Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weddings Holidays and Travels, Oh My!

We ask your forgiveness. If we have any faithful readers, we know we are disappointing you! As it happens with everyone, especially around holiday time, we have hopped on the moving sidewalk and it is cranked up to 500 mph.

The excuses: Don't worry, they are good ones!  First, we are getting married--soon. The wedding will be February 5th on a cruise ship in Miami. Second, between now and the wedding we are ending our job here in Marin County, driving across the country (the southern route to avoid snow and to seek fresh tortillas and a bowl of green in New Mexico), and moving to Chicago! Now understanding might be sinking in.......hopefully?! 

We are very excited about all the changes, events and travels and the wedding. But the blog has been neglected and as much as we hope it is not true, this abuse may continue until things settle down. But our intention will be to get some great food pictures and travel stories on the page to share with you all.

In the meantime, one photo and a short story. We made these pot stickers from dough bought in Oakland's Chinatown. We were both very impressed with our shaping technique, if we do say so ourselves! They are filled with sauteed mushrooms and chicken sausage, ginger, soy and sesame. The sauce is sweet and spicy tamarind and the pile of colorful goodness in the back is the answer to our intention that night to eat something very healthy: bean thread noodles with lots of veggies. 

Thanks for your patience and keep one eye on the blog in case there are any short travel vignettes. And wish us luck!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

All smiles and Fresh Mint

I'm sure you are already wondering why Jeff is always the one in the picture, glowing, with some sort of ice cream product in his too. I guess he is particularly photogenic in just this scenario. Could he look any happier?!

So the ice cream feature du jour is from Sketch Ice Cream in Berkeley. We feel fortunate that this place exists and that we stumbled across it one fateful day last winter. Eric and Ruthie, the owners of Sketch are literally super cool and every decision they have made for their shop is just right. The design, from the interior to the packaging is simple and perfect. To get a glimpse of what we mean, just check out their website and blog...and if you are in the area, you must make your way over.  They are serving up some of the best ice cream in the area...often with a side of Eric's dead pan humor...which we just love!

The Ice Cream: Sketch ice cream is Soft serve. That is a big part of what makes sketch so unique. They usually have about 6 flavors rolling each day, including at least 2 very seasonal and/or inventive picks. These are the ones we find ourselves wavering between. Some of the best we have put in our personal Sketch hall of fame, including--rose geranium, burnt caramel, cherry blossom, cocoa nib, cardamon, banana.......I could write a little story about each one of these. The banana we have not stopped thinking about since we had it 6 months ago. It was almost tart, which you would not guess for a banana ice cream. We don't know how they do it. Raw talent is the only explanation.

So in the picture Jeff is holding a house made waffle cone (you smell them being made as you walk up to the door) with fresh mint ice cream. There was no debate that day. You can't keep us away from anything titled fresh mint. The beauty of this one is the flavor of freshly torn mint leaves, as opposed to mint extract. It is a real star! 

Also available at Sketch:  Granite, frozen yogurt, fudgesicles that are almost black in color, dairy free and so chocolatey they redefine your idea of chocolate. They have fun toppings for your frozen concoctions and they make some amazing confections like salted chocolate covered toffee....all in this sweet little shop. You get the idea, pure goodness, an example of mastery!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Scrumptious Health Bomb

Once upon a time in Montpelier, Vermont we spent many a lazy morning leafing through our friend Sandra's cookbooks over coffee.  There was something magical about that kitchen space with its long wooden table, windows to the endlessly green world of Vermont, dogs underfoot and John's impeccable music selections piped in from mysterious locations.  

We learned things there like how to cook tofu in such a way that anyone, really anyone would love it.  We also discovered these black bean and oat cakes. They jumped off the page of Mollie Katzen's Moosewood low-fat favorites book, which is a dream for any one interested in internationally inspired, healthy, light food that is not weak on the flavor front.  

On this particular day we had a craving for something clean for dinner after eating only focaccia and chocolate croissants all day in the city and that craving led us right back to this well tested favorite. So in this picture we have the cakes made up mostly of black beans and raw rolled oats--no kidding, it works-- with carrot, onion, garlic and some mexican seasonings.  They are seated atop a pile of spicy green chard, onion, garlic and some of those gorgeous red carrots.  Normally we cook and puree golden beets for the sauce on this dish...but in this case we had some Mole Amarillo from the Red Iguana restaurant in Salt Lake City.  You just can't say no when you have mole looking you in the eyes. We seared some asparagus and rested them on top, then enjoyed the whole healthy experience....which was exactly what we were in the mood for!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Study of Corn

Sometimes there's nothing as intriguing for a cook as taking one ingredient and riffing on it several ways in the same dish.  Corn opens itself to this task maybe more than any other staple.  Crunchy, juicy, unctuous, smooth - all its textures.   Sweet, toasty, flinty, buttery-without-butter - all its flavors.  Corn is an entity.  Cooked into a porridge of polenta, grilled on the cob and buttered, popped into a little white explosion of movie theater joy. It is limitless and yet it is all corn.

In this dish we have a polenta souffle over a puree of sweet corn and poblano rajas topped with a salad of arugula, hot smoked salmon, and avocado all dressed with a pumpkinseed/chili yogurt.  We cooked polenta as we always do with lots of garlic, herbs, milk and chicken stock and then turned it into a souffle base with egg yolks and parmesan.  Then we folded in some beaten egg whites, popped it in the oven and in twenty minutes: a pillowy but cornmeal-coarse souffle.

Corn shows us its silky side when pureed and the marriage of sweet corn and roasted poblano peppers is one of the truly great combos in the vegetable kingdom.  The raspy but deep poblano plays high and low over the sweet, sweet corn creating this spicy/roasty flavor profile.   We often toss in a pinch of turmeric when we work with pureed corn, which allows its luminous yellow color to reassert itself.

And the yogurt dressing allows for the arrival of one corn's other great friends: pumpkin seeds.  We actually took the leftover dressing from the Rick Bayless-inspired salad from a few posts ago and mixed it with equal parts plain whole milk yogurt.  The result is not bashful as it brightens the rich avocado and king salmon, and then rains down on the corn below like contrails of flavor.

As I look back I can't help but think a little chili-spiced popcorn speckled about the plate.... 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Happy Fall, Happy Lamb Chops

Last night in the San Francisco area we had our first bona fide "storm" of the season.  What does this mean?  Wind blowing-oh my- and for the first time since March (outside of a few drops one night in April) It RAINED in Marin county!  I know a lot of people around here are sad to see the endless days of sunshine interrupted by some clouds and showers, eventually giving way in December to some full on weeks of nearly constant rain....but we are quite happy to feel the cool breeze ruffling the papers on our desk.  AAahhh.  I was listening closely at just the right time and I heard the whistling wind whisper "lamb chops" very quietly in my ear.  

We have a not so secret love affair with health foods, hanging out with the bulk bins, always having a "grain drawer" stuffed with millet, quinoa, various nuts and seeds and finding it unacceptable to be without kale in our refrigerator.  We also love to make our all natural kashi bars and peanut butter apple oat cookies, handsome enough that our friend Matt Frank renamed them "Lookies".   We adore the wide world of veggies and treat them like neglected children, lavishing attention on them as they realize their full potential.  But we work (as cooks) for a woman who really loves the classics and needs her dose of meat, giving us the perfect opportunity to make some really yummy comfort food.

Now on to the dish in the picture.  Rack of Lamb.  So simple to make and what a delivery.  We liberally seasoned this beauty with salt, pepper and a mix of dried green herbs--probably Napa Style's Herbes de Napa.  We seared it on all sides and popped it into the oven.  On the side is a sweet potato puree and a warm salad of greens and multi colored carrots.  The icing on the cake is that gorgeous red sauce under the lamb....a red wine pan sauce made just after searing the lamb so it is rich with meaty flavor and maybe just a small pat of butter swirled in at the end.  Seriously good stuff.  I didn't realize what a fan I would become of making and eating lamb chops, but it has happened.  So easy to make and flavor that never fails to impress me every time!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Mouth full of Excitement

Even though it is somewhat rare for us to repeat dishes, we have enjoyed this salad so many times.  It is actually a Rick Bayless recipe from his cookbook "Mexican Everyday".  We love Rick's style and Mexican food consistently ranks as a favorite of ours.  This salad really packs a flavor punch making it hard to resist.  

The elements that make this up in combination with each other really can't be beat.  Along with greens of your choosing, mango and avocado are key players, and smoked salmon makes it a perfect light dinner that is good any time of year.  Rick suggests bacon instead of the salmon, but since we LOVE smoked salmon, we always use it...but sometimes yield to the temptation to crumble a piece or two of bacon over the top!  

The real show stopper here is the bright and lively dressing.  The first step is pan toasting pepitas, or green raw pumpkin seeds.   This is not only the lovely base of this punchy dressing, but a good time all by itself!  You put these little devils in the hot pan and if you are into this sort of thing, you can stand with your face in pretty close and watch them go from flat to almost round.  Cheap thrills for the easily entertained.....we love it!

After the pepitas are puffed and toasty we remove them and add olive oil to the pan, along with whole garlic cloves and a jalepeno.  Once the garlic and jalepeno are softened, they are added along with the oil to a blender with lime juice, salt, honey.....and some of the pepitas.  This is whizzed up and the resulting dressing is creamy, spicy and delicious.  It is a great idea to make a little more of this than you will need for the salad because you can immediately see that it would be good on or in anything!  The salad is topped with more of the pepitas for a little crunch and cheese (queso fresco or feta) is optional, but it really doesn't need it.  This one is a keeper and we find ourselves craving it like clockwork about once a month.....maybe dinner tomorrow night......?


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rescuing The Rutabaga

It has always seemed tragic to us that the sweet and earthy rutabaga has been relegated to the dustbin of modern American cookery.  It is one of those cheap, humble, durable vegetables that doesn't glitter on the shelves at the market but shines for the patient cook, honest and unpretentious like your oldest friend.

In this dish: Farro with Spice-Roasted Rutabagas, Bean Broth, and Smokey Arugula Salad, the rutabagas get a good dose of rosemary, aleppo pepper, and garlic powder and after a short while in a hot oven, they're crispy on the outside with a spice-crust and like butter on the inside.  The foundation, the anchor is farro - one of our favorite grains - both chewy and toothsome, and it was cooked with lots of garlic.   Carrots roasted whole along with arugula and radish all tossed with a smoked paprika and honey vinaigrette form the crown.   

And about that unassuming broth you see ringing the bowl: one of the most beautiful things in the culinary universe is the liquid you get after cooking a big pot of beans.  You could throw the beans away - not that we would ever do that - and it would still have been worth cooking them. This broth, or bean liquor, is hauntingly sweet and redolent of garlic and herbs and the slight starchiness thrown from the cannellini  beans makes it taste rich somehow, though it's essentially fatless and vegetarian.  So we spiked this lucky leftover with fresh lemon juice, drizzled on a little olive oil, and poof: the dish was tied together. 

A healthy study in textures and so darn satisfying to eat, this is what we mean when we tell people our style is "vegetable-driven".

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bread and Sweet Music

Luckily for all who know him, Jeff slowly, over the course of his life, developed a healthy obsession with all things bread.  In a way that must be somewhat unusual, he studied all the bread making books, made his own sourdough starter, and before you could say "sour raisin rye" he was making things that look like this!  Often this is shocking to people because producing true artisan style bread in the home kitchen seems to be a difficult task indeed.  This is why obsession can be a good thing......just look at those results.

We both worked in a bread bakery in Vermont, which really helped us nail down the tricky "shaping" aspect of making beautiful bread.  It was a pretty awesome experience, with lovely almost ritualistic rhythms in the day.  Mixing the dough, shaping the loaves, firing the wood ovens, and the most exciting....loading and unloading the cavernous brick hearth.  The final step?  Standing over the bread, fully baked and piping hot, and listening to them crackle.  Seriously, they snap and crackle as the interior air bubbles cool and contract pulling the harder crunchy crust inwardly enough to actually fissure.  Sweet, sweet music.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nothing Satisfies quite like an Ice Cream Cone.

I feel like we shouldn't even mention the Bi Rite Creamery in the Dolores Park neighborhood because judging by the length of the line around the block it is possible that everyone on the planet (or maybe the Bay Area) already knows.  They must know about the artisan small batch charm and the local and organic focus.  I'm sure they know about the swoon inducing array of fabulous flavors.  Our favorites include mint chip, ritual roasters coffee toffee, salted caramel, and something we can't remember exactly but had provocative hints in the title like "malted, cookie bits, vanilla...."  You probably get the idea!

This place is a must see, taste and smell.  It is gang busters on the weekends and in the evenings, so if you can sneak away from the desk or maybe call in sick, weekdays are a great time to visit.  If you are like us the decision can be somewhat torturous, but in a good way.  Not like choosing between having your teeth cleaned or doing your taxes, more like choosing which slice of heaven you want to experience today.  Hint:  a wicked good place to start--coffee toffee on top of mexican chocolate in a cone.

If you can pull yourself away from the ice cream, not as easy as you might think, the fresh fruit popsicles are to die for.  They always have 1 or 2 flavors showcasing the week's hot ticket at the farmer's markets.  Last week there were 2:  pluot and melon.  We have also seen concord grape recently.  If you go there, let us know!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shrimp? Romesco? YUM!

To be honest, this is a dish we made several months ago.....the details may be a bit fuzzy at this point.  I looked for any notes we may have made about this but nothing turned up.  Let's get to it anyway!

We have some well spiced shrimp here, certainly smoked paprika, chipotle powder, and probably some Penzey's spice blend or another.  These beauties are resting on a romesco sauce, something Jeff has been talking about for years.  There are some grilled asparagus, saffron scented brown rice and the green sauce (if we remember correctly) is a fava bean puree.  We made a lucky discovery this year at Whole Foods:  Frozen fava beans already shelled and skinned and ready to be put into anything.  A fava puree with its silky texture is pure pleasure, especially when you weren't the person working on them for an hour!

This dinner smacks of healthiness while still holding its own on the flavor and texture front.  It fits squarely in the middle of our food philosphy:  Excellent, beautiful, real food where flavor is not sacrificed in the pursuit of clean eating.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A beauty of a Raw dish

This one is high on WOW factor.  This recipe is straight from Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein and their collaboration RAW, a real showcase for top of the line, raw food.  Having seen a photo of this in their book, we knew it must be done.  There were challenges built in, to be sure, but we triumphed in the end!

The main players here are beets.  Red, golden and chioggia (candy striped) beets were used.  A few of our other ingredients were substituted.  It has rings of hearts of palm and daikon radish.  The trickiest part of making this as gorgeous as Charlie and Roxanne's version was slicing the beets in a fashion that allowed them to be curled into those cone shapes.  I think they recommend a veggie peeler, we may have had better luck slicing by hand.  

Under all those lovely raw vegetables there are 2 circles of sauce, one a date puree, the other a cranberry puree.....the outer ring of this dish is a bright and spicy jalepeno vinaigrette.  This really was fun and maybe I didn't mention it before, but it was delicious, too.  Well worth the effort!

A spring delight

This dish was created on a night when there seemed to be nothing coming together mentally that said "perfect" to us.  The only thing that was certain was the fact that there were morels in the fridge from the Marin Farmer's Market and they were begging to be used.  We hadn't shopped for anything to go with them but a plan did crystallize.  

The idea sprung from staples, this is the stuff that is always on hand:  eggs, milk or cream, cheese, bread....even if it is not the freshest!  In what felt like no time we were tossing together a morel brioche bread pudding with blue cheese.  This inspiration almost had to be divine and the flavor smacked of heaven itself.  Fresh morels with cream and could this go wrong?
The plate was gorgeous.  We also had some other beauties from the market.  Multi colored carrots, asparagus were sauteed and piled up beside the bread pudding and some arugula flowers topped it all off.  Another dirty secret?  Truffle oil, oh yes.