resulted in a slightly better texture, but the taste was great, nonetheless.  

saumon-croute.pngBearnaise Sauce: Served over potatoes that accompanied the Salmon, this sauce was make perfect because of the vinegar used.
A friend brought us, for Christmas, the best pickled string beans I've ever had. She said 'save the pickling brine' more than once.

Steuart boiled this brine with minced shallots and the fennel, sweet, shallotty, salty vinegar was all things to all tastes, but strong on its own. He slowly added this to 3 egg yolks with 3 Tbs. of butter.  Voila. All flavors came together just like the sauce did, and was totally wonderfully Bearnaise.

Potatoes:
Slice potatoes like coins, drop in boiling water for 15 minutes, cool (you can leave in frig until you're ready to cook). Layer then like a fan, or like fallen dominoes and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, add a few minutes of broiling if they aren't your desired color of golden brown and serve. With Bernaise if you have it.

Our Saumon en Croute was inspired by the chef from Nova Catering. Richard made this for a big Christmas party in December, there were a few leftover pieces for me to try, and it was so delicious we decided to recreate it. We came close.

persimmons.jpgSorbet making is simple, and the finished frozen assemblage is a very good palette cleanser for a complex, finely flavored meal.

For this reason, and because I bought two persimmons at Thanksgiving that were horridly unripe until the end of the year, I made a persimmon sorbet as the 'amuse bouche' for a 2010 New Year's Eve meal.

I mashed and pressed very ripe persimmons through a fine sieve.  This took some time, but it gave me the opportunity to use a cool whisk/dough hook I got for Christmas.

I pressed the mash with a spoon as well to make sure I got all of the strained pulp. The actual minutes spent sieving was minor -- 5 minutes total -- although that is a long time doing any one thing, so I would press, let it sit and do other things for the meal I was preparing for New Year's Eve 2010.

sorbet-syrup.jpgTo make a sorbet, simply add 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water (with the husk of a vanilla bean, if you'd like the final product to have a vanilla flavor. Otherwise, add the flavor you're looking for) and boil for 10 minutes. The syrup will thicken slightly, and then remove the vanilla bean, add the persimmon and 1 Tbs. lemon juice and 1 Tbs. vodka and combined in a stainless steel bowl. Covered with a plastic lid and put it in the freezer.

Every now and then, for the next 3 hours, I stirred the sorbet so the texture would be fine rather than jagged like ice cubes. My total stirring was once or twice every hour.

The persimmons taste is fruity but subtle, and dry with an almost chalky taste. In an unripe fruit it's all chalk and inedible. The vodka and lemon added just the right brightness, and the vanilla made the aroma aphrodisiacal.

We served a golf-ball sized portion of this sorbet in wine glasses on a little drizzle of a dry red cherry liquor and placed a fried sage leaf or two on top. (Take sage leaves from the garden, wash and pat dry. Fry in a small amount of olive oil for less than a minute, and just until they shrivel. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with great salt.)

This course was served with a sparkling Vouvray from Marczyk's Wines. The wine was subtle -- like the persimmon's fruitiness -- and dry. The smell of the Vouvray was stronger and more acerbic than champagne and with the vanilla in the sorbet was almost a focusing agent. The salty fried sage leaves reminded us that savory food was soon to come.
MenuCard2010.pngTo enjoy making and eating a multi-course meal as an alternating gift for each other. My husband and I made that our goal  when we started -- 10-years ago -- our current New Year's Eve dinner tradition. I'd make a little 'amuse bouche' or something to start and pick a drink to go with it. Then my husband would make a small first course and put it with another wine, and vice-versa until we'd had soup, a little main course, maybe a salad - some course to make it even - and dessert. Variety - and pleasure - was what we were after, and each of these courses was very small. Hopefully, wine was left in each bottle.

Then one New Year's Eve, friends who were stranded by snowy-road closures came to dinner. Each of us took a turn in the kitchen making a course to go with a wine, which is more easily finished with 5 to 10 friends than by just the two of us.

Since then we haven't really cared if it was just us, or anyone else that wanted to join it. This year, the menu was basically our doing -- great friends did join in --  so I can be brutally critical of how it turned out, starting with the Persimmon Sorbet.

The persimmons taste is fruity but subtle, and dry with an almost chalky taste. In an unripe fruit it's all chalk and inedible. The vodka and lemon added just the right brightness, and the vanilla made the aroma.

We served this in wine glasses with a sparkling Vouvray from Marczyk's Wines. The wine was subtle -- like the persimmon's fruitiness -- and dry, which is something unique to persimmons. These understatements worked to set the scene for the next courses and settle everyone to the table after tasting stand-around food. The smell of the Vouvray was stronger than champagne and with the vanilla in the sorbet was almost a focusing agent. The little fried sage leaves reminded us that savory food was to come.

We had offered a very short martini of vodka infused with olives to start and it was okay, but probably too much. We also opened a sparking Syrah that someone said was like grape juice. This should have been saved for dessert. A dry champagne would have been the best choice with hors d'oevres. But the sorbet erased all that.

And the next course was the star. Steuart made the stock for the lobster bisque with shrimp shells and vegetable peels that we save in the freezer, and with the skin from the salmon. When the lobster was cooked and added it was the smell of the sea. He thickened the bisque, not with heavy cream, but with pureed canned pumpkin. This was garden pumpkin so no salt or sugar was added and it's flavor was lighter than cream's. We'd just bought some Tasmanian Pepperberries at Savory and this taste was the sparkle in this star. A few whole pepperberries were placed on a dollop of Creme Fraise on the top of the soup. It looked great, but when you actually eat the pepperberry, which is strong but sweet, your mouth goes a little numb. The white wine was overpowered by all this and our best choice pairing with this course would have been a completely dry champagne or San Pellegrino. Except for the dwarfing of the wine this was the gift of the night.

For the main course, the fish monger at Whole Foods had cut up two very similar fillets of farm-raised Norwegian salmon. He removed the skin and we took it home for the stock of the bisque. We're leery of farm fish, but he said this fish ate better than most Americans, so we gave it a try. The wild Sockeye we'd used in our last en croute was very lean and a little too dry surrounded by the pastry. Perfect timing would make the sockeye work fine, but I knew I'd be busy on New Years eve, so this was a great choice. I made the pastry with butter instead of the ground suet I'd used last time and the dough was much easier to work, but maybe not as puffy if that's how one judges puff pastry. Between the two fillets of salmon I put thinly sliced onion and mushroom -- raw. With the sockeye I'd sauteed them in advance. The farm salmon, no saute, entry into a hot 450 degree oven, turned down to 350 degrees, and 45 minutes made it hassle free. We let it rest somewhere warm until we served it. Depending on this rest time and how warm it will be you could cut down the cooking time, but this salmon was pretty forgiving.

Steuart's Bearnaise sauce was great on the potatoes and any bits left on the plate were great with the salmon. Two kinds of crispy at once -- the pastry outside the salmon and the Parmesan cheese on the potatoes gave your brain something to play back and forth with as this course was eaten. And inside each was the strong salmon flavor contrasting the homey blandness of great potatoes. Green beans weighted the green side of the color pallet and Steuart had sprinkled on out favorite pepper from Savory -- Aleppo -- but it was just too much. Savory's beautiful white pepper was already on the potatoes. Live and learn. Another reason it was too much was that the light red Valpolicella (Madonna di Como) was already a strong addition to this complex course, pulling everything together nicely.

Next, we just ripped open a clam of mixed greens and dressed it with a reduction of Balsamic vinegar mixed with a little olive oil. Less is more.

The cheese and crackers gave us a moment to finish up the wines open on the table. And the fresh bread Steuart had made (Bittman's No-Knead).

Pat brought an unfrosted chocolate cake that was perfectly light in texture, dark in color, rich in chocolate flavor and delicately dusted with powdered sugar. It invited in coffee, more champagne and the New Year.

Fruit Salad Mothers Day

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A Mothers' Day Herb Fruit Salad:

fruit-tarragon.pngSpring Tarragon Salad with Fruit

The tarragon has come back in my garden and its sweetness, because it is so young, makes it so mild that I added it with some garden mint to the fruit salad I made for Mothers' Day Brunch.

It's simple, but the best fruit salad I've had in a long time.


Peal and chop fruit, such as cantaloupe, mango, peaches, etc. into bite sized pieces. I used mango, cantaloupe, avocado and apple.

Zest and then squeeze a Meters lemon. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the best local honey until it dissolves. Add chopped tarragon and mint. Add this to the fruit.

Add more delicate fruit like berries just before serving, and toss all to incorporate the fruit and the lemon-honey dressing.

We packed the fruit and dressing in containers, carried berries in another container and rode to our friends house. Nice tossing was had by all.
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Vegan Green Bean Casserole

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Thanksgiving in April

Green-Beans-prep.jpgVegan is best when cooking with vegetables. Trying to bake vegan is like barbecuing vegetarian. I Vegan-Mushroom-Sauce.jpgunderstand that vegan is a philosophy, like not eating meat on Friday, but I'm not a believer and make choices according to my food philosophy which is simple, fresh and efficient.
Green-Beans-Almonds.jpg
For Thanksgiving dinner, I was assigned the quasi-traditional American green bean with mushroom sauce casserole, and I thought it was a great excuse for going vegan. Yes, I know it's April, but this Thanksgiving dinner just happens to be in April because most of the attendees were deployed to Antarctica in November, but are now back home in Denver.
almond-roux.jpg
Vegan-Green-Bean-Mushroom-Sauce.jpg
Roasted-Onions.jpg The only thing not Vegan about the classic green bean with mushroom sauce casserole is the sauce. Usually the recipe calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup. That's not simple, fresh or efficient (what amount of energy was required to cook all those chemicals and food particles, preserve them in the can and transport them around the country? How long has it been in that can?).  My usual approach is to saute a little garlic, and mushrooms in olive oil until they start to release their liquid, then add a 1 tbs. of flour to make a smooth paste, add milk or cream and whisk into a smooth sauce with mushroom slices.A cream sauce is somehow less appealing in April than at Thanksgiving. So here's a different approach that may be just as satisfying next November. For the sauce, saute garlic and ordinary white mushrooms, then add grated eggplant. Let the vegetables cook in water until they fall apart. You can put this sauce through a sieve or food mill if you want it impeccably smooth but I just added the sauteed Crimini and left it with small pieces. The purpose is for this sauce to coat the beans and nuts because the two vegetables are such a nice taste combination. So, just before I poured the sauce over the bean, I removed a bit of juice and added 1 tbs of almond flour.Green-Bean-Casserole.jpgGreen Bean Mushroom Almond Casserole
2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
1 cup (1/3 lb.) toasted almonds
1 onion, sliced and roasted

For the sauce:
4 glove garlic, minced
1/4 lb mushrooms, chopped
1 eggplant, remove 4 middle slices and reserve for eggplant Parmesan or other suitable dish, peel, grate the meat.
1/4 lb. a different variety (Crimini) mushroom, sliced thin
1 tbs. olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.
Heat the oil, saute the mushrooms and garlic until golden over medium heat. Add the eggplant and 2 cups water. Cook covered while you trim the beans. To complete the sauce, remove 1/4 cup of juice mix with flour (or almond flour) until smooth, add back to the sauce. Saute the more flavorful mushrooms and add to sauce. 

Blanche the green beans by steaming for 5 minutes.
Toast the almonds (toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper) in the oven for 10 minutes. Keep your nose alert to them. Cut the onion in big slices like you would for a hamburger. Brush the slices with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 1/2 hour.

Brush olive oil in a casserole dish. Add the beans alternatively with most of the almonds. Pour the sauce on top, add the onions. Bake for 1/2 hour. Add the last of the almonds at the last minutes. This can be kept warm until the Thanksgiving dinner is ready to served.

Spinach Calzone

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FoccaciaPizza.jpgI wanted to make a spanikopita but did not have any phyllo pastry. I had the ingredients to make a pizza crust and decided to make a spinach pie -- part Italian part Greek. Serve as a light main course for dinner or as a party dish cut into slices.

 

Spinach Calzone

Dough:

2 tsp. dry yeast

1 c. warm water

2 T. sugar

3.5 C flour

1 T salt

¼ C extra-virgin olive oil

Filling:

Fresh spinach about 1 lb

2 heads of roasted garlic

cottage cheese

Parmesan cheese

1 egg

1 pinch nutmeg, to taste

salt and pepper


Make the dough: dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar.

Using a food processor, add the flour, salt and water and extra virgin olive oil. Mix it up and knead to the desired consistency by hand. Put the dough in a plastic bag and let it rise in the fridge. Let the dough come to room temp before trying to knead.

 

Make the filling: put the clean spinach in a sauce pan with a cover and cook on low heat until wilted. Pinch into a colander and let it sit and drain.

After garlic has roasted for about 40 minutes in foil and cooled, squeeze roasted garlic cloves from their skin into a mixing bowl. Chop cooked spinach and add to roasted garlic. Stir in cottage cheese and parmesan, stir in raw beaten egg. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

 

Take dough out of fridge and let come to room temp. Preheat oven to 375 f. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to about ½ inch thick.

 

Put  one half of dough on a cooking sheet. Put filling onto dough and smooth out to about 1 inch in depth. Place second half of dough on top of spinach mixture. Roll the bottom selvage up around the top and crimp to seal edges. Brush with egg wash, salt and pepper.

 

Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes, rotating for even baking. Let it rest before cutting.

Serve with a tomato salad.

 

Valentine's day Menu

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Menu for Valentine's Day 2010

East coast oysters on the half shell

crackpie.jpg I found the quail at WholeFoods at Belmar. They were a bit pricey... around $17.00 for about a pound and 1/4, but the quail were partially boned, so that was worth something. Preparing quail in the classic French style, I cut off the legs and wings and put them in a roasting pan with some carrots, onions and celery. I roasted until everything was browned. At that point, I pulled the tiny legs out. Added some chicken stock and white wine and put it back in the oven to deglaze.

When you think the flavors have gone from the bones to the broth, strain the liquids from the solids. Thicken by reduction or if you want, you can thicken the sauce with butter/flour mixture. Correct seasoning and set aside until ready to serve.

Trim the breasts of any extra skin. Salt and Pepper. Melt some butter with olive oil and saute the breasts until just cooked through. Serve with the warm sauce, potato pancakes and spinach.

Serve the quail legs on a green salad as you would duck legs confit.

Cookery Competitons - Scottish Style

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Who knew when I entered the first cookery competition (and lost it) that it would be the beginning of some kind of  a new career?

In the Sunday Times in Scotland, an article appeared in the food section of the newspaper. It was about an upcoming competition at the the Turnberry Hotel, a 5 star resort on the west coast of Scotland, a renowned golf course and world class spa. It sounded nice to me!

So I sent in my application for the competition with an Alternative Christmas Dinner menu. I was selected to go to the hotel and prepare a 3-course meal in 3 hours. ( This was circa 1996, and before any reality TV)  All preparations were to be done in the stadium-sized kitchen of the hotel. All went well on the day with the exception of cooking the chocolate mousse cake in a convection oven. I hadn't had any experience with a convection oven, and even though I checked the cake half way through the cooking time, it had already been overcooked. So, I had to go back to the beginning and start that dish all over again.

The second time I entered the competition I made it to first place with an ambitious menu of:

oyster_ravioli.jpg
  • Oyster ravioli
  • Breast of duck
  • Chocolate mousse cake.

A classic. It still sounds good for a holiday menu after all these years.

This year, just before the holidays, while cooking Christmas cookies, Terry invited me to the New Year's gala  dinner at her place. I proposed to recreate a dish that I had made for this competition in Scotland some years ago (and I do believe that I won because of this dish.)

I knew it was a brilliant idea when I originally thought of it. Simplicity= an oyster, some lemon beurre blanc, a dab of  butter and some fresh pasta to hold it altogether. I  worked on my pasta making and practiced and practiced until I had it!  it was perfection.

Oyster Ravioli: A basic, very thin fresh pasta dough, a perfectly shucked oyster, a dab of butter, and make it extra slippery with a lemon beurre blanc.

Google it up. You won't find anything. I promise you this is as original as it gets.

Let me know if you try it,

Martha

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